How to prepare for a longer time abroad

Greenland from above on the way from Iceland to Canada.

Why I decided to leave

The feeling that it was time for a change was present in my mind for a very long time. I just wasn’t brave enough. Brave… I never got told to be brave as often as I’m being told right now and in the last couple of months since I decided to leave my stable life for a dream. That brought me to the change I’m just about to establish. I just quit my job without having a next one, terminated the contract for my apartment and everything related, started selling as much as possible and all of it for a new chance abroad.

It’s not that I don’t value living in Germany, each time I travel I realized how blessed we are with the security and wealth we have compared to so many different parts of the world. I’m proud being a German and being considered a hardworking, reliable and organized. These are characteristics I see in myself. Still traveling that much people hardly ever guessed that I’m a German. I’m lucky that I don’t really have a strong German accent neither in English nor Spanish. You only hear it every now and then if you pay close attention. Apparently, I look more Irish than Germany, even though I don’t sound like them that is why most of the people, if they’re not Americans themselves, guess that I’m American. Related to the language I see it as a compliment, as far as for the rest, well I better don’t talk about the American stereotypes now 😉 But even if people know that I’m German I often get told that my whole character doesn’t seem German because I’m extroverted, humorous, open minded, spontaneous and I’m also not known for being on time (still working on this flaw ^_^). Still, especially while my years in Spain or my exchange in China I saw how German I am deep inside. There where times where I wasn’t happy about it, but nowadays I am! But that doesn’t mean that I do want to live in Germany forewer. I love to speak English and explore different cultures and find myself deeply connected to myself in the unknown as if I need to be far apart to see who I really am. People would say that I changed in the last years, I would say that this was always in me, it is just that I wasn’t strong enough to stand in for myself which I am right now. I want to explore other countries, also by working in them. An important rule for myself was that I wanted to know the language before, this limited it to Spanish or English speaking countries. I also learned that tropical beaches are wonderful, but that I’m more of an autumn, winter and spring kind of person and that I can’t really enjoy high humidity or high temperatures if I’m not on vacation and mostly inside the sea, a lake, river or pool. This already eliminated a bunch of countries. At the end Canada won because it has both, big cities and cute towns, a lovely coast and high mountains and all of it close to each other. Its climate is similar to Germany but a bit colder, especially in in winter. English is the main language (I know they also speak French in some areas, but I won’t settle there) and at the same time has western standards which might make me feel home. As a Germany younger than 35 you can apply for a working holiday visa that allows you to travel and work in Canada for a year. The spots are assigned by lottery and the chance is round about 50/50. You can’t imagine how happy I was when I got a spot!

I told my boss in November of 2018 that I have the plan to leave the company next summer to live abroad for a time. He offered me a three-month sabbatical a couple of months before that talk when I asked how long he would allow me to be absent of work. I really thought about agreeing on that, but it wouldn’t change a thing in the long term. I was happy about the trust my company had in me as a young woman by giving me the responsibility for two of their branches. Having a management position was challenging and I grew so much in these 22 months. Still I asked myself what I want to do with my life. I was a 32-year-old career woman commuting for way to long and thus sacrificing my private life for work. It never was about the money for me. Sure, I want to be payed according to my position, but that wasn’t my motivator. It was being able to learn, grow and be challenged. As a woman in construction business I thought I would need to find more to be respected, but the sceptics stopped doubting and I really got along well with most of my employees, coworkers.and customers. My leadership style is very empathic and more of a cooperative way of leading. Some might say I could have been harder sometimes, but I preferred to be followed out of respect and not because they were forced to. I’m far from being a perfect leader, but I did my very best and the feedback I got from employees, coworkers, my bosses and also our customers shows me that I succeeded while maintaining my values. Still I didn’t want to stay commuting furthermore. I needed something new to keep growing. It does not necessarily need to be another leadership position, I’m also happy with less responsibility, but I need a new challenge.

First, I just wanted a break for two to three months just travelling, to process the last years, cool down and come clear about what I want in life. Before deciding what to do exactly I wanted to secure myself a job for the time after to fuel my need of security. While researching the idea of a working holiday came in my mind. I could afford three to four months just traveling, but this time could be extended working. This is when I started to scale down the possible destinations and bumped into the Canadian working holiday visa. When I told my boss in November I knew that at least a break for a couple of month would take place for me to cool down before the next job and if I would get the visa it would extend to at least a year abroad but I didn’t had the visa safe till the 9th of January 2019. The week after I told my boss the date I’m leaving. He never tried to change my mind and I’m thankful for that, because I know that by then he would have been able to change my mind because I was really insecure about my decision. My boss and also our big boss have the mentality to not hold people back that want to leave. He thanked me for telling him so much in advance to find a successor and keeping my work up till the end. I always got along really well with my boss and I know that on a personal level he understands where I’m coming from. You can’t believe how glad I am that he didn’t made my goodbye harder than it already was.

But quitting a job is not the only hurdle you’ll have to face when preparing for a year abroad. I needed to cancel my apartment, sell furniture, dissolve contracts for internet, mobile service, electricity, insurance and more. This is why I decided to leave in August to not pay for contracts when I’m not even using them anymore. Some sublease their apartment, but it is just rented and my landlord just granted me a year maximum and I don’t even know if I want to come back to Berlin afterwards. The visa is just for one year but still I prefer to leave with an open end of when to come back if at all. I want to be open for all the possibilities that will present themselves to me on the way. The worst thing that could happen is that I’m back home searching for a job in a couple of months because I got broke before finding a job. But since I’m an optimistic person I might more likely enjoy my time abroad on the fullest, find a great job, earn nice money while exploring Canada. Maybe I even earn enough to keep traveling afterwards. It could also happen that I enjoy the life in Canada that much that I decide to apply for a longer visa. Who knows and this is why I decided to start without an apartment or belongings tying me to Berlin. Sure, it will always be my birth city where most of my family and friends live, but that doesn’t mean that I need to stay there my whole life. Now it’s my time to explore the world and figure out what it has to offer for me.

But enogh of my reasons why, here are the steps I took after deciding to go abroad and before I entered the plane to Canada. The order is not fixed, it is just the way I did it, for some it is easier to fix everything before telling others for example, but that is up to you. The inspiration and resources I used for all this are diverse travel influencers like the Bucket List Family, Nick Martin, Hey Nadine, Kristen & Siya, Lost LeBlanc, High On Life, Sorelle Amore, Vagabrothers and many more. I binged YouTube videos, travel sites on Instagram, blogs and further more and this is a compilation of all of them.

Decide on where to go

This sets the budget, therefore time you can afford, preferable season, working possibilities and so on. In the section above I declared my motivations for choosing a year in Canada. Your motivations and destinations might vary from that.

Tell family and friends

That was an easy part for me and no one was surprised about it. Sure, some are sad to not see me as often as we used to, but they know me and thus the wanderlust in me and wish me the very best and support me on every crazy plan I have. It was the same for my exchange semester in China and that was an exotic destination compared to Canada. I will miss them, but I know who my real friends are and that I will not loose them and do already look forward on seeing them when I return (either for a visit or if I return one day).

As easy it was for me, I know how hard it is for some others where their friends and family have little understanding for it. Still I would encourage you to follow you dream and if that is to move to a foreign country or to travel go for it and your they will figure out that it will all be fine. Since I was a commuter for the last years my friends scaled down to a smaller group anyways, so I already knew on whom I can count on and who are lovely people but more acquaintances than friends. That is fine to me, because you don’t want to spend time with people who do not support your dreams and love you for who you are. Intestinally I got closer with some friends before I left because we tried to spend as much time as possible together before I left. I’ll really miss them, but in a good way, knowing how blessed I am to have them.

Apply for a visa

Recherche in advance and get all the needed documents ready. I had everything I needed, except for things that I would need to do in the process like giving my biometrics ready before I even got elected to not miss the deadline. I’ll recommend you to do the same. In some forums or Facebook groups I read of a couple who got rejected because they underestimated the time you need to get your stuff sorted out.

Quit your job or talk about other possibilities

Read you contract, I had a two-month period of notice but told my boss almost three quarters of a year ahead because I know how hard it is to find good managers. Not that I’m not replaceable, everyone is, but I wanted someone good for my teams. Look into how much time in advance you have or want to tell your boss. Some let you leave earlier, but better don’t count on that.

If you don’t want to quit, check with your boss if a sabbatical is possible or if you can have at least a few months unpaid or get you job back afterwards as security. For me that wasn’t an option, but you’ll never know until you ask your boss.

Check and quit your contracts

I listed all the contracts I had and looked into the contracts to see the last termination date for me to not pay after leaving and set reminders into my calendar. I also did quit some directly to the date I wanted to not miss the deadline. The only thing I couldn’t quit earlier is my mobile phone contract which runs until December, but since the costs are limited that’s okay. Some let me leave earlier because I had proven that I moved out and will leave the country. Just ask directly and some might help you.

Finances

Luckily as being into organizing stuff I had all my monthly expenses already listed an knew where I could cut costs by terminating some contracts earlier than needed. Also I weighed up each “luxury” or “fun” thing to do against being able to travel a little more. That didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy life, I still did a lot, but only what was important to me.

You should also be creative and sell as many of your belongings as you can to make some more cash. I earned around 2000 € by selling diverse stuff to some friends or family, but mostly on “Ebay Kleinanzeigen” a German plattform where you can sell to people in the area that mostly drop by to get their stuff. If you are from another city they will surely have something similar. I started early and thus at the end was only sleeping on a plank bed with no wardrobe because it is impossible to sell everything on your last weekend.

If like me you are in the lucky situations to live in a social country with a social security system inform yourself ahead of time about what you need to do to secure support for when you return. I had to go to a German bureau to apply for unemployment benefits and sign out the day after to secure my payments for when I return to Germany.

Btw. I’m planning to do a finance blog after a couple of month or maybe even at the end of this year so you can have an insight about my expenses. Sure this is very individual, since everyone has different standards and finances but still, it helped me to have a feeling about how much I would need on the road. Also when I’ll get a job I’ll inform you about the details about working in Canada, so stay tuned.

Health & travel insurance

Get all the needed vaccinations and inform yourself way ahead because some take up to three vaccinations with some time in between. This differs according to the destinations you have. Just in case I got everything needed for the hole American continent XD That is why I had to go to the tropical institut for my vaccinations four times in total.

If like me you need daily medicine (I have a thyroid hypofunction) speak to your doctor well ahead so you can save up enough medicine for the time abroad. Also, I did checkups with my dentist, gynecologist and further more.

More importantly book a travel insurance. I went for STA Travel and thus I’m covered for most things happening while traveling even for every sport or work I’m doing. Check the details and get informed so you really take you best shot. In Germany STA Travel is one of the most recommended for long-term travel since you can extend it up to 5 years.

Waaay too much… As you can see no one is perfect and I still have to figure out how to minimalize with camara gear and winter clothing XD

Buy what you’ll need & prepack

I’ll do a “What is in my backpack?” blog soon, but best you compare diverse packing list and your own learnings from past journeys to make a packing list. That way you can overview what you already have and what you are still missing. It’s best to buy things ahead of time so you can return if you are not satisfied and not last minute when times runs out. I have to admit, I underestimated the space hiking boots and trousers, as well as warmer clothes need. I normally had plenty of space in my Osprey Fairview 55 backpack, but this time it is really tough to get it all in, especially since medicine for a year and my photo gear adds on… In this case I should have used my own tip on prepacking in advance and should have bought a bigger backpack… But I didn’t so I brought another daypack with me. Since I plan to settle at least throughout winter it should be fine, but I would prefer to get rid of it but don’t want to give away my good backpack for a new one. Now I look a bit like a donkey with a backpack on my back and one in front when I’m traveling…

Security

Make copies of every important document you’ll need and have them with you on your journey. Also save them up digitally. I have one set on my laptop, one on an external hard drive and another one on my mom’s laptop back home. In general, check your documents and if they are valid for the time abroad. If you don’t have an international drivers license consider getting one.

Also bring some locks with you for hostels or to lock you backpack or suitcase. While on the way have your valuables like credit card and passport on your body. I always have them in a fanny pack. I never really got a bad situation while traveling and never got robbed or worse. Still it is better to make some safeguarding, even if it only makes you feel more secure.

Also always let some friends know where you are at and what you travel plans are. You’ll never know what happens. But living in Berlin most of my life, which is as far as I know considered the city with the highest criminality rates in Germany, I’m always aware of my surroundings when walking alone and try to avoid certain situations. There where only a few situations that happened to me that where scary and that is years ago, so that is why I feel pretty safe in most of the places. Still I took a self-defense class for a weekend before I left. It was fun an made me even more secure.

Book flight & accomodation

Book your flight and if you want some security the first nights abroad. I booked for a week in Montreal to sort out all the officials like registration, opening a bank account, signing a phone contract and so on. I prefer to sleep in hostels to save up money and therefore extend my travel possibilities. Also, that way you quickly meet up with people in the same situation as you are and don’t feel lonely. Maybe you’ll even meet a future travel mate or make good friends.

As mentioned above, these are the steps I took and I do not guarantee of completeness, especially since you home country and the country or countries you are heading to have different conditions. All in all, I have to admit that I overestimated the finances (lets see if I still think the same a couple of months on the road 😉) and underestimated the time you need if you get rid of your apartment and most of it in is. Except for 10 smaller boxes at my aunt and uncles house I got rid of most of the belongings I had. This takes time especially if you try to make some cash out of it. Still, it is all manageable and I started on a low pace in January and thus had around seven months to prepare everything. If needed you can also prepare in less time but as for me and all the deadlines I had in my life, I mostly get productive at the end. But it all worked out, I’m in Montreal right not on my first few days in Canada and everything worked just fine in the end. Now I’m looking forward for some great experiences throughout Canada and I’m sure every challenge I’ll face will make me even stronger. So, as you see, if I can do this, you’ll be able to do the same if you want to!

In the next weeks and month, I will update you on this blog, Instagram and Facebook about my journey through this wonderful country. I just sorted through the pictures of the week in Iceland I had on the way to Canada and will publish this blog shortly. I can’t promise on a fixed schedule though, because traveling itself comes first 😉 In that scense, see you on the road!

Short before landing in Montral as the starting point of my new adventure.

If you enjoy my posts feel free to like and leave a feedback. I am thankful for every advice and happy to answer questions. Just leave me a comment and I will come back to you. Feel free to follow my blog for more contend, my Instagram for photograhy or FindPenguins where I track my journey. I am happy to see you back soon.

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