Not this year anyway.
Just one week ago I told you about our 2013 travel plans, which included a month or so exploring China this summer. I wanted to see the Great Wall, the karst peaks of Yangshuo and the Summer Palace. I wanted to shop in Shanghai and eat my body weight in Beijing. And I will do all those things. Just not this year.
It began when I found out that the Chinese Visa process became a lot more complicated last August. You now have to either have a letter of invitation from inside China or have booked all your flights and hotel reservations prior to applying for a visa. The application process takes at least four days to complete, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to plan my dream trip since we’re leaving DC in just one week.
The solution seemed simple: just wait and apply for a visa in Hong Kong. Though China usually requires Americans to apply for a visa in their home country, there has historically been an exception if you’re in Hong Kong. This would’ve been perfect. I’d have a few months to sketch out my ideal trip and book everything before arriving in Hong Kong in June to apply for a visa just before entry.
This is where I hit hitch #2. With the rule change for Americans just last August, I wondered if there might have been some recent changes to the Hong Kong visa route as well. Sure enough, both the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and the Consular Section of the China Commission in Hong Kong are citing new regulations on their websites that say visa applicants in Hong Kong must reside there.
Some people on Twitter and Facebook thought they might just be saying that officially, but still doing it the old way in practice. But I’m not really willing to take the risk of winding up with an entire China itinerary and no way to enter.
So I turned to the next logical conclusion: tours. I had a wonderful experience on my one and only tour with Intrepid Travel in Egypt a few years ago. We poured over their website, found an amazing tour and said “let’s do this!” We would receive a letter of invitation from Intrepid and pay for rush processing of our visa (a few days had passed and regular processing wasn’t going to cut it). No problem, right?
We were just about to click book when it hit us. Here we were rushing into a less-than-ideal trip that was going to cost us a lot more than we’d originally anticipated and lock in our travels for the first six months of the year. When I said I’d like to plan ahead more often this isn’t what I had in mind.
Nick and I are actually pretty bad at being digital nomads. We love to move, and move quickly. This often means we don’t leave ourselves enough time to work and live. Nick had already turned down a lucrative six month project because of our New Zealand trip. It was a good move because we wanted to focus more on our personal projects and exploring the land of Hobbits than we did on making money. But here we were considering locking ourselves into another few months of hard-core adventuring, leaving no room for anything else.
Though I’m certain it would’ve been amazing, we decided that China isn’t going anywhere. Instead of rushing to plan a trip in under a week we’re going to punt on China for 2013. It’s going to be at the top of the to-do list for 2014, 2015… basically every year until we finally manage to book a trip we feel happy about.
Instead, we’ll be spending May and June in Australia and possibly still going to Hong Kong. We’ll be renting apartments, blending in with local life and hopefully getting some work done too. We’ll still be having lots of adventures – I’m aiming to explore Tasmania and possibly Western Australia – but we won’t be running ourselves ragged all over the hemisphere.
While I currently feel like someone dangled chocolate cake in front of me and then stole it back, I think this is the best decision to ensure we have an epic 2013 while still managing to live our lives as we want to.
I want to thank everyone on the Facebook, Twitter and Stack Exchange who helped out with advice and research over the last week. I’m so lucky to have a fantastic support group who can keep me from going off the deep end when international bureaucracy threatens to drown me in red tape. I’ll keep all your China recommendations in my back pocket for next time! :)