Saturday, January 14, 2012

Preparing to go Abroad: What to do and NOT do

This time I write from Cleveland Hopkins Airport where I'm waiting to board a plane to Houston and then to Panama. Two flights, 7 hours total. Yay. I've noticed I do one of two things when I am in airports or on airplanes; sleep or blog. I'm trying to break that habit, so this trip down to Panama may have some reading mixed in. I did however only get two hours of sleep each of the last two nights so sleep may with that battle. 

I've had a comparatively crazy last couple of weeks leading up to my departure. These past weeks have been filled with personal adventures (already documented!) and preparation for my internship. Unfortunately it has been a very uneven mix of the two with emphasis on the adventures.

While everything is working out in the end and I am departing on time for the coolest internship, there were some bumps that could have been major setbacks. Those of you planning to go abroad, whether through AIESEC or otherwise, I hope you can learn from my mistakes. In general, here is my list of do's and don'ts

It would probably be best not to...
  • travel extensively in the 3-4 weeks leading up to your departure. While I did have a great time with each trip, it's pretty draining and probably should have been spent with friends and family, gathering my things, and getting my fill of things I'll miss while I'm gone.
  • Hit a raccoon (or any creature) with your car and basically total the engine. I think I left that little detail out of previous blogs but yah... Betty White still isn't completely fixed, poor thing. 
  • Procrastinate... on your papers, on packing, on getting stuff done so everything can be in order for your departure. You'll save a lot of money in UPS overnight fees and stress about which shoes to take. 
  • Try to get papers verified at a consulate that is not your jurisdiction, even if you are told they can do it in a matter of minutes. While the trip to Tampa was fun.. it was utterly useless.
  • Send in unoriginal documents to be verified. Even if they tell you its ok, you probably need the original or a notarized version just to be safe. In my case, there was even a more original version that my original. Just sayin. Anyway, if you don't have the "original" original, most libraries provide notary services for free. 
  • Try to make a long drive home last minute the day before you leave on a Friday the 13th to pack, organize you life, be with family. If you try... you will get hit by a snow storm and slide off the road into a ditch. Ok, you probably won't, but I did. Thanks goes out to a good Samaritan firefighter who pulled me out of a giant ditch with his truck. *sighs in envy of 4-wheel drive*
  • Have your drunk uncles help you pack. They have to know a girl can't pack for two months in 20 minutes, even if bribed. 
  • Get 2 hours of sleep both nights leading up to your departure. Whoopsie :)
It is in your best interest to...
  • Figure out the visa process immediately and apply asap. I am lucky that Panama is not strict but there are countries that will send you right back if you do not have it together!
  • Make friends at the consulate. It often says don't call and check up on your paperwork but asking questions and making sure its getting done will put your mind at ease. Processes can often be sped up with some urgency. 
  • Ask lots of questions. The more you know about the visa process, where you'll be, what you'll need, etc., the more prepared you'll be so you can enjoy the entire process to the max.
  • Be well hydrated for your  trip. A good night's sleep beforehand is a personal choice. I personally like to sleep the whole trip but often get lucky with a whole row to myself to stretch out. If you know you can't sleep on planes or will be hella busy once you land, get some rest.
  • Lay out everything you'll need beforehand. Girls, lay out all the clothes you think you'll need, then take half. You know you're going to buy some there anyway. 
  • Double check your paperwork the night before making sure you have copies of your passport, birth certificate, pictures of you baggage in case its lost, and plenty of cash.
  • Write down addresses and phone numbers you may need once you land in case your phone or other electronics don't work for any reason. 
  • Pack your carry-on like your checked baggage might get lost and you'll have to live out of the little one for a week. When I went to Spain they lost my 2 checked bags for two weeks. Rough, but they paid for it :)
  • Try to look decent once you arrive and walk through customs. There is probably a group waiting to meet you for the first time!
Hope this little list can help some people in the travels or at least gave them a laugh! I have arrived safe and my next post will be about PANAMA!!

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