Since yesterday morning I have been to the Tanzanian embassy (twice), been to the travel doctor (again), reserved a U-Haul, gone to the post office to ship some stuff, purchased some super-high-percentage-DEET bug repellent, booked a hostel in Egypt, exchanged the East Africa book for one about only Tanzania, and listed my furniture for sale on Craigslist. (Those are just the things related to our trip – non-trip-related events include being the recipient of a counterfeit bill, a picnic in Central Park, and seeing a woman get hit by a truck on 5th Avenue.)
When we decided to do this trip we set the dates and budget but really didn’t consider the amount of time and money that would need to be spent on pre-trip preparations.
Since the school year finished I have spent almost all day every day on trip prep: Kinkos, embassies, reservations, consulates, passports, clothes, visas, doctors, Goodwill, furniture, research, destinations, transport, lodging, insurance, banks, supplies, leases, packing, the list goes on. Thank god for summer vacation. I could never plan this while working full time.
The two largest expenses are visas and vaccines. Some vaccines are at least partially covered by insurance, but many are not because they are are not deemed medically necessary. These add up quickly.
And the visas are a killer. In a diplomatic tit-for-tat skirmish, Tanzania recently doubled it’s visa fees – now $100 – for US citizens (it is still $50 for citizens of almost all other countries). Allegedly this was in response to increased fees and stricter regulations for citizens of many African countries entering the United States. Luckily the cost isn’t so steep for all countries. Some (e.g. Malawi) do not require any visa at all. Others offer visas at minimal cost (e.g. my Egyptian visa was only $13). But some, such as China, charge you a pretty penny just for the privilege of entering the country.
Costs aside, the time spent just researching the visa rules of each country can be exorbitant. Some countries require them, others don’t. Depending on the country your visa may be good for 30 days, 90 days, or a year. The clock may start ticking on the date of issue; it may start ticking on the date of entry. You may be allowed multiple entries; you may be permitted to enter the country only once. These requirements become even more complicated when, as in our case, traveling companions are of different citizenship.
Such costs certainly don’t outweigh the benefits and enjoyments of traveling, but they should be given fair consideration (in advance) by anyone thinking about such a trip. We had just under two months from when we decided to do it and our departure date. In hindsight I would have given myself at least 3-4 months to make arrangements. Abandoning your life for a year is a big undertaking.