Harper gets denied entry into the UK and I sailed right through. Not what I was expecting!

Well, denied initially but she made it… here’s the story….

I had been worried for weeks, maybe months about going through immigration to get into the UK as I had heard they can be especially tough in their questioning on people who they think might be working while on a tourist visa in their country. They can detain you for hours and even deny your entry if they think you might be doing anything besides being a tourist on their “tourist visa”.  They are known for being one of the strictest regarding their rules around this and under no circumstances are you allowed to work while on this visa and that includes answering email or pet sitting–both of which I planned to do. I read several personal accounts of people being ruthlessly questioned, detained, denied entry and sent home!   They want their tourist visa to be used for the sole purpose of coming to see their country, taking a look around, spending some money and then leaving right afterward. They want you to have a plan, a place to stay, a way of funding your trip without working while there and a return ticket or onward ticket to wherever you are going next. Most longer-term travelers like myself don’t have very much of that. I work from the road,  without a clear plan and no return ticket to anywhere. Their whole stance is that they don’t want you to illegally immigrate, take jobs away from their citizens or live off their dole. It didn’t matter that you weren’t going to be doing any of that but not everyone is up to speed on the new way of “office-less” working so any inkling that you might “work”, and a look at your passport that you’ve been on the road for several months and alarm bells go off.  So, I was nervous. I have been on the road for 6 months now, had my dog with me and a leased car for the next 6 months. They could easily wonder how I was going to support myself if I wasn’t going to be working and was I, in fact, with my dog in tow coming to live there?

With all of this weighing heavily on me especially since I had several people counting on me in the UK to take care of their pets while they were away on vacation, I hadn’t given much thought to Harper’s paperwork other than I knew I had taken care of it all. I had gotten her EU Passport in Croatia which allows dogs to move freely around Europe without showing papers and I had gotten her the additional tapeworm treatment that the UK requires in Spain before we left. Animals must get a tapeworm treatment no more than 5 days before entering the UK and no less than 24 hours for it to take effect. She was all set having gotten it on Monday before we left and drove to France. I also had a stack of paperwork from the US with me with every shot record, microchip record, a 10 page USDA signed health certificate that we flew over with and every other record that I could think of from birth that I might need to show. I knew she was good to go–or so I thought. We were due to leave on Wednesday on the car train through the Eurotunnel and the procedure is to take them to a special pet service center for everything to be checked making sure it was all in order and they give you a plaque to stick on your window accepting her into the UK. Confidently, I handed all of the paperwork over to the woman at the counter and scanned Harper’s microchip in expecting that we’d be on our way in a number of minutes. And then came the furrowed eyebrows, the sighs, the shuffling of papers, the typing on computer, the speaking in French to her colleagues, other colleagues looking through the papers and then finally she said “I am sorry, I can’t let her in for the following reasons–#1, the Croatian EU passport was dated wrong-they needed to put the date of her microchip in a specific spot and they had put the date of the appointment in it instead. #2, the US paperwork showed the correct date but because it was past 4 months, the paperwork had expired and was invalid. And #3,  the treatment brand for the tapeworm from Spain was not one that they accepted and we can’t let her in under any circumstances without having that treatment.”  UGHhhhhhhhhh! What???? NOOOOOOoooooo! She then informed me that I could go to a nearby vet, get the acceptable tapeworm treatment and get a new EU passport with correct dates and come back in 24 hours because that’s how long it takes for the preventative to take effect. She handed me back her paperwork and said sorry but she was DENIED entry…  (pictured: all of the paperwork from 4 different countries)

Ugh, aside from the added hassle and expense of having to take Harper to another vet and have everything redone, I had already paid for a hotel room in the UK in Canterbuy for the night and it was non-refundable.  I didn’t really want to have to pay for another one in Calais where the Eurotunnel is, not to mention that Calais is a concrete jungle, arm-pit-port-city that is filled with immigrant camps everywhere and frankly, I couldn’t imagine much worse than having to spend the night there.  The woman had given me a name of a hotel that was located by the vet’s office (apparently I am not the first one that this has happened to) and when I went to drive by it-it was the equivalent of a  shabby Motel 6 located literally right off of the highway on a busy round-a-bout with no green grass in sight for Harper. Ugh. My stomach literally did a flip when driving by. NO WAY was my only thought.  I am willing to compromise on a few things when traveling–but accommodations are not one of them.

So, what’s a girl to do but go and find a French Chateau!

Knowing Calais wasn’t going to have anything that I wanted to stay in, I opened up my Trip Advisor app, plugged in “cute villages near Calais” and read a few posts and settled on Recques-sur-Hem about 30 minutes away. Then I jumped on Hotels.com and prayed there would be something cute that wouldn’t break the bank and it just so happened- I was in luck- “Chateau Cocove” came up and it looked like a gorgeous French estate from the pictures! Woo-hoo! Off we went!  And oh my gosh–it couldn’t have been more charming!  There was an enormous grassy lawn in front of the most beautiful French chateau that I had ever seen. The grounds were perfectly manicured with herb gardens, lavender plants, chestnut trees and chickens running around on at least 10 acres of gorgeous green grass  The rooms were huge and lovely with king beds and lots of fluffy down pillows and comforters with beautiful French appointments. I couldn’t have been happier!!! Maybe I wasn’t going to be too terribly disappointed that we had to spend the night after all!The next day arrived and Harper’s paperwork was up to date and correct so she was good to go. It was my turn! The moment I dreaded but had prepared for. I had read every post that I could find in digital nomad travel facebook groups, several travel blogs and even spoke with someone via email about it and they said it could get brutal–they could detain you for hours questioning your every move and asking for proof of your reservations, return travel and bank accounts for funding and worse be prepared for them to deny you entry which happened more frequently than you would think.  Her advice was actually “Don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk”.  So being the uber-planner that I am–I had so much proof on paper that I could have filled an entire file cabinet that I was just going to “tour” the country. I had dummy reservations printed out for places to stay for the times that I would be pet sitting,  a ferry ticket back to France in 3 weeks (which I won’t be using), a United Airlines reservation back to the states (which was on farelock but not ticketed), letters showing a home address which is my old nextdoor neighbor’s Lisa’s that I receive some mail at, a lesson schedule printed out from a barn that I am going to take lessons at while in the UK, bank statements showing plenty of funds in all of my accounts to last me for the duration of my stay. And my story was locked down and polished that I was just going to be going there touring their beautiful country for exactly 3 weeks, staying in 3 different places and then I would be promptly back on the boat to France without ever muttering the word “work”.  But did I need ANY of that? NO!!!!!!!! They literally asked me 3 questions-“Why are you going to the UK?” and I answered “tourism” and “How long are you staying?” and I said “3 weeks”. And the 3rd question was “Are you traveling alone?” and I answered- “no, with my dog” and at that time Harper popped her head through the window, they made a huge fuss of her, stamped my passport and on to the car train we went! 35 minutes later we were driving off of the train on to the motorway in the UK…. (pictured: inside of a car train)


And then it was time to tackle driving on the left side of the road!!!!Eeek-gads….I’ll save that for another post but at least we’re BOTH here now-safe and sound and ready to “tour” this beautiful country!

That time I got locked out in my pajamas and was accused of being a beggar…

It started out like any other morning that week in Paris. Harper and I would get up around 7:30-8:00, I would make a quick cup of instant coffee, throw on a jacket over my pj’s and go for an expedited walk around the block so Harps could go to the bathroom.  I know—probably not smart going out technically still in your pajamas, but really it was just a quick trip around the block—what could possibly go wrong? Oh lemmetellya what could go wrong…

Around the block we go, Harps goes pee-pee and we head back to the Airbnb, fob back into to 2 doors to get into the lobby, up a flight of stairs and put the key in the door.  A turn to the left, not opening. A turn to the right, not opening. A turn to the left, right, left right left left right right. NOT OPENING!!  So, now I’m panicking, looking around to make sure I am in the right building. Why? Because earlier in the week when I was trying to check in-I was not in the right building. The fobs had let me into the lobby of a different building but after repeatedly trying the key in 3 different doors—none opened. A hysterical call to the host’s parents (the host was out of town), they came to meet me at the “correct” building and showed me that the key did indeed work if you were at the right building. Apparently, there is a 15 Rue Violet and a 15 “B” Rue Violet. I had been trying to get into the latter when in fact the reserved Airbnb was in the former. Ugh………Paris!

Back to the locked out morning. So-luckily a neighbor leaving for work saw me trying to furiously get into the apartment and made eye contact with me-no one here would EVER ask you if you needed help with anything, but I took eye contact as an opening, luckily he spoke English so I pleaded with him to help me with the key in the lock. He tried in vain 3 or 4 times and asked a series of questions trying to figure out what could be happening and then said—that this would only happen if you had a key in the lock on the other side of door….UGH! YES! That is exactly what I had- a key in the lock on the other side of the door!!  Why? Because the doors here lock from both sides so that you can also lock yourself in at night. Well, in my pajama wearing haste—I had grabbed the spare set of keys earlier not the one in the inside lock so I had essentially locked myself out from the inside! Nice neighbor guy looked up a locksmith, called explained the situation to the person on the other end of the phone in rapid French, looked back at me and said it would be 20 minutes and 80 Euros—was I okay with that? OMG-yes, a small price to pay for a really stupid mistake. Well..if it only ended there. I felt somewhat relieved as I go outside to wait for the locksmith on the stoop.  As I sit outside on the stoop with Harper, loads of people are walking by me on their way to work. Many people are glancing down at me with a look of disdain or pity? Hard to know which. Why I wonder? One woman eyes me suspiciously and walks by me several times and gets on her cell phone. She then proceeds to speak to me in French—motioning for me to leave and something about the “policia”. The policia? This much French I knew. WHAT in the H*ll is she talking about? Why would she be calling the police? Well, remember that I had said I was a bit morning-dishelved and wearing my pajamas with my coffee? After realizing that I speak English-she explains to me that because I was sitting on the stoop with my now empty coffee mug and my dog that she has mistaken me for a “beggar” and that I had brought the dog along for sympathy ! OH MY GOD. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. I explained to her that I was just locked out-pointed out that I was indeed wearing a brand name Northface vest and had Rayban sunglasses on and that I was not begging for anything (unless you count begging to get back in the apartment but I didn’t tell her that). She seemed satisfied, offered a mild apology and walked off.  A beggar? Seriously?

Another hour goes by and still no locksmith. Now I go next door to the Korean BBQ place that has finally opened, explain the story again basically with pantomiming to the Korean man behind the counter, ask for him to look up the locksmith and to please call him for me. The man calls the locksmith but now they are saying they can’t authorize anyone to come because I don’t live there, only staying in it as an Airbnb. They tell me I need to get in touch with the host. Oh hmmm, I have no phone and no contact information on me-how am I going to do this I wonder. Korean man hands me his phone to look up information in my email—great idea! Only the phone is in Korean. All of the characters are in Korean.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW? I try and ask him to switch it to English, please. He speaks Korean and French and very broken English. He doesn’t know how. I punch a few buttons, ask again if he can switch it to English or google translate, he stares at me blankly and I hand him back the phone. On the verge of tears now thinking Harper and I are actually going to have to become beggars-a young kid comes out from the back room, the man explains to the child something in Korean (probably that I’m a stupid American, locked out and need to change the phone to English to look up my email.) 5 seconds flat that was done, I was in my email and had a contact number. The host called the locksmith, he shows up and said it was not going to be 80 Euros like I had originally been told but 500 euros. WHAT??? I had to get in so I agreed and he whipped out some type of board that he slid between the cracks swiped it down and the door was open faster than you can blink. My credit card was charged and off he went. I was 500 euros lighter but back in the apartment, key out of both sides of the door and feeling like maybe this was all a bad dream. I was still in my pajamas after all.

Lessons learned: Do not go out of the house without your phone, some emergency money, and multiple ways to contact the host written down in French (and maybe even Korean) on paper.  And most importantly NEVER leave the house in your pajamas no matter how short you think the trip is going to be!!

Driving in Paris…DON’T

Unless you want to take a few years off your precious life. If it wasn’t bad enough that we arrived on a Friday during rush hour but also in a torrential rain storm. The streets were literally flooding and people were coming out of nowhere dashing in front of the car, hitting the hood if we failed to see them and screaming what I can only imagine were some pretty bad French explicatives.  I accidentally went down more than one one-way street only to encounter more angry explicatives coming from every person driving and walking. The navigation said “route recalculating” in a lovely French female voice so many times that I was getting concerned she was going to either run out of calculations or run out of patience or worse: both.  On our initial entry into Paris, I glanced down at the time to destination on the screen-28 minutes—each “recalculation”, that number got higher and higher- 37 mins, 48 mins and then 1:06 ONE HOUR AND 6 MINUTES? How did we double our time and then some? Ugh, I didn’t think we were even in Paris anymore. The rain subsided and somehow, we made it back into Paris and to the teeny, tiny narrow street that our Airbnb was on. I was in a Jeep Renegade-not exactly suited for teeny tiny narrow streets.  Of course, there was nowhere to park so out of desperation I parked on the sidewalk.   After locating the bakery that the key was being kept for our Airbnb, I thought I located the correct apartment only to be locked out of it.  Turns out there was more than one apt. no 15 on the street. Where were we? at 15 B. How would you know you were at 15 B vs. 15? Oh…because 15 B had the teeniest of tiniest of three letters “BIS” which apparently represents “B” in France placed in the upper corner of the sign that only someone with radar vision could possibly see.  Why of course.  But in the pouring rain and utter exhaustion, I failed to look 2 doors down at the “other 15”…..But that is a whole other story that I’ll  save for another entry. We checked into a hotel and called it a day.

Time to return the rental car the next morning and almost lose my life. Seriously. I thought what could be so hard about returning the car to a major, well-known location like Charles De Gaulle Airport? Punch the name into the navigation and off I go. I felt like I had recovered enough from the miserably- lost- in-the-rain-during-rush-hour-traffic-trauma from the night before, the sun was shining and I was very comfortable driving in a major city. Throughout the years I had successfully driven in Boston, San Francisco, and even New York- all major traffic-y, tricky to navigate cities—what could be so hard about driving in another major city like Paris? Well, lemmetellya…..THE FREEKING INSANE ROUND A BOUTS..that’s what!!  The navigation system would say something that sounded rather simple like  “take the 6th exit off the round a bout”. So while simultaneously counting exits, staring at the nav screen making sure what I think is an exit is indeed an exit—cars are flying by, cutting me off, turning so close to me that I am now experiencing sheer terror. I don’t understand the rules of who has the right of way. Was there a right of way? Were there rules? I proceeded to find out that apparently there were rules and I had egregiously broken one. Which one? I still do not know to this day. I’m busy counting my exits, slowly proceeding around the round a bout and all of a sudden the horns start honking, people are slamming on their brakes, French explicatives are being screamed out windows and I am thinking—“Whoa, someone did something terribly wrong!!” Well, that person was apparently ME! I was then forced off the road by a car and a motorcycle with two irate Parisian men. They cornered me-one in front, one in back so that I couldn’t get out. People on the streets were also staring at me and screaming in French. I still didn’t fully comprehend what was going on so I was honking and motioning to the guy in front of me to move so I could go on. And then they both got out of and off their vehicles and come storming over to the car. I was officially terrified at this point. They were banging on the hood and the front and side windows motioning for me to roll my window down. Over my dead body (which I feared would be sooner than I thought)—was I going to roll down my window for them only to reach in and strangle the life out of me. I just kept repeating “I’m sorry” “Pardon” “I’m sorry” “Pardon, Sil vous plait” over and over again. I still didn’t know what I had done. Did I run over a small child and not know it? Did I cut someone off? Or did I just fail to yield? Whatever it was—I guess it deserved a 20-minute French tirade and near death threat. At one point the guy on the motorcycle went to open a compartment on his motorcycle—reaching in to grab something that I was convinced was going to be a gun. Luckily, a small child was on the back of the motorcycle which I was hoping was his daughter and that he wouldn’t possibly shoot me in front of her. Would he?  Manic thoughts of what would happen to Harper if I was in fact murdered in the round a bout was going through my head:  When would they find her? Would they find her? No one knew the address of where I was staying. Panic set in. And then the man pulled out a towel—wiped his brow, screamed a few more what I can only imagine were choice words at me and got on his motorcycle and drove off. Holy smokes, I had survived whatever that was and was back on the road to return the car. 2 more terrifying round a bouts, a stop in a horribly sketchy neighborhood to fill up with gas, 2 trips around the airport trying to locate the return location and I WAS OUT OF THE CAR FOREVER!

I’ve never been so happy to be out of a car in my life. But what should have been a quick 30 minute train ride back to the Airbnb turned into a stuck in the train station b/c I didn’t retrieve my ticket upon entry, 45 minutes lost walking in circles staring up at the sky looking for the Eiffel Tower (my landmark where I was staying), a 30 minute bus ride that a nice Parisian woman put me on, and finally a 29 minute taxi ride back to my Airbnb. Transportation was not my friend this day. How a simple rental car return starting at 10 am on a sunny Saturday turned into a threat to my life, 3 hour lost as s**t in Paris, finally arriving home at 4pm day—I don’t know but nevertheless that was all the driving I was going to be doing in Paris that’s for sure! A map, google translate and the metro were now going to be my new best friends…or maybe I’ll just send for an Uber.