When my husband, Mike, and I stood in the check-in line at the Chicago O’Hare airport for the beginning of our blissful 11-day vacation to sun-drenched Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we never could have imagined that the bathing suits, khaki shorts, quick-dry tank tops, and bottles of SPF 15 suntan lotion we were toting in our luggage would be completely useless.
“Going to Rio?” Tom, the airline agent asked, thumbing through our tickets and passports. “Do you have visas?”
“Visas?” my husband and I responded in unison.
“Yes, I can’t let you get on the plane without them.”
In all of my careful planning of each and every detail, I’d forgotten nothing ― except to apply for our visas.
As reality sank in, I stood there dumbstruck. I’ve always considered myself an organized traveler. When faced with the adversities of ever-changing itineraries, delayed flights, lost reservations, and unpredictable weather, I had always been able to temper my frustrations and make the most of the situation.
However, standing at the ticket counter, an indescribable surge of panic engulfed me. I quickly forced it down with a gulp of air and then swallowed another for good measure. By the look on Mike’s face, I could tell he wasn’t taking the disappointment any better.
Forcing myself to think of our options, I decided we could drive back home and try again later, leaving all thoughts of Brazil in the cold. Or, we could wait two days until the Brazilian Embassy opened, pay the hefty rush fees, and hope we’d be granted permission to enter. Neither scenario seemed appealing, but then I remembered another vacation — this one in Mexico.
Because of gusting winds and a relentless downpour, my visit to Chichén Itzá, a popular cluster of Maya ruins, had been cancelled. Flush with disappointment, I had returned to my hotel room for an uneventful day of channel surfing and napping when I saw two rain-soaked children puddle-jumping in the courtyard.
They were obviously making the best of a bad situation. Why couldn’t I? I slipped into my bathing suit, headed outside, and made a beeline for the beachside pool. The sun wasn’t shining and the rain was a constant tickle on my shoulders, but I was able to let go, relax, and enjoy the moment.
Back at the ticket counter, with the image of those children in mind, I blurted, “Where can we go without a visa?”
Mike and I huddled around the computer while airline agent Tom, typed in destinations as quickly as we rattled them off ― London, Sydney, and Mexico City ―and voilà: We were able to evenly exchange our plane tickets to Rio for tickets to Tokyo, Japan.
Even though our plans had greatly changed, along with the current season of our destination, our smiles reappeared. We had been tested, flexed far beyond what we imagined, and had not broken. In a not-so-subtle way, we were reminded that sometimes it isn’t the destination that’s important but the ability to let go and enjoy the journey.
Japan turned out to be an amazing place to visit after all. I enjoyed window shopping along the bustling districts of Tokyo, gazing upon the serene rock gardens and ancient temples in Kyoto, trying new foods and bathing at a traditional onsen (spa).
These were just some of the many experiences we’ll not soon forget. And all because I forgot those visas.