Meanwhile, in Seattle

While the team captain and his newly-minted wife honeymooned in Hawaii, the intern (that’s me) remained in Seattle. Shane had left me with two passports, four visa applications, and one goal: send all the paperwork for our visas to London.

What could possibly go wrong?

Completing visa applications ranks, along with tax preparation, as one of the most subtly frustrating experiences in modern society. The problem is one of bureaucracy and red tape. In a nutshell, visa applications are a poorly designed system because they fail to Robustness Principle. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

So, we had left the story—before all the bits about manta rays, Hilton Hotels, and luxurious rental cars. All of which were heavily complained about, so I’m curious to see how the Steppe treats my dear friends—with Shane handing me all the bits of the visa application.

According to The Visa Machine, here is what each person needed to send:

  • Two visa applications, printed, non-scaled, on A4 paper (roughly 8.3″ by 11.7″).
  • Signatures on each visa application. Actually, they didn’t specify this, since it was assumed to be pretty self-explanatory.
  • Three passport photos, international standard size (35mm by 45mm)
  • One passport.

In the typical trend of senior management, here’s what I received:

  • Two visa applications printed, scaled, on letter paper (8.5″ by 11″).
  • Signatures, but only on the Kazakhi application, not the Russian ones.
  • Two passport photos, US size (51mm by 51mm).
  • One passport.

But hey—it’s like they say: one out of four ain’t bad. Except they don’t say that. No one says that. One out of four is a 25%. That’s a F-, or, with grade inflation, maybe a D+.

Luckily, we live in an age of extreme interconnectivity. As an intern, I quickly contacted Shane, “You forgot to sign the Russian visas.”

No response.

“Ah yes, and we need to reprint all the visas.”

No response.

“And fill out the Kazakhi ones. Tell Roberta in Hawaii. Maybe she’ll cool off by the time she gets home.”

No response.

“Oh. And we should send one more passport photo each.”

No response.

“I know you guys are probably trying to swim with manta rays while drinking strawberry daiquiris and watching the sun set from the hammock of a catamaran. That sounds terribly romantic. But the passport photos are also the wrong size.”

No response.

I’ll admit, contemplating visa applications on your honeymoon is likely the second largest cause of divorce amongst Mongol Rally entrants. (The first largest cause is probably trying to drive across most of two continents with your spouse). So, Shane, Roberta, if I caused any stress, I’ll buy you some fermented yak milk while we’re driving across Mongolia.

But this gets me to my final point: getting a visa sucks because visa processes fail one simple principle, the Robustness Principle:

be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.

Essentially, it should be OK for governments to be selective about the visas they give out, but they should work on accepting a broader amount of applications. The process is frustrating because one wrong answer, one tilted staple, one slightly-too-large photo, can mean the difference between being able to drive from London to Ulaanbaatar. And that’s a shame. The Mongol Rally is about taking a real adventure; visas are the antithesis of adventure, since they require well-thought out dates, routes, and accommodations.

Luckily, the nuptial couple has returned from Hawaii and we can now cut through some red tape together. This will be welcome relief and will free us up to do something I’ve always wanted to do: buy a Fiat.