I was not one of those people who grumbled when the life of a New Zealand passport was reduced from ten to five years. It didn't seem a big deal at the time. But now, having just renewed my passport, the prospect of doing it all over again in five years doesn't appeal.

Rather than use the old-fashioned manual system, I decided to apply for a passport online. First I went to a photography shop to have a snap taken. "Maybe smile with your eyes," said the friendly operator who must have thought I looked too stern. She emailed me the shot a few minutes later.

Unfortunately the photograph wasn't acceptable: "The photo you want to upload does not meet our criteria." The two reasons given were: "Background not plain" and "Shadow on eyes". The photographer adjusted the image and emailed it to me. It still wasn't right. This time the complaint was only about the background which, by the way, was plain.
The photographer adjusted the image again, and again it wasn't acceptable. The background was still wrong and the shadows under the eyes were back. By this time, with three virtually identical shots with three similar names on my system, I was no longer sure exactly which one I was uploading anyway. Not that it really mattered. None of them were right.

The next day I was in the city with my husband when he decided to have our daughter's passport photograph taken at a Queen Street camera shop. I took the opportunity to get my own photograph taken again. It was emailed to me and I can't describe how relieved I was when it met the Department of Internal Affairs' online criteria.


The next step outlined was to identify someone who could vouch for me. Specifically, I need to ask "your referee for their name and passport number exactly as it appears on their most recent New Zealand Passport". So I emailed the friend I always use for this purpose to get the details and seek her permission which was swiftly granted.

While completing the online application, I was surprised then to be required to put in more details than her name and passport number. I hadn't asked her if this was okay and this friend of mine is more private than most people I know. I felt like I wasn't being entirely upfront with her. My first instinct was to email her again for permission to pass on contact details but it was the middle of the night and the photographic difficulties had already delayed the process by several days. I went ahead and completed the application online. My brand new passport arrived about a week later.

But that wasn't the end of the preparation ahead of our trip to Cambodia. My daughter and I were also required to apply for a visa to visit the kingdom. Our travel agent emailed me the documents and advised that I needed to send in our passports. Unfortunately we were in Hawke's Bay for ten days and our passports were in Auckland so I couldn't action this immediately.

My heart sank when I realised we needed hard copies of passport photographs to accompany this application. We had these taken in a pharmacy in Hastings where I did not endear myself to the photographer when I measured the final product to ensure it met the precise size the Cambodian officials had specified. After all the little hiccups, my days of taking chances with this travel business were over.

So I couriered off our applications, having been advised that "[p]rocessing time is a minimum of 9 working days as the Embassy is located in Canberra". It's been a total of 12 working days so far and I've had no response to these visa applications. There's another six working days before we're due to fly up to Singapore. Hopefully all the paperwork will be in order by then.

In the meantime we've been vaccinated against hepatitis A and cholera, and I've been studying my Lonely Planet guide. Evidently, Siem Reap "has reinvented itself as the epicentre of cool Cambodia" which is good to know. If Angkor Wat doesn't live up to the hype I'll be able to console myself at a bar called Temple Club that hosts "[d]angerous happy hours" - assuming, of course, our passports turn up and our visas are granted.

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