You know what they say: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Or, to put it another way, “You’ve got to roll with the punches.” (Isn’t that in a song somewhere?)
My husband T and I just returned from a little-over-a-week-long trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We began fake-planning this trip back in July 2013, when one of my best friends from grad school, Julie at Alone With My Tea
, married a Brazilian-American and moved to Rio shortly thereafter.
T and I often have a habit of being all talk; that is, we develop a crazy idea to do something, discuss it a lot, and then don’t actually end up following through. But this time I was determined. I’d never been to South America, and he’d never traveled outside of the US. Plus, we’re only 26, we have no kids, and we both had the week off from work due to President’s Week. Why not take off for one of the world’s most stereotypical Carnaval/spring break destinations?
Christ the Redeemer, one of Rio’s most iconic sights.
Well, we found out why not pretty quickly.
Every single step leading up to our trip, up until the moment we actually touched ground in Rio, was a complete disaster. In the sickest manifestation of Murphy’s Law I’ve ever experienced, everything that could go wrong went horribly wrong. The list includes, but is not limited to:
1. Discovering much too late in the planning process that US citizens are required to have a tourist visa to enter Brazil. Yes, a tourist visa. Having only ever traveled to western Europe before (and Canada and Mexico), I never even knew that was a thing. This little surprise ended up costing us roughly $1,200 after rushing every possible piece of paperwork for the visas.
2. A subcategory in the visa saga, in which T went to the passport office in San Francisco to get his first-ever passport using same-day service. That would have gone fine if he hadn’t gotten his car impounded while in San Francisco for having expired registration. (We eventually retrieved both the car and his shiny new passport.)
3. Several work opportunities that arose for me during the week that we were planning to be in Brazil, including the chance to sing with a local company that I’ve been trying to get into for four years now. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried a little as I emailed them to turn down the offer.
4. Both legs of our flight to get there. The plan was to fly from San Francisco to Charlotte, NC, and then on to Rio. My brother, who lives an hour away from Charlotte, warned me earlier in the week about an incoming storm that could affect our flight(s). Sure enough, the afternoon before we left, I checked online to discover that our first flight had been canceled. After much panicking and spending an hour and a half on hold with the airline, we managed to get rebooked on an earlier flight from SF to Charlotte (I still don’t get how that worked out). We got up at 3:15 AM and made it to Charlotte just fine, but I knew it was going to be trouble when we landed in this:
Sure enough, trouble. We sat around the Charlotte airport for seven hours, waiting for our flight to Rio to leave around 10:30 PM. Long story short, that didn’t happen. We ended up spending the night on the floor of the airport and finally, mercifully, managing to take off in the snow around 3:00 the following afternoon, seven hours after we were already supposed to have landed in Rio.
From there, it all got infinitely better, and I have lots of good things to post about our actual time in Rio (and our trip home was uneventful, which was a plus). But if I had to summarize, here are my paperwork/logistical suggestions for you if you’re planning a trip to Brazil in the future:
1. Plan your trip at LEAST six months in advance. Buy plane tickets right away, because you have to show your travel itinerary when you apply for visas.
2. Apply for passports immediately if you don’t have them, and visas immediately if you do. You need a passport first because you have to put the passport number on the visa application.
3. If you apply for visas as far in advance as I’m suggesting, you won’t need to use a third party agency, which was what cost us so much money. The time cushion should ensure that you can get an appointment at your nearest Brazilian embassy (we couldn’t). If you live too far away from an embassy, you’ll have to use a third party agency, but the cost isn’t extravagant if you don’t have to rush.
I do want to say, in closing, that once we got there and began to explore and enjoy Rio, it was all worth it. Don’t be discouraged by the hoops you might have to jump through. In reality, it’s not that bad as long as you’re prepared.