I Got Banned from 27 Countries
But I’m more grateful than ever.
Most people don’t understand what it’s like to have a restriction on travel. For most living in a western society where traveling is affordable and obtainable, our passport allows us access to a lot of places on Earth.
I was one of those people for many years.
I grew up with a passport from the United States of America — one of the most privileged passports in the world. I was afforded the possibility to travel to every continent without a visa.
In most places, I was even allowed to stay longer than I intended to. The difficulty (the impossibility) of travel never crossed my mind.
The more I traveled, though, the more I learned. I traveled outside of the western world where poverty prevented people from moving. I traveled to Muslim countries where stereotypes limited passports. I traveled to places so rural, the idea of an outside world never even existed.
I met good people — wonderful people — the best people — limited by things out of their control. It was sad and I pitied their situations, but I could never relate.
My travels were simple and virtually limitless. There were no matters of complication and I continued to go about the world freely wherever I wanted.
Then, in the spring of 2018, that world got turned on its side.
I became too careless of the privileges my passport gave me. I overstayed my allotted visa-exempt days in the Schengen Zone of Europe. I did it knowingly. I figured I could use my passport’s privilege to talk myself out of a consequence.
I showed up at the airport having overstayed my visa by ten days and was banned from twenty-seven countries in Europe for three years.
That was the most detrimental day of my life. It was a painstakingly costly mistake and it still haunts me more than 3 years later.
At the time, my whole life — or at least a large majority — was rooted in Europe. I had made best friends and found a lifestyle that made me happiest.
After the ban, I was forced to deal with passport restrictions for the first time in my life.
I was separated from people I cared about most. Left with nothing except the bag on my back. All I had was the thought of being restricted from the place I wanted to be.
The next couple of months were some of the most difficult, confusing months of my life. I still deal with severe anxiety issues from that day and the repercussions of my mistake.
I’m not allowed in most of Europe until May of 2021. That seems like a lifetime away — or, at least, it did.
Fortunately, I was born with a privileged passport. Being a citizen of the United States of America, I get to traverse all seven continents without worry. Almost.
I was able to move my life to Southeast Asia several months after the fateful day. Now, I’ve begun to grow roots in another hemisphere of the world.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating a move to Australia where many western countries are granted a wonderful thing known as a Working Holiday Visa.
With this visa, I’m allowed to stay in Australia and work any job I want for up to one year. With a little maneuvering, that visa can be extended for a second year, as well. It’s an excellent opportunity to work and travel in one of the most-sought-to-visit places on Earth.
Then, I considered the possibility of a reunion between me and my other footloose friends who remained in Europe. The ones I was prevented from being close to.
We could all meet up, earn some money, and spend another year together which we agreed was when we were happiest. Australia seemed like the perfect solution to separation anxiety.
But it isn’t that simple for many people in the world.
Like my best friend — who comes from a Muslim country in Africa — who is only afforded travel to six countries in the entire world without a visa. His home country is not one of the many countries eligible for the great Australian work and travel visa.
So, today, I’m thankful.
Although my actions have led to visa difficulties and separation, I’m thankful for the privileges I’m still allowed.
I’m also mindful of the unfortunate circumstances that led our world to be so divided. Such that paper documents are required for travel. Paper documents may keep us from understanding each other.
I’m cognizant that that piece of paper — a visa — is the difference between fear and understanding. It’s disappointing, but it is the world we live in.
I’m thankful that something that has caused me pain has also taught me a lesson. It has opened my eyes to the world of passport privilege. So that I’m able to see my situation from a different perspective.
I’ve been given the right to travel.
There are billions of people across the world that cannot say the same. Today, I am banned from twenty-seven countries throughout Europe, but I feel more fortunate than ever. I have spent far too long being ignorant of the less fortunate.
There are good people all over the world that aren’t afforded the possibility of travel. Solely because of political disagreements.
There is politics involved in everything. If only the world could see each other for the people we are rather than the wars that political monsters aggravate. What a shame.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **
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