Photo: Luz Rosa/Shutterstock

6 Thoughts Every Traveler Has at the Border

Student Work
by Justin Guerra Nov 17, 2014
1. This “random” search doesn’t feel very random.

There is nothing more intimidating than getting a once-over from a burly border guard. Of course officer, you may gladly search my train compartment for contraband. His psychotically crisp uniform and comically large hat instills the most paranoid of thoughts:

Why is his hat so big?
What did he do to earn all of those badges and stripes?
Why am I being singled out right now?

You stand in silence as your luggage and belongings get ransacked. Suddenly there is a mean German Shepherd at your heels. The angry canine has his nose all up in your food stash. It’s just instant noodles! The officer with the huge hat clucks his tongue and holds out his hand. Does he want a bribe? This has Locked Up Abroad written all over it.

You’re so nervous. You break out into a cold sweat and hand over some cash, not realizing that he only wanted to snack on some trail mix. Now you’re out 700 rubles. That hat isn’t so funny now.

2. Where is my pen? Does anyone have a pen? Hurry! I NEED A PEN!

Immigration documents, departure cards, arrival slips, customs forms — never has there been a greater source of unnecessary traveler anxiety.

Which number is my visa number?
I don’t know my hostel’s address!
Declare this, declare that!
Does my trail mix count as horticulture?

I’m going to end up on Locked Up Abroad because I wanted a quick snack! This culmination of stress meets a final anticlimactic end when the immigration officer unceremoniously tosses your paperwork into a pile with only a yawn and glance.

3. Wow. That camera is close to my face.

You finally make it to the front of the snail-paced immigration line and are then made to stand on those comically large, yellow-painted footprints. You hand over your passport to the stern-looking officer and await your fate. They beckon you to stare into the spherical desktop camera. Awkwardness ensues.

Do you smile?
Will not smiling make this surly guard grumpier?
Why is the camera so close to me?
Does it have to be angled up my nose?

By the time you get yourself into the most self-satisfying pose, your passport is thrust back at you and you’re shooed onwards.

4. KA-CHING! Stamp time!

No matter who you are, how many places you’ve traveled to or where you’re going now, there is nothing more gratifying than feasting your eyes on a new passport stamp. It symbolizes the start of a new adventure or the end of an old one. It is an embodiment of the place it comes from.

Each stamp has its own language, color, shape, and character — they’re all dated journal entries for where you are and where you’ve been. Passport stamps are a physical record of what you’ve seen and what you’ve learned. The metallic clunk of new ink on an already crowded page is sweet music to your ears.

5. Hey, back of the line buddy!

You saunter up to the queues at passport control — straight forward or random categories like Nationals, Foreigners, Diplomats, and Seaman. You know you’re not a Seaman. Into the Foreigners line with you!

But wait, who does this guy think he is? There, right next to you in the speedy and short Nationals line is Joe Backpacker. His blue passport is sticking out in a single file sea of red ones. That seventy-two gallon backpack, Chaco sandals, and breezy yoga pants aren’t fooling anyone, Joe. Get over here with the rest of us. Your excitement grows as he nears the front, anxious for the officer to see through his ruse. Anticipating the entertainment of watching someone else get thrown on Locked Up Abroad.

But you’re aghast when the guard stamps him through with nary a blink and you’re stuck behind all the other foreigners who are frantically declaring their trail mix on their arrival cards. Curse you, Joe Backpacker.

6. Well this all looks familiar…wait…

Crossing a land border you are transported through a deceptive portal. Passing through the door over that imaginary line you have a false sense of confidence. The weather is the same as it was two feet and one country away ago. The temperature is the same; the trees are the same shade of green; the birds sing the same songs. The people passing by look the same with the same friendly smiles.

You happily step off the curb into the street, munching on your smuggled trail mix. But wait?!? What does that sign say? What language is that? My money is worthless here? Why does everyone have guns? Wait, traffic drives on the left here? You do a frantic leap backwards as a speeding tin can of a bus nearly knocks you back to the country you just came from. Land crossings: same, same…but different.

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