Proof of Onward Travel

Proof of Onward Travel

I thought I’d give Jocelyn a break this week and tell you about one of our most nerve-racking experiences yet.  I am Jocelyn’s travel partner (and husband) so you’ll probably hear more from me in the future.  If you want to check out the nerdy side of our trip (tracking expenses, etc) make sure you head over to my site, BREAK FREE.  Enjoy, Dan


One of the major decisions we had to make when planning our round the world trip was whether to purchase plane tickets before or to buy them as we go. There are advantages to both strategies, but the major drawback of purchasing before is it limits your flexibility along the way. We decided pretty quickly to purchase tickets as we went.

However, purchasing as you go isn’t the easiest thing to do because airlines and countries require “Proof of Onward Travel” before letting you into a new country. Airlines want proof of onward travel to make sure you have a way out of the next country. Although it may sound like the airlines are just being annoying, they enforce this rule because they’ll have pay for your return ticket if the country denies your entry.

We read this beforehand and prepared by basically faking an itinerary on Expedia to make it look like we had actually purchased the flights. This sounds like a good idea, right? After entering the 20 different cities on our itinerary over the next nine months, we were ready to print off the “planned itinerary” on the Expedia website. The secret is to go to the page just before payment and print it off so it looks legit. With our printed off itinerary in hand as our proof of onward travel, we were ready to set off on our world adventure.

Right away Jocelyn and I joked about getting thrown into a Cambodian prison as they realize our proof of onward travel was fake. Honestly, the worst thing that could probably happen if our proof onward travel wasn’t taken is that they’d force us to buy a new airline ticket out of the country. We were willing to take the risk in the name of traveling freedom.

Our trip started when we left Los Angeles (LAX) headed to our first stop in Tahiti, French Polynesia. We had our printed off itinerary in hand and our rehearsed script but didn’t have any problems leaving the US. Each time we approached the next airline counter or customs agent, we were ready to go. All was going well as we left French Polynesia towards New Zealand, and we didn’t have any problems getting into Australia either.

At this point, we were two months into our trip and the concern of entering a new country was pretty far behind us. The next trip on the printed itinerary, with still accurate dates at this point, was our flight from Brisbane to Bali, Indonesia with Virgin Airlines.

As we approached the queue to the airline counter, we waited to see which of the 15 agents we’d receive. There she was, a middle aged woman no different than any of the others we’d previously worked with. She took our passport before uttering the phrase that was now foreign to us – “where is your proof of onward travel?”  Just as we’d rehearsed, I pulled out my printed off itinerary and handed it over to her, expecting a quick glance over and then our boarding passes in return.

“Do you have something with a ticket number?”, she asked. Knowing this was all I had, I played dumbed and said it should be on there. “No, this is just an itinerary, but it doesn’t have ticket numbers..anyone could just print this off,” she snapped.  At this point Jocelyn began to get nervous as she also knew this was all we had. I told her this was what we were able to print off after we bought the tickets but our little white lie was still not enough for her.

“Maybe you have an email with the ticket numbers?” she asked.

“Oh yes, of course, let me check for that”. I start scrolling through my phone assuring her I must have it somewhere. Afterwards, Jocelyn said she felt relief at this point because she thought I actually had it – so while the acting worked on Jocelyn, it still wasn’t enough to convince our ticketing agent.

She handed the itinerary over to the next ticketing agent and explained that it didn’t have any ticket numbers. “This is all they need, it has the complete itinerary,” he said. She still didn’t seem convinced and at this point seemed determined to prove us wrong.

I tried to keep my poker face because from what I had previously researched, it would only come down to my word versus hers. That’s because another trick I used with the itinerary is to pick a different airline for each flight. You can’t use the same airline for multiple flights in a row because they could have the ability to see if you’re actually on the next flight. Alternatively, when you use a different airline, they have no way to contact the airline to ask them if you are on that flight. This reinforced in my mind that I needed to stick to my guns and my fake proof of onward travel.

Still not convinced, she looked up and down the itinerary again and got on the phone. She flashed a fake smile and said it’d be just a minute and turned around to face away from us, which is pretty awkward anyway because there isn’t much room at the counters. A few minutes went by in which I fumbled through my papers and scrolled through my phone as if I had some additional proof that I just couldn’t find.

Soon, it was clear who she called when a Manager came over in a suit and tie to field her questions. She handed him our printed off itinerary and explained her concern.

This was the most nervous I had been the whole time because she was determined to not let us on the flight, and I was starting to believe in her determination. My mind was flashing with scenes of getting pulled into a dark closet with a dusty chair and overhead light hanging over us where the interrogation would ensue! Would our trip be over as we headed back to the US – only three countries into our 20 total countries? Would they simply let us buy one ticket to Bali, or would we need all of our flights for the rest of our trip?

Inside I was worried, but we kept up the role of the confused travelers who just didn’t understand why their documentation wasn’t sufficient. We hoped it would work.

The manager arrived looked at the itinerary a few times never even looking up to acknowledge our existence. He was studying it to determine its legitimacy. Shortly after, he shrugged his shoulders and said it was ok before storming off seemingly somewhat annoyed by the ticketing agent.

The agent accepted his approval and printed off our boarding passes.  I’m not sure she could even look us in the face when she handed them over. She knew the truth.

However, as she handed us the boarding passes, she pulled the itinerary into her possession one last time – explaining she needed to write something down. This furthered our concern that our proof of onward travel still wasn’t enough. She handed over all of our papers and we headed to security.

We waited a few minutes before saying anything to each other to make sure we were out of view of the ticketing agent. “We made it,” we proudly exclaimed before realizing we shouldn’t celebrate until we were on the plane. I think this was due to our recent viewing of the movie, “Argo”, which we shouldn’t have watched before we left on our trip!

In the end, we made it to Indonesia, but not without a lot of anxiety! Our proof of onward travel barely got us through, but it was enough. Hopefully the rest of our travels between countries will be just as uneventful, but if not, we know what we need to do…play dumb!