Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tips for travelling abroad, for longer periods of time

For any SWAPPERS (or people travelling abroad) reading this blog:

My advice and recommendations for you:

- Read through the welcome package very carefully. Do everything it suggests you do or look into. For example, you must notify your government health office if you will be out of the country for longer than 6 months and sign a form to this extent.
- If something is very unclear to you, ask.
Ask either your travel counselor or write to college council with the e-mail address provided. I wrote to them a couple times and always had prompt and helpful responses within a day or two.
- Check the expiry dates on your: Debit Card, Visa Card, Health Card, and Driver’s License. SWAP does not list this as something to do and I fortunately (or unfortunately) decided to check 6 weeks before my departure date. My debit, health, and driver’s license ALL expire on my birthday while I am away. The debit card was easy to replace, the health card required I go into the OHIP office and ask for an extension, they sent me a card with a new expiry 5 weeks later. The driver’s license is a bit trickier. If it expires within 6 months, you can have it renewed. But if you are leaving 7 months before it expires, you have to write them a letter, explaining where you are and why you are away and when you will be returning to Canada. Provide a copy of your license and they will issue a one-time temporary 6 month extension and mail it to you in whichever country you are now currently living. What a pain!
- Get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) issued by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). They are valid for up to a year and provide a translation of what your class of driver’s license means in their country. Also, your driver’s license is only valid in their country for up to 6 months without it.
-Notify your bank and visa company that you will be away and where you are going. The last thing you need is for them to put a hold on your card while you’re away due to “foreign charges”.
- Consider how you will be travelling and the things you personally need to take on your trip before following others packing guides. The large backpack isn’t for everyone. I personally have one and have gone on a few backpacking trips. While it does leave your hands free, it’s also a lot of weight on your back. The last time I wore it, I was on the subway in Paris when I was 15. The subway charged ahead and the weight caused me to fall over onto an older lady!! For this trip, I’m lending the backpack to my cousin and taking my suitcase on wheels, leaving my back free for a normal sized backpack.
-Only ONE nice outfit for interviews??:  my thoughts?: what happens after you get the job? While you may not be getting glamorous jobs, even pubs and stores require some level of dress and often want employees to wear black dress pants. Why not bring a couple? After meeting with friends and family members who have previously or currently LIVE in Europe, many will tell you that clothes over there are much more expensive than here. And then if you have to get them tailored.... So, when you are deciding what to pack and someone tells you that you can just get it over there, consider at what cost can you get it once you’re over there?
-When deciding what to pack, ask everyone you know who has already lived abroad what you need to take (and leave behind) and tread lightly on the advice from those who have only vacationed for a short period of time…and always over pack..
…and here’s a tip you can throw out the window..
-Wear your winter coat on the plane (in September), people always say you should pack the lightest and wear the heaviest” While the latter part might be true, for example wearing your hiking boots instead of light shoes, on what universe would it be a good idea to wear your winter jacket, while travelling, in September?!?! It’s still warm enough that I am not even wearing a thin BENCH jacket on a consistent basis so why would I put on my winter coat? “Because once you check your luggage, you can just carry it over your arm”. Yes but, what happens after you pick up your luggage, have to commute by trains, buses and subways and because you are carrying your luggage, you have to wear your winter sweat, overheat and then pass out from heat exhaustion, that’s what the lifeguard in me is sure will happen. Maybe you will open your suitcase in the middle of the airport and pack your winter coat once you’re off the plane and have cleared the weight restriction, or maybe not. But you count the number of people who make this recommendation to you in the summer or early fall...
-Invest in a luggage scale. You can pack and unpack a million times to get it right. This way, you won’t have to unpack your suitcase in the middle of the airport or risk paying the extra weight fee.
-Bring a set of sheets. This goes back to my comment, at what cost are you willing to get it for over there. I’ve talked to many friends and my boyfriend who has already spent a year abroad about this and they’ve all commented that trying to find sheets on a low budget is not an easy task. If you do find sheets that aren’t too expensive, the quality is quite crappy, so consider pricing out sheets before you leave and watch for the deals here.
-Talk to your financial advisor about ALL of the ways you can get money while overseas. Your advisor will know which banks your bank is affiliated with and whether that means you get a discounted rate to withdraw money, they can also advise you of other ways to obtain cash if needed.
-Make a packing list. Don’t just say toiletries, list everything you want to take with you, that way, you can check it off as you pack it and don’t risk forgetting something that might have been important.
-The hair straightener, to pack or not to pack. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that my expensive straightener, will be staying at home. The reason? It’s NOT dual voltage. The sales associate at the Source pointed out on the converter packaging that it specifically notes NOT to use with hair straighteners, why? Because the unit itself will overheat in just 5 minutes. And if I’ve learned anything from watching Jersey Shore, it’s to leave it at home. In the second episode, season 4, Deena comments that the straightener smells like it’s burning, but continues using it..a few minutes later, it literally burned the strand of hair off of her head. I will not be losing my hair in Germany. I’ll take my mini straightener that is one, dual voltage and two, was free anyways and use on my bangs, we’ll see if it lasts.
-Budget for an extra week’s worth of travelling. After booking my flight and determining my orientation date in Berlin, I e-mailed college council to advise them of my arrival date and which orientation session I intended to attend. Two days later, I found out this orientation session had been moved 5 days later!! Luckily I had not yet booked my flight into Berlin from Düsseldorf. Instead I will have an extra day of travelling and site seeing, will move to my apartment with Matt before even attending the orientation session and then fly to Berlin. This will cost me an extra flight or train and set me back 2 or 3 days in my search for work. Be prepared for the unexpected.
-SWAP with 2 night’s accommodation option.. don’t plan to fly into your country of choice 2 days ahead of the scheduled orientation and expect to be accommodated by SWAP. I found out when I booked my flight that SWAPs accommodation does not begin until the day OF your orientation. Not that is concerned me, but it might be helpful for you to know ahead of time. Plan for this.
-Wear a money belt. I am dreading putting this on, but it’s a safe place to keep your passport or other cash. After hearing about two acquaintances who had their hotel room broken into, their passports stolen, and then had to pay $300 each to have their passports expedited from Canada..I will not be taking that chance.

My next to actually pack my own suitcases, using the valuable advice I have received so far.

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