How I got stranded on Serbian-Bosnian border at 5 am
After 3 years of travelling around the world, I have plenty of stories about overland border crossing. One of the recent and by far my favourite travel fail is how I was denied entry to Bosnia & Herzegovina at 5 o’clock in the morning. What an adventure and emotional roller coaster it was!
It’s not easy to find stories about travel fails one had. Maybe it’s because social media taught us to show only the bright side of life, travel, work, relationships and everything in between. Or perhaps admitting you fucked something up
and it was your fault doesn’t seem appealing. Well, not in my case. Let me share with you how I failed to enter Bosnia & Herzegovina and what I learnt.
Part 1: Crossing Serbia to Bosnia overland, entry denial and tears
I promised myself that I will share my real and raw stories of travelling alone as a solo female traveller from Kyrgyzstan. For me and my Kyrgyzstan passport, the overland border crossing was always hit or miss. Sometimes they don’t ask you any questions, sometimes you wait for ages before they make their decision. Being denied entry to Bosnia & Herzegovina after 12h overnight bus ride from Macedonia was definitely pretty disastrous travel fail yet rewarding life lesson.
My bus from Skopje arrived at the Serbian-Bosnian border at 4 o’clock in the morning. They woke us up to gather our passports and left us waiting. It wasn’t my first time crossing border overland in Balkans, so I handed my
lovely 3rd world passport without thinking it would cause any problems. Half an hour later, the driver came back and was looking really nervous. He kept saying something in his own language, which I couldn’t fully understand. But I guessed a few Slavic words here and there. My gut was telling me there was a problem with my passport.
Another 15 minutes passed and the border control came to the bus, asked me and other 4 Turkish guys to follow him. I entered the police room, and they handed me the paper to sign. I start reading it, but I couldn’t understand a thing! Everything was in Bosnian. The only English part was “Entry denied as the person doesn’t have a valid visa”.
I knew my U.S. visa allowed me to enter Bosnia & Herzegovina as a tourist for 30 days. I refused to sign a paper as I am a stubborn chick. The officer still put a denial stamp on my passport and told me to leave. I knew I was right and that I should prove to him that. I asked if I can use the internet to show him the law. He said “No” and told me he knows everything better. I felt defeated, powerless, and I burst into tears when I left the room.
Travel Mistake #1: I didn’t print out any papers, which would help me, or didn’t even save it on my phone! I could have shown it in case if there were any questions. But as I didn’t have any issues entering different Balkan countries with U.S. visa, I didn’t see the necessity to carry any documents with me.
Turkish guys enter the room after me, and they were denied entry as well. Their paper stated that their intentions were unclear. They were super pissed, and I was just still in shock
“How do I prove that I am right?” I thought to myself as I was recovering from my meltdown. The clock showed 5 o’clock in the morning, the driver was yelling at us, and it was still dark outside. I felt exhausted, miserable and still couldn’t believe that my travel plan failed. I definitely knew that a multiple entry valid U.S. visa allows foreigners to enter Bosnia. But it didn’t matter as I had no proof.
Meanwhile, I was silently crying there in the corner and regretting that I paid over 50 USD for a bus from Macedonia to Bosnia. Yes, I regretted the time and money I wasted.
Part 2: Hitchhiking back to Belgrade and visiting Bosnian embassy
The bus driver dropped us back at the Serbian border and told us it was our own problem to go back to Belgrade. I went straight to the passport control booth and handed my documents. The officer looked at me, asked me if I have a valid visa (huh? Kyrgyzstan citizens don’t need a visa to Serbia anymore!) and then took my passport to show to a senior officer. I whispered to myself: “No, not again, I can’t handle it anymore”. On top of that, I knew I should hitchhike back to Belgrade as no buses were going there so early in the morning.
While I was stranded there at the border, I decided to be solution-oriented and not whine about the shitty situation I was involved in. Frankly speaking, my emotional side just wanted to stay there a bit longer and cry more. But I listened to my rational part and started walking. My plan involved:
- Hitchhiking to Belgrade, which was 2,5h away from the border,
- Finding a Bosnian embassy and visiting them to figure out my situation,
- Looking for accommodation in Belgrade to leave my stuff, take a shower and work,
- Changing my travel plan and informing my travel buddy as we planned to catch up again in Bosnia.
Travel Mistake #2: Not having a data plan. My roaming data didn’t work, and I obviously had no local sim card, so I didn’t know where I was going. I also think I would have avoided this travel fail if I had had a local sim with a data plan!
Nonetheless, I started to look for a car, which could give me a lift to Belgrade. The sun had risen, I began to feel safer as I was walking further away from the border. The catcalling from truck drivers was fading as I reached some village. There I was, with my 10 kg backpack, dried out tears and stubbornness to prove that I was right.
Travel Mistake #3: Not downloading offline maps. While I still had both Google Maps and Maps.Me apps on my phone, they were useless. I didn’t download offline maps for Serbia. Guys, keep offline maps until you leave the region!
Travel Mistake # 4: Not carrying cash on me. I am a traveller who prefers card and much rather use it instead of cash. In reality, I couldn’t even pay for a bus if one would stop for me. Have some cash on you no matter what!
Good 20 mins later some car stopped. It was a couple, Bosnian husband and Serbian wife, travelling to Belgrade for a day. They were going for a quick business trip and agreed to give me a ride. They didn’t speak good English, but they were trying to have a conversation with me. I quickly explained what happened to me and why I was hitchhiking so early in the morning. They felt sorry for me and looked up where the Bosnian embassy was on the maps. They were kind enough to drop me at a coffee shop not far away from there. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. I had to start working by 10, and I had 2 hours to sort out everything.
Visiting Bosnian embassy in Belgrade was an adventure itself. Google maps showed an old location, where the embassy was located 5 years ago (!). Nonetheless, I asked people around and got new directions. I still had no damn data, but I downloaded offline maps while I had 2 cappuccinos for my breakfast. FYI, Bosnian embassy in Belgrade is located here, if you ever need to visit. Some kind soul finally fixed it on Google Maps. I also booked a hostel for 2 nights as I knew I needed to stay a bit longer in the city, finish work and decide if I still want to visit Bosnia.
Before I visited a Bosnian embassy, I still had a bitter aftertaste of my morning border adventures. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit a country, which didn’t let me in. Well, luckily, I still decided to go and talk to the consular office. I just wanted to gain proof that I was right. Well, one of the lessons I learnt while travelling solo was to keep pushing forward and not allow anything to hold you back from chasing your goals.
People who work for the Bosnian embassy in Belgrade are one of the kindest and most professional staff I’ve encountered. The consular officer immediately rang up the border control and asked why they didn’t let me in. 2-3 people approached me and said they were really sorry it happened to me. They asked if I was still planning to visit Bosnia. I spent another 20 minutes there while they had a phone conversation with the border control.
There I was, proving myself and that officer on the other end of the phone that I was right. A little conviction, energy and perseverance led me to win that battle. I knew I stood my ground, and I was honestly really proud of myself for not giving up. It wasn’t first travel fail, it wasn’t th
How my travel fail turned into a travel lesson
I learnt more from the challenges and mistakes I’ve made in the past couple of years than from anything else. I believe it allowed me to grow and keep going. Today I am sitting in a quiet coffee shop in Bishkek, and remembering this particular overland border crossing fuck up. Let me tell you, it’s a great afternoon activity to look back at what happened to me, laugh and most importantly, reflect.
As I look back, I wonder if being driven by stubbornness is a good thing. I could have let the situation go and not visit Bosnia at all. But it wasn’t me, I knew I wanted to win that battle. I did, and I had no regrets after. Besides that, I learnt that mind is a powerful thing. Whenever a crisis hits you and you are facing some absolute mad shit, you can get yourself together and find the best solution. Because there you are, a solo traveller from a silly tiny country, which has 0 to none passport authority, but with a feeling of deep responsibility to get it right. 3 days later, I flew to Sarajevo and had one of the most unforgettable week exploring Bosnia.
This was a story of my Bosnian travel fail, which taught me always to keep going no matter what. Do not let anything bring you down. You can cry and whine, but you need to get yourself together and keep going no matter what.
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