As a self-styled, seasoned traveller, Alastair was not overly concerned about applying for a visa to travel to India next month
I filled in the forms in my usual slapdash way, attached my photo, wrote the cheque and dropped it all off, along with my passport, at the Post Office.
This morning my passport returned. Instead of the old thrill of seeing a new visa stamp inside, I found a message. The photograph I had submitted was the wrong size. It measured 2 inches x 1.5. It should have measured 2 x 2. Cursing bureaucrats and their silly little rules I scampered off to find myself a square photograph and post everything back again. Time is now a-ticking and I'm cutting it a bit fine before I fly. Visa rules are stupid, but so am I for not playing their game.
I am often asked about the complexities of securing visas on my travels. What I have found is that, if you play the game properly, fill in all the right forms in all the right places, don't tick the little box that asks if you are a Terrorist or Spy, and swallow a big patience pill, then the whole process is not as daunting as it seems.
If you're heading off on your first big trip that requires getting several visas here are a few tips. Bear in mind that each individual country is different, that the passport you hold will also affect things, and that things are always liable to change. Keep an eye on travel forums (as well as the wimpishly pessimistic Foreign Office website) for up-to-date news.
1. If you're going away for less than three months Get all your visas before you leave. Some countries demand you stipulate an exact entry date, but most do not. If you're not entering a country in the next three months you probably won't be allowed to obtain it that early. In that case you need to get it on the road...
2. If you want a visa to country "A" here's what you do: Find a country ("B") along your route that has an embassy of country "A" in it.
3. Go to the embassy If you're worried you may be refused a visa it's worth being very friendly and polite and wearing the smartest clothes you can muster.
4. Fill in lots of forms and pay lots of money Get a receipt. Make sure you have a photocopy of your passport as in many countries you have to carry one if you have submitted your passport for a visa application.
5. Wait This can vary from an hour or so (take a good book) up to a few weeks. You might get to know country "B" very well while you wait to be allowed into country "A"!
6. Collect your visa and hit the road!
7. Repeat in country "A" in order to get into country "C".
I've written this simplistic list to show how easy the procedure really is. There are occasional variations and extra hassles involved, but so long as you are organised, work out where the embassies are, have long enough remaining on your current visa to wait for the next visa to be granted, and have an alternative route planned in case your visa application is refused, then bureaucracy need not be a major hassle in your first grand adventure.