Jamaica, I get to live in Jamaica! Not that I know much about Jamaica, but here is what I do know: Jerk chicken, reggae music, beaches, bobsled team. What’s not to like?! But before leaving Canada, specifically British Columbia, for a year, there are of course some things I had to do. Most adults in any country will have to prepare for long term travel in similar ways, so just fit it for your context! Here they are, in no specific order, and with unrelated photos just for fun, 19 Tips for Long Term Travel Preparation!
1. Renew your driver’s license and credit cards.
My license was going to expire while I was gone and I read on the licensing website they are rather unforgiving if you let your license lapse. Fine, I’ll pay the $75 five months early! Preparation now will avoid bureaucratic emergencies later.
2. Suspend your health services, mobile phone etc.
This might only be BC, but I didn’t want to be billed for my Medical Health Services monthly premiums while I was out of country! MSP is the bain of the British Columbian, mainly because we currently have a provincial government that sucks. MSP has a bunch of weird time limits and restrictions, so make sure you talk with them before doing anything. Good rule of thumb for any country/province I’m sure.
I am already vaccinated to within an inch of my life, but for Jamaica I had to get yet another live virus in my body, Yellow Fever! Bring it on! I also got a typhoid booster on general principle and discussed the Zika virus with the nurse. All good to know!
4. Hit your favourite discount warehouse store.
I love stores that carry off brand, cheaper than they should legitimately be stuff. I have a warehouse store near me that I made at least 3 trips to before leaving the country for the random stuff. And of course, a trip to Costco for tampons is an obvious must!
5. Do some research.
I am not always the best at this, I like an element of surprise. That being said, if you’re going to live in a different country, it’s best to know a bit. Like, can you buy tampons there? Can you wear dresses that show your knees? Is there any obscure civil war that Western media doesn’t care about?
As a Westerner, I will check out the ex-pat blogs or sites for the area I will be living in, as there is often a trove of information from people who have done exactly what you are about to do. I look into the activities available too. In Jamaica, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of overnight hiking, so the tent is staying home. Still taking the hiking poles though! Also important if you are going to a country where you may have some difficulties based on your identity. How welcoming is the country to LGBTQ people? Visible minorities? Women?
6. Make copies of everything!
I make sure my parents get scans of all of my passports, identifications, credit cards, and airline itineraries. They are the most responsible people I know, so it’s best for them to have them right on their computer. I then name the folder something obvious, like Emily’s Documents. My parents have done a ton of running around for me while I have been overseas, so anything I can plan for the better.
7. Download your local library’s e-book borrowing app!
I started doing this on a short trip to Cuba, and thank goodness I did. I went through 14 books in a three-week trip and saw no book swaps. Looking back on the days when I used to backpack with books, c.d.’s, and film. Oi, how did we do it?!?! I use both 3M Cloud Library and Overdrive.
8. Buy a hard drive
Fill it up with movies and tv shows. I don’t know what I would have done during those long, cold nights in Kyrgyzstan without 2 terabytes of media at my disposal. I brought all kinds of shows that I had always meant to watch (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos etc.), but then ended up just watching old favourites instead (Grey’s and Gilmore Girls). You may not have any access to English TV where you are going, and internet may not be good enough to stream or download anything, so do it as part of your prep for moving abroad.
9. Make sure your passport is valid!
This may sound basic, but I have a friend who visited me in Fiji and it wasn’t until she was in country for several days that she realized somehow she had gotten all the way through from Canada with an expired passport. She got caught when she was trying to leave and her vacay got extended by a week. How she made it through to Fiji, I have no idea (I do have questions about the breakdown in security…), but it was a huge hassle and mucho stress, plus a lot of extra costs and her boss was annoyed to have to give her an extra week off.
10. Prepare your gadgets.
I bought an unlocked Smart phone with two SIM card slots specifically for travelling. Make sure everything is in good working order, and if you need to replace anything, do it! There is nothing worse than being abroad when your computer craps out and you can’t find a Mac repair place. Trust me. If you are an Apple user, take an extra charge cord for each of your devices. Again, trust me.
11. Visit friends and family
This is a biggie. I know you’re busy getting ready to be fabulous and move abroad, but you’re not going to see your people for a long time, and things will change while you’re gone. Anybody who thinks that the people who stay at home while you’re off travelling don’t change, are either naïve or pretentious. If you can, prepare for milestones you’re going to miss. I have two friends having babies in the next few months, so I made sure to get their gifts to them before leaving. I even made the pilgrimage to see my bestie Lindsay in Saskatchewan.
Plus, you never know what will happen while you’re gone. I said goodbye, unknowingly for the very last time, to my Grandpa before leaving for Kyrgyzstan. You’re very busy, but your people are more important that buying more crap at MEC. Leaving the country for an extended period of time means having to say I love You.
12. Replenish your travel kit
Even if you’re going to be living abroad and not travelling constantly. This is all the basics: ear plugs, Band-aids, pain killers, duct tape, sewing kit and everything else that you would have at hand at home but may not in your new country, especially for those days you figure out where to buy all of that stuff. And some things, you just want a very specific kind, like me and my underwear… Also, this is how I communicate with my mother exactly what it is I need/want in the next package from home:
13. Speaking of stuff…
There are a few key kitchen items that I now take when I go abroad for an extended amount of time. In Kyrgyzstan, you cannot buy a potato peeler. It’s also near impossible to find a strong corkscrew. Do you have any idea how tragic it is to have a bottle of wine that you can’t open? It’s a secret form of torture. You will never know everything that you won’t be able to get, but arriving with a few essentials is a good idea. For Jamaica, I packed my bottle opener, corkscrew, sharp knife, potato peeler, cheese grater, measuring cups, travel mug, measuring spoons, and a months’ worth of tea bags.
15. Get a will/power of attorney.
Ok, I know, morbid. But it’s important. I mean, if I die while abroad, it won’t only be the worst thing to ever happen ever (A world without me? Yikes, glad I won’t have to experience that!) but accidents happen and dying can be a huge hassle for the people you left behind. Don’t torture your people with bureaucracy more than you have to. Extended travel prep means thinking about the worst case scenarios, as crummy as that is.
16. Talk to your bank.
Stop any automatic payments or insurances that you pay into that you won’t need while abroad. Also, good idea to give them a heads up you’re travelling. No money=no bueno.
17. Pick out a few things to remind you of home.
I know you want to fill our bag weight with essentials like corkscrews and tampons, but devote some space for bits of home that will bring you comfort: small trinkets, a couple small framed photos, your favorite mug, a scented candle.
18. Get your body sorted.
Visit the dentist, the doctor, and the optometrist. If you wear lenses, take your up to date prescription in case you have to replace anything while you’re abroad. Being abroad with only one contact lens and no glasses is also no bueno, trust me.
Travelling the world opens your palate to all kinds of new adventures, but every so often you will want a grilled cheese made with your normal cheese on your normal bread. Enjoy your last few meals of comfort and normalcy before expanding those senses!
And lastly, depending on your personality, have a send off! You’re moving abroad for a year? Maybe you’re travelling indefinitely and starting a life as a digital nomad? Your friends and family want to see you before you go, so sometimes the best way to do this is to have a get together. I have tried the range of going away parties, from having nothing and slipping out of the country, to having a raucous night out, to having 75 people at my parents place for an afternoon Open House. Figure out what is right for you, and do it. Maybe you want to be like me and be a Karaoke Goddess before you go to Central America…