New York is my favourite city in the world. I adore everything about it – and indeed, could go into raptures forever about how absolutely marvellous everything about it is. There’s nothing I don’t like about the Big Apple: I could spend forever waxing lyrical about its energy, its vibe, its food, its bars, its culture, its people. If I could marry a city, New York would be IT for me. In fact, NYC, if you’re reading this – call me.
I’ve been to New York close on 20 times in the last 10 years. It’s really that good. And I love it that much. It’s been so many times that New York and I, we have our visitation routine down by now.
For a start, I always fly with Virgin. I flew with British Airways there once, and to be honest I’m unsure why I haven’t again, but I love my Virgin Atlantic and I never stray. Where possible I buy an Upper Class ticket – there are various ways you can do this without spending The Big Bucks – and I get to the airport a solid four hours before take-off to maximise my free champagne, errr I mean holiday time. Whoop whoop!
I then enjoy a massively wonderful flight – it’s 7-8 hours, the perfect length – to the city that never sleeps, the place that’s paved with gold (I might have the wrong city here, but who cares), and alight the Boeing Dreamliner for the TIME OF MY LIFE.
OK, so it might be a slightly delayed time of my life if I’m alighting at JFK, which is absolutely the world’s worst airport to get through, immigration-wise. But when you’ve got six glasses of free champagne inside you who cares, am I right?!
Although, the last time I went to America, I cared – because actual disaster (almost) struck.
You see, whenever I travel to the states I am so careful with my admin, so careful with my passport, my travel insurance, my ESTA visa. Which I had been this time… or so I thought. Because, as I passed through the immigration queue my heart stopped: I forgot to apply for my bloody ESTA, didn’t I.
When you travel to America as a British national, you need to apply for a thing called an ESTA. It’s a visa that grants you access to holiday in and out of America, lasting for a period of two years. It’s mega easy: you apply for it online, it gets granted fairly quickly (sometimes within seconds), as long as you don’t have any criminal convictions or dodgy things going on in your background, and bob’s your (American uncle, you’re free to travel).
The Importance of an ESTA
Only, as I was passing through the immigration queue on my way into New York I had a horrifying feeling: I couldn’t remember when I last did an ESTA application, and I couldn’t find it in my emails, either. Oh nooooo.
It was awful. My palms started sweating, I had palpitations. Thank goodness for those six glasses of free airplane champagne because without them I would have been a panic attacking basket case. I was envisioning being marched by a gun-strapped Sherriff to a windowless room for an interrogation due to my visa-less state. Even worse, I was envisioning not being able to experience my holiday in the best city in the world! Shocker!
But I held my nerve. I gritted my teeth and strode through the immigration queue, scanning my passport and my fingers in the machine that always strikes me as being overly complicated. No alarms sounded. Nothing weird happened.
I took my ticket and strode once more to the humourless immigration dude at the booth, glimpsing the taxi rank over his left shoulder, a little chink of freedom in what I was worried might could be a terrifying situation.
He asked the purpose of my visit, waving me through without fuss.
I hurried off to freedom, collecting my suitcase and hurriedly dialling my Blacklane driver. I’d made it!! Freedom was mine!! Hallelujah!
Ok, so my American immigration story is not as harrowing as others. But it still felt tricky, and I’d do anything to not have that sticky palm sensation. I may have got away on a wing and a prayer (quite literally, and airplane wing and a prayer), but there is a moral of the story here, and that is: ESTA PAPERWORK. Always do your paperwork, always tick your boxes, always make sure you have your passport.
Always apply for your ESTA! Because nobody wants to be interrogated by a Sherriff in a windowless room.