Friday, June 24, 2011

Yet's time for pre-departure!

With a little less than a week to go before heading to Accra, Ghana for six months with Toronto based media-development organization Journalists for Human Rights, pre-departure preparations are wrapping up!

As when planning for any international travel, there are absolutes that must be taken care of. Some which may seem obvious and some which may be not so obvious. Once decided on the destination I like to arrange my preparation requirements into categories, it helps keeps me organized and focused!

To Do:

Travel Arrangements/Flight bookings/Accommodations

Visa/Travel Documents

Travel Doctor/Vaccinations and Medications

Travel/Health Insurance

Packing/What to bring

Personal - Where am I at? what do I expect?

Travel Arrangements/Flight bookings/Accommodations
With a consistently increasing interest in travel there are many options as to where to stay, who to fly with, when to go and so on. Check in with numerous travel agents and consult with friends and family who have travelled to the location in which you are heading to make sure you are arranging a trip that works best for your needs. Remember, everyone has a different opinion on what is 'absolutely the best' so make sure you ask a lot of questions to guarantee your satisfaction.

When finalizing your travel arrangements make sure to shop around for best prices and services. Secure exact dates and times and keep an accessible record of all travel contracts and documents (having an electronic copy in your email account eliminates the risk of losing or misplacing them).

Visa/Travel Documents
Visas and travel documents are extremely important and requirements may vary depending on the country you are visiting. Make sure to begin your research well in advance of your travels to limit stress, cost and possibility of not obtaining one. In many cases travel documents or visas are required to enter specific countries and without proper documentation you may be declines entry, which could clearly be the beginning and end to a very disappointing travel adventure.

Depending on the country and the consulate documents can take anywhere from same day (express) to numerous weeks. Make sure you have read and filled out the application form accordingly (sometimes even things such as writing in caps is essential!) and triple confirm you have included all of the required documents. Be sure to confirm visa expiration dates and renewal processes once in host country, as often the initial document must be revised upon landing. This step is extremely important and can sometimes be a stressful process so be prepared to check this one off your to do list in advance.

Please Note: Sometimes visas/specific travel documents are not required until arrival within host country, in which case lucky for you! Just make sure you understand the specific process of obtaining the documents when applicable.

Travel Doctor/Vaccinations and Medications
Similar to travel documents, often health preparations can be a lengthy (and sometimes expensive) process. Needless to say, this step is one of the most important as taking care of our personal health is always a main priority whether at home or abroad. Depending on your travel destination, and especially when travelling out of country, arrange an appointment with a travel doctor specific to your destination. Making a separate appointment with your family doctor or nurse practitioner many be useful as they have a stronger sense of your health history, may have additional insight and may have more time to discuss some of your health concerns in greater detail than your travel doctor.

Listen carefully to what the doctors say, ask questions and take notes if you feel it necessary. There will be a difference between vaccinations in which are required and medication which are a recommendation. Do your homework and understand your options; talk to friends and family whom are frequent travellers who you trust and gain a variety of insight into the matter. Health issues abroad are always something we would like to avoid but the next best thing is being prepared and knowing how to respond to them.

Travel/Health Insurance

As mentioned previously, this too depends on your destination. If you are travelling within province you may not have to worry if you are already insured for health coverage. If you are travelling out of province or out of country, it is always a good idea to confirm the agreements of your coverage to guarantee you have a strong understanding of what is and is not covered. For travellers going out of country this step is extremely important as some countries may not offer health coverage. If you have regular benefits you may already be covered so make sure to check the policies of your business/companies benefit coverage for the specifics of your trip. Often benefits will provide health coverage but not travel insurance. Discuss with a travel agent specific details of each policy before purchasing and make sure you are confident with your coverage. Often it is a good thing to think worse case scenario and see if you feel confident with your coverage, if so proceed, if not try a different package.

Packing/What to bring

This can be fun – and a pain! For those of us who are not so practical, we may end up bringing far too much. For those who like to pack light, may not bring enough. Pick your poison but make sure you are prepared to adapt to your load and please, bring the essentials. Many say less is more and when it comes to luggage of travel this is definitely true. Although having 5 options of outfits for each meal on your trip may be nice, remember you must carry this luggage, often in crowded areas.

The content in which you bring is what is essential. Make sure you have covered the basics from start to finish, beginning with appropriateness. When travelling consider the communities in which you will be visiting and pack accordingly to the cultural norms. For example; your attire would look differently travelling to the beach then it would a northern first nations community. The best place to start is clearly with research to gain an understanding of practicalities of your destination, such as climate, cultural customs and activities. Once you know the purpose of your travels (business vs travel , adventure vs. luxury) and what your trip's agenda may include you can begin packing accordingly, especially in combination with the findings of your research.

Always Remember:

Please Note: The list below is a vague description of commonly used items, regardless of destination. For a proper, more effective packing list plan according to the descriptions listed above based on the specifics of your location.

-Underwear and socks
-Light Sweater

-Heavy sweater/jacket
-Comfortable walking shoes
-Camera (I-pod, computer... don't forget the chargers!)
-Toiletries (including any medications)
-Travel Documents
-Cash, debit and credit

-Dress clothes/Evening outfit (just in case, you never know who may invite you out to dinner!)
-A day bag (makes day travelling more convenient)
-First aid kit
-Notebook/travel log
*Any required comfort items or specifics from home

A common recommendation is to have the essentials for at least one day and one night in your carry on in case, by chance, your luggage does not find its way to your destination. This happens far too often and those who have their toothbrush and an extra set of underwear are always happy they thought ahead!

Personal/Where am I at?
For me, one of the most essential steps in preparing for pre-departure, especially for long durations, is acknowledging where I am at. This could mean numerous things depending on the individual. Often when I engage in travel it is to learn about a new culture which inevitably involves certain instances of confusion, discomfort, struggle, irritation, denial, sometimes anger, acceptance and celebration.

Understanding where I am at mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually will help me to stay grounded and move forward in identifying my needs abroad as well as my fears and possible struggles. Through identifying these obstacles it makes it possible to establish a plan to overcome these challenges, enabling the highest level of success and enjoyment for your adventures abroad.

Often it can help to document this process. Whether it be in a public forum such as an online blog or simply for personal use such as a journal, diary or travel log!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Going to Ghana

Upon completion of the eight month International Support Worker program, I have received job confirmation that will take me to Accra, Ghana working with Journalists for Human Rights at the African University College of Communications.

I will be working in the position of a Rights Media Educational Officer where my job will consist of working with journalism professors and students to create human rights and good governance curriculum as well as rights based media and media community forum. I will also be working with the AUCC Journalists for Human Rights School Chapter networking with local, national and international media houses as well as numerous non-profit, social organizations and government bodies. Together, we will also be putting together awareness campaigns, fundraisers and community events.

I will be heading to Toronto on June 20th, along with 7 other journalists from across Canada and around the world to take part in a week long pre-departure training session with jhr staff at head office.

I invite you to join me on my journey through Ghana, from start to finish, to learn about culture, safe travel, human rights and international support work.

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Many thanks!

Michelle Newlands
-Think Glocal- Editorial