Sydney, Part One: Trying to Leave the US
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
We’ve been in Sydney for over three weeks now!
Rather than catch you up on the last three weeks all in one go, I’m going to slow it down for you and just get you through LEAVING SEATTLE – aka the trip that almost never happened because of the New Zealand government, thanks guys.
My closest friends know that I’m very much a planner, especially when it comes to travel of any kind. I’m the person who shops for flights, plans itineraries, makes lists, studies layovers, researches airline credit cards, looks at the in-flight entertainment selection (so that I can plan what I’m going to watch). I’m obsessed, guys. So when planning an international move, I handled all the ticking of boxes and making of lists and organizing of all the things that would get us from Seattle to Sydney.
We decided to fly on frequent flier miles, as Patrick and I both have Alaska Airlines credit cards and have been accumulating miles en masse since our wedding in 2017. We also decided that because Alaska Airlines partners with Fiji Airways, we could make a birthday trip out of it and stopover in Auckland, New Zealand for Patrick’s 30th birthday. It would only be three nights, but I had big plans.
We were scheduled to leave Seattle on November 12th. Patrick and I finished packing that morning and were somehow managing to keep our shit together. Both of us just wanted to go – we’d spent the last week saying goodbye to all of our friends and family, as well as each separately having a stomach bug of some kind (me in Los Angeles, him in Seattle). It was a crazy week. We wanted to get this adventure started before we both lost our minds or our mental ability to continue with everything.
I wanted to get to the airport about three hours early. That’s early even for me, but as we were booked on miles and we had five suitcases, two backpacks, and my huge weekend-bag-moonlighting-as-a-carry-on, I didn’t want to take any chances. We figured if it was easy breezy we’d just find a bar and start drinking until we forgot about how crazy this all was.
It was not easy, nor breezy. We went up to the desk to check-in and the DELIGHTFUL lady from Alaska Airlines got me checked-in immediately. Our bags were either exactly 50 pounds each, or 49.7. Things were looking GREAT. But when she went to get Patrick going, she paused. She was quiet for a while. This is taking too long, I thought. My heart started beating harder.
Two of our best friends, as well as my mom, had come with us to the airport for our send-off. They were standing off to the side, chatting. It was all very casual in that moment. But something was wrong.
Finally, the lady checking us in asked us if Patrick had his visa. Um, duh. We showed her the Australian visa paperwork that he had with him. No, no, she said, his New Zealand visa.
I’m sorry, what.
She explained that as of October 1st, US citizens were required to have a transit visa for New Zealand. As we’d bought our tickets months ago, before this visa was enacted, we had no idea. Because I was traveling on my Australian passport, it didn’t apply to me. I was golden. Good to go. Patrick, however, was not.
I whipped out my phone and googled New Zealand transit visa. I got tons of hits and just clicked on the first one. I snatched his passport, entered all the info, along with my credit card and hit submit. I’d had to do a similar thing to this nine years ago when I went to Australia with my mom (before I had my Aus passport). I didn’t realize I needed a visa and was able to whip out my mom’s laptop, apply for it, and receive it four minutes later (literally!). So, at first, I wasn’t too worried. I was like, this has happened to me before but it was with Australia, this is only New Zealand, how different could it be?
Turns out, different.
We waited twenty minutes after that and nothing. My mom came over to check on us, but I didn’t really know what to tell her. We didn’t have much information other than Patrick needed a visa, I’d applied for it on his behalf, it hadn’t come through. The agent ushered us around to a private booth so that they could open up her stand with another agent to keep servicing customers (as the line had grown lonnnnnngggggg since we’d been there – see how crucial getting there three hours early was!?).
Forty minutes have gone by now. Nothing. The agent brings her supervisor out who desperately tries to help us. They ask which website I used to apply. I was so flustered at this point that I was getting frustrated and was ready to burst into tears. I didn’t know! Jesus! THIS ONE! I showed them for the second or third time. The agent and her supervisor suggested applying through a different website. Patrick was against this – he was like, what if it messes up the one that’s currently processing. I had no idea if that was a thing. Neither did the agent or her supervisor.
To give you an idea of the time crunch in this situation, we had about twenty minutes until our flight to Los Angeles closed for check-in. So, our bags had to be through in twenty minutes if they were going to be checked. SWEAT. ING. you guys.
I said eff it. EFF IT, YOU GUYS. I applied for a second visa using the site the agent suggested. I got a message right away that thanked me for applying and let me know a decision would be made in 10 minutes – 72 hours. COOL. GREAT. I could see our birthday weekend in New Zealand falling through my fingers. I’m all about being adaptable and going with the flow, but in this case, we’d sunk over $1,000 into this weekend trip (between the AirBnB, the flight to Sydney from Auckland, tickets to stuff I’d planned, etc.). I hate playing the money card, but this was A LOT of money to throw away over a very, very, very stupid mistake that could have been resolved a few days prior, had I known.
We wait. Our poor friends and my mom just stood there with us. There was nothing anyone could do. Fifteen minutes went by. My mom asked me what our Plan B was. I DON’T HAVE A PLAN B, MOM! I’M A PLAN A TYPE OF LADY, OKAY!?! You guys, I was losing my shit at this point.
We quickly talked it out. What we’re our options? Option A) I go through – I go to Los Angeles as scheduled. We PRAY that Patrick’s visa comes through in the next hour and we can somehow get him on the next flight to Los Angeles in time for him to connect and join me on our flight to Auckland, via Fiji. Option B) I wait with Patrick. Hopefully the visa comes through and we both catch the next flight to Los Angeles and hopefully make our flight to Auckland, via Fiji, together. Option C) I wait with Patrick. We miss our flights entirely. We both re-book ($$$) and fly to New Zealand tomorrow, assuming his visa comes through overnight. Option D) I go through, we re-book Patrick straight to New Zealand for tomorrow night and don’t bother with Los Angeles. I meet him there. He misses his birthday entirely.
So. None of these options were great. I asked the agent how much time I had to make a decision. She said, two minutes. I was basically tiptoeing the line of bursting into tears in a very public place. I looked at my mom, then at Patrick. Patrick told me to make the decision.
I’ll go now, I said. I’ll go now and hopefully you can meet me in Los Angeles. The agent slapped the tags on my bags and pushed my two suitcases through. She handed me my boarding pass. I hugged my mom goodbye. This was not how I envisioned saying goodbye to my mom. She told me she loved me and I said (trying not to lose it), please take care of him. Get him on a plane. She promised me she would.
I hugged Jared and Rose and Patrick. I had to go, right then, or I was going to lose it. I took my stuff and ran to security. My flight was going to begin boarding in about ten minutes. My gate was at the other end of the airport. Even if I wanted to linger and say goodbye longer, I couldn’t. Thankfully, I have pre-check and was through security in just a few minutes.
I ran to my gate, swooping through a shop to grab a bottle of water because I was so stressed and so thirsty. By the time I got to my gate, both of my shoes were untied from my hustle. I tied them, stood up, and realized there weren’t really any people at my gate. I ran over to the desk, only to see that it was because there had been a gate change.
It was back at the other end. I’d run right by it after security. I ran back, falling into line just as the boarding group before mine was called. I was so frustrated. I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason and the universe and all that jazz. Just that morning, I’d received a notification on my phone from my trip planning app that let me know that the non-stop Qantas flight that we were ORIGINALLY booked on to take that day (before we decided to change and go to New Zealand for Patrick’s birthday), had been canceled. Earlier that morning, I’d been like, HAH! SEE! NOT MEANT TO BE! I remember thinking about how stressed I would have been if we were meant to be on that Qantas flight and would have had to re-book last minute or wait longer. It would have SUCKED. Lol.
So why had this gone so terribly bad? Why, universe?!
My phone rang. It was Patrick. I answered it and he said, “Can you stand up??”
And I was like, wtf, “I am standing up. I’m in line.”
He was like, “I GOT THROUGH! I DON’T SEE YOU!”
Truly, I thought my heart was going to explode in that minute. I was like, “THERE WAS A GATE CHANGE! C2!”
And he was like, “I’M COMING!”
I hung up the phone and felt my throat get really tight. I could feel my eyes filling with water. He’d made it through. Somehow, he had made it through. When I saw him running towards me, I started to cry. He got to me and hugged me so tight. I will probably never forget that moment. We probably looked like crazy people.
It turns out that maybe five minutes after I’d gone, the e-mail had come through to him saying that he’d gotten the visa. It was an e-mail from the second visa I applied for. He was able to show that to the agent helping us and she had rocket-fire-fast gotten his bags through, his boarding pass, and given him first-class security line clearance so he was able to jet straight through.
IN CASE YOU GUYS DIDN’T KNOW, THIS IS WHY I FLY WITH ALASKA AIRLINES. Customer service, level 10/10.
Our flight to Los Angeles was perfect – we each ordered drinks (doubles, obviously) and REALLY enjoyed it. In Los Angeles, we had dinner while we waited for two hours before boarding our overnight flight to Fiji. When we landed in Fiji, it was Patrick’s 30th birthday. We made our way to the business class lounge, enjoyed cappuccinos and a morning cocktail (and eggs benny, and pastries, and wi-fi). We were able to relax before we boarded our flight to Auckland and enjoyed business class brunch and a film and MY GOD the leg room and reclining chairs.
A truly traumatic way to begin our journey, but it all worked out in the end.
Next up: Patrick’s 30th birthday in Auckland.