One of the things I get emailed about most frequently is how to get Iranian and Central Asian visas.
Bicycle adventurers heading east, no matter how spontaneous, inevitably have to think further ahead once Istanbul looms near.
Many touring cyclists have published strings of elaborate blog posts detailing their torment at the hands of these nations’ bureaucrats. But it’s really not such a big deal. Especially if you are one of the elite few on this Earth to hold a Western — British, American, Canadian, Australian, EU, etc — passport.
(If that’s you, please sit back for a few seconds, close your eyes, and give thanks to your deity or other object of worship that you are lucky enough to possess a nationality that allows you to saunter so casually around the globe. Most of the world can’t even get into the West. Getting out really isn’t that difficult.)
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What follows is the standard-issue Iran & Central Asia visa process for the intrepid cyclist, broken down into 10 remarkably easy steps:
Step 1: Know the maximum stay in each country. 3 months for Iran (no Yanks), 5 days for Turkmenistan (transit only), about 1 month for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. May vary depending on nationality and which way the wind’s blowing.
Step 2: You need a visa agent to arrange ‘letters of invitation’. Email David at Stantours before Turkey. Say you’re cycling east and you need visas for Iran, Central Asia and China. He’s done this a thousand times and will hold your hand. His rates are also very reasonable. (No, I’m not on commission.)
Step 3: Cycle to Turkey. David is arranging your Iranian visa.
Step 4: Rock up at the Iranian Embassy/Consulate in Istanbul, Ankara, Erzerum, Trabzon, Tbilisi, Yerevan, etc. Fill in some forms, pay some money, get your visa. Celebrate with a glass of çay.
Step 5: Cycle to Iran. David is arranging your Central Asian visas.
Step 6: Rock up at the various Central Asian Embassies in Tehran. Fill in some forms, pay some money, get your visas. Celebrate with a glass of چای.
Step 7: Cycle to Central Asia. David is arranging your Chinese visa.
Step 8: Rock up at the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, Dushanbe, Tashkent, etc. Fill in some forms, pay some money, get your visa. Celebrate with a glass of Чай.
Step 9: Cycle to China.
Step 10: Celebrate. With a glass of 茶.
Any questions? Consult the Thorn Tree, which is full of people who have just been there and are literally foaming at the mouth in their eagerness to help you out.
There! Not so difficult, now, was it?
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There are countless ways to get bogged down in the details of planning something big. Together they erode the chances that our projects will come to fruition.
Luckily, there are some simple and effective things we can do to to combat the stalling effect of spiralling complexity.
My preferred method is to dive in at the deep end and let necessity drive progress and problem-solving. After all, the best way to begin a long bike trip is to get on your bike and go.
A more pragmatic approach is to break down an obstacle like the Central Asian visa issue into a series of smaller steps. Make sure that each step is concrete and actionable, and that you know what it will take to achieve it.
Though overkill for the process of getting a bloody visa, I recently read a great quote from motivational author Zig Ziglar, who said that “people don’t tend to wander around and suddenly find themselves at the top of Mount Everest.”
He’s right, though. Laid out in front of us in a series of measured and realistic steps, any mountain suddenly seems eminently climbable.
What’s the biggest mountain standing between you and your own big adventure goal? Let’s see if we can break it down.