Solo Travel & The Schengen Visa – FAQs, India

“You will never get the schengen visa!”

That’s what 3 well-recommended travel agents said. And then I managed to get a multi-entry (I had asked for single entry) visa for the number of days I had asked.

I applied on my own! And then as usual – I blogged about it 😀

Since then a lot of people have contacted me to clarify doubts because they are in a similar situation. It seems that anyone looking to travel solo, backpack or go long distance cycling trip in Europe gets a negative response from the Indian travel agents.

I know, it is so weird because that’s what everyone SHOULD be doing in Europe anyways!! 😉

I find myself giving the same old answer to most people who connect with me, so creating this FAQ post here answering the most common questions,

The visa list of documents asks for a ‘travel itinerary’. What all do I need to provide?

You need to provide,

  1. your arrival and departure flight tickets – So what happens if the visa is rejected, do you lose the money? You could buy a more expensive ticket which has a good return policy. This way you don’t lose ALL the money. However, if you are on a budget as most of us, then yes you have to take that risk. I typically take low cost flights – if the visa gets rejected (or my plans change) then yes I do lose that money.
  2. an accommodation booked for every night you are in the country – The way I see it – the primary reason they ask for this is to understand that you can manage your accommodation. You have the sense of being able to book a hotel. It is not so that the secret police service can locate you at any time the want. 🙂 The point I am making is that – one can make a refundable hotel booking for the purpose of the visa and then change it later if required. Many backpacker hostels provide refundable booking confirmations or even pay on arrival options. (refer hostelbookers.com or booking.com). AirBnb also has a flexible booking option where you lose only the service charges if you cancelled.
  3. travel between cities – I also provided my transport bookings between cities for my schengen visa. I did that with bus bookings which were transferable (refer: flixbus). So in case I need to change the route I can cancel this ticket. I would then get their credits which I can use later. But I spoke to other travellers and many of them don’t provide these details while applying. So this is kind of optional – but if you can these should help too.

What about Camping or a Road trip where you aren’t sure about where you will stay every night?

I provided a route on a map in my visa application when I applied to Germany for my solo cycling and camping trip. Along with marked campsites I provided their website details. Apart from the days I was camping I provided all the booked confirmations. I also read about other people who planned on road trips in a car, they provide the car hire details and it has been fine.

In countries where camping is the culture, it is possible to show the camping route details as itinerary. I however feel that your entire application needs to be very strong to be accepted. Also I have read travelogues where this is something to try only with countries which have a thriving outdoorsy culture.

This is the kind of map I showed for my Berlin – Copenhagen trip. While making it – I also get to really explore in detail the area I would be cycling.

map

Is there a chance that my visa will be rejected because I am travelling alone?

There is always a chance that the visa is rejected whether alone or in a group. But chances are that something else in the application must be weird for it to get rejected and not so much that you are solo.

What ABout the Foreign Currency? Would cash or card be better?

The main thing to be careful about is FOREX rates. Due to their fluctuations it is best to buy all your Euro at a lower rate. A few weeks before your trip you need to follow the rates and when the rate is the lowest buy your Euros. You can either take cash – though too freaky to carry everywhere with you. Better to use a multi-currency card – so you can straight away pay Euro using this card but the forex rate doesn’t come into play – as you have already bought all this Euro at a lower rate earlier.

I used the multi-currency card from ICICI bank. I think this facility is available only to those who have a bank account with them. The process to refill their card tends to be old school. I can’t do it via net banking. There is an online process but when I tried to do that when I was in Germany it didn’t work. It was an error on the ICICI website and there was really no one I could call to get it fixed. I had the number of the person I actually took the card from back in Mumbai – that is the only person who acts accountable and will try to help. So keep the brand persons number with you. Finally, I had left a signed form at my house, so my parents filled it and got the money refilled in the card.

If your bank doesn’t have a good forex card deal, then you could approach travel companies like Cox & Kings – they have a forex counter. There they even deal in loose change along with multi-currency cards. My parents have used the Axis Bank forex card via Cox n Kings – it also works in a similar way to the ICICI card. I am not sure about the refill process with it.

These multi-currency cards are acceptable almost everywhere in Europe. In the countryside some campsites only took cash and some small towns don’t have ATM machines but other than that it was fine. It is a good system overall, but in the off chance there is a malfunction that situation can get sticky. So I suggest always having a back up.

I know some relatives who for short trips use their international credit card itself. The big flipside of the credit card is that you pay as per forex fluctuations at that time. But practically this amount doesn’t come to much at least for the smaller expenses.

What about the multi-currency when travelling in Europe? Will just having Euro do?

The Euro is ‘officially’ accepted almost everywhere in the Schengen countries (don’t know about non-schengen countries). I have not read the law, but possibly by law it would be enforced, so if someone refuses to take Euro you could possibly complaint. Practically, however a lot of places don’t have change for Euro because they don’t get anyone paying them in Euro. This is rare in a metropolis but I was cycling in countryside and so it is possible that the locals there are only using their local currency. The usage of the local currency also depends on the country you are in – for eg: in Denmark the Krone was widely seen but in Germany I hardly saw any mention of Deutsche Mark. Also some places will say that their card readers will only charge in the local currency, as they don’t have the feature for Euro yet. So your card with Euros in them still works, but you would pay as per the Euro to Krone (local currency) conversion rate.

I suggest: Just keep about 70-100 Euros + local currency in cash with you. And have one multi-currency card. And a back up card – either a second multi currency card or a international credit/debit card. This should be good enough to cover you most of the times.

Can you suggest a SIM card for Europe?

I did a fair bit of research in Berlin and afaik there is no budget SIM card option available for all of Europe. The moment you talk about European Roaming the rates soar. In Germany, I got an amazing deal for 10 euros – a national card from Lebara. That was great and it had decent network all through out my trip including remote countryside areas. But it didn’t work in Denmark and I couldn’t find anything in Denmark probably cause I didn’t really spend any time in a metro there. So what I also want to know is how to pick up a good SIM in a day before you head off to the countryside. 🙂

Things in Europe get tricky because when you call the telecom customer service there is often no English language service and hence I couldn’t activate Schengen roaming on Lebara if such a thing existed. But you definitely should be able to get a budget sim in every country if you are in a metro – just ask around some local shops and they should guide you best. Try to visit neighbourhoods that have an ethnic population they will typically have some cheap SIM requirements for their visiting relatives.

And lastly for all the minute queries you would have – Some General gyaan,

From where to apply? Is online application possible for the UK visa? I don’t file tax returns, what should I do? I need to show someone as the trip sponsor, how can I do that?

All these minute details differ from country to country so you will have to do this level of research on your own for the country you are applying to.

  1. You can ask a few travel agents for tips if you like.
  2. Dig out the visa application centers for the specific country you are applying to. A simple Google search “Germany visa application Mumbai” should suffice. It is not difficult. So do this and figure out from where you need to apply. On the website there are visa types, document list and the entire procedure given out.
  3. If in doubt – call the visa application center on the numbers provided, they usually help clear your doubts.
  4. Read lots of travel blogs like this one, where travellers are talking about their travel experience. These blogs are invaluable to get a clear idea. Here are a few you can start with – I don’t agree with everything they say, but it’s a start. Remember all of us bloggers are talking from our experience – that experience varies from person to person. And sometimes we tend to make judgements which aren’t true. But you need to be able to pick up the basics by reading many different blogs. (NarayanaSwamy on Schengen visa for Middleclass Indian, Everything – Everywhere – they mention that it is important to be employed however, it is not necessarily true – I am an entrepreneur)

The first time it can be a bit much to take in but the good thing is that it gets easier with your next application.

The Story

I have discussed visa stuff with other travel friends as well and the common consensus is that your STORY needs to make sense for the official looking at it. For eg: When I talked about wanting to go solo cycling & camping in Germany with absolutely no prior experience I showed my preparation notes and all sorts of stuff. In hindsight I probably went overboard with it, but I was just sharing whatever made sense to me. I was putting out a very true and honest story in front of the person. I shared screenshots of this blog, my history in travel, my preparations & research for such a trip as best as I could so they understand my story. This is often a gut feel matter – like when you are interviewing someone to hire them and you keep asking them questions. Implicitly there is some trust that gets created – and this is what matters.

So just be as honest as you can and I would suggest give ample details about your story – so that the person can take the right call. Also put your best foot forward – this is true of anything in life.

Keep in mind some of the local culture of the place so you don’t make a faux paas and get your visa rejected. For eg: one of my friends went camping in Turkey and she was pretty freaked with the visa process. Finally she showed some refundable bookings in metro cities and a more ‘normal’ travel plan because given the overall Turkey culture sharing a ‘camping’ sort of trip itinerary may not make sense.

Hope this helps.

Comment for more questions. Will answer them – though not sure of prompt response.

  • Shruti W

    Hi Priyanka cycling and camping through the German countryside sounds like an adventure! I wasn’t as brave!
    Anyway, so I too carried the currency cards by HDFC they were not easy to book tickets online with. So keep that in mind while travelling and making last minute bookings. Also while booking tickets on Deutsche Bahn – make sure to use a credit/debit card with your picture on the card this is used for identification. No having a card with your name and a second document like a passport does not work. the Other option would be to buy physical tickets from the main stations. Secondly, in my experience you can’t really have 1 single sim for roaming in the schengen area. I had a lebara in London which showed as a network in Paris but never connected. Finally I got myself an Orange sim which was really expensive and kept running out on data and was difficult to reload as well. It is definitely a better idea to get cheap different sims for different countries.

    • Hey Shruti,

      For D-Bahn I bought physical tickets as you mentioned. Didn’t try using a card. Also the multi-currency cards aren’t for online transaction AFAIK. They are mostly for offline card swiping and ATM withdrawal.

      I saw the very expensive schemes from Orange and such other brands for a schengen wide network but never thought they’d be worth. Good to know that’s true.

      Thanks for pointing these things out. Useful. 🙂

  • Marina Avdhish

    Hi Priyanka,
    Ur blog was like a blessing from heaven. I can’t tell u how stressed I have been for d last 5 days. I helped my best friend plan a solo trip to Europe…Austria n France to be precise n we got excellent deals on the flight n hotel bookings made through goibibo n booking.com.

    However now dat she is all set for the trip which commences on sep 17-sep 23 the visa agent told her it won’t b possible n her visa will be rejected.

    She works with JP Morgan n has a letter from d company about the travel leave and all d details.

    She has her kids n hubby here.

    She is now thinking of canceling the trip coz all the visa agents told her not to go ahead with it.

    Priyanka… Could u please suggest what can be done here….I told her to still go ahead n give it a try….but I don’t think she has d motivation anymore……I really feel bad for her….please help dear.

    • Hi Marina,

      Tell her to apply as individual. Make her read my previous blog 🙂 Hopefully will instill some motivation.

      With letter from company and assume her financials will be good I think she should definitely apply!

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