I’m inspired to travel when I hear other people share stories of their adventures. That’s why we started the Reader Success and Small Business Success series. And today, we’re starting a new weekly series, where the Million Mile Secrets team shares their travel successes (and failures) with you!
Jason: Thanks, Daraius! Hearing stories from other travelers has been a big inspiration to me as well. So I’m excited to share my experiences with all the Million Mile Secret Agents out there.
One of the scariest things a person can experience is the unknown. This fear, more than anything else, has held me back from travel. When it comes to dealing with uncertainty, I found the best cure is people! A friend who has been to a particular place, or lives there, can be a great resource. That’s why, as much as I can, I like to travel to visit friends.
Friends can get you into (and out of) good and bad situations! In this particular story, a friend got me out of a sticky circumstance with Mexican immigration officials.
My friend Jorge and I used to work together. He’s originally from Mexico, and eventually returned home. That is how, several years later, I found myself on a cheap Southwest flight (I didn’t know about miles & points back then 🙁 ) to Mexico City!
The Advantage of Having a Local on Your Side!
Travel can be a stressful experience, especially when you don’t speak the language and aren’t familiar with the culture. For those reasons, Mexico City was never on my bucket list. But I’m a frugal guy (some might say, miser). So I had developed a habit of visiting places where I could stay for free, and that meant staying with friends!
Being with Jorge, a local, made it easier to stay off the beaten path and avoid the crowds. I didn’t have to rely on online reviews to find the best restaurants. And Jorge negotiated deals for me at the markets I would never have gotten as a tourist!
After seeing the sites of Mexico City, we decided to relax on the beach. So we booked bus tickets to Acapulco.
After a few days in the sun, we were on our way back to Jorge’s place when the unexpected happened. The bus was stopped at a checkpoint where immigration officials reviewed everyone’s paperwork to ensure we were in the country legally.
Always Read the Fine Print
At the time I was traveling to Mexico, US Citizens were given a 6-month tourist visa upon arrival. What I hadn’t realized was that you were required to carry the visa with you at all times!
When we left for Acapulco, I took a copy of my passport with me, but left the official passport and my visa at Jorge’s house. I figured I wouldn’t I need it. And I know how absent-minded I can be, and didn’t want to lose it.
I was removed from the bus with another guy – a Canadian citizen with even less documentation than me. We were put into a van with half a dozen officers armed with assault rifles. I asked their translator if I would be able to leave if I could get my visa faxed over. He shrugged his shoulders and let me know it was “up to his boss to decide.”
At this point, I thought I might be on the verge of drowning in a sea of bureaucracy. If anything, I was on a rollercoaster ride I couldn’t control. I figured I may as well throw up my hands and enjoy it. Because you can’t pay for this kind of experience!
My Friend’s Family Came to the Rescue
Surprisingly, it only took me ~8 hours to get back on the road! Jorge’s family was quick to fax my visa over. And I then signed some papers, written in Spanish, that I was told authorized my release.
I was on my way.
Sometimes I wonder how long I would have been stuck there had I been staying at a hotel. Because I would have been relying on the kindness of an overworked and underpaid hotel employee to fax my visa.
Later on, I found out that Jorge had spent most of his afternoon trying to bribe (unsuccessfully) an immigration officer to release me. Did I mention the value of having friends who care?
What Makes a Story?
Every story involves someone who wants something and has to overcome difficulty to get it. Travel can be relaxing or it can be a story. Sometimes, you don’t get to choose which one you get!
On my flight home, I was seated next to a high energy 4-year-old. He spent most of the flight lying sideways on the seat and alternating between kicking my arm off of the armrest and trying to take the book I was reading.
I looked at his mother, who was doing nothing about her son’s behavior. I realized I had no idea what her story was. So instead of getting upset and letting it ruin my flight, I decided to embrace the story I was being offered. And guess what happened? The kid fell asleep.
Traveling usually involves some level of uncertainty. But you shouldn’t let that keep you from experiencing the world.
Team member Jason has overcome his fear of traveling by visiting friends in destinations where they know the language and culture. And by embracing the difficulties that inevitably come up as another opportunity to live an interesting story.
It has been 8 years since Jason traveled to Mexico. And currently, the US State Department does have a travel advisory in place for Acapulco and the surrounding area. However, Mexico City and other areas of Mexico aren’t on the travel advisory list. So do your research when planning a trip. Because there is a difference between caution and fear!