“Describe Your Mustache” And Other Strange Visa Questions

Anyone who has done a lot of travel understands that travel-related bureaucracy falls into its own special category of weird and unusual. The bizarre questions you get asked on customs forms or during the immigration process can leave you scratching your head, and now a new survey has revealed the truly wacko questions that are sometimes asked during the visa application process.

A poll by a visa submission website asked travelers to recount the most unusual questions they had ever been asked. Among the strangest, was a question on a Mexican visa form asking the applicant to “describe their beard/mustache.” The responses applicants could choose from included “scanty,” “bushy” or “clipped.” Meanwhile, a man traveling to a Middle Eastern country was asked “how many wives do you intend to bring?” during his application process.Some seemingly odd questions may have a rational basis for being on the application form — Australia, for instance, which takes quarantine very seriously, asks if travelers “have been to a farm in the past six weeks.” Others just boggle the mind. Several travelers were asked, “What side of the bed does your wife sleep on?” when applying for a U.S. visa, while those heading to China were asked about the reason for visiting, with “visit” being one of the available responses.

Those behind the survey say that while the questions may seem weird to us, it’s simply a sign of cultural differences, and travelers should be careful not to joke when filling out visa forms or answering immigration questions.

Tell us, what’s the strangest visa question you’ve ever been asked?

Tripatini launches new “Ask a Travel Expert” features, contest

Gadling first reported on Tripatini, a new social networking website for travelers back in January. The site has earned a devoted following thanks to its large and growing community of passionate travelers, journalists and industry professionals. Recently Tripatini unveiled a new feature to tap into the collective experience and expertise of its members called “Ask a Travel Expert.”

For all the information that’s floating on the Internet, one of the most frustrating aspects of travel is finding reliable, up-to-date information. Tripatini’s Ask a Travel Expert fills that gap, creating a dedicated Q&A forum where information seekers can ask the site’s savvy travelers and travel experts specific questions about their trips. Right now there’s ongoing discussions about New York food trucks, shark cage diving in South Africa and tips for the Hawaiian isle of Kauai. Tripatini has also built their Ask a Travel Expert function around an embeddable widget which can be added to websites anywhere on the web.

Best of all, to help promote their new Ask a Travel Expert feature, Tripatini is giving away a trip for two to London now through June 30th. All you have to do to participate is simply ask or answer a question during the contest period and you’re entered for a chance to win. A forum to get answers to your most pressing travel questions and a chance to win a free trip? Sounds like good deal to me. Head on over to Tripatini’s Ask a Travel Expert page and complete the easy sign up for an account if you’d like to give it a try.

Ask Gadling – Travel Advice from an Expert

Gadling is pleased to announce a new column that helps us give you more of the information you need: Ask Gadling – Travel Advice from an Expert.

You can submit questions to ask [at] gadling [dot] com — from “What should I pack if I’m visiting my mother in law?” to “Where should I take my disabled niece for a vacation?” Feel free to use a kitschy name like “Stranded in Des Moines,” or we can make one up for you.

The only kind of questions we don’t want are travel booking questions. We are not a travel agency, we can’t arrange your trip for you and we aren’t the Google of flight times. “What are the best places for scuba diving in Mexico?” is okay, “How can I go scuba diving in Mexico for $1,000 if I’m from Banff?” is not.

I’ll be heading up this column, and soliciting the advice of the appropriate experts on the team and elsewhere when necessary. Expect to see answers every Wednesday at noon.

So, are you ready? ask [at] gadling [dot] com — We’ve got your back.

How to decide if a tour is right for you

For some travelers, the mere sight of a tour bus is enough to make them cringe. Heck, I don’t enjoy seeing large masses of humanity spilling out of a humongous vehicle and mucking up my “unique” travel experience. But that’s not to say that all tours are wastes of your time and money.

There are some phenomenal tour operators all over the world offering myriad types of guided excursions. Many are even geared towards seasoned travelers who don’t need their hands held the entire time. So, rather than discount all tours as wretched experiences best left to novices, spend more time finding a tour that meets your needs and you may be surprised to find that you, too, can enjoy a guided experience.

Finding a tour that matches your travel aesthetic is easier than you think. You simply need to ask a few important questions.

Do you know anyone who recommends this tour?
You can read reviews on sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, but there’s no way to know for sure that you’ll share the same opinions as the commenters on those sites. But you know your friends. You trust them. Reach out to family, friends and colleagues to see if they can recommend tours before you book anything. Twitter and Facebook are great ways to crowdsource opinions from people you know and who know what you like.

Will the tour help with a language barrier?
Sure, you can point at menu items and gesticulate your way to the bathroom, but, at some point, your inability to speak the local language may inhibit your ability to see something that you truly want to visit. That’s why finding a reputable tour operator can become the difference between having the trip of your dreams and going home disappointed. Gadling’s Darren Murph has mentioned in the past how a tour in Central America was his favorite guided travel experience. One key reason was his guide’s ability to expedite his border crossing – something Darren would not have been able to do on his own. Darren told me that the tour “literally made the impossible, possible.”

Does the tour solve transportation problems?
In the developed world, even novice travelers feel comfortable renting a car and heading off on their own adventures. Sure, driving on the left may feel awkward at first, but awkward is better than dangerous. In the developing world, transportation can often be the single biggest challenge that you will face. Whether it’s because the roads are dangerous, difficult or non-existent, it’s perfectly respectable to prefer that someone else do the driving. Other times, a car is not even an option. Paying for the boats, camels and helicopters needed to reach a remote location can be prohibitively expensive. Booking yourself on a tour can mitigate that problem and cut your transportation costs immensely.

Does the tour operator share your ideals?
While traveling should expand our minds and challenge our beliefs, there may be nothing worse than being on a tour led by someone who operates their business in a way that truly offends your sensibilities. When Janelle Nanos, Special Projects Editor at National Geographic Traveler and Intelligent Travel, was planning a trip to Morocco, she sought out tour operators who shared her “same ideals about sustainable and authentic travel.” This is particularly important if you are seeking out cultural tourism. Forced cultural experiences can leave you feeling uncomfortable, which is a topic we have covered before on Gadling. Finding a tour that meshes with your ideals will prevent you from wanting to jump out of a moving bus at any point on the trip.

Does the tour offer more than your guidebook?
Sometimes wandering on your own and supplementing your own knowledge with a guidebook is all you need to immerse yourself in a place. However, guided tours can often provide a deeper understanding and local expertise that no amount of self-directed research could unveil. Gadling’s Tom Johansmeyer took a free walking tour in Reykjavik with a guide who predicted Iceland’s economic problems well in advance of the news hitting the front pages of newspapers around the world. Whether it’s an Art Deco tour in Miami, a private tour of the Vatican or a prophetic walk around Reykjavik, a guide will be able to tell you much more than a book or pamphlet.

Who is the guide?
Darren Murph’s Central American tour was led by the owners of the tour company. Small operations like that have more of a vested interest in creating a positive experience because they can’t afford to develop a bad reputation. Massive tour operators with transient, part-time staff may be cheaper, but they probably don’t care about their product as much as a small business owner does.

How big is the tour group?
When it comes to tours, size matters. Small groups allow for personalized and intimate experiences. Large groups keep costs down and allow you to meet more people. Janelle Nanos wanted to avoid being part of a herd. She chose an operator in Morocco who kept the groups small. “That meant no big buses, no crowded tourist restaurants, no walking through a city like a group of four-year-old soccer wannabees following a ball.” Know your preference before you put down that non-refundable deposit.

How much free time will you have?
Even travelers who always prefer tours to independent travel want some time to themselves. Before booking yourself on a tour, find out how much free time you’ll have to explore neighborhoods, wander through ruins or just have a meal by yourself. Local knowledge and expertise are wonderful things, but so are customizing your trip and hearing your own thoughts.

Where will you be staying?
If your tour will involve overnight stays, investigate the level of accommodations. If you want to rough it, be sure that you won’t be at hotel chains every night. If hostels aren’t your thing, avoid finding yourself on a budget tour.

Many of you will continue to eschew tours and that’s certainly your prerogative. But, that may not always be an option. Some parks and historical sites only allow people to visit if they are part of a licensed tour group. Gadling’s Kraig Becker noted that hiking the Inca Trail is limited to those who are members of a guided tour. There are plenty of places with similar policies and even the most stubborn independent travelers will have to suck it up and ask themselves the above questions.

What questions do you ask yourself before booking a tour? What has made your tour experiences positive (or, unfortunately, negative)? Do you agree that it’s OK to take tours? Share your tour tips and tales in the comments to help us all get the most out of our travel experiences.

Special thanks to Janelle Nanos and all of the Gadling writers who shared their advice.