Great Travel Mistakes In History: The Schengen Zone

Skype chat with Chris early Sunday morning. He and Pausha moved to France two months ago, and he has discovered that he may have to work through a visa limitation ahead of his planned trip back to the States. His cloud on the horizon stems from the Schengen Zone restrictions.

Schengen Zone? Shit, i haven’t looked into this at all, I reply.

Now at this point, I must remind you, that we are in Mexico, coming back to California briefly and then leaving for London in nine days, the first stop of six months in Europe. The trip is planned. We have our flats, studios, apartments and rooms pretty darn well booked across the continent for half a year.

As I read about the Schengen Zone, which limits us to just 90 out of 180 days in the core European countries, the pit of my stomach drops, my mouth goes dry, I break into a cold sweat, my lower back and legs feel sore.

I am immediately struck by the magnitude of my mistake. This glaring omission from my research. Let’s put it this way – if a minor mistake is a boner, then this oversight is no less than Godzilla’s Erection itself.

The spectrum of my reaction is rather narrow; OMG, WTF and Holy Shit are all i can summon in my primitive, lizard-brain reply.

I recover some composure, resume a more literate conversation with Chris, and pull up twenty or forty browser tabs full of forums, blog posts, consulate sites. official docs and other traveler detritus.

An hour passes, AliSun comes downstairs. I’m still ashen despite a Mexican tan, my hand covers my mouth.

What’s wrong? Is it our flights? I shake my head no. Did someone die?

I step away from the laptop and attempt a succinct explanation. I know I told you at least four or five times to check our visas. If you had followed my intuition… she reminds me. Helpful. I had looked, but it was cursory, and believed that the restrictions were limited on a country basis, not a zone basis.

Finally we laugh, start discussing options.

Pausha wants to get in on the act, initiates a Skype call.

It sounds like you are screwed. Thanks Pausha, great to hear your voice. We laugh, start discussing options.

AliSun and I spend Sunday on the web – maps, images, Wikipedia. We can stay in the UK longer, skip Amsterdam, trim Paris. From Vienna, we can hop to Ukraine or Romania, writing off two weeks in Italy before Spain. Or south to Croatia.

AliSun isn’t sure I’d go for Turkey. She asks me tentatively. OK, I say. She beams, her smile tells me everything will be OK. We pencil in a month in Istanbul.


It is two days later, on an Alaska Air flight from Loreto to LAX, seat 5D. Two and two seating, one lavatory up front, old leather seats, overheads so small they collect carry-on bags on the tarmac before boarding. A clear day provides a beautiful view of Mexico giving way to San Onofre, Saddleback Valley, Disneyland, Downtown LA, Century City. My stomach isn’t quite right, my stress level is higher than its been in months, the details almost too numerous to manage or imagine.

I remember to breathe. I remind myself that I can handle this from anywhere. I asked for the unknown. I chose to be a digital nomad.

We land in one hour. After two months in Baja Mexico, it feels good to be back on the road.

Comments 3

  1. It’s amazing the the travel restrictions that can blind side us. In reality traveling on a US passport is generally the easiest of them all, but there are exceptions for sure.

    After my first romp in Europe (1996) I came home extremely jealous of all the people I met from “commonwealth countries” that could get immediate short term work visas in other commonwealth countries. That was long before the EU… of course now I want an EU passport, but only if I could get one in addition to my native US passport.

    Ah… a FWP for sure. Doesn’t compare to the people I meet from around the world that have been denied US Tourist Visas repeatedly just to visit family.

    1. JB – we are indeed fortunate to be from one the wealthy countries. It gives us entree into most countries in the world with the fewest restrictions. Although it can still be challenging and require planning ahead of time (looking at you, Vietnam!). Yep, an EU passport or even a one-year residency would be fantastic. Funny how it can be a FWP trying to get into the TW.

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