Some months ago I dreamed openly of the upcoming trips. Back then, I listed ten trips I was hoping to take. For anyone who knows me, it probably does not come as a big surprise when I tell you now that I have two trips booked for this spring, and neither one of them is to any of the destinations I listed on that post. That is, despite the fact that back when I was preparing to book the next flights (aka opening Momondo and taking out my credit card), I still had Iran, my ultimate dream destination at the moment, clearly on mind.
But, before opening the flight search engine to find the flights I had already looked up some weeks ago, I came across an article that changed my plans completely. USA stepped into the game and as a result, I’m going to Oman instead of Iran.
Wait a minute – so, what does USA and Oman have to do with Iran? Well, Oman – not that much actually, but USA – a lot. That is, since early this year they made changes in the Visa Waiver program and from now on, anyone who has visited Iran, Irak, Sudan or Syria after 2011 will lose their right to travel to US under the visa waiver program. In practice that means goodbye ESTA, hello Visa applications. Sure, Visa application to US is normal for people from most countries, but somehow this all made me vary – so, everyone from my home country is able to get ESTA, but not those who have visited the aforementioned countries? I could not help but to fear I’d be on some sort of a black list by US for an indefinite time if I ever stopped my foot in Iran and the fear of a potential risk of losing the right to travel to US did not make me happy. Also, I did not want to risk not being able to even transit through the states, as that would make trips to several other countries challenging. So, as this was all new information and the changes in the policies had clearly taken many countries and authorities by a surprise, we decided to let things settle for a while and see what this new rule would actually mean – maybe we’d later find out that traveling to Iran would not make travels to the states any more challenging, other than having to make a quick trip to the embassy of course.
But, as I already had been allowed some time off work during this spring, I did not want to miss the opportunity to travel, meaning that naturally I absolutely HAD to book flights somewhere. Given the restrictions set by the timing and duration of the holidays, there were not that great choices available in terms of reasonable travel times and prices. All I managed to find was cheap flights to Dubai, but for some reason, 1,5 weeks in Dubai just seemed like too much. But then I remembered Oman – the neighboring country I also had secretly wanted to visit for quite some time, even though it never made it to my top 10 list earlier. The neighboring country that can easily be combined with a trip to Dubai. The country that is a perfect destination for a short arabian road-trip. So, flights to Dubai were soon booked.
After the flights were booked we soon learned that a trip to Iran would not be considered that bad in the visa application process (at least for a Finn), if you managed to clear the interview at the local embassy and in some cases you might even be able to get a multiple entry visa straight away. Naturally I was a bit disappointed not having found out this prior to booking the flights, (although I still looked up the connecting flights from Dubai to a few Iranian airports with no luck), so no Iran for me this spring. Around the same time as this happened, I also noticed my passport was soon expiring so getting the US visa would not be sensible in the next months if I had travelled to Iran. I remember mentioning at home that of course that would not have been an issue as I doubt we would be traveling to US within the next 6 months anyway… Goes without saying that I came across the cheapest flights in ages to New York for May the very same evening – and was happy to click the tickets to the cart now that I did not have to worry about the visa…
So all in all, no – I did not get to travel to Iran this spring, but even if I was a bit annoyed by that before, after the flights to New York I was actually rather happy with how things went. I’m now more than happy to travel to Oman in a few weeks, to US in a few months and maybe after that, now that we are wiser regarding the visa process – maybe even to Iran during fall and then get the multiple entry visas for US later on once I get my new passport.
PS. All tips for a trip to Oman are warmly welcome!