Ghana or Bust! (Unfortunately, I got “Bust”)
Finally, it’s Spring Break!! I bought tickets from Amman, Jordan to Accra, Ghana in early January for this week (in late April). I was supposed to go visit one of my best friends, Brain Garvon, who has been living there for almost a year now. Our plans included surfing, hiking, beach going and night life, a much needed break from the monotony of school life (we have been going straight without a real break for 17 straight weeks now). And I was supposed to hang out with Brain for a week, which is always a blast. Needless to say, I had been excited about the trip for a very long time.
I was talking to a friend a few days before the trip in the science office and he casually asked “So, do you need a visa for Ghana or do you just get it when you get there?” I responded, “Oh no, you just get it when you get off the plane… I think?” I added the “I think” because it turns out I never bothered to check. I can try to blame it on my busy schedule at school, or American hubris (because most countries that people travel to, including Jordan, take zero pre-trip visa preparation for Americans), but in the end, it boils down to the fact that I just simply did not do any research for this trip. You think that of anyone, I would be someone who would know something like this (and it kills me because I usually do, as my mom put it, have all my t’s crossed and i’s dotted). Here’s my travel resume:
- I’ve lived abroad for almost 2 years now, and have spent a total of about a month and a half in the past 24 in the United States
- I’ve been to about 20 different countries on random trips in the past 5 years
- I ran a service-travel organization in college for around 700 people and advised countless site leaders on how to make travel plans for groups of 10-15 people (including leading two of my own international service trips)
Bottom line is, I should have known to do the research. I think that the more you travel, the lazier you get – I have noticed that my travel plans have gotten less and less detailed, to the point where last summer I just went to Syria without real lodging plans or a definite return date.
So, as you can probably guess by the tone of my writing, yes, you do need to acquire a visa before traveling to Ghana. And no, there’s no way to get an expedited visa when you find out on Thursday and are supposed to leave on a Saturday. First, there’s no Ghanaian embassy, and second, it takes more than two days to FedEx your passport anywhere that does have a Ghanaian embassy (like, for example, the US!), and third, even if I could it would have taken many days for the embassy to process anything. Fourth, I have class next period and don’t have time to deal with craziness like this.
Theeeen, my mind started racing and I began to formulate a Plan B. Options included sneaking on the plane and then bribing the Ghanaian border control (not very plausible), flying to next door Togo and trying the land border (perhaps possible) or planning a whole new trip to Togo next door and just hanging out with Brain there (definitely possible but perhaps expensive). Step 1: I had to get my flight canceled. I called the reputable “Cheapoair.com” dreading hearing that my $800 flight was nonrefundable as is written ALL OVER the ticket that they sent me. When I finally got a representative on the phone they immediately told me “There has been a major schedule change in your ticket and you will now be leaving 14 hours later and have a 12 hour overnight layover in Cairo. The airline will arrange hotel accommodation.” Jackpot. “Uhh, can I have a refund instead?” [pause] “Yeah, sure.” So in a stroke of luck (and about four dropped Skype calls to their 800 number later), I got $802.40 of my $822.40 plane ticket reimbursed. If there is anything good that has come out of this it is that amazing stroke of luck that caused my visa mistake to cause mental and experiential trauma instead of financial trauma too. Maybe I avoided health issues too because in my lack of pre-trip research, I also didn’t realize that you had to take malaria medicine.
When I finally got confirmation of my refund, the plane tickets to Togo had gone up about $400 and I’m not sure they would have even let me book the day before the flight online (since I’m leaving from a foreign destination). Also, I didn’t know what would happen once I got to Togo (what’s in Togo, honest question: had you heard of that country before I mentioned it?), and didn’t feel all that comfortable roaming about a random country with all my stuff on my back and not much a plan. I made the tough call just to cancel the trip. I am extremely bummed about it, especially that I won’t get to spend some quality time with Brain, but such is life.
Plan C: I hopped onto the school’s trip for the students can’t travel anywhere over the break, so we are staying at a beautiful apartment on the beach in Southern Jordan. It’s me, a very nice family of 5 from the school and then 6 students – three from Gaza, one from the States, one from Australia and one from Jordan (and another young faculty member will be joining us shortly). Though it’s not what I wanted to be doing for Spring Break, the people here are wonderful, the apartment and beach are beautiful, the trip was free and everything will be incredibly relaxing. To give you an idea of what I plan to do, I brought six books with me, in addition to my Kindle.
Lesson learned: don’t implicitly assume that because you’re American you can walk into any country you want without obtaining a visa first.