I have never been one to make lists, or more accurately, I have never been one to follow what’s on the list, but for an undertaking of this magnitude, I started preparing and list-making as soon as I submitted the application. Just last week I left my job. I transferred to another location for the next three months. I haven’t told the new people that I’ll be leaving, and probably won’t–at least not until February.
I started preparing myself for departure soon after receiving the acceptance letter.
Here is a look at the massive to-do list that I created and have been checking it off since March and in earnest since I received the acceptance letter in July, approximately in chronological order.
- Change bank accounts. I moved my primary checking and savings to Charles Schwab. From everything I’ve read, they are the best deal around for travelers. I’ve banked with a credit union for years, and while I love them, the lock-down on my card overseas [even going to England is a hassle] and the massive fees I incur while traveling are enough to make me switch. I’ve kept my account active so that it’s still there, and also in case I run into trouble, I’ll have someone local to help out. Yes, I know the Peace Corps will set me up a bank account in my local area once I’m there, but it will be nice to have the safety net of my American bank account too.
- Give myself a pay cut. I set up direct deposit to my savings account so that $150 every week goes directly to savings. This savings will allow me to keep my house, take a PC vacation or two, and maybe even travel some post-service.
- Get another job. [to explore a new area of nursing and have some additional savings]
- Determine a savings goal. I looked into accommodations and transportation costs for possible destinations and read about other traveler’s expenses for long-term travel to come up with a savings goal of $10,000. I don’t know if I’ll meet it or not, but it’s a goal.
- Track my expenses. I m not nerdy enough to set up a spreadsheet and keep track of every dime I spend, but I did create a spending log recording [most of] everything I spent. This allowed me to identify areas to cut back and I could see how close [or far!] I was from my savings goal. I could also see when I needed to lay off Amazon or cut out trips to Target.
- Re-design my blog. I started blogging in 2005 mainly for myself. Over the last 12 years, blogging has still been mostly for me [and the occasional friend or family member who wanted an update to see if I was still alive]. Over the last year I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a little more on the technical side, learn a little bit more about photo post-processing, teach myself a little bit about making videos, get more comfortable exposing myself to a public audience, and maybe build a loyal,if not small readership before I leave.
- Connect with other travelers. I still hate Twitter, don’t really know how to use my blog’s Facebook page, and cant’ for the life of me figure out Instagram’s algorithms, but through my blog and through reading other travel blogs, I have connected with dozens of other PC volunteers, returned PC volunteers, and bloggers who have traveled long-term or made blogging into a full-time career. Their advice and inspiration have been invaluable.
- Renew my passport. My passport was set to expire while in the Peace Corps, and while yes, I will get a Peace Corps’ diplomatic passport, I do want to travel some on my own either before, during, or after my service. I renewed it in April and opted for the one with the most pages available.
- Find a home for my cats. I hated the idea of giving my cats to random strangers on Craigslist or to a shelter, so a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when a friend volunteered to foster the kids while I’m gone.
- Sell my stuff. I don’t consider myself a minimalist by any means but I also didn’t want to pay $1700 for a storage unit when I can make some money selling everything instead. Yes, I have a house, but I sold most of my stuff prior to moving in, and didn’t want to spend money buying furniture that I wouldn’t use for two plus years. Also doing minor home improvement projects before I go was way easier in a house with minimal furniture.
- Doctor and dentist appointments. While I still have good insurance through work, I made a point to get an annual physical exam and a dental cleaning and check-up. Also see Pre-Service Medical Clearance.
- Vaccinations. I went to South America in 2010, I got the yellow fever vaccine and the Typhoid vaccine. Through work, I’m up to date on my tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis, flu, and hepatitis B. I added a Hepatitis A vaccine and cholera + what the Peace Corps recommends. Lucky for me, my insurance covered everything except the $110 consultation fee, saving me about $500.
- Get extra passport photos. Who knows what I might need them for [traveler visas perhaps], but I’m getting them while they are cheap.
- Buy stuff. I have tried to keep the purchases to a minimum because after all, I am going to a third world country where the daily income is around $2, but some must-haves that I have picked up so far include a new [used] laptop [with DVD drive so I can copy all my DVDs and CDs, a new-ish backpack [it’s been on a few excursions already], extra camera equipment [lenses mostly + a few memory cards and extra camera batteries], a Steri-pen, and new hiking shoes.
- Explore ways to connect. Skype account, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, all vaible options, but will they work well with rural African internet. .
- Give notice at work. I haven’t done this just yet, but when I do, it will be when this whole thing starts to feel real!
And there is still more to come over the next few weeks:
- Sell more stuff. Hopefully.
- Notify my banks and credit card companies.
- Withdraw cash in the form of bills that are recent and in good condition [once again, you never know when crisp dollar bills might be useful].
- Create a list of bank and credit card info.
- Update my Couchsurfing profile [because you never know…]
- Study and practice French some more.
- Update my resume.
- Assemble the documents I need to apply to graduate school so that when the time comes, I’ll have everything I need, and applying from the middle of the Indian Ocean won’t be quite so challenging.
Not everything on the lists above will apply to everyone, but my hope is that this will be helpful for those of you who might be starting to think about taking some time off to travel or joining the Peace Corps.