Spending my birthday in Vancouver this year… not just to renew my passport

Photography PrintsA few years ago I got to spend my 30th birthday in Vancouver – I wrote a post about how an older couple, without ever knowing it, helped me celebrate by playing Auld Lang Syne for me. It’s a story about how you’ll never know how much of an impact you might have on somebody else’s life (read it here).  On that trip I took some unique aerial photographs from one of my favourite Canadian cities. This year I got to go back to celebrate my 34th birthday, eat some sushi… and renew my passport.

Passport, you ask? Well, mine is about to expire. And since some countries will not permit you to enter if the remaining validity is less than 6 months, I decided to get my renewal in early. Besides, we all know governments move slowly. When I applied for my Canadian visa I had to wait several years before I got the green light to make my move across the Atlantic Ocean. Now that I’m here, renewing my Dutch passport has become equally challenging. With a Dutch consular office right in Calgary it used to be relatively easy, but that has changed. The Dutch consulate office in Calgary is still open, but decided to no longer process travel documents. That means to renew my passport I need to fly to Vancouver, from where they will send the paper application to Washington for processing. Why they can’t have someone fill the Washington bound envelope in Calgary anymore is a mystery to me. They say it’s due to budget cuts – but I wonder where anyone who doesn’t fly for free would expense their plane tickets… even for me there’s still hotel and meal expenses, so I’m tempted to send an expense claim along with my passport application just to be annoying.

But it gets better. Dutch passport pictures are precisely 5 millimetres smaller than the Canadian equivalent – which means a “normal” (to Canadian standards) picture won’t do. Luckily it turns out I didn’t need a private photoshoot to create my passport picture, since London Drugs (of all places) has the standards for most countries on file. When it comes to passport and visa pictures, getting it right is important – you don’t want your application denied on a small technicality especially when there can be a wait time before the next appointment – or when you’re flying to another city like me to renew a foreign travel document.

Art PrintsSpending an entire morning driving around to find a “self addressed prepaid envelope” so the embassy can send my new passport back to me wasn’t fun either. None of the “approved” courier companies sell prepaid envelopes anymore. The only one that still does is good old Canada Post, but their envelopes might be prepaid but not pre-approved. After some good old Dutch swears addressed at the government official who decided this mission impossible was a good idea, my assistant figured it out by somehow arranging a shipping label through one of our corporate shipping accounts. I might have to add this to my list of ways to benefit more from your personal assistant.

Now, while they process my application, this travel hacker is home-bound for a while. After almost 8 years I think it’s safe to say I call Canada home now, but at the same time it’s still a foreign country for me – and it just feels weird to be “abroad” without a passport. Luckily I can travel within this vast country on just a driver’s license, but my next trip to Vegas will have to wait for a while…

If you’re looking forward to do some travel planning of your own, why not get a copy of my best selling travel hacking handbook The Freedom Project – Travel, available now on Amazon and finer book retailers worldwide.

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