Well that’s a loaded question.
Let’s start from the beginning: planning this trip to Guam. Well, first off, why Guam? Why not? Also, my adventurous sister decided to take a leap of faith with a job and it landed her thousands of miles a way from home on this tropical spec of an island in the Pacific Ocean.
As of December 2017, she had been out here for just about a year, which meant that I had not seen her for more than a year. So this trip came at the perfect time. Speaking of time, everything takes time. Including planning. We started mumbling talks of the trip back in May of 2017 knowing that this was going to be a big trip. Lots of time off, long flights, saving money and on top of that, dealing with every day life.
Guam is a very remote island. What do I know about Guam? Nothing. It’s a U.S. territory and that’s about it but that’s all I needed to know. Based off of previous travels I know that being a U.S. citizen, you can travel to U.S. territories without having a passport. No big deal though, I’ve had my passport since 2010 and they expire 10 years after being issued. Good, solid – no worries there. Now begins the scheming.
The options are endless!
Here’s a little background knowledge on how to get to Guam. It can be as simple as flying to Honolulu, Hawaii and from there flying direct to Guam on the one flight per day they offer. OR it can be as complicated as taking 4-6 different flights to get there. Now I’ve never traveled across the Pacific, so honestly the option of stopping in multiple different cities and countries appealed to me. So that’s the route I took.
Wait, wait, wait. Back up. I skipped something. The flights to Guam range from $900 (this takes A LOT of finagling) to $4000 (mostly direct with upgrade options). My family consists of my parents, My oldest sister, my brother, my older sister (the one in Guam) and then me, in that order. Also, 3 nephews and a niece. There’s a bunch of us and we’re all close. Taking a family trip to Guam with everyone didn’t seem quite feasible for obvious reasons. I only mention this because my mother and I were the only ones that could make it out at this time.
Since we were spending a lot of money on flights and taking so much time off from life, we wanted to make it worth it. I planned on being gone for 18 days and my mom for 25! That’s a long trip. My sister, Danielle, who lives on Guam kept planting seeds strategically. “You know we can go to the Philippines roundtrip for cheap”, “what if we took a side trip to somewhere close so you can experiences more of Oceania?”. Well, she must have a green thumb because that seed grew into reality. Coron, Palawan, Philippines here we come! Coron is a tiny island in the state of Palawan in the country of the Phillipines. It’s beautiful. Look it up. Definitely going to be one of the bigger highlights of my trip.
After weeks of planning. Trip dates being set, then decided against. Bookings almost happening, then not. Frustration over communicating through an app and through FaceTime. To booking trip. It was a process made only more stressful by the fact that my mom did not have a passport! Oh and a lack of proper documentation to get a passport. What?! Yupp. The flights were booked and there we were, 5-6 weeks away from leaving for the trip, my mother, passport-less and me, anxious knowing it take 5-6 weeks to get approved for a passport. Eek.
No worries, she handled it in a way only a mother can – by just getting it done and proving once again that moms are super heroes in their own right. With the murmurs of passport issues lingering in my gut, the trip inched closer.
3 weeks away. 2 weeks away. Next week. Oh crap, I have to pack. BRB.
Phew, we’re good. Clothes, Check. Bathing suits, Check. Passport, Check. Itinerary and boarding passes, check. Lets go. Ready to hear my trip route. This is fun. Living in Denver currently, I have options for departure airports since it’s a decent hub for big airlines. Here’s the plan: Leave Denver and fly to Los Angeles and hang out with my cousin for a couple of hours before my next flight. Then I leave LA and fly to Guangzhou, China. A 15 hour flight! From China, I fly to Manila in the Philippines where I catch the last leg of the trip from Manila to Guam. I do the exact trip but reverse to get home. Don’t forget, we booked the side trip as well which brings me from Guam to Manila and Manila to Coron.
This is where the story gets fun…I think.
I leave Denver. Good to go. I leave LAX, no issues. I get to China after a 15 hour flight. Quick sub-story. I met a really nice guy on my flight who told me Manila is not the safest place to be when traveling alone. Good to know. Ok, moving on. China was interesting. Didn’t make it out of the airport because I had a short layover but from what I saw, the air was pretty polluted and they had strict rules for internet browsing (I never actually got connected). That’s about all I gathered from my 2.5 hour layover. Guangzhou is close to Hong Kong just so you know.
From China, I flew to the Philippines. A 2.5 hour flight. I make it out of the plane and have to go through foreign immigration check. Something that everyone has to do when traveling abroad. I made it to the deck. Shoot, I forgot to fill out my form stating who I am and how long I’m staying. No big deal. Made it back to the desk…”How long are you staying in The Philippines?”. “Oh, I just have a layover, I’m leaving this evening to go to Guam. What’s the issue?”. “Even though you aren’t staying, we have to grant you access into the country so you can get you bags. That way, you can take it to the next terminal and catch your flight”. OK….
Long story short, my flight from LA to Manila was one reservation and my flight from Manila to Guam was a different reservation and since it wasn’t technically a connecting flight I had to get access into the country. Logistical annoyance. Here I go back to the side of the airport where I originated. Sit there for about 45 minutes worrying about my luggage which I haven’t gotten yet and thinking what to do next. This wasn’t a huge deal. My layover was 10 hours long and based off of what I heard about Manila and exploring it alone, I was planning on just staying in the airport anyway. I had nothing but time.
Got my bags! Now I can officially go “into Manila”. False. Made it back to the initial immigration services desk. They scan my passport. “Have you ever had an issue with your passport?” The gate attendant asks. “Not at all, I just flew here from China”. “I’m getting an alert saying your passport was reported lost or stolen…”. My gut automatically sinks. “Um, well I’m here and that’s me and my passport”. “I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to follow me”.
What is going on? What is happening? Everything was going so smoothly. Why is there and issue? I’m frantically digging through my rolodex of memories trying to think of what happened. I thought of something but it was irrelevant already. Especially since I flew through China already.
I get brought into the immigration offices and am held there for THREE HOURS. Sitting. Staring. Being questioned by the Philippine Government. “Who are you? What are you doing here? Is this your passport? Did you steal this? When are you leaving? What do you do? Where do you live? What do you have with you? Why is it reported stolen? Why is it reported lost? Are you here for business or leisure? What are the rest of your travel plans? Will you be back? How old are you? Are you traveling alone?” Come to find that the Philippines is one of the most strict countries in regards to passport regulations. Go figure.
I answer everything honestly. I sit there quiet, alert, attentive, polite. They’re doing screenings on me. They’re plugging me into their system. Trying to figure out who I am. If I’m legit. If I’m a threat. Again , I have nothing but time on this long layover so that’s the least of my worries. Being able to leave the Philippines at all is my main concern at this point. Sitting in the immigration office in Manila, I begin to think.
My thoughts bring me back to summer of 2017. I had a rough start to 2017 – personal issues. On top of that, I was about to move, AGAIN. Just to add to the mess that was my life at the time, I lose my wallet. Ugh. New license. New cards. That’s a process. I finally move and in this cluster of a time – I misplace my wallet again…… this time I didn’t think I lost it, I just misplaced it. So I get my passport and a spare credit card and that’s what I use for validity. Wouldn’t you know, I misplace my passport. Now, you’re probably thinking “get it together, Andy!” and I couldn’t agree more. What the hell is happening. I’m not a messy person. I’m not disorganized. Why am I losing everything!?!? In the disgruntled state that I was in and honestly not having a clue where my passport is, I report it lost to the US government. Fairly easy process really. Just fill out a form. Though how was I supposed to know if the request was sent? There was no confirmation email. The very next day, obviously, my passport turns up! Woohoo! I get back on the site I used to report my stolen passport and can’t find a place to cancel the request. “Oh well, I don’t think the request went through anyway since there wasn’t a confirmation”, I think to myself. I do a little bit more research and can’t find anything that tells me what to do next. So, I leave and it go on with my life which includes a perfectly good passport.
So I thought.
After verifying my identity, the Philippine government grants me access to the country. Mind you, I’m only here until my next flight. BUT remember that side trip I planned down to Palawan…yeah, that’s still a thing. I mentioned to the officer helping that I had a side trip planned to Coron in a couple of days. In their verification process, they noted this. When the paper came down from the big guys it stated that I was a verified traveler and since that I already went through this process and had travel booked, that I would be allowed back into their country! What a relief. That give me back my passport and tell me to take care of the issue once I get to Guam. Remember, Guam is a U.S. territory. Thank god that this is my next destination.
After battling luggage and immigration issues for 5+ hours, I finally have time to relax. What a process. What an emotional ride I just went on. What the hell just happened?
Onto Guam. I land in Guam, get my luggage and go through immigration services. “Have you had an issue with your passport before?” My heart sinks…..I reluctantly answer “Yes, I just did in Manila but I got everything figured out”. The attendants looks at me “Your passport has been reported lost or stolen and we have to confiscate it”. At this point, I’m not even surprised. My mom and my sister are waiting on me. They’re 50 feet away and have no idea what’s going on. I lose my passport. All I have now is a photo copy they so generously made for me. What good is this going to do? What am I going to do? I can’t fly to other countries with a damn photo copy of the front page of my passport! I have a flight in 4 days to the Philippines. I express my angst to the Guam officers. “That really sucks” they say. Thanks.
Since Guam is a U.S. territory, I’m allowed to leave the airport since I have a U.S. ID. I walk out and see my sister and my mom and automatically break down. Yes, I hit a weak spot and had to let go. What the hell just happened? How could I travel across the world from one country to another and not have issues but find myself in this predicament in certain countries but not others? How do I get home? Am I stuck? Do I get a new passport. So much is going through my head. I don’t know what to do. But at least I had my mom and my sister.
Come to find out, when you report a passport lost, it automatically is flagged in the system. Without any confirmation or action sent to me. I had no idea (other than the fact that I put the request through – but who doesn’t send confirmations in this day and age?!) So here I am. On the spec that is Guam. Half way around the world from where I call home. 7 flights ahead of me. 5 of them to different countries. Without a passport. Awesome.
Alright, let’s figure this out. Call the U.S. government. “Since you reported your passport lost, you don’t have one anymore, you have to start from the beginning”. Well starting from the beginning wasn’t an option for me. That takes too much time PLUS you have to be in person to have your photo taken and you have to submit your information and pick up your passport from an official government passport agency. Thankfully there’s an office in Guam. Oh wait, that’s a third party passport printing office. Of course. The closest office is in Hawaii!!
Fast forward to now. Me writing this blog on my sisters couch in Guam while my sister and my mom are in Palawan on a trip I was supposed to be on. I have forfeited 7 flights. Lost all of the money, all of the miles that I spent to get here and had to pay out of pocket to book a flight from Guam to Hawaii and Hawaii to Guam. That is the only route I can take home since It is all U.S. based and I don’t need a passport to travel this way.
Moral of the story…what a lesson. What an experience. There’s nothing I can do except move on a learn and pass my experience on. ALWAYS listen to you gut. The good thing is, I’ve always liked finding the silver lining in bad situations. Here’s my silver lining: I’m on Guam, alone with a truck. Lets explore! Lets live like a local.
And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Yeah, I’m missing out on a cool trip but I’m also still on a really epic trip. Life is only what you make of it. There’s curveballs, there’s hardships, there’s dilemmas but you face them head on. Use common sense, intelligence and honesty and you’ll be fine.
I’m making the most of my trip and I’m making the most of life. I suggest you do the same. If you want to see pictures from my trip visit here.
The Traveling Weatherman