As regular readers will know, I’m currently in Australia tending to my terminally ill mother. Our initial plan was to come out for three months, with the possibility of extending to as much as six months depending on her treatments and the ongoing changes in prognosis.
When you pop out the country for a week or two, it’s all pretty easy: travel insurance, let the bank know you’re travelling, ask a friend or neighbour to feed your cat and water your plants.
When you’re going for a longer period, however, – we were in South Africa for six months in 2010/2011 too – things differ a bit. Here are a few things to take care of before you go:
It’s one thing to have annual travel insurance that you can depend on when you pop in and out the country or go for short trips through the year, but when you’re going to be away for more than 90 days – some policies say 30 days , so check – you have to take out extended travel insurance. I didn’t in South Africa and at 127 days ended up hospitalised with no health insurance. I had to get a diagnosis at great personal cost, and then go home and suffer in silence because I couldn’t afford to stay in hospital. It was frightening and I came very close to losing my life.
If you contact your bank before you go, they’ll keep a note on your account that there will be international activity happening for the next 90 days. After that you’ll need to ring them and let them know you’re ‘renewing’ that note otherwise you’ll find your card blocked and yourself at a checkout with a line of people behind you and ‘not authorised’ flashing on the screen in front of you. Fun times. Don’t keep this number in your wallet either, because if you have to report it lost or stolen, you don’t want to have to search for numbers first.
Forward your mail
This is a tough one, but vital. The post office will forward your mail to another address for a small fee – around £10 or so a month, per name. You need to have it go to someone you trust as you need them to open your mail. You can change your bank statements to electronic, so no need for those to be forwarded, but other letters should so that you can know what’s going on at home. For example I called my phone provider and told them I wanted to put a ‘hold’ on renewing my phone as I’d be out of the country, but didn’t want to pay for a contract I wasn’t using. They put a ‘hold’ on my account and I went on my merry way. Except, when I arrived back home there were six months worth of legal letters because although at the customer service end they had frozen my account, the message hadn’t filtered through to accounts, and they were still charging me, but since the account had been stopped at the bank, they weren’t receiving money. I had to get a blacklisting lifted, which I did, but it would have been easier to just know about it as the letters arrived over the six months.
Depending on where you travel, it can be a really good idea to have a number, if not a contact, for legal cover. Some travel insurers will offer you legal advice too, but not all do. Save the number for legal advice on your phone so if you do find yourself in a difficult situation and you need legal advice, you have that on hand.
Keep Electronic Copies of Important Documents
This is good to do anyway, whether you travel or not. Scan all your birth certificates, passports, residency permits, drivers licences and other important information and email them to yourself at an email address you can access from any computer connected to an internet. That way, if you do lose your documentation, you can go to your nearest embassy or consulate with your copies and you should find your applications will be processed more easily.
I say this is valuable anyway, because you never know when something happens – a burglary, fire, or flood – and you lose all that stuff anyway. Tracing copies when you have exact information, like a birth certificate number – is much easier than waiting for it to be done without that information.
This is sort of unrelated, but if you’ve ever stood at immigration trying to remember the street name of the place you’ll be staying, and you can’t find the piece of paper you wrote it down on, you’ll know how important it is to have just one bar of life on your battery. You’ve just arrived after hours of travel, you want to start settling in, now is not the time to have to run around looking for converter plugs. If it’s the last thing you do before leaving the country, buy a plug for the country you’re heading to.
If you’re traveling long term for business or pleasure, to help someone out or start anew, making sure you have crossed all the I’s and dotted all the t’s removes a whole lot of pressure and prevents any nasty surprises when you least expect – or need – them.