07/03/2012 11:57 EDT | Updated 09/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Heading to Rwanda Part 2: Airplane Access Denied


It's never easy getting turned away at the airport.

Especially when your plane leaves in an hour.

Especially when you know rescheduling your flight will cost a solid amount of cash.

Especially when it's all because of one. tiny. mistake.

That was me, on June 19 -- my expected departure date for Kigali, Rwanda. I stood in front of the KLM teller at Pearson with a burning hot face -- I was upset with myself, not the airline.

Here's What Happened

Like any naïve 22-year-old going abroad alone for the first time, I spent a considerable amount of the past few months trawling the Internet for travel advice.

As a result, I stumbled across several forums advising that people have six months left on their passport before going anywhere -- especially to a country where an entry visa is required.

My passport had plenty of time on it for just my trip to Rwanda -- but I am going to Kenya after and by then, my passport would have had about four months left on it.

I decided not to risk it and got my passport renewed (even paid a pretty penny to put a rush on it!).

I thought "Now I'll be fine, right?"


I had forgotten that my entry visa for Rwanda was purchased on that old passport, and when I showed up to the airport in Toronto, all ready to head off for my African adventure, I was not allowed to get on the plane.

I had needed to bring that old passport with me.

Thank God I kept that old passport instead of letting the agent keep it when I got my new one. Rwandan visas don't come quickly. Had I needed to apply for a whole new one, I don't know what I would have done.

In retrospect, it wasn't all that bad. Sure I had to shell out some money (read: my dad shelled it out and I'm paying it back), and I had to delay my trip by two days, but I also learned a lesson in self-control. I was proud of myself for the way I handled the situation at the airport. I tried to stay composed and reasonable. I thanked the KLM agent nicely. I made the series of calls to my travel agent and didn't freak out. Once I got home, I buckled a bit, but I got through it.

TA-DAAHH! I managed my first travel crisis! *Cue raucous applause.*

The Flight

Toronto to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Kigali.

The first leg was a breeze. A huge KLM airbus with a hot meal, snacks, and movies galore! (I listened to my audiobook).

Unfortunately, my new plush neck-pillow was of no use. I didn't sleep a wink on that overnight flight, which landed me in Amsterdam -- sleep deprived and seriously confused (Schiphol is weird!)

Then came the next leg. To make a long story short, I was overtired, my body was very mixed up with time change, I felt sick and was in and out of a slightly bizarre conversation with a lovely, but overzealous stranger for most of the flight.

When we landed in Kigali, my body ached with exhaustion and I was more nervous than ever. I was still harboring the completely irrational fear that the Rwandan officials would be disapproving of my double passport situation and deny me entry!

(You're laughing WITH me, not AT me, right?)

A Moment I'll Never Forget

It sounds cliché, but it's absolutely true. I will never forget the moment I stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac in Rwanda. After at least eight years of hoping one day I'd get to be here, I had finally landed.

I've heard it said before, but the first thing you notice is the smell. It's familiar, like a lakeside campfire, but somehow completely foreign as well. Big, leafy, exotic-looking trees swayed in the breeze and that smell filled my nostrils.

I made it.

(Oh, and p.s., they let me in.)