The Indefinite Traveler

When I was in the corporate world, I had limited vacation time and traveled quickly. I tried to pack as much into a trip as possible, bringing home snapshots to remind me of what I’d seen. My husband has always been a slow traveler, taking his time to really experience life in the places he visited. (The turtle graphic for this piece was his idea.)

Many of the travelers who come to Guatemala have a limited time and an inflexible schedule. Others have no immediate plans to return home and travel at a more leisurely pace. Yet others come here knowing the visa rules and planning to extend their stays legally.

If you’re flying, the leisurely pace can cause problems.

I recently met a friend in the Panajachel market; he’d just arrived back in Guatemala. He typically spends six months in Guatemala and six months in the U.S. He buys a round trip ticket with a return after six months, and has his stay legally extended after three months. He’s been doing it this way for years.

This trip, however, was different. When he got to the airport, he was told that he had to have a visa because his return flight wasn’t for six months. Technically, the agent was correct. In practical terms, nobody gets a visa like that. They finally let him on the flight by making him book another return flight in three months time.

Some airlines won’t let you buy a one-way ticket to Guatemala. Other airlines don’t care. From the stories I’ve heard, American Airlines is the most diligent  about enforcing rules that nobody else seems to know about. Other airlines want to make sure you can get into Guatemala, but what you do from then on is your own business.

What do I mean about getting into Guatemala? You need to have a passport that will not expire within six months of your entry into the country. If you try to enter Guatemala and your passport expires in four months, they might turn you away. Airlines know this, and may not let you get on the flight.

You also need to have enough blank visa pages in your passport. If you start an international trip with only two blank visa pages, you may wind up sitting in an embassy somewhere, waiting for those new pages. Or the airline may not let you on the flight at all.

Of course, travel restrictions aren’t unique to Guatemala. You’ll find many countries have much stricter rules and even won’t let you in unless you show a ticket home.

If you want to travel at a leisurely pace, know the rules where you’re going. Talk to people who live there, and find out how the locals work within the rules–or don’t.


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