Five ways to get more European stamps in your passport

european passport stamps
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that European passport stamps have become harder and harder to get. The expansion of the Schengen zone has reduced the number of times tourists are compelled to show their passports to immigration officials. For most Americans on multi-country European itineraries, a passport will be stamped just twice: upon arrival and upon departure.

Where’s the fun in that?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your passport’s stamps. They’re souvenirs. So ignore the haters and treasure them. You won’t be the first to sit at your desk alone, lovingly fingering your stamps while daydreaming of your next adventure. You won’t be the last, either.

And if you are a passport stamp lover with a penchant for European travel, don’t despair. There are plenty of places in Europe where visitors have to submit their travel documents to officials to receive stamps. Some countries, in fact, even require Americans to purchase full-page visas in advance.

The Western Balkans remain almost entirely outside of Schengen. Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all require visas for Americans, while Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia do not. Immigration officers at the borders of all of these countries, however, will stamp your passport when you enter and when you leave. Turkey provides visas on arrival. These cost €15. Among EU countries, the UK, Ireland, and Cyprus remain outside of Schengen for the time being, while Romania and Bulgaria will soon join it.
european passport stamps
Pristina, Kosovo.

Ok then. How to maximize the number of stamps in your passport during a European jaunt? Here are five ideas.

1. Fly into the UK or Ireland and then travel from either of these countries to a Schengen zone country. You’ll obtain an arrival stamp in the UK or Ireland and then be processed when entering and leaving the Schengen zone.

2. Plan an itinerary through the former Yugoslavia plus Albania by car, bus, or train. Slovenia is part of the Schengen zone but the rest of the former country is not. Traveling across the borders of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania will yield all sorts of passport stamp action.

3. Visit the following eastern European countries: Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and/or Azerbaijan. Unavoidable passport stamp madness will transpire.

4. Visit San Marino and pay the tourist office for a passport stamp. The miniscule republic charges €5 to stamp passports. The bus fare from Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast is worth it for the bragging rights alone.

5. Visit the EU’s three Schengen stragglers, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria. In the case of the latter two, visit soon.

Schengen and the disappearance of European passport stamps

schengen passport
Creative new use for border crossing posts at German/Austrian border.

In the late 1980s, an American spending a summer traveling across Europe with a Eurailpass would see his or her passport stamped possibly dozens of times. With a few exceptions, every time a border was crossed, an immigration agent would pop his or her head into a train compartment, look at everyone’s passports, in most cases stamp them, and move on. Every Eastern Bloc country required visas, some of which could be obtained at the border and others of which had to be applied for in advance.

Today, an American can enter the Schengen zone in Helsinki, fly to Oslo and then on to Amsterdam, proceed by train through Belgium, France, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, then by bus to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and then by ferry back to Helsinki before catching a flight to Athens and landing in Greece without once needing to submit a passport to a border guard’s scrutiny.

The development of the Schengen agreement across Europe has altered the geopolitical map of the continent in many ways. For tourists, the development of the Schengen zone has simplified travel by drastically reducing the number of times a passport can be checked and stamped as national borders are crossed.

The Schengen Agreement is named after the town of Schengen in Luxembourg. It was here in 1985 that five countries-Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany, and France-signed an agreement to essentially create borderless travel between them. A model for this agreement had been created years before by the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), which eliminated border controls back in 1948. The Nordic countries also did away with internal border posts, in 1958.

In 1995, the five original Schengen countries plus Portugal and Spain inaugurated the zone. In 1997, Austria and Italy joined. Greece followed in 2000 and the five Nordic countries joined in 2001. In late 2007, nine more countries joined the Schengen zone; most recently, Switzerland signed up in 2008.

schengen passport
Abandoned border crossing between Slovakia and Hungary.

Today, 22 European countries are part of Schengen. Every European Union country (save the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus) belongs. Other members include EU holdouts Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. The European microstates present a few complications. Monaco’s borders are administered by France, which makes the tiny principality a part of Schengen, while Liechtenstein’s accession, approved by the European Parliament in February, is pending. San Marino and the Vatican are de facto versus official members, while mountainous, landlocked Andorra remains outside of the zone altogether.

There are five EU countries not currently part of the Schengen zone. The UK and Ireland (as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands) operate a Schengen-like agreement called the Common Travel Area. Neither country is obligated to join the zone.

Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, however, are all bound by treaty to eventually join. Romania has fulfilled all the criteria for joining Schengen and Bulgaria is close to fulfillment as well. These two countries will accede together, likely later this year. Cyprus presents a more complicated situation given the division of the island between the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the largely unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the north.

With the coming accession of the Western Balkans to the European Union, the Schengen zone will almost definitely continue to grow. Might it one day cover the entire landmass of Europe? Check back in two decades.

[Images: top image Flickr | Mike Knell; middle image Flickr | jczart]

Gadling’s 2011 New Year’s travel resolutions

New Year'sIt’s that time of year again. A time when we all make certain promises to ourselves, in an attempt to make our lives more organized, our bodies stronger or leaner. We vow to spend more time with loved ones, give back to others, or ditch that cubicle job. And some of us…well, we just want to keep on traveling, any way we can manage to finagle it.

In the spirit of New Year’s, I asked my fellow Gadling contributors about their travel resolutions for the coming year, and came up with some of my own. Our goals are all over the map (no pun intended), but a common theme emerged. Despite our love of exotic adventures, most of us want to spend more time exploring in our own backyard (that would be the United States). That, and invent musical underwear.

Leigh Caldwell

  • Go on my first cruise.
  • Spend a weekend somewhere without Internet access, and, if I survive that…
  • Celebrate the Fourth of July with my family in Banner Elk, North Carolina, home of the quintessential small-town Independence Day. There’s a three-legged race, a rubber ducky race down a mountain stream, and a parade filled with crepe paper, balloons, and every kid and dog in town.

McLean Robbins

  • Quit my “day job” so I can do this full-time.

[Photo credit: Flickr user nlmAdestiny]New Year'sLaurel Miller

  • Get back in shape after a two-year battle with Oroya Fever (contracted in Ecuador), and climb a volcano in Bolivia.
  • Finally start exploring my adopted state of Washington, especially the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Visit India for the first time; see if it’s possible to subsist on street food without getting dysentery.
  • Learn to wear DEET at all times when traveling in countries that harbor nearly-impossible-to-diagnose diseases like Oroya Fever.

Sean MacLachlan

  • Get back to Ethiopia.
  • Explore Green Spain (the north part of the country).
  • Show my son a non-Western culture.
  • Invent an underwear stereo that plays cheap jazz music when subjected to a TSA patdown.

New Year's
Mike Barish

  • Drive cross country.
  • See the Grand Canyon (finally).
  • Finally learn how not to overpack.
  • And, for the fifth year in a row, I resolve to learn how to play the keytar (2011 has got to be the year!).

Darren Murph

  • Bound and determined to visit my 50th state, Alaska.
  • Dead-set on relocating a childhood friend of mine back to North Carolina, and then taking him on a road trip of some sort.

Meg Nesterov

  • Visit more places where I know people.
  • Be in more travel pictures and get my husband out from behind the
  • camera occasionally.
  • Take at least one guidebook-free and paperless trip. Okay, maybe one map.
  • Take better notes. I might think I’ll always remember the name of that fun-looking restaurant or weird sign I want to translate, but it’s easy to forget when you’re taking in so many new things.
  • See more of Turkey while I still live here. I spend so much time traveling to nearby countries, I have to be sure to see the landscape of Cappadocia and eat the food in Gaziantep before I go back to the U.S..New Year's

Grant Martin, Editor-in-Chief

  • Travel a bit less and work a bit more [Sure, Grant!].

Annie Scott Riley

  • Travel less alone, and more with my husband.

Alex Robertson Textor

  • More open-jaw travel, flying into one destination and traveling by land to another before returning home. It’s my favorite way to see a new or familiar territory–gradually and without any backtracking. I need to do it more often.
  • More thematic consistency in my travels. Instead of scrambling to meet whatever assignment comes my way, I want my travels in the next year to be focused on a region or two, and on a number of overarching questions or issues. I’m still collecting ideas: Remote European mountain villages? Neglected second-tier cities? The Caucasus?
  • Northern Cyprus. Have been wanting to visit since I was a kid. 2011′s the year.

New Year'sDavid Farley

  • To take back the name “Globetrotters” from the Harlem basketball team.
  • To introduce eggnog and lutefisk to southeast Asia.
  • To eat fewer vegetables.

[Photo credits: volcano, Laurel Miller; Grand Canyon, Flickr user Joe Y Jiang; Cappadocia, Flickr user Curious Expeditions; lutefisk, Flickr user Divine Harvester]

J. Lo faces possible lawsuit from Cyprus hotel

Jenny from the Block might lose some of those killer rocks she’s got. A luxury hotel in northern Cyprus is threatening to sue Jennifer Lopez for $40 million after the pop star canceled a concert there, citing political reasons, according to Sky News.

Lopez was scheduled to perform at the Cratos Premium hotel on July 24, but backed out after the booking “outraged Greek Cypriots in the south of the island nation.” Apparently, J.Lo’s appearance triggered fury among Greeks who felt her concert gave legitimacy to northern Cyprus. The protesters sent thousands of notes and letters to J.Lo and her representation, causing the singer to back out of the show.

A spokesperson for J.Lo told celebrity gossip website TMZ:

“Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. “After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of management to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.”

J.Lo can still salvage the relationship with Cyprus, though. The hotel owner said the lawsuit will be dropped if Lopez reconfirms her concert at the hotel.

International female team reaches South Pole

Back in November, a group of seven women from a variety of countries around the globe set out on a long, and challenging journey. Calling themselves the Kaspersky Commonwealth Expedition, they left Patriot Hills, along the Antarctic coast, and over the course of the next 39 days, traveled more than 550 miles on skis, before arriving at their destination at the geographic South Pole yesterday.

The expedition is described on the team’s website as “5 Continents. 6 Faiths. 7 Languages. 8 Women. 1 daring ambition”. And what a daring ambition it has been. The original eight women come from Cyprus, Ghana, India, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Jamaica and the United Kingdom, each of which are Commonwealth countries. Due to illness, one of the women was forced to withdraw from the team at the last minute, leaving the other seven to continue without her.

The expedition served two purposes. The first was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth, while the second was a celebration of the achievement of women from around the planet. These ladies hope to serve as role models for young girls back home, showing them that it is possible to for women to do great things. In several cases, these women are first person, man or woman, from their home country to make the journey to the South Pole.

That journey was not an easy one. The ladies had to deal with blizzards, whiteout conditions, vast crevasse fields, and long, demanding days out on the ice, where the temperatures often fell below -20ºF. In order to make the journey, they had to pull their gear and supplies behind them on heavy sleds, while they crossed miles of wide open terrain, often exposed to howling winds and blowing snow.

For now, the team is resting at the research station located at the South Pole, where they are enjoying warm beds and hot meals for the first time in weeks. In the next day or two, they’ll be picked up from the ice by plane, and begin to make the return trip home. But until then, they’re content and happy, with having reached a place on the planet that few people will ever see and accomplishing something that few could ever dream of.