Sunday, 13 January 2008

How To Move Abroad

This title was actually partially inspirational to the title theme that I now have going on in my blogs. I was looking on travel websites and gap year websites prior to my trip and was finding it difficult to learn what it took to move abroad. Few websites went beyond the "what to see and do" content that would appeal more to a traveller than a person on a working gap year.

Therefore I have decided to write my own "How to move abroad" post and I hope that it is helpful. I will begin at the first important stage* of the trip: Packing!

My trip really began the day before my flight. Despite being free for 3 days (having left my jobs) to get my stuff together, that I would be needing for my new life, I spent a lot of the time trying to plan what I’d take without actually packing the stuff. Luckily, questions like "How many clothes do I need?" and "Will I need my CD's and books?" were to be answered by my supreme packing ability; by which I was able to get every item of clothing that I owned into a single rucksack (65L +10 – in case you know what that means) and pack enough DVD's, ornaments, video games, souvenirs, books and CD's to get me through the year, into my travel suitcase (just in case I needed them…).

I also decided that having a bike would be great and was delighted to discover that Zoom Airlines could take one “sports item” per person for free providing it was packaged correctly and had been dismantled. After phoning a few bike shops (including various Halfords’) around Gloucestershire and having no luck with finding a “bicycle carry case” I was relieved to be told by a small town bike shop in Stonehouse that they had just received a selection of bike bags!

Upon arrival I was disappointed to find that she had meant bags that fit onto the bike but was much happier when she emerged from the backroom with a cardboard bike delivery box! It barely fit into the back seat of my brothers hatchback and we whizzed it back to home; to allow me time to dismantle the bike before nightfall.

A few hours later I stood over a box containing a bike in various pieces. The pedals and seat were in a smaller box with my lock and helmet, the tyres were deflated and the front wheel was detached. The handlebars were now strapped to the frame and the metal had all been wrapped in cardboard to stop it knocking together on the plane.

As night fell on my final day in Stroud, I sealed the bike in its box and ran up the stairs to finish my packing. Aforementioned “clothes in rucksack” and “suitcase full of entertainment” were not yet in these miraculous states and in fact looked quite unlikely to ever become that way but I guess that that is why they call it a miracle!

“Possession Mountain” loomed over everything else in my room, surrounded by smaller stacks of folded clothes. It took me a good hour or so to get all of the clothes from this new landmark into a single (tall) stack of clothes, with my other possessions (souvenirs, entertainment, toiletries, ornaments, etc) in a different pile. I began with the smaller pile of possessions (since it looked more likely to fit into a case) and was able to get it all in to the various pockets and compartments of the suitcase without too much commotion. The few remaining items were small enough to fit into my carry-on bag and it was with a new sense of achievement that I turned to the larger pile of clothes and began neatly stuffing (oxymoron?!) them into my rucksack.

I finally got to bed at about 11pm, having done everything that I had planned for the day except for write this blog post! I had figured however that I would have time in the airport and would have been able to utilise the WiFi so that I could hopefully post this before I had left Britain!

I got up at 5:00am on the 10th January (without parental assistance for the first time in a few months!) with my bags packed, waiting neatly by my bedroom door and my heart racing like a greyhound! The day that I had known about for a few months was finally here and all of the hard work (65 hour weeks of work for example!) were now being put to good use as I was under 5 hours from my flight!

My Dad arrived in my room shortly afterwards to make sure that I was up and helped me to the car with my bags. He had already made me porridge as a last decent meal before Canada and before long Colleen and Harrison were downstairs with us. This had happened before both Borneo and the USA so I had half-expected it, Matt pleasantly surprised me minutes later by also wandering down at ridiculous 'o' clock to bid me farewell.


In the departure lounge at Gatwick

The journey to the airport was a long one and we were later than expected when we finally got to check-in (though not too late obviously since we were clever enough to allow for delays). My rucksack and suitcase were weighed and apparently came to a combined weight of 60kg! I was charged a little excess (for being over the allowed limit of 20kg!) which my Dad paid; reasoning that it was cheaper and more convenient than shipping. The boxed-up bike went through fine, although I was apparently supposed to have informed the airline beforehand, before joining my rucksack on the "oversize baggage" conveyor belt.

The flight was long and the budget airline seat wasn't great; though I had an okay view of the TV. I figured that the savings justified these setbacks and enjoyed my window seat and the three movies that were shown. I also decided that since I had been on worse transportation (greyhound buses sprung to mind!) I would survive and it could be worse. That actually reminds me of an American guy's comment to me whilst greyhound bussing from Seattle to San Francisco last summer.

Having initially asked me where the UK was (fair enough; 55% of Americans can't find the US on a world map!) and then asked me if I'd be taking a greyhound there to get back home, after I had responded "Near Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean from the US"!!

I arrived at 2:30 local time and was through customs quickly; receiving help from the nice lady (nothing like American customs - another anecdote from last summer) with my immigration form. It turns out that having citizenship classes me as a "Resident" regardless of how long I am visiting the country for.

I sat in the airport and waited for my Aunt to collect me after an uneventful baggage carousel experience. I opened up my laptop and began typing for a new blog that was to be posted as soon as I got an internet connection but like Gatwick, I had no time for pay-as-you-surf connections and decided to wait instead for a few more hours before posting my blog entries.

Once collected, I decided that a bit of cash (one thing that I hadn't been too bothered about bringing since I had a debit card) would be nice for the next few days and we headed to Canada Trust bank. Upon discovering that my card was no longer working in the machines (unlike in the summer!!) I was forced to open a Canadian account and hope that a wire-transfer would rescue me from my plight.

Unfortunately the English banks had all closed before I was done and my only hope was to catch my stepdad (falling under the criteria of "someone who knows you at your English bank" that the Canadian had suggested to ensure a swift transfer) before he began work on Friday. This would be difficult as, with jetlag and time-differences I had a small window through which I could get in touch before the weekend. An email later I felt a little happier and was glad to have family close by when it started (quickly) to go wrong!

Fortunately (and out of character for my luck) that was the only thing that went wrong for the next few days and I have now settled in to the "Bowen's house" with a great family. Garth and Barb have two sons, Cory (20) and Jesse (23) and look after a girl, Lisa, who has Downs Syndrome. Their two dogs are called Rosie and Wiley.

*Planning the trip is not technically a part of the trip since it happens far in advance. Visas and passports are unique to each country/person so I would be wasting time telling you about them. However, I do recommend government websites for information.
In terms of booking cheap flights; booking during a non-peak time (October, November, February, March, etc.) for a travel time outside of school holidays will guarantee you the cheapest selection. Using websites like Expedia or Ultimatefares are great for finding cheap flights. Avoid the commission by using only the flight information found through the comparison websites to book your flights directly through the airline. Booking flight times that are far apart is also cheaper than if they are within 7 days.

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