Later this month I am due to travel to Tarifa, Spain, and I cannot wait.
I’m going with my wife, my two sons and my mum. Five of us in total. There will be sun, sea and, who knows, maybe a splash of sangria. It’ll be our first holiday in years and possibly the first one our boys will remember. We’ve all been looking forward to it for months.
But there’s a minor issue, which could turn out to be a major one. On Friday, I realised that my passport was issued on April 12, 2012 and expires on January 12, 2023.
I thought this would be fine, giving me plenty of time after the holiday before my passport officially expires. How wrong I was.
Because my passport is more than 10 years old, it falls foul of EU Schengen border rules, which say British passports must have been issued no more than 10 years ago to enter.
I thought the only thing I had to worry about was the expiry date, and had no idea that a passport being issued more than 10 years ago could ever cause a problem.
But it has, and I need to act fast because our week-long holiday begins in just three weeks. Here is my day-by-day diary as I attempt to get a new passport in time, amidst the biggest passport application backlog on record. The holiday equivalent of the 1994 thriller Speed, if you will, only the runaway bus is my urgent passport application, the passengers are my family, and Keanu Reeves is, well, me. Will I pull off the impossible?
Day four (Monday May 9th, 2022)
Plan B (and Plan C)
They say there are five stages of grief. After feeling the force of the first two (denial and anger) on Friday, over the weekend I landed squarely on bargaining. What if I could find a Plan B to this nightmare of a situation, in case I fail to get a new passport in time?
We are due to fly to Tarifa via Gibraltar, which I will be able to enter because it is a British Overseas Territory. So whatever happens there is an overseas holiday on the cards, even if Spain turns me away. However, when I searched on booking.com I found very few places with availability for our dates. One was the option of sleeping on a docked cruise ship for a week at the cost of £6,000. The other was a hotel, 1,500 yards from the beach.
I opted for the latter, which has free cancellation until 72 hours before we travel. The climate will be just as nice… but it’s not Tarifa, is it?
After booking my back-up option, however, my wife revealed she doesn't see my passport issue as an impediment at all. She says she and the kids are going to Spain, whatever happens. I reminded her she'll be spending it with her mother in law. She shrugged and told me to make sure the hire car is an automatic.
So there's also a Plan C – they go off to Spain and I stay in Gibraltar. My first solo holiday in six years. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? We could meet once or twice for dinner and wave to each other either side of a chain link fence at the end of the evening?
I’m not convinced they’d visit.
In the meantime, I continue my attempts to get through to the passport office’s emergency application centres, with no luck so far.
Day one (Friday May 6, 2022)
I had just finished my lunch when I realised my mistake, at which point my smoked salmon sandwich started curdling in the deepest caverns of my stomach. I quickly messaged my wife that my passport might not be valid for our holiday, and she replied:
"We'll have to leave you at the Gibraltar border then,” (we are flying into Gibraltar then driving into Spain).
I told her that this is all because I was at the top of my game 10 years ago, when I renewed my passport earlier than it needed to be renewed.
“Foolish,” she replied, succinctly.
This was no time for reflection. I promptly went onto the passport application website to see if I could get a fast-track appointment, but there were none available. An online premium application, perhaps? No luck with that, either. Apparently I'm not the only one trying – the backlog is 700,000 deep.
Fortunately, the Tarifa hotel is booked on a free cancellation basis, as is the car hire, so I have some time on my hands. In the meantime, I will work as hard as I can to get a passport renewed in just three weeks via the premium and fast-track services.
There is no use sending it off, as three to four weeks will take me past our departure date and I could – hypothetically – still fly out on this passport, drive to the Spanish border and try my luck, if I feel brave.
We’ll cross that bridge when it comes…
As told to Greg Dickinson