The Worst Travel Day Ever

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Photo by Mehrpouya H on Unsplash

Since we’ve been travelling for the past 7 years (excluding the pandemic), sometimes we get cocky.

We think that just because we’ve been to over 50 countries, applied for countless visas, navigated complex public transportation networks, and always made it to the airport on time, we got this travel thing down. Turns out, we were wrong. To quote the famous philosopher Chris Rock “ain’t nobody above an ass-whooping.”

Let me tell you about one of the worst travel days we’ve had recently so you can avoid our mistake.

Ever since 2020, we’ve been trying to get to Australia. Given that it’s on the other side of the world and takes an insane 22 hours to fly there, it’s not a place to easily hop to. However, back in the beginning of 2020, we were in Bali—just a 2.5 hour flight from Perth. We’ll never be this close the land of kangaroos again, we thought. So with flights and accommodations booked, we began making our Koala-petting plans in earnest.

But this was 2020, and the universe felt differently. So instead of flying to Australia, we were dragged, kicking and screaming, all the way back to Canada to be locked down for 2 years to deal with a series of seemingly never-ending family health emergencies. Ugh.

Now that we were finally out of the pandemic and care-giving jail and back on the road in Southeast Asia, we were ready to hop on a 9-hour flight from Hanoi to Melbourne, eager to finish what we started back in 2020.

The day started off normal enough, with us checking out of our Hanoi hotel by noon. After a 5 minute drive, we arrived at the airport with a whopping 4 hours to spare. Our fight wasn’t leaving until 4 PM. “Wow, so much time!” I thought. “I’m going to take a nap in the lounge.”

Famous last words.

We went to the check-in counter at Bamboo Airlines to get our boarding passes and were told to come back in an hour because the counter doesn’t open until 3 hours before the flight.

Fine. We waited, did some reading, and then headed back to the counter an hour later. Since we saved up our points and were flying business class, there was only one other couple head of us. The economy line, however, was overflowing. I estimated it would have taken at least an hour to get through. Normally, we would’ve been able to by-pass that line with our carry-on luggage but Bamboo Airlines is so new that their online check-in wasn’t available yet.

Within 5 mins, we’re able to get to the counter and present our passports and check-in info. At this point, we’re still very relaxed, thinking about all the free booze we’d drink in the lounge.

A member of Bamboo Airlines, dressed smartly in a blue uniform smiles and greets me “Good afternoon ma’am. May I see your e-visa please?”

“Oh my Vietnamese e-visa? Here you go,” I say, mentally patting myself on the back for being so organized.

“No, not your Vietnamese e-visa, ma’am. The one for Australia. The ETA.”

 “ETA? What’s an ETA?”  The blood starts to drain from my face.

 “The visa you need to get into Australia, m’am.”

 “Butbutbut” I stammer. “I have a Canadian passport! That was all I needed back in 2020!”

“You need the ETA to go to Australia, otherwise, I’m sorry but I can’t check you into the flight.”

Suddenly, I can’t breathe. What the hell is he talking about? What visa? Since when do I need a stupid visa to get into Australia? And how long is that going to take?

Turns out, an ETA isn’t exactly a visa, since Canada is on Australia’s visa-free country list. It’s an Electronic Travel Authorization that you need to separately apply for and get, even if you don’t need a visa to travel there. I was not aware of this.

It also dawns on me that my Vietnamese visa is expiring…TODAY.

So if I can’t get this Australian ETA in the next 2 hours, I can’t leave. But I also can’t stay. What the Hell do I do now?

“Ma’am, you could try to apply for the ETA now. I’ve had another customer who got theirs in 30 minutes.”

I take a deep breath and briskly walk to an area near the flight monitors with seats. Wanderer and I sit down, and with shaky fingers, start applying for the visas, which weirdly isn’t through the Australian government website but through an app you have to install on your phone. A message pops up, saying, that the app will go down for 2 days for maintenance, nearly giving us a heart attack. Luckily, we’re just outside the maintenance window.

Ping! Within 30 seconds of applying, Wanderer gets his ETA, attached to an e-mail in his inbox. I’m wringing my hands, waiting for mine, but I have a bad feeling in my stomach. Something tells me I won’t be so lucky, since I frequently get scrutinized by US customs, given that my Canadian passport says that I was born in China, whereas Wanderer’s says that he was born in Canada. But that’s the US and this is Australia. I’m hopeful.

Ping! I get an e-mail, but the preview looks different from Wanderer’s. My heart slams into the floor.

“Your application has been referred to the Australian immigration authorities for further assessment. This could take up to 12 hours…”

FUuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

I don’t know whether to cry, scream, or laugh. Off course this was going to happen. Less than 2 hours before our flight to Australia. Again. Clearly, the universe just didn’t want me in Australia.

I shove my phone at Wanderer “Call the Australian embassy! If that doesn’t work, call a travel agency. Call the Canadian embassy. Call a crisis hotline. I DUNNO, JUST CALL SOMEONE!”

I slam my backpack onto the floor, tear open the zipper and start rummaging around blindly for my laptop. I need to find us a way out of here. Maybe there will be a last min flight to Bangkok or Singapore, and we can figure out how to get to Melbourne from there. It’s going to be crazy overpriced and shitty, but damn it we have no choice.

Why oh why didn’t I check the stupid Australian visa requirements last night. We had so much time!

I clamp down the scream of frustration in my throat, while glancing frantically at my watch, noticing that we have less than an hour before the check-in desk closes.

Of course, as fate would have it, it’s at this precise moment that my phone’s data decides to cut out.

I want to scream and tear my hair out. We stupidly only bought enough data to last until today, thinking we’d be flying out!

I start jamming random buttons on my phone, trying to connect to the Airport Wi-Fi. I can’t think. My mind is just too clouded with panic.  

The airport Wi-Fi also doesn’t work.

Fuuuuuuck!!!  I’m now in full panic mode. I run to the Bamboo check-in desk and beg them to let me on the flight. “It’s going to take 9 hours to get to Melbourne,” I explain, “I’ll receive my ETA on route!” But they don’t budge. No ETA, no flight.

I start running around the airport like a mad woman, trying to find out where I can buy a SIM card.

And then, by the miracle of all things good and Holy and with only 20 minutes left before the check-in desk closes, my phone pings.

I cautiously peek at the screen.

Holy shit! It was all I could do not to drop to my knees and weep with joy, because staring back at me from my inbox was my ETA, attached to an e-mail. The airport Wi-Fi had miraculously JUST started to work.

We race to the check-in counter. Luckily, Wanderer has already been checked-in (having gotten his ETA right away, the lucky bastard), so that saves us time. We race through security like our lives depend on it, finally making it to the gate with seconds to spare.

The flight is delayed. By a whole hour.

We’ve never been so happy to have a flight delayed.

So somehow, we’d gone from completely screwed to having extra time to visit the lounge! I finally find the appetite to eat the lunch I forgot about from 3 hours ago and use the Hell out of the massage chairs, because damn it I’ve never needed a massage so badly in my life.

And that is the story of how we barely made it to Australia. If we hadn’t been in the faster business class line, or if the airport Wi-Fi hadn’t suddenly started working, or if the app was in maintenance mode, we would’ve been totally screwed.

We got too arrogant thinking we were experienced travellers and got our asses kicked. And when we told this story to an Australian reader who we met up with, he recounted a time when his American friend tried to visit Australia last year and got blocked by this exact issue. He wasn’t so lucky and he missed his flight.

The moral of the story is: Always check, double-check, triple-check entry requirements of every single country you go to, via that country’s official immigration department website.

Even if you’ve visited that country before because those entry requirements can change. The EU is going to be introducing a similar system called the ETIAS in May 2025. I expect that rollout will coincide with a lot of panicked experiences like mine at the airport.

So check your visa requirements and don’t get blindsided like we did. Happy travels!


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54 thoughts on “The Worst Travel Day Ever”

  1. This happened to us travelling with a family of 7 going to Argentina and hopping on a cruise to Brazil.
    Our first airline (VIVA AIR) to Argentina ceased operation 1 week prior to the trip so we had to booked last minute flights with Bolivia Air. Our travel insurance did not cover as this was airline’s financial issue.
    When we drove 4.5 hours to Miami airport to check in for Bolivia Air they said we needed Visa. I argued endlessly since US embassy stated for tourist we do not need one as we are staying only for 3 days.
    But turned out they gave us a hard time because we booked 1 way flight to Argentina regardless we were leaving the country via boat to Brazil.
    Took a lot of freaking out and convincing. I showed all my itinerary and receipts and proof that we are leaving Argentina just by sea and not by Air.

    1. I had a similar experience just prior to a trip to Iceland when WOW Airlines went out of business. We rebooked on Icelandair and my credit card reimbursed us for the WOW flights. You may want to check with the company of the card you purchased the flights on.

  2. It seems like every one of your flights is paid by credit card points (and sometimes business class, sometimes across the world). I wonder how you do it, especially if you purport to not spending much.

  3. Whew! That worked out! Thanks for sharing though, since most of the time, ya’ll make it look easy. 🙂
    I think more countries (UK?!!) are requiring extra or new entrance requirements/documents and it’s going to catch a few of us off guard. We start our travels this year, and I know next to nothing. A trip to France about 15 years ago and a couple of forays into Mexico, which means I had better check and double check entrance requirements and visas, etc.

  4. So glad you guys made it. I travelled to Asia visiting 4 countries a couple of months ago. It was so stressful with all the different covid requirements and it constantly changing, so I totally understand and feel your pain. Luckily it all went well, but I did do a massive spreadsheet with checklist list for every country in terms of requirements, covid testings etc.

    1. Good for you! We were super vigilant about the vaccine certificates needed for Asia, but totally forgot about e-visas for the other countries. Sometimes you just can’t keep track of everything all the time.

  5. That’s good to know, and so glad you made it! It’s kind of scary when a world class world traveler can get side swiped like that. A rural hillbilly like me is a super easy target when I’m travelling outside the US by comparison.

    1. Lol. You’re fine. Actually since I grew up in rural China, I’m a rural hillbilly too. It makes us more resilient when travelling 🙂

  6. Yeah, international travel is different now. I had to get an electronic thing when I visited Korea and the Maldives. Now, you have to double check the requirements. Good thing you got the response so quickly.
    In Maldives, I had to apply when I got to the airport. The airport wifi was so iffy. It wanted to do double authentication which didn’t work because of our US number. It took us a while to get through that one. Have fun in Oz!

    1. I know right? *phew* So relieved.

      I wish I could’ve applied in Australia like you did in Maldives, bad internet or not. I would’ve been much happier not missing the flight and dealing with data on arrival rather than panicking at the airport.

      Thanks and hope you enjoyed Maldives!

  7. Well I did ours but screwed up too. I went online for the Australian visa site and applied for a full evisa (I still have no idea the difference) rather than the one on the app. I paid about $120 for each of the three of us! My daughter’s was denied for some reason so in researching, I found the app evisa which was $20 per person. So I wasted all that money (something that drives me nuts:) and I’m still resentful LOL.

    1. LOL. That is expensive! It was $20 each for us, but honestly if they had said I could get it for $120 instantaneously, I would’ve happily thrown money at the problem rather than miss my business class flight. Good thing you applied earlier!

  8. Larry and I had a similar experience…….went to New Zealand and Australia in Feb/March. Had to get evisas for both countries. What a headache. We waited until 2 weeks before, the app went down before all the info was in and stayed down for a week.
    Last minute we got the visas. I printed them and stuffed them in my suitcase. Oddly,
    no one asked about them until we were in Australia and returning to New Zealand to fly home to US. No wifi in airport, at ticket counter digging through carry on to show our visas while people behind us in line gave us the stink eye. All that said, wonderful trip, beautiful countries with very friendly people (outside airport.)

    1. “We waited until 2 weeks before, the app went down before all the info was in and stayed down for a week.”

      Geez. I’m so glad that didn’t happen on the day we were supposed to fly out. So stressful!

      It’s possible no one asked you about it in Australia because it’s already in the system and when you scan your passport on arrival, it already has the info.

  9. Glad you made the flight! It was a pleasure to meet you both in Da Nang, and I’m still fighting British Airways after my own missed flight!

    1. Thanks, Derek. Enjoyed meeting you too! I can’t believe BA did that to you. On a connecting flight with them no less. Keep up the good fight and don’t let them off the hook! I’m rooting for you.

  10. Welcome to Melbourne! At least you are getting some nice autumn weather here ☺️.
    I was quite stressed just reading the blog, it must have been a very anxious time, glad it worked out I. The end!

    1. Thanks, Sean! Yeah, the stress definitely took some years off my life 😛 Oh well, at least I made it! Love Australia!

  11. Similar but less stressful experience for my friend in Korea! Travelled together to Seoul and because I watch too many Korean influencers I knew I ought to apply for a QR code for immigration. Forgot to mention this to my friend and we didn’t discover it until after landing. Cue rapid phone mashing as we walked off the plane…

    1. Rapid phone mashing seems to be the common travel experience these days. Gotta love these new post-covid immigration rules!

  12. Yeah had to book outgoing flight from Thailand before I could board flight into Thailand. And they told me about this 30 mins before departure of the flight to Thailand.

    Also got tripped up by India permit that I couldn’t complete on my phone while travelling.

    In general everywhere is making it soooo much more complicated to travel. I swear we are seeing the end of backpacking. Maybe 10 more years I figure if we are lucky then you will have to do everything from your home country before you leave (which I think is how China is now for Canadians).

    1. Yeah, definitely more bureaucracy. On the plus side, there are more digital nomad visas than ever. So, I guess you win some, you lose some.

  13. Check out the Japanese Bathhouse in Melbourne if you can whilst you are there! It is a great place for a scrub, bath, sauna, and shiatsu.

  14. That ETA has been a requirement for years…at least 10 I would guess. I suspect you would have had the same problem back in 2020, but didn’t find out about it.
    Glad it all worked out for you guys!

    1. Oh interesting! Good to know. Although back in 2020, I was flying from Bali, so I would’ve just lost a cheap Jetstar 2.5 hour flight. Weird that I didn’t see it mentioned in any of the travel blogs when researching Australia.

      1. Nat is absolutely correct – Australia has a universal visa system (yes acknowledging ETA is an authority, but same umbrella), has for decades now I think. Guess that’s a good reason to visit government websites, especially in the post pandemic environment, as opposed to travel blogs!

  15. Since the internet freed us from paying travel agents to do everything, I’ve saved a lot of money by doing travel on a D-I-Y basis. And I’ve always said, by taking the “professionals” out of the loop, someday it’s bound to bite me. When that happens I’ll try to just suck it up and pay my way out of trouble, and I’ll still be way ahead overall.

  16. I’ve known a couple of people who got turned away from “visa-exempt” South Korea for this exact issue. Feels like an extra way for countries to tax their visitors that don’t require visas and I’m sure they will all start doing the same at some point.

    1. Oh weird. Didn’t know that South Korea is doing it too. Haven’t been back there sin 2016. Just another reminder to check all visa requires for every country from now on.

  17. You are blessed have a cool, calm and collective partner to travel with you!

    With the exception of terminal illness and accidental death, there is almost nothing in this world that cannot be resolved with money and time (We came across a similar immigration situation in Beijing, China).

    You both have money and time!

  18. Australia is just the worst place! After what they did with N. Djokovic last year I swore I’ll never put my feet in that bloody country!

  19. Kristy & Bryce,

    It took me a while, but I finally finished reading all of your blog posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I do have some pro and con comments for you:

    Pro #1:
    Your financial insights and lessons are fantastic! I read your book and liked it so much I purchased an additional 5 copies and gave them away to family members.

    Pro #2:
    Your travel logs are amazing! I am looking forward to traveling to all the places you have written about.

    Con #1:
    It’s glaringly obvious that you do not proofread your blogs before posting them! Every single blog has grammar and spelling errors. Every single one!

    Con#2:
    Your socialist brainwashing at the hands of the Canadian government, mainstream media, and school system is very obvious and really doesn’t have a place in your financial blog. Your TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) is blatant and not helpful in the slightest way: please stop it.

    Con#3:
    The mediocre Canadian Healthcare System is not “free”. The average Canadian tax payer pays 29% more in taxes than the average American taxpayer. That’s how your “free” healthcare is paid for. I say Canadian healthcare is mediocre because many lifesaving surgeries are unavailable in Canada for months or years whereas in America those surgeries are usually immediately available.

    I really enjoy your blog for the financial and travel information. Please keep it up!

    Thank you,
    Stars Beard

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  21. I really want to go to Madrid to learn more about the place. How can I have an interesting time there? I have heard about culinary tours and I am interested. I’m very skeptical about it, but I still want to try it.

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