Knowing When to Defer a Trip – Walking the Fine Line Between Fear and Common Sense

Those of you who follow my day-to-day shenanigans on Facebook will have read my recent status update about having to eliminate not one, but two destinations from our 2013 summer trip.

The Black Sea

The trip was supposed to go like this:

  • June 26th to July 11th — In Greece, including a few nights in Santorini, a 10 day sailing voyage, and a day in Athens.
  • July 11th to July 17th — Tour Bulgaria, beginning in Sofia and visiting the Black Sea coastal towns with our friends.
  • July 17th to July 22nd — Visit Istanbul, which including also visiting with some friends.
  • July 22nd to July 28th — Fly to Simferopol (Ukraine) to visit with a friend in Yalta and discover Crimea.
  • July 28th to July 29th — Overnight at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and fly back to Montreal.

Simple, right? Ha. I assure you it only seems that way on the surface. It took days of long and exhausting research to put together an itinerary that would work. It was especially difficult to find a connection between Bulgaria and Crimea (Ukraine). There is little information on the Internet, and what was there was written in languages we can’t read. When we did find what seemed to be solutions, we discovered the websites were either incorrect or outdated.

These were some of our dead-ends:

  • The night train we had hoped to take from Athens to Sofia no longer runs. In fact there are no trains between Athens and Sofia, not for 2 years now.
  • There are no trains, buses or ferries from Bulgaria to the area of Ukraine known as Crimea.
  • There is NO FLIGHT FROM SOFIA TO SIMPEROFOL (near Yalta on the map). There is, in fact, only one flight from Sofia (Bulgaria) to Ukraine, AND THAT FLIGHT LANDS IN KIEV. Not only is it a crazy expensive flight, but it also takes 11+ hours and goes in the wrong direction for us: Kiev is much further north than our intended destination of Simferopol. We would have had to add a flight from Kiev back to Crimea.
  • You can’t rent a car to take the scenic drive along the Black Sea coast.  Bulgaria does not offer rentals that can be picked up there and dropped off in another country.
  • The ferry from Istanbul to Yalta is no longer in service. That left only a single Saturday flight between Istanbul and Simferopol. Eureka!

This is just a small sampling of the unbelievable amount of research we had to do.  It was a lot of three steps forward and two steps back.  It’s frustrating, yes, but in a way, it was also fun. It’s like trying to put together a puzzle without knowing what the picture is.

Thing is, when you look at the map, you can’t help but think, “There must be a way to get from Bulgaria to Crimea directly!” But the simple answer is no, there isn’t. But we’d found a way to make our trip happen. Or, so we thought.

Once we sorted out transportation, we began to take a look at what the requirements are for canine entry into each of these countries. For Greece and Bulgaria, canine entry is incredibly easy. Both are now EU countries, so all that is required is the EU pet form completed in English and the language of the first country of arrival. In our case, that meant the form has to be in English and Dutch (We flying via Amsterdam!). Once in the EU, no further documentation is required to enter other EU countries. (More on that process in a separate post.)

Getting accurate, trustworthy information about pet travel requirements for Turkey and Ukraine has been a whole other matter. Information is horribly conflicted. The Embassies for each have been unhelpful.  Multiple calls were required with no one ever calling back or actually picking-up the line. It went on day after day.  Once we finally did get someone on the phone, they were woefully unprepared for our questions and contradicted themselves.  Maybe we need to go in person and camp out there until someone provides us with answers!

Turkey, who wants to be a member of the EU, seems to be easy to enter with a canine, but leaving is an entirely different matter. It seems Canada may have a quarantine policy for pets coming into Canada from Turkey. We don’t know for certain yet, but we do need to find out!

We did learn that Ukraine requires a pet-passport with photo ID.  But Canada doesn’t have a pet passport program so we can’t get a pet passport here for me.  If using an International Veterinarian Certificate of Good Health, it must be “… approved by the CFIA/USDA no more than 10 days prior to arrival.”  That’s fine if you are traveling directly to the Ukraine, but a problem if it isn’t your first stop.  In our case, our arrival into the Ukraine would be well past the 10 day limit. Perhaps the solution will be acquiring a pet passport online, if that is possible.

At this point, Dear Reader, the bipeds were getting pretty nervous about the entire situation.  Not only are Turkey and Ukraine notorious for being cruel to canines, but there is also a language barrier.  Once on location, talking our way out of a tight spot would not be an option.  The bipeds could not get their hands on a form, process or any solid information. Time was running out to book the flights at affordable prices and a decision had to be made.

So we changed our plans.

We believe that fear is the ultimate dream killer. Our approach when we feel afraid, is to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” We take a step back to assess whether the fear is warranted. If our fear seems to be misplaced, we move ahead through it.

Danielle Lemire Our Amazing Travel Agent!

For example, there’s much talk on travel websites about the danger of wild dogs in Greece. But these wild dogs are not likely to be a problem as we sail around the islands.  And when we contacted locals and friends who currently live there or have already traveled to Greece with their pets, we were assured that the wild dog claims are exaggerated. Fear mongering, hyperbole and hearsay are dangerous beasts.  They’re like a worm eating away at your courage and dreams.

However, in the case of Turkey and Ukraine, our fears and concerns seem to be warranted. Even our friends on location could provide little help or clarification.

We are not giving up. That is just not our style, Dear Reader. If anything, the lack of information about how to visit these countries with a pet companion begs us to investigate and sort it out. There’s a need for relevant instructions and papers to be shared and that’s what this blog is all about!  So we have sent out feelers with some folks currently taking the very trips we are considering. Nope, we are not giving up; we are simply deferring the jaunt, not eliminating it from our future plans.

So our 2013 summer trip now looks like this:

  • June 26th to 27th — Fly from Ottawa, via Detroit and Amsterdam (Enter EU) to Athens.
  • June 27th to July 1st — Relax in Athens and Santorini.
  • July 1st to 10th  — Sail the Greek Islands (Ios, Naxos, Mykonos, Syros, Paros, Sifnos, Folegandros).
  • July 11th  — Athens
  • July 11th to July 21nd — Tour Bulgaria, starting with Sofia and including the Black Sea coastal towns with our friends.
  • July 22nd to July 23rd — Fly back home with an overnight in Amsterdam!

There is something to be said for giving yourself more time to plan.  Going in headlong is fine if you are the only one affected by the consequences. But when quarantine, confiscation or even death are potential outcomes of a lack of forethought for your pet, then slowing down, taking a step back and going over every possible detail and lead is always recommended.

In the end, I believe we will be happier for our caution and change in plans.  With our modified plans, we get to spend a little more time in Bulgaria visiting a country new to all three of us. And that’s not to mention how much fun our day in Amsterdam will likely be. That was unexpected but very welcome!  And when we do visit Turkey and Ukraine (likely in 2014), we will be more at ease, better prepared and able to allocate more time to visit their beauty.

As my friend Isabella Rose put it so brightly, all we have done is split one dream into two.

Have you ever had to defer a trip? Did it feel like a failure or relief?  Share your story in the comments below!

25 Comments on “Knowing When to Defer a Trip – Walking the Fine Line Between Fear and Common Sense

  1. I’m sure you will visit all the countries and places that you want!
    In Bulgaria will try to visit more interesting places dear friends!

  2. Excellent post. Planning should be more fun than stressful – and if you are feeling highly anxious and uncertain about requirements, you’re right that it’s way better to shift your plans so that you can feel mostly excited and confident. After my recent travel craziness, I chose my next destination based on one question: “what is the easiest, lowest stress destination choice I can make?”

    I do look forward to your future research as it unravels the mystery of the Ukraine and Turkey, though!

    • I want to read all about getting into Mexico with a dog and finding canine friendly accommodation. When we first looked into it a few years back it wasn’t that great!

      Travel will always have an element of anxiety. It is by nature a lot of unknown. But the truth is some elements need not be. In this case knowing what to do with regards to little me falls under the “must know” category. 🙂

  3. I am furious and embarassed at the same time. The reason is the work of our Embassy in Canada(the consular department). My hubby finished his career as Charge’d’Affair in Sweden, and beleive me, the Embassy worked like one organism while he was there. You have to write the complain to the name of the Ambassador with the details you need to find out. I made a gift to my woman friend in Germany, the puppy – boy chihuahua, he had a vetpassport with all vaccination including rabies, microchip, and was 7 month old, she flew with him, his cage o her lap, (the dog + the cage must be not more than 5 kg), but i cannot give any advices on entering from other countries, it’s ridiculous and unprofessional to work like this, grrrr….And they work for Ukraine, which is extremely dog friendly inside….ri-di-culous!!!!!

    • Ah dear friend … we will send a letter. Not sure the Ambassador will ever read it. Mama’s father was an Ambassador so she knows how it can be internally. Going to Kiev from Canada directly is not a problem. So that is likely how we will go about it. Fly directly to Kiev from Toronto … meet you there and we can drive to Crimea all together.

      The problem … was figuring out how to get from Bulgaria to you without an 11+ hour flight. Not to mention – what to do with getting in and out of Turkey – a huge mystery there. So … too many questions. And I still don’t have a pet passport solution. Although I might soon … stay tuned!

  4. Dear Monte: your revised travel plan looks darn good to me! You did the proper thing: Frustrations aside… so what?… Trip did not get cancelled, right? Just slightly modified with an added bonus: more time with friends. Smart.

    • Thanks Ingrid! It was just terribly frustrating!! Lots of time “wasted” chasing dead ends. And truth be told we still don’t have actual tickets so … who knows!!!

  5. I am glad you made the choice. Yours and baby boy’s lives are more imortant than going some place new where anything can ahappen. Yes, I know anything bad can happen anywhere but going headlong into the unknown is not always the best. If there is a way to get where you really want to go (without the feeling of forebodingin your guts) you will find it. AS for mysef, I apoplogize for feeling relieved dear, friends. Hoping and praying we see y’all soon. Much love to all.

    • You’ll be terrified for us until we get home … no matter where we go! Love you for it. 🙂 What will you do when we are sailing around the Med in 2015? and then in 2017 when we hit countries in North Africa and the Middle East? You’ll have a heart attack dear friend! Deep breath and trust that we know what we are doing. LOVE YOU!

  6. I’m nervous and excited for you! Trust that you are in good hands and no harm will come to you little darling. XO

  7. I need to be absolutely sure that nothing wil happen to Monte, i will never forgive myself and how to live with it, no,no,no!!!! I don’t think to fly to Kiev is a good idea, Monte. First, we will drive to Crimea in our car – 5 dogs, my son, his girlfriend, my hubby and me, so there is no place for you, dear friends, it means You will need to fly to Simferopol from Kiev anyway, or take a train which is expencive and dirty (it’s true, i am sorry), so what is the sense? My son will take part in a few games, the schedule is not confirmed yet, and these dates i will not be able to be in Crimea, but we can see each other in Kiev and have our time in Kiev, so let’s keep informing each other. Now i see that my hubby is a big democrat, he was helping each and everybody working really hard being in charge of the embassy, just hate the professional ignorance, grrrrr…..:)

    • It is a pain – but we will figure it out! We will!!

      I do find it tragic when you contact and embassy and get no assistance. After all that is why they are there! With a little more time, we will get all the information we need. I am not worried. Kiev is a city we would love to see. So maybe we will see it with you! Then we can fly to Simferopol on our own, rent a little place there and visit before going into Turkey. Somehow we will see these beuatiful countries!

      It is not “if” only “when”!

  8. Monte, Amigo: I am really glad your bipeds are so compulsive about your safety. Eastern Europe is a travel challenge. My biped’s father’s family is from Bulgaria. Last year, my biped brother (a travel blogger!)visited Bulgaria. Here’s a link to all his blog posts that mention Bulgaria:

    Be safe, good buddy.
    Your Phurry Philly Priend,

    • I think most humans change how they travel when they have human children. And my Dad says he changed how he traveled when he took grandma on a trip to Saba a few years back. No different here. I believe that as soon as you have a “dependent” of any kind the lens changes. Suddenly, it’s not just one or two adults that can sort it out if need be – now there is a third party in the mix. That is okay.

      And … oh dear on the poop. Funny post from your Hbro Dino! LOL!! SO far, weather has not been our issue! Thankfully.

  9. This is too cute! Thanks for leaving a comment on our site-I’m so glad to have found your blog 🙂 Love your niche, and you’re a pretty darn awesome dog 😀

    • Thanks for coming by! Mutually happy to have found each other 🙂

      Many times more difficult things are easier to “hear” when they come from a wee dog rather than another human … I get away with murder I tell you!

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  13. I may be quite late to the party, but came across this entry as we are now in a similar position: travelling the Balkans with our pet (cat Zayah) in tow, and the same trend is evident: either a complete lack of information, government officials that only mislead further, etc-which is a shame! If only they’d made the Balkan/Black Sea region more tourist-friendly and have all the information updated online, set up for google translate, we wouldn’t have to spend days/weeks researching! And few people (those that don’t travel with pets) actually understand the sheer agony of it all…

    Since you’ve been to Bulgaria and I’m going for my first time, did you try to use the bus system at all to get around? How were the bus drivers? We had an unpleasant experience recently in Portugal where even though their website clearly states that Rede Expressos allow pets in carriers on board, we were forced to put our little Zayah in the baggage! It was only for 45 mins, but still, I was on the edge the whole time… I never want that to happen again, that’s for sure!

    And by the way, you didn’t miss anything by not going to Crimea. Ir’s overcrowded and overpriced, dirty and just not pleasant. All the Russians and Ukranians go either to Turkey or Bulgaria to escape their own ‘resort town”. If you’re in the area again, I’d suggest going to Batumi, Georgia and taking a bus to Tbilisi. As well as seeing Baku, Azerbajdzhan on the Caspian Sea- largely overlooked but a very cosmopolitan city and budget friendly!

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