Road Trippin’ Down Under: Best Laid Plans

Once we had decided on Australia as our 2016 vacation destination, the Jarhead and I then had to buy our plane tickets. We knew they would be expensive since Australia is so far away that you can’t even get there from here without stopping off to gas up somewhere in the Middle East. But we knew they were going to be even more expensive since there was no way I was going to survive 24 hours in economy class even with a layover in Abu Dhabi.

I mention this not because I hate strangers or enjoy wasting money, or because I’m filthy rich or delusional and expect to be waited on hand and foot like some spoiled heiress. Rather, I mention it because I knew that after just six or seven hours confined to metal chair in a crowded cabin teeming with screaming children and coughing, sneezing, and snoring adults, I was going to be, either,

  1. the first woman in the history of air travel to die of acute monotony, annoyance and discomfort,
  2. the first woman in the history of air travel to be shoved out of the emergency hatch in mid-air by her own husband, or
  3. the first woman in the history of air travel to be shoved out the emergency hatch in mid-air by an angry mob that included her husband.

Either way, I was not going to live to see Australia and the Jarhead would have been left to wander around the place by himself for a week (which would have been a shame) and then return to the States alone (which would have been a bigger shame.) On top of that, he still would have had to explain my absence to the authorities and/or break the news to my loved ones, and take time out of his busy schedule to plan one killer of a memorial service. Given the cost of funerals nowadays, and the fact that, without me, he essentially would have paid double to fly alone in coach—not to mention lawyers’ fees if the cops didn’t like his story and the jail time he might get if the jury didn’t buy it—we (that is he, I, and/or my estate) would be money ahead by flying business class.

So, it made sense for us to bite the bullet and spend the money. At least that’s how the Jarhead and I rationalized it. It may have been the wrong call since flying coach may have proven more interesting from a writerly standpoint. More drama and darkness, and all that. But this way, we both got to fly in comfort and style, and no one died—not even the woman who had the nerve to join us in business class accompanied by three young children with no other adult to assist her. Were it not for the all the delicious gourmet food, the reclining seat with padded foot rest, the expansive audio and video library, and the noise cancelling headphones, one of us may not have lived to tell the tale—especially after the middle child whined and screamed for hours and then coughed so hard that she threw up all over her seat just two rows behind the Jarhead. Thank goodness for the free and abundant champagne.

Of course, we didn’t know when we were booking the flight that we would be traveling with a crazy woman bent on flying with two children and a demon, or we may have chosen a different departure.

Speaking of the unknown: there were a few other pieces of information we did not have when we blew a small fortune on our once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Australia that may have made a difference in our travel experience. For example, we were not aware that one needs to obtain a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia to enter the Commonwealth of Australia. We were also unaware that to obtain a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia, one needs to complete and submit a form to the Commonwealth of Australia, and have it approved by the Commonwealth of Australia. Without a visa from the Commonwealth of Australia, one cannot even board a plane bound for the Commonwealth of Australia.

I guess it should have occurred to us. One needs a visa to travel to the United States from other countries, after all. So why shouldn’t US travelers have to get visas from the governments of their intended destinations?

In our defense, the only place to which we have traveled by plane—apart from when we moved to Italy and the handful of countries to which the Jarhead has flown for work, which are handled entirely differently from leisure travel—is England. So we had insufficient experience with international travel to know there had to be a paper trail. That and the fact that the visa I needed when I flew to England in 2004 consisted of a slip of paper about the size of an ATM transaction receipt and was completed just before we disembarked the plane rather than prior to boarding.

At this point, I invite you to guess as to when we became aware of the need to have a visa prior to boarding a plane bound for the Commonwealth of Australia. Go ahead. Guess.

Was it upon receiving confirmation of our ticket purchase from the travel agent?

Uh, no.

Was it upon receiving our electronic boarding passes from the airline?


Was it upon receiving an email from our credit card company congratulating us on our plans to see Australia, as evidenced by the purchase of two very expensive plane tickets and inviting us to contact their fraud unit if we had not recently booked two very expensive tickets to Australia?

Not even close.

In fact, we found out from the ticket agent at the counter as we were cheerily checking in and eagerly waiting to hand over our bags. Oblivious Americans I’m sure she was thinking while simultaneously apologizing for the inconvenience and describing the potential legal consequences to both her and us if she allowed us to board a flight to Australia without a visa.

My stomach churned as I thought about the extra money we might have to pay if we had to change our tickets to buy ourselves more time to get a visa. It churned even harder as I contemplated how much time and money we might have wasted if they denied our visa and we couldn’t go at all. Seriously. I nearly threw up my breakfast just hours before that little demon child did it on the plane.

But while the financial manager in me was growing sicker by the minute at the thought of all that wasted money, the hodophobic part of me was celebrating the fact that by not leaving for Australia, I didn’t have to worry about never making it back home from Australia. Meanwhile, a third part–the small, quiet, and rarely taken seriously mature part–was listening to the agent who, having stopped apologizing was now offering to have another agent explain to us the process by which we could obtain a visa.


And in about 20 minutes.


I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I was that I had tuned into that conversation when I did. Or how grateful I was that I’d taken St. John’s Wort with my breakfast that morning, which is probably the only reason the whole shebang didn’t come back up on me right there and then.

And for a change, I was grateful that the Jarhead can be a bit *cough* rigid when it comes to time and travel since that’s the only reason we wound up checking in three hours ahead of the flight instead of two.

It’s not often that we’re early for anything, so I don’t know what benefit is ordinarily derived from punctuality. I only know that this time, it definitely paid off. Because less than a half an hour later, we were back at the counter with our boarding passes and visa confirmations, and on our way to the Land of Plenty!




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