Change of Plans #2

Current status

If you have been following the blog you would know that we have been traveling around India. This was after spending 4 days in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka.

Europe next or last?

While we were in Australia, we have envisioned going to Europe in the peak of winter. We bought winter clothes accordingly and were aware of how cold it can be. And, we wanted to experience Northern Lights as well.

However, Shruti’s uncle in Hong Kong made a very valid point. While we were prepared to brave the cold, we had not taken into account that a lot of Europe’s lesser known towns and tourist destinations may be shut for the winter.

One example of his drove the point home. In the summer, many streets in Paris or squares in Italy have open air bars with people mingling around creating a holiday atmosphere. However, in the winter the cold wind and possibly the rain or snow would drive people inside. Therefore, while there would still be people around the Eiffel tower, Brandenburg date etc, the fun of Europe would be lost.

Hence, we chose to put Europe to the end so we could enjoy the summer in Europe.

So what now?

We discussed lots of options such as going to South America or Africa but our bucket list items were left out. There was a bit of stress and we were trying really hard to crack it.

Till one fine afternoon, Manish spoke words of wisdom – hey, we can go to Alaska to see the Northern Lights. BAM! We hit jackpot. After we finish from India, we could head to USA and then South America. And once we completed our journey in the American Continents, we could head to Europe.

Problems with the passport

As we wrote in another post, Shruti and I had a long procedure trying to get her passport renewed. This left little time to do other things namely getting visas for South American countries. Having said that, the visa application is usually accepted at least 3 months in advance to planned travel. So our Peru application (post coming soon), for instance, was not accepted because we applied too early, almost 4 months in advance.

Luckily we managed to get USA visa, so that is a big yay! Now, even if getting visa for South American countries is an issue, we could fly to Central America and spend time in islands :)

What’s next?

We will be flying to USA next week, spending Christmas and NYE in New York. That fulfills our bucket list for White Christmas and New Year.

In addition, we will be flying to Fairbanks Alaska, to try our hand at seeing the Northern Lights. After this, we will be traveling to Colombia and then to Ecuador. From there, it’s que sera sera with plenty of options…..

USA Visa for Indian Citizen

While we were in Colombo, we looked into the process for USA Visa application. As I am am Indian Citizen, it was necessary for her to get the USA Visa. Turns out, everything was very straight forward. We looked through US Travel Docs site and followed the steps.

After filling out the online application, we had to make our way to a bank branch to pay the fee. We waited till we got to India for the payment step. Once the fee was paid, we received a receipt number.

We tried to book an appointment soon after but the receipt number wasn’t accepted. We guessed the system had to be updated. We tried again at night and bang, we got to the schedule appointment screen.

As we were scheduled to leave Delhi and travel around India, selecting collection port was an issue. US Embassy allows applicants to submit their application in one city and collect their passport in another. Upon thinking through our options, estimating the process time and discussing with my mother, we decided to pick up the passport from Mumbai.

Step 5 and step 6, both require appointments and although the system allows applicant to schedule appointment for step 6, interview stage, first, the date has to be after step 5, collection of finger prints, is done. This took us a while to figure this out!

We headed to Nehru Place to submit my finger prints and photo. The process took 40 mins, apart from the waiting around for appointment. Usually this step is really quick but make sure you are carrying all your documents, especially your bank statements. Only then your application will be processed. This step is carried out by an outsourced company and not handled directly by USA Embassy.

On the day of the interview, we headed to the Embassy. I queued up while Manish and mum-in-law spent time driving around Delhi. Luckily Rohit, Manish’s friend, had offered to drive us to the embassy. They came back every half hour to check on me as I couldn’t carry my mobile phone inside the building.

Once inside, I felt the US Visa anticipation atmosphere. It was almost like everyone there was preparing for a job interview they really want! The interviewer decides if the applicant will receive the visa or not. The range of interviewers was diverse as well, from an older man to younger female including an Indian origin American. It was also quite a surprise to see Americans speak in fluent Hindi and Punjabi.

I had almost done a walk-in interview, i.e., without any preparation, and was started to get worried. When it came to my turn, I was interviewed by the Indian American. Upon reciting our story, the interviewer double checked a few details. I suppose, mentioning we live in Sydney and Manish is an Australian Citizen, cleared most of his doubts. He clarified why was I applying the visa from India and upon learning that we are backpacking, he quickly dropped the visa in a tray and said that an email with be sent about the collection. It took me a couple of seconds to digest what had happened and I eventually walked out smiling.

Manish and the crew drove back to the embassy and picked me up after 2 hours. At least I had good news for them. Upon hearing my initial concern about the interview and me not being prepared, Rohit said that it appears US Visa is granted to those who don’t need it. So true I must say!

In 3 days we received an email saying my passport was ready for collection. Luckily my mum was in Mumbai and we couriered her a couple of papers, including an authorisation letter. The passport pickup was not an issue at all.

I suppose the entire process for scheduling appointments and receiving USA Visa for Indian Citizen took about 10 days. So now if I get visas to other countries or not, we can at least travel to US and other countries that allow Indians to visit based on the US Visa validity. Hurray!