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 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 When we did find what seemed to be solutions, we discovered the websites were either incorrect or outdated.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.
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!