February 6th, 2020
So, hear me out.
You're probably thinking what's this chick on about. At the age of 25, I'm young, ambitious, passionate and in the prime of life. And from quite a young age, I have already been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world.
But let me explain further. Here's the issue(s).
First of all, as a young, female Pakistani Muslim, the pressures of needing to settle down into everybody's expectations (and by everybody I mean my family and all brown society) are quite overwhelming. The very notion of travelling is deemed childish and immature because I really should be thinking about things like saving for the future with a 9-5, getting on the property ladder, having children and learning to deal with responsibilities. I need to be an adult. Right?
It's difficult to explain a situation that completely screws with your mind and tears your soul in half. I realise that savings and stability are important and of course I want children. However travelling is not just something I want to carry on doing. It is a passion that has led me to where I am today and runs so deep in my veins, that it rips me apart to think I have to live without it. And although this seems dramatic, I promise you, it isn't. But of course, you probably understand that.
This is my first travel story so I will update you on the amazing places I have visited and the people I have met in future blogs. However for now, let me start at the very beginning.
I have in fact, very recently got married. You're probably thinking a brown, Muslim girl married at the age of 25? Must be forced or arranged. Funnily enough, no. I married the love of my life and there's no one I would rather spend the rest of my life with (ew, so cheesy I'm sorry but I'm getting to the point). So here comes the first problem when a British passport holder marries a Pakistani passport holder. The visa-free honeymoon destinations (and pretty much travelling in general) become quite limited. Pakistani citizens can enter exactly 30 countries visa-free or with visa on arrival. This compares to 186 with the British passport, which has actually dropped to 8th place from 1st place in 2015 for world's most powerful passports (Brexit collateral, no doubt). Luckily, the Maldives is a visa-free destination shared by both passports. So why am I making such a fuss? Just go to the Maldives, right? Or Madagascar? Or the Seychelles. All pretty sweet holiday destinations.
I guess this bring me quite nicely onto my second issue. Money, money, money. Must be hilarious, in a rich man's world. And even more so in a rich traveller's world. Even though I've been working since the age of 16 and am pretty careful with my money, it's always just seemed to slip away from me. Of course the 4 years of university didn't help too much when it came to debt and a lot of it has gone on my travels but I've always tried to stick to low-budget (and most of the time, more fun) travel experiences. Nevertheless, with jobs getting harder to come by and our recent wedding, we simply couldn't justify £5,000 on a week on a beach island. We needed a cheaper option.
You're now probably also wondering why we don't just apply for a visa to go wherever we want? I'm getting to that bit.
Living in the UK has meant that I have been able to hop over to Europe pretty much whenever I want. However, it's a dream that my better half has had his whole life. So we decided, why not travel around some of the best spots in Europe in half the money and for a longer period of time? We decided on 3 countries: Spain, Croatia, Greece. But here's the thing when it came to the visa.
Being on a spouse visa in the UK meant that I was pretty much totally responsible for him in the eyes of the government. We had held 4 ceremonies over the course of 3 years just to get him over to the UK in enough time for him to settle and for him and his family to be there for all parts of the wedding. Ask anyone I know, it's been a tough ride. Which I knew was going to be the case. I just didn't realise just how much tougher it was going to get. Straight after the wedding, we were going to Pakistan for 2 months to spend time with his family and you can only apply for a Schengen visa up to 3 months before your travel date. This left us with a very small window of time and no guaranteed number of days within which he would get his passport back. After reading many reviews and doing as much research as I assumed was needed, we decided to risk it.
Alas; my research wasn't enough. I have never appreciated my British passport more than when I was sat in the Spanish visa office on a rainy December afternoon with sweaty palms and a racing pulse. Despite our nerves (and excitement but more so nerves), we didn't realise that our marriage certificate needed to be attested first by the Islamabad embassy and then the UK Pakistani embassy to make it official. We had the option of going ahead with the application anyway but it was very unlikely that it would've been approved. We were applying for a Schengen family visa which meant that my employment details were crucial to the application and due to my 4 month sabbatical, it was going to be very difficult to apply when we got back. With dreams shattered and hearts broken, we needed to come up with a new plan. One that I am still working on while blogging in the midst of a very foggy Multan on a chilly Monday afternon.
I had always taken my spontaneous European weekends away for granted. Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Provence, Barcelona, Valencia, the Algarve...all here and there throughout the years. I loved discovering where we would end up or what hidden gems we would find next. And the thought that this may become impossible is a hard pill to swallow. It is possible to apply for a 1-year, 3-year or 5-year Schengen visa however I am yet to discover the application process and how difficult this may be to get. Nevertheless, we are determined to start this new chapter and new decade with positive travel vibes and a strong feeling of anticipation for the future.
I will of course keep you updated on our travels to Europe however I am also very much looking forward to our travels around Pakistan. They say that you haven't been to Pakistan if you haven't been to Lahore, one of the most vibrant, cultural and historical cities in the world. Having travelled solely to Multan (not to mention a few days on a farm in Jaura) in previous years, Lahore, Islamabad and the Northern mountainous regions, home to some of the most beautiful lakes and valleys in the world, are a mystery to me and cities I have only heard about or seen on the news. And with Pakistan being voted 2020's top holiday destination by Conde Nast Traveller, I'll be sure to let you know exactly how it won this title.
I'll sign off now as jetlag is still being a b*tch but any advice/top tips/recommendations from anyone struggling with a similar visa situation will be HUGELY welcomed. I now consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to UK immigration, having gone through a UK spouse visa, a family tourist visa and a failed Schengen visa. Also any questions you have, let me know and I can try and offer my strictly-yet-realistic professional advice. For now, Ima nap. And I'll give you some pics that might explain some more of my story so far. 'Til the next one.
P.S. Also, we like cows. And peas. And each other. But mainly cows.
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