The trouble with ignoring what you don't want to know
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew there was a limit
Love notes from Siel is a weekly newsletter from Siel, who used to live in Los Angeles but is currently traveling around. If you love the notes, subscribe for free.
Dear friend —
Have you ever known something to be true in the back of your mind — yet decided to pretend you didn’t know it because it was something you didn’t really want to know?
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew there was a limit to how long I could stay in Europe without a visa. However, I conveniently ignored this line of thought while planning out my trip. I planned to stay in each country less than a month anyway — except for Italy, which I’d given six weeks. Surely those shortish stays would keep me out of trouble?
Well, no, I discovered.
I got the first inkling that something might be wrong when I started hearing traveler friends talk about the Schengen zone: how they needed to stay out of it for the time being, how much more time they had remaining in it, and so on.
Hmmm, I thought. That word Schengen sounds familiar. I should probably look into that.
So I did. Turns out, American passport holders can stay in the Schengen zone for only 90 days within a 180-day period! And this Schengen zone covers 26 European countries — pretty much all the popular ones! That meant my plan to stay in Europe for five months was kind of fucked! Yet I’d already booked everything: the flights, the trains, the Airbnbs, the hotels, the tours!
So as any curious global citizen would do, I googled: “what happens if you stay in Schengen more than 90 days.” The internet spat back an answer: It depends. Exit Europe through an easygoing airport and your passport might get barely a glance. Exit through a stricter spot, though — like say, Berlin — and you could get in big trouble! A fine! A ban from reentry! Deportation!
Well, I’d been planning to fly out of Berlin.
I did not want to get deported, so I changed my plans. Instead of going from Athens (Schengen!) to Berlin (Schengen!) for a chill month as originally planned, I ended up flying to Istanbul (not Schengen — yay!) for a week, then to Prague (Schengen!) for a weekend of plans that weren’t refundable. After that, I took a train to Berlin — because I still had to fly out of there, since KLM let me change my flight date but not my departure airport. I was in Berlin for less than 20 hours during which I lugged my luggage from the train station to the hotel, slept, then lugged my luggage back to the train station to the airport. There I went through customs without fanfare because I was leaving the Schengen zone after only 89 days!
The trip to Mexico City was a semi-organized disaster. My first flight was delayed, shrinking my hour-long layover in Amsterdam to nearly nothing. That meant the group of us going on to Mexico had to sprint about a half mile from terminal D down to passport control, where we thankfully got to skip the super long line, then sprint another half mile from passport control to terminal F. When we got there, the area was empty — but thankfully the plane hadn’t left yet!
We got on, sweaty, buckled up — to learn the flight was delayed an hour.
The actual ten-hour flight, once it got going, went smoothly. Then I arrived in Mexico City to learn KLM had lost my luggage.
But more about that in the next love note —
Three links you might love:
A plan forms in Mexico: Help Americans get abortions. Reports the New York Times: “Across Latin America, networks of activists who work on the margins of the legal system deliver the pills to women and walk them through using the medication to end pregnancies.”
Why I’m talking about my abortion. Jemele Hill shares her story in The Atlantic: “I had an abortion when I was 26 years old. I was not raped. I wasn’t the victim of incest. I was not in the midst of a life-threatening medical emergency. I simply had no desire to give birth to a child.”
Asking for pronouns has become a social standard. Who is it serving? Brock Colyar writes in The Cut: “I’ve begun to wonder what exactly I was trying to accomplish when I started using they/them pronouns and insisting you do, too.”