This trip was in the talks for almost 3-4 years. It was meant to happen this year. And how!!
We came up with a mini agenda for the trip that went thus:
- finalize countries
- budget the trip
- decide the possible dates
- book the tickets
- book the stay
- get the visas
- finalize the itinerary
We arrived at the dates that would more or less work for everyone without conflicting with work priorities and on the home front. After analyzing the pricing across different airlines and routes, we picked Emirates, and booked our tickets. Confirmed tickets and stay bookings are a part of the mandatory travel proofs for tourist visa processing. Most sites we researched suggested that we even book the internal travel. We had 2-3 itineraries and didn’t want to risk booking internal tickets and incur cancellation losses. We decided to do it after procuring the visa.
After buying the tickets, we booked our stays in all the intended cities through Booking.com and picked the cheapest ones lest they charge payment to the credit card. Yes, they collect the card information at the time of booking including the cvv number. While airbnb had awesome options for a smaller group, booking.com showed more options for a larger group. All our stays allowed free cancellation until the intended day of check-in barring one where free cancellation was allowed until 4 days before the check-in date. Items 1 to 5 on the agenda- a big tick!
With the air tickets and stay bookings out of the way, we started processing our visas. We assumed this to be just another formality and that it would be a cake walk. A few of us who have traveled abroad on work had until now not encountered any hassles with visa approvals. We however were aware of instances where the visas were delayed and when they finally arrived, it would be too late and the people abandoned the travel plan. We were advised to apply in Italy as France had supposedly upped their scrutiny ever since the terror attacks. Quite understandable. But we didn’t want to apply in Italy because a few colleagues who’d earlier applied there, were summoned to the Mumbai center for a personal interview. Dragging a 11-member battalion to Mumbai would be a trip in itself and the prospect didn’t seem appealing. We decided to apply in Switzerland instead. And we did. And waited. And were quite composed. As we waited, a few of us regrouped every 2 or 3 days or discussed over lunch and finalized the detailed itinerary. And then they came. The visas. In instalments. Over 4 torturous weeks With the first rejection that came within a week of applying, our plans came crashing down and things were in a limbo. Nothing progressed the next 3 weeks and wtih more rejections coming, we abandoned the plan. We were holding back on cancelling the air tickets or stay bookings as the cancellation charges were the same till the last day before the travel date. Hope is a good thing, after all!
At this point, our dejection turned into angst directed at the visa process and the officers. The nature of rejections were absolutely random. All had sufficient and more bank balance to show. All had consistent salaries and payslips and ITR returns to prove. We had the necessary leave sanction from the work place and NOCs obtained from the schools for the 3 teenaged children. We had confirmed air tickets and confirmed stay bookings. The reasons of course were either lack of means of subsistence or lack of proof of return! I mean, really?!! All our covering letters had all our names and passport details listed as co-travellers and we explicitly stated that it was a group travel. So instead of giving up without a fight, we thought we should still try and NOT go even if the visas are through the next time 🙂 Watching too many cinemas or soaps can do this to you. You lose the faculty to rationalize that the loss will still be yours if you don’t go. Monetarily, mentally, philosophically 🙂
A lot of discussions on Quora and Tripadvisor weren’t giving any favorable leanings towards re-applying. A few Schengen visa myths we busted:
1. Some suggested we apply in the same country.
2. Yet others suggested applying in a different Schengen state.
3. A few dissuaded from re-applying.
4. A few agents we casually spoke to said that usually rejected visas will be rejected again.
5. A few said that the visas will be granted if we apply after a gap of 6 months.
6. Many suggested doing it ONLY through agents.
None of the above suggestions hold water. It is random free advice.
And then, there were a very few threads that said we can reapply anytime, but with more documentation that supports the reasons cited in the first rejection. This was random good advice. What do they say about you wanting to hear/listen/infer/discern ONLY what you want from what is said or read? Yes, so we scooped out only those countable number of conversations that sounded encouraging. Even otherwise, how will we know if we don’t try, right? Yes, we are unrelenting like that. So after many days of going back and forth and ditching the sour-tour, we gave the process a phoenix-like quality, and decidedly stayed positive. All extra documentations were pooled together and once again appointments were fixed, submitted, and then the next round of waiting began.
In less than 5 days, 5 of the 6 visas came through and again one was rejected on grounds of lack of proof of return. With about two weeks time, we had to give it one more go. We didn’t know what possible risks a third application entailed. We didn’t have it in us to leave one person and go, especially because she was the one instrumental in getting the others to re-apply. She however kept insisting that we should all go ahead without her. Yes, we will, but not without giving it another try and we still had a little over 2 weeks. This time, we gave a covering letter, a collective representation from all the rest of us with visas. And also an additional proof of her return- the marathon registration which I’d mentioned in my previous post. And what do you know! She got it on the 9th day as there were 4 holidays in between! We had exactly 7 days for our flight.
A couple of us did a night-out that Friday. Booked all the internal travels, passes, discount cards. Re-booked some of the stays in an attempt to bring down the stay costs, with better proximity, and with better safety. We ‘travefy-ied our day–by-day itinerary and also Google-trip-ed, offline-ed some maps, and also some tours. Items 6 and 7 on the agenda- another big tick! Our trip was ON!!!!
We have large hearts. We decided to forgive the Schengen Visa officers. We decided to forgive the processes. We forgave the eye-rolling, smirking reactions of the VFS folks. We decided to make a stately visit to the Schengen states. We are not only relentless, but also magnanimous like that!
Next post- An eventful start to our journey!