While many whisper the four most dreaded words the disorganised backpacker never wants to hear “proof of onward travel” – we felt quite lucky to have travelled to over five countries without having come up against such a burden. Now, maybe it was due to the fact that four out of five of those countries were via land crossings but still, there is no denying that such a pain in the arse causes a few extra pumps of sweat and an increased heart rate as you approach any immigration official.
Becoming way to casual in our ways of travelling the Southeast Asian part of the world, it wasn’t until we flew into Indonesia’s North Sumatran airport, Medan, were we hit with the reality of needing those… shhh… four eye-rolling words.
You see, while our golden Irish ticket (passport) has been a Godsend throughout our travels, in order to enjoy our 30 day visa exemption in Indonesia i.e. not have to pay the $35 visa fee, (although if you want the option to extend your visa for another 30 days in Jakarta you should opt in for this visa cost), all we needed was our valid Irish passport, a cheeky charming grin, and… shhh… you know what.
A little panicked, we remembered a few tricks from our Latin America days, where onward proof of… shhh… is necessary for a number of countries such as Costa Rica. Again, we travelled mostly via land but we have heard some airlines in Central and South America do request it as a standard requirement. We had a few more options when it came to Latin America and onward proof of travel, including one where we didn’t need to spend a penny but only reserve flights. Anyway you can read all about that here.
Thankfully for us, as in most international airports, there was free WiFi that we were able to connect to. And so plumped our tired asses down on the floor under the watchful and curious eyes of the very friendly immigration folk while we booked ourselves refundable flights just to bag that flight itinerary.
All that is needed to achieve this quick and painless method are WiFi, a debit or credit card, few spare minutes and the steps below.
Book Refundable Flights:
There are a number of websites that will allow you to book refundable flights for example, GoMoSafer.com and Expedia.com, the two sites we are comfortable to suggest that you guys use, having personal experience using Expedia ourselves. Just note that with GoMoSafer.com, you need to check and select the “refundable” box when searching for flights.
Since it can be such a nerve wracking process, especially when you are up against flights that could cost up more than $500, here we will share a quick step-by-step guide to help you through the process using Expedia.com – screenshots included. Please excuse the dodgy highlighting on the screenshots, it was done in a moving vehicle (OK, so that’s a lie but it’s better than admitting my addiction to caffeine and the fact that a 1 year old child can handle drawing a straight line better than I can!).
Step #1: Visit
Visit Expedia.com and scroll to the bottom of the website until you reach the ‘Global Sites Section‘. Here, click on the USA flag which will bring you to the USA version of the site, the only version that offers 24 hour free cancellation and fully refundable flights. It will also mean that all prices will be displayed in USA currency, but just leave this as is.
Step #2: Search
As per usual search for flights taking note that (although an obvious one we feel we should still point it out!) you have to pick the country you are trying to gain entry to as your departure country i.e. we were trying to get in to Indonesia and so we searched flights from Indonesia to Philippines.
Also, it is really important that you pick a departure date within your visa limit, the day before is usually best and latest you should pick, just to avoid any further questions and perked eyebrows. Again, for example, we arrived to Indonesia on the 17th January and so we picked the 16th February as our departure date.
When your search returns results, pick a flight that has ‘Free Cancel w/in 24 hrs‘ written in green beside the flights, as you can see below. Don’t worry too much about what flight you actually go for as you will be cancelling it faster than you can say “Expedia”.
Step #3: Review
Before you do continue on with your booking, make sure to review it to ensure the ‘Free Cancellation within 24 hours of booking!’ is still displaying. As you can see it should be beside the ‘continue booking’ button. If you don’t see it anywhere on the page, double back and pick a different flight.
Step #4: Book n’ Pay
Once happy out with your “flights”, enter all your personal info and details as you would normally, triple checking that your email address is entered correctly as you will need it to receive your cancellation link.
This is where you will need to include payment details and although it reeeeally doesn’t matter what kind of card you use, if you do have a credit card handy we always suggest booking flights with a credit card instead of a debit as it leaves a better paper trail, your bank should offer payment protection and in the long run should any issues occur it is safer (but honestly, don’t worry if you don’t have one this is just an extra note!)
Once again, you should see “Free cancellation within 24 hours of booking!” displayed, and this time it will be on top of the page above your required details. Don’t click pay now until you see it!
Step #5: Show Off
So, your flight is booked by now you will have received a flight confirmation and a follow up email with your “E-ticket”. All you need to do is screenshot this email and flaunt it at the immigration officials.
While you might be tempted to screenshot and then cancel, hold off until they have stamped your passport. Although the Indonesian officials were such sounders and barely glanced at the itinerary, some border officials in other countries may not be so relaxed.
Stamp first, cancel later. Remember that you do have 24 hours (but dear Lord don’t leave it until the last minute!)
Step #6: Cancel
In both your ‘Expedia travel confirmation‘ and ‘E-ticket‘ emails, if you scroll down to flight overview – you will see the ‘cancel this reservation’ link as per the screenshot below. Note that you can also cancel the flight via the Expedia website under “account > my trips”.
As you can see from the below screenshot, when we booked our flight while we stood facing immigration, we had it booked and confirmed, got our stamp and had the flight cancelled within 8 minutes. Now that has to be a record!
Anyway, point being is that if you are still connected to the WiFi as you walk away with visa in hand, definitely cancel it there and then. We noticed that the money hadn’t even left our account at all as it was all done so quickly.
Make sure you receive that “booking has been cancelled” email but don’t panic if it doesn’t’ come through straight away. For a peace of mind, the easiest way to ensure it has been cancelled is to log onto Expedia and check under “my account > my trips” if your flight is no longer displayed there it has been cancelled.
Also be sure to check your spam folder!
And there you have it, like we said – not every country will expect or even ask for this. In fact, we flew out of Indonesia and back in thinking we would be asked again, and we weren’t so you might have one of those lucky days.
The best thing you can do is to prepare beforehand by researching all country requirements, ask in backpacker groups on Facebook such as “Southeast Asia Backpackers” to see if anyone else was asked, book a flight to be 100% sure or at least Google the airport you are arriving to to see if it has free WiFi (most airports do!) and sure if they have WiFi your worries are over.
We hope this is of some help and allows you to travel a little more freely and without any huge concerns. There really is nothing worse than being forced to be organised adults!
Happy travels, you lot!