Thursday, July 17, 2014

Travel Fury

I love to travel. It's seriously the only thing that truly excites me and keeps me optimistic. At any given moment, there is so much of the world I have yet to see, and the diversity and beauty of that fact alone inspires me every day.

But there's a problem with traveling. Specifically, with traveling with a shitty passport.

Don't get me wrong, I love being Indian. My heritage, my language, and my culture, as I've mentioned so many times before, are very important to me. But my passport is a pain in my ass.

Any time I have/want to go anywhere, I have to plan at least 3 months in advance. I have to get together financial documents, fill out a million forms, pay countless fees, go for embassy interviews, all to get one shitty little tourist visa stamp. I've been lucky enough to be able to afford the time, money and energy it takes to do all this. I've thus far traveled to over 20 countries and all the continents except South America and Antarctica (although they're next on my list! World domination here I come!). But the whole process can get very disheartening.

As an Indian citizen, I'm treated like a criminal. I am subjected to background checks and financial scrutiny, all to determine if I can visit a country better off than mine (one most likely having been built on the backs of my forefathers and the natural wealth of my country) for a week. Meanwhile, all ol' Joe the Plumber with his high school diploma and his NASCAR cap has to do is leave his trailer park and remember not to accidentally pack any guns in his plastic luggage. I'm sorry if that sounds elitist, but I'm angry at the system, and I would value myself as, at least, his equal.

There have been countless situations where I haven't been able to do things "like everyone else". Perhaps I have been spoiled by exposure to America, where I have lived for almost a decade: all my friends from North America, Europe and down under can take off at a moment's notice, financial issues notwithstanding, while I have to be the one that waves them off at the airport. When I was a sophomore in college, some friends and I decided we wanted to go on a cruise for spring break (because Myrtle Beach was for bros): everything was almost finalized when I found out that the cruise would be pausing in Mexico. I, as an Indian passport-holder,  would require a Mexican visa to disembark. Even if I didn't disembark, I would need a visa to board the ship. Obviously, with Spring Break in a week, I couldn't go. I was resigned to sitting in my darkened dorm room, listening to death metal, looking at photos of my tan and happy friends on Facebook, hating my life. More recently, my friend sprung on me that she and her boyfriend wanted to take a road trip to Quebec, and would love for me to join. I, obviously, could not enter the great white north without a Canadian visa. Which would require a whole other headache of forms and fees while all my American friend had to do was pack appropriately warm winter clothes.

It also doesn't help when I watch amazing travel vlogs on YouTube (my very public passion. Please hire me, YouTube, I know more about you and than even you do, I'm sure of it!) - such as Ben Brown, watch his stuff, he has such wonderful mastery of cinematography, music and aesthetics - and I am reminded that British citizens (or citizens of any western, developed country, really) can just book a ticket a leave. It infuriates me and taints what should be an otherwise wonderful and enlightening experience. I am embittered and I hate that.

When I do actually manage to wade through the bureaucratic red tape that is the tourist visa process, my little blue passport ensures that I am regarded suspiciously. On a quick flight from Copenhagen to London, I was asked for identification. Not looking like all the other blonde Nordic gods around me, I obviously already stuck out like a sore thumb. When I produced my passport, I was asked, rather more brusquely than the angelic blonde child before me, for my UK visa. I, being the planner from the developing world, had it. But the experience annoyed me nonetheless. When my passport was stolen in London (hilarious fool saw the blue and heard my accent and probably thought I was American), I got a new one fairly quickly (shout out to contacts at the Indian High Commission), but I had to wait 2 weeks for a US visa appointment. There was an earlier one in Belfast, but obviously, I couldn't fly there without a flipping UK visa, which was in my stolen passport. My friend's well meaning British roommate kindly pointed out that now that I had my passport, couldn't I at least fly back to New York and figure things out then? At least I'd be back "home". It took everything I had not to laugh a bitter guffaw in his privileged face. Sorry, that was mean, he's a nice guy. But I was pissed.

Why is the world less open to those of us who were merely born in the developing world? Do we hunger for knowledge and experiences any less than the average Western 24 year old? I realize the issues of immigration make this topic heavily debatable, but I also understand that the system needs to be completely overhauled. It really is bullshit. And racist (yes, I went there).

Shouldn't the fact that you colonized my country allow me some leeway in visiting yours? Why am I held accountable for my country? Why should I feel like a traitor to my citizenship for wanting to travel with ease?

[Incidentally, if you're not Indian, but share my passport woes, you can check out this nifty tool to figure out which countries you'll need a visa for: Awesome sauce.]