What Not to Do While Traveling • My Biggest Mistake!

I like to think I’m well-travelled. After 6 years of travelling on and off, I never thought I would make this much of a costly (and stupid mistake). Yet the morning I wrote this, I found myself running through the airport, to catch a flight, to which I was nearly denied boarding.

Despite my free-spirited travel style, leaving everything to the last minute, doing no research and taking my Australian passport for granted, this leg of the trip had actually been vaguely planned from the start.

I had certain dates to meet friends in Japan and then a Russian visa that had to be activated on a specific date a few weeks later. I was also interested in Mongolia and found out I could also tick off Beijing on the way with a 144-hour transit visa.

Perfect! After having gone through the extensive process of applying for a Russian visa I reeaaallly didn’t want to have to repeat the process for China.

And here’s where I went wrong…

Back in Fiji whilst repeating the Russian Visa application for the fourth time, I thought I better also check out the entry requirements for Mongolia. I am so, so, so sure that when I originally checked, the answer was “You do not need a visa for tourist visits under 30 days”.  Happy with that, I didn’t bother looking it up again.

Fast forward 2 months, when I was arriving at the Tokyo airport and checking in for my flight, I was getting slightly frustrated that the bag drop line was taking so long. Eventually, when it was my turn, the airline staff asked for my documents for Mongolia, as I was planning to enter China on a transit visa.

I told him that I didn’t need a visa, and he replied by asking if I was getting a visa on arrival. A little bit of a red flag considering I thought I didn’t need a visa at all, but I presumed I must have remembered it wrong and that he must be right, so I said yes, visa on arrival…

After a lot of typing, confused looks and a long phone call, he asked me again

“are you sure you don’t have any documents for Mongolia which will allow you entry?”

I said no and the panic started to set in. The airline staff then took my passport away and didn’t come back for a long time. A quick Google search whilst I was waiting confirmed my fears. “Australian citizens are required to apply in advance for a tourist visa at the Mongolian embassy in Canberra”.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, how on earth did I miss that, I’m sure I checked it.

Continuing the quick search I read that the USA, Canada and Germany are practically the only Western countries that don’t require a visa and that visas on arrival are possible but only for countries that do not have a Mongolian consulate or have a specific agreement, Australia is not one of those.

So after having waited so long in lines already, the employee finally came back with not only my passport, but his supervisor, and her manager, to tell me what I feared, that they could not let me board the flight.

I was being denied boarding due to a visa issue and something that was entirely my mistake!

Trying to stay collected this whole time my heart sank, I was facing losing $600 in flights PLUS still having to find a way to make it to Serbian Russia. Expensive! Especially for a backpacker!

All my plans nearly went down the drain in that one instant.

Luckily, I knew the transit visa rules and convinced them to let me on the flight to Beijing if I booked a flight to Hong Kong right then and there. Although HK is technically a “special administrative area of China”, they still count it as separate destination for the transit visa purpose, and as I had already spent 3 weeks there on this trip, I knew there was no visa and it was super easy to enter.

After being given 5 mins to book the flight, I walked away from the desk, jumped on kiwi.com, quickly found what I was looking for, and booked myself on a very expensive flight to a destination that I really didn’t want to go.

Learning from the last time I had to book a last minute exit flight in the airport I paid almost 3x the price of a basic ticket to allow changes.

Now, with two different exit flights from Beijing on the same day, I headed back to the desk.

The original check in clerk assured me I wouldn’t have to line up again as time was limited, yet when I returned, the staff had changed and I was asked to stand in the snail paced queue once again.

By this time the flight had already started boarding and announcements blared about the long waits at the two security check points. A new fear to add to my stressful morning…

What if I don’t even make it in time to board the flight to China; the whole reason I had just bought this expensive ticket to HK. 

Staring at the 10 people in front of me, with 5 suitcases each, I tried to ask if they were on same flight as me or a later one, hoping my backpack and I could skip forward a little. “China, no English” was the response I got. Literally the story of my life whenever I really need a hand (and an English speaker).

Eventually I did make it to the front of the queue, handed over my boarding pass and got straight to the point.

“I’m getting the visa free transit in Beijing, I was suppose to be going to Mongolia but I don’t have a visa so I just booked a flight to Hong Kong, here is my ticket”

The lady smiled and said okay, typed into her computer, made a call, consulted a bunch of forms for what seemed like forever and then walked away. Eventually she came back (20 mins to departure time) handed everything back and said it was okay.

“Thank god, but the flight has already started boarding right!?” I said as I looked at the 300 meter line for the first of two security checks, before the gate. “Yes but it’s okay, I’m sure you will make it” she reassured me.

Boarding pass in hand, bag finally checked in, the nice lady led myself and another (who was also running late for the flight), to the staff security clearance and allowed us through. 5 more minutes to get through Japanese immigration and a 5 min run to the gate,

I made it on at the last call, with 5 mins to take off

So now I’ve made it onto the flight, still not sure what to do once I arrive in China, but I had 144 hours to figure it out once I landed…

After landing in Beijing, the visa was actually really simple to obtain. So now you might be wondering..

How does the 144 hour China transit visa work?

Under the requirements that you must enter and exit from the same airport within 144 hours of arrival, a lot of nationalities can obtain this visa at the border providing they can prove acceptable onwards travel.

As I followed the arrows to the Transit visa desk, I passed multiple, large, warning signs, that I must have a printed exit boarding pass. I frantically tried to get onto wifi, to find out if I had my boarding pass printed, if it would classify as being checked in for a very expensive flight, which I intended to cancel and refund.

China being China, I obviously couldn’t access the wifi, so I decided to simply try my luck at the desk.

As I approached the police officer with a smile, I avoided mentioning that I had no intention of actually getting on the flight to Hong Kong, which I used to obtain the permit, and filled in my entry and exit cards accordingly.

Luckily, the officer was more concerned by believing I didn’t resemble my passport photo. In the confusion of asking me to look this way, look that way, tuck your hair behind your ears etc, she viewed my e-ticket on my phone, stamped my passport and sent me though!

Moral of the story,

Double and Triple check Entry Requirements for any Country you are Planning to Visit, make sure it is from an official source, and remember, regulations can change at any moment.

As an Australian, I always use smart traveler to search for requirements, as it has a definitive answer for every country, and directs you to the official consulate websites where needed.

I’m still not sure how I went so wrong as I distinctively remember reading that I did not require a visa however, I have two theories.

It is possible that when I read up on the entry requirements 2 months prior, it wasn’t required, and since then it has changed.

The second theory, is that possibly I just googled “do I need a visa for Mongolia” and read a generic answer saying “you do not need a visa to enter Mongolia as a tourist” and took the blanket answer to surely include Australians.

Whatever happened, it was potentially a very expensive mistake and I reacted in the most strategic way I could, under pressure and with a time limit.

A lot of traveling is about problem solving; getting frustrated and cursing the past will never help.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, take a breath, realize that what’s done is done, and there’s no point worrying about the past. Figure out what you can do now, to solve the problem, one step at a time.

For me, it was to figure out how to get on the flight to China and then deal with the rest when I arrived. After spending just $130 on the express visa (still less money than a standard visa processed in Aus). A mistake that I calculated could have cost me up to $3,000, I only ended up loosing a $50 cancelation fee on my extra flight to Hong Kong.

Crisis averted!  

Check you this post on what happened in China, how to get a Mongolian Visa in China-Quick!
Everyone makes mistakes, let me know your worst one (big or small)!

Save this post for later or share it with your friends!

Helpful Resources

Booking.com - My favorite place to find the perfect hotel for any budget and location with lots of filters to easily narrow it down to a select few.
Hotels.com - Another great place to find a hotel with specific requirements for your trip.
Agoda - Best for booking hotels in Asia. Has options worldwide however in Asia it seems to have the most options of all the booking sites.
Hostelworld - Perfect for backpackers, Hostelworld is my go-to to find dorm rooms and cheap, social accommodation options.
Rental Cars - My preferred place to find rental cars at great prices around the world.
Discover Car Hire - Another option to compare rental car companies and providers worldwide.
Sixt - Previously “Thrifty” car rentals.
Europcar - Offers car and van hire around the world.
AutoEurope - Best place to find RV’s to rent for your trip.
Paul Camper - Rent campervans directly from their owners at reduced prices.
Get Your Guide - My preference for finding and comparing city tours, day trips and attractions around the world.
Viator - Preferred by US providers so sometimes has a bigger range of activities in select locations.
Klook - Most popular in Asia, you will find a bigger range of attractions and tours in the region of Asia on Klook.
Civitatis - Specializing in European Cities. Although it provides tours worldwide, always check here for additional options if visiting Europe.
HeadOut - Best place to find discounted attraction tickets.
Tiqets - Offers a lot of combo tickets. Make sure to visit if you are planning on visiting a few iconic attractions within a city.
Tripaneer - Where to go if you want to book retreats of any kind (yoga, cycling, outdoors etc).
Guru Walks - Book your spot on a free walking tour.
G Adventure - Lets you compare multi day tours around the world to pick the right itinerary for you.
Cruise Critic - Check out the different cruise options for long or short trips world wide.
Cruise Direct - Another option for comparing and booking cruises for your trip.
Backcountry - The best place to buy quality specialized gear that will last you for years of adventures.
Helly Hanson - Norwegian based clothing brand which produces durable outdoor clothing, particularly ski gear.
The North Face - High quality clothing for all your outdoor adventure needs.
Decathlon - Has a great range of cheap equipment and clothing for a huge range of sports and outdoor activities.
Sport Chek - Everything you need for general sports and outdoor adventures under one roof (or website).
Skyscanner - My preferred place to compare and find the cheapest flights to different destinations around the world.
Kiwi - Best platform for comparing different routes and dates.
Flixbus - Cheapest bus service mostly serving Europe but available in a few other destinations.
Greyhound - US long distance bus transport service.
Busbud - Compare and find all the bus times and providers for your chosen route.
Trainline - Find train times and tickets for long distance travel around the world.
Save a train - Another place to get train tickets and compare services for your destination.
Welcome Pickups - Pre book your airport transfer to your hotel.
Get Transfer - Another option to find airport transfers within your destination city.
Kiwi Taxi - Find and pre-book a taxi service in your location (including airport transfers).
World Nomads - Great comprehensive worldwide travel insurance for adventure travel.
SafetyWing - Best for digital nomads, offers ongoing monthly travel insurance plans.
Bonzah - Rental car insurance. Cheaper plans than those offered by the rental car companies themselves.

Kate is the outdoor loving, mountain obsessed creator behind Bags-Always-Packed.com. Since the age of 18 she has travelled to 50+ countries in search of the tallest peaks, new cultures, and the most off the track experiences possible. With over 10 years of adventures under her belt, Kate is dedicated to sharing all her experience through this website, helping you to plan your own trips and experience the world, no matter your budget!

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *