Inside My Money Belt


If you’ve spent any time with me over the past ten months or so, you know that I have a slight (cough) obsession with personal finance. For those of you who have navigated to this blog from one of my comments on another PF blog…well, today’s your day to get a peek at what I’m all about. Since I’m a planner and a researcher, I had a lot of questions and doubts at the beginning of the year about what exactly I should be doing with my newfound “big girl paycheque,” and I spent quite a bit of time looking for a model for how much I should save for travel. I had pretty specific goals for the year preceding travel, which included paying down a good chunk of my student loan. It would have been really helpful for me to see something like what I’m posting here today, even though personal finance is, of course, different for everyone. I have also come to believe in financial discourse, and I’m okay with a certain degree of financial transparency – especially when it helps other people learn.

I decided to save exactly 25% of every paycheque I received for travel, and a further 15% went towards an emergency/start-up fund for when I get back. I put 35% straight towards debt repayment, and I lived on the last quarter of my income. (A note on my living circumstances: I have been fortunate enough to live at home, so I don’t have any fixed expenses.) I haven’t paid off my student loan yet, but I’ve saved up enough independent of my travel and emergency funds to pay more than minimum for the next year.

I was really pleased with the progress of my little finance experiment, and enjoyed watching my travel savings grow week by week. (I especially enjoyed my tax refund, which definitely helped my savings and debt repayment along!) My original goal, before I knew where I was going in Brazil or how I would get there, was to have $5000 saved – enough for a return flight, and to get me by for a month or so while I looked for a job. I am definitely happy that I’ve saved considerably more, and in addition have secured in advance a placement that guarantees room and board as well as a stipend. You’ll see why in a minute.

Voilà, my beautiful (and terrifying) budget! Explanations to follow.

  Brazil Budget 2011-2012  
 

Budgeted Amount

Actual

Difference:

Reassigned balance:

Travel Savings:  

$7,103

   
Pre-departure Expenses:        
IICA fee

$441.00

$440.59

$0

 

Initial Flight

$2,000

$1,321.02

$679

Christmas Flight

Visa

$150

$68.22

$82

 

Travel Medical Insurance (1st part)

$500

$251.10

$249

remainder 1

Textbooks/Materials

$70

$73.45

-$3

remainder 1

Credit Card Annual Fee

$99.00

$99.00

$0

 

Assorted Other

$200

$128.39

$72

remainder 1

Airport Expenses

$150

$150.00

$0

 

Remainder 1:

$3,493

$4,572

$1,078

 

Anticipated Expenses      

 

Taxes and Setup

$500

 

$500

 

Unforseen Basics

$500

 

$500

*not budgeted in R2

TESL Renewal   (Oct ’11)

$140

 

$140

 

Insurance pt. 2 (Dec ’11)

$500

 

$500

 

Christmas Flight (Dec ’11)

$929

 

$929

 

Rio/SP/Salvador (Jan ’12)

$1,200

 

$1,200

 

CC annual fee  (June ’12)

$99

 

$99

*not budgeted in R2

Last OSAP (July ’12)

$150

 

$150

*not budgeted in R2

Remainder 2:

$803

 

-$803

 
Monthly Allowance:

$66.89

     

Notes

  • I swear this table was neatly formatted in Excel and Word…apparently WordPress isn’t impressed with my efforts.
  • The IICA fee wasn’t exactly that amount because it was in USD, and I also had to pay for the money transfer; this is what it cost me in CAD.
  • You probably recall I did a lot of shopping around for both my flight and my insurance, so there was some savings there. Woohoo!
  • I pay an annual fee for my travel credit card, but I’ve already made up the difference in points. Basically, this is $99 I pre-paid towards the flight I’ll take at Christmas.
  • Assorted Other: the last, growing category for before my trip starts. I’m officially broke in the “25% variable spending” allowance category, so any beers or movies I buy from now until August 10 will come out of my travel budget. Eek!
  • Airport expenses includes baggage costs for 2 pieces of luggage on my AA flight from Detroit, a there is no allowance. It also includes a one-day Admiral’s Club pass, if I decide to buy one – or else just airport food and entertainment for 12 hours.
  • Taxes and Setup: I’ve heard there are taxes I’ll have to pay on entry that nobody tells you about, so I’m going in prepared. I’ll also have to get a Brazilian SIM card for my phone, among other things. Apparently I won’t get my stipend until the end of the month.
  • *not budgeted in R2: I left these items out of the calculation because they will either be covered by quarterly tax returns or will cause me to recalculate the budget in their eventuality.
  • TESL Renewal: in order to maintain my status with my professional organization, I intend to pay into the membership even though I won’t benefit from it out of country.
  • Insurance pt. 2: I’ve already obtained a quote for this, and it’s a bit less than budgeted. I’ll deal with it in December when I’m home.
  • Christmas flight: =sum($250 + balance of August flight budget). This will get supplemented by parents as my Christmas present, and by my credit card points balance.
  • Rio/SP/Salvador: In January most Brazilian schools are closed for summer vacation. I hope to take this time to explore some more of the country. (SP=São Paulo)
  • Monthly Allowance: Yikes! This is much lower than I’d hoped. Anyway, it’s just meant to supplement the stipend provided by the host school, which as I hear is more than enough to live off of. The amount will also change as I get hard numbers for the other estimated amounts, for which I was generous.

So there you have it: the interior of my under-the-T-shirt money belt, complete with compartmentalized and scheduled spending. I’m sure you all think I’m even crazier than you did before, but at least now you know the truth! I’ll say it again: Crazy like a fox!

12 days until departure!

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Two-Week To Do List

I have a lot to tell you about, but it’s all been jumbled up in my head the last few days, so I think I’ll write a bunch of articles that I will post slowly over the next few days. I should apologize in advance, however, because it’s pretty much all to do with my travel preparations. I figure I might as well record it, because all this nonsense is part of the journey too – and also because if anyone else stumbles on this blog and thinks they might like to do something similar, they can learn from my mistakes.

First of all, I’m leaving in 14 days! People keep asking me if I’m getting excited yet. Actually, it hasn’t really had time to sink in properly because I’ve been so fixated on getting all these necessary details sorted out. In a way it helps the time go by faster…but I have a feeling I’m suddenly going to be on a plane looking down at endless rainforest and it’ll suddenly click in that it’s all happening.

As you could probably guess from my previous posts, I’m pretty big on lists. Here’s my To-Do list for the days I have left. (I started it last week, so some things have been crossed off.)

  1. Obtain Visa
  2. Obtain travel medical
    insurance
  3. Talk to family doctor
  4. Get an International Driver’s License from CAA
  5. Buy a plug adapter/converter (waiting for new shipment at CAA)
  6. Put BlackBerry media software on HP Mini (my travel computer…not sure if this is possible, as it doesn’t have a disc drive)
  7. Study Portuguese (I’m trying, but I haven’t done it every day)
  8. Get confirmations to IICA and host school
  9. Clean up room/put things in storage
  10. Talk to Rogers about transferring SIM and contract to a new phone (I’m bringing mine with me)
  11. Hand in 2nd letter of resignation (I forgot that my teaching job technically has two employers, thus needs two letters)
  12. Figure out how to bank from Brazil – create PayPal accounts?
  13. Notify bank and credit card I’ll be out of the country
  14. Submit OHIP paperwork (for health insurance extension…you have to do this if you’ll be gone for >182 days)
  15. Ask MP about address change on passport (the portion you write in by hand, since we moved recently) and any “Canadian” swag
  16. Take out money and traveller’s cheques
  17. Get Canadian/Ontario brochures and maps from Tourism Ontario

Obviously the list is still pretty long (though definitely not exhaustive)…good thing I still have two weeks, and I’m not working! Also since my mom is off work on vacation, there’s usually a car around to do some errands. Thankfully, I can cross “obtain visa” off my list once and for all, as it showed up in my mailbox Monday morning! I knew there was a good reason for going back to Toronto!

I have to admit, my biggest worry after getting the visa and my plane ticket has always been the travel insurance. I’ve seriously been looking into it since last December, because I had no idea how expensive it would be to insure myself for a year out of country. I thought that I’d found a reasonable solution that would cost around $500 a few months ago, but when I plugged in the numbers last week it came to around $900! I’m already pretty daunted by the number of things eating into my modest travel savings, so another $400 did not make me happy.

So, I did what any frugal traveller should do and started shopping around again. I think I already mentioned that I looked into some organizations which I already belonged to, to see if there were group discounts. I probably talked to about five different companies, and used about 3-4 online quote generators, and things were not looking up. The norm seemed to be around $1000, which I was not going for. The only place that seemed to offer reasonable prices was ScotiaLife, but I did not like the sales agent at all (everyone else had been really nice).

The main problem seemed to be the length of time I’m going to be away. First, the longer your trip the bigger the price-tag. Second, most companies won’t insure you for more than half a year, usually because OHIP doesn’t extend longer than that (unless you get an extension, which I am doing). This was the sticky point for me: it seems that most travel insurance that’s offered is not meant to be long-term. So where do people go for this kind of insurance? There are tons of people out there who are gone for longer than six months!

I was fortunate to get a great piece of advice from a TD insurance agent: she suggested I call the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association’s Ombudservice. I was pretty excited to find out this even existed; after all, who doesn’t want to talk to a neutral body when choosing their insurance provider? So I called, explained my situation to the man who answered, and after a few seconds of perusing some unseen list in front of him, told me, “TIC.” It turns out, TIC is Travel Insurance Coordinators, a division of The Cooperators – and they really did have the best rates around, not to mention would cover me for things like doctor’s visits and hang-gliding (so key, as this is one of my goals!). So TIC it is, and my budget thanks my persistent research skills.

Despite reviewing and adding to my list last night, today was pretty unproductive. I’m going to have to get at least one thing done every day before I leave if I want to finish it all. Happily, the major things are all done, so there are only a handful of things that are crucial (such as contacting the bank and printing and copying my essential documents). What do you think, should I try to relax? Or is there something I’m forgetting?

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Filed under bargain hunting, Brazil, Canada, crazy like a fox, mail, travel documents, Travel Insurance

Mission Accomplished!

Note: I wrote this post yesterday, but due to internet issues I couldn’t publish it until now.  Enjoy this post, a day late – I’ll try to write something else for today later.

I did it – I submitted my visa application, glitch-free! Well, I say glitch-free, but as you know there was a lot of work and worry that went into getting me to that point.

I met up with my professor last night, and she signed my visa papers with no questions asked. I had a little chat with her about what I’ve been up to the last year and where I’m going, and also what she’s been doing since TESL. It was really nice talking to her, because she’s also a graduate of the same program as me about 7 years earlier, so it’s cool to hear her successes, too. Right now she isn’t teaching TESL, but is managing the ESL-equivalent English program at the college’s main campus. She said that the ESL classes are pretty much taking over the program, even though the classes (Communications) are mandatory for everyone. We also talked about the availability, or lack thereof, of ESL jobs in Toronto. Pretty much none of the school boards are hiring, and some of the larger centres have gone through restructuring recently, meaning that those with seniority (and I’m talking like 20 years’ experience) have jobs, while newer staffers (<20 years) are being let go. However, my prof assured me that there are jobs to be had for those willing to work multiple part-time gigs across the city. Basically, the situation is about what I thought; but it does go to show that only people who are creative and flexible are going to find work, which is good to know. I left my professor with a little Starbucks gift, and headed back downtown to meet my sister for some amazing frozen yogurt.

Anyway, that brings me to today. I woke up early, around 7:30, with the intention of getting to the consulate at a good hour in case I needed to do more running around before they close at noon. I took the subway two stops over to Bay station (too nervous to walk all that way) and went to the TD which happens to be on the ground floor of the same building to get a bank draft. When I checked the website this morning to verify the cost of the application, I anxiously scanned the other document requirements, praying I hadn’t left anything out. Well of course there was something that had been overlooked, because the internship people didn’t tell me everything. I also needed to prove residency in the Consular jurisdiction. Fortunately a quick word to the bank teller got me a printout with my name and address, which was acceptable.

Okay, well it's scarier on the inside.As I said, the Consulate General of Brazil is in the same building as the TD. For anyone who knows Toronto, this is on the corner of Bay and Bloor; and yes, it is a giant high-rise. 77 Bloor is a scarily corporate building, with a lobby, a front desk, and two types of elevators for different spans of floors. I had to go in the higher one. I was sweating bullets already, and it had nothing to do with the 38 degree temperature outside (yes, it’s 38*C in Toronto. I was here six months ago and it was literally -38*C).

On the eleventh floor, I entered a long, quiet hallway of tall, opaque doors. I entered the correct one hesitantly, to find a room like a fishbowl with a bunch of other nervous-looking people milling around. I found the window for visa requests, and fortunately there was nobody there, so I stepped up.

The woman I spoke to was nice, but didn’t really crack a smile (perhaps she was just naturally mimicking my demeanour, as I’m sure my fear was projecting as seriousness). She rifled through my documents, commenting that the photos were the wrong size (I had the other size too – no issue), my application was two years out of date (not my fault! It was sent to me by IICA!), and worst of all, she noticed the one signature was not an original but a copy. I remained quiet as she examined the page, then offered a copy of my email correspondence with IICA where I asked them to send me the originals and they told me to figure it out because there wasn’t any time.

Luckily, the woman told me I could just fill out the correct application on a computer in the corner and she’d print it out for me. She cut the photo I had down to the right size and gave me a gluestick to put it on myself. She collected everything, took my passport, and then told me I’d be able to pick up my visa…next Thursday!

What a relief! What did I say about my crazy attention to detail paying off? I can now officially say that I am for realz going to Brazil in 20 days!

(Oh God, I hope that wasn’t premature; I don’t have the visa in hand, after all. Let’s ignore that and celebrate my success, okay?)

The only thing I had left to do was run down to the post office across the street and pick up an ExpressPost envelope so she could send it to me. Much as I love Toronto, I don’t really know what I’d do for yet another week with no money, no AC, and no bed (still on the sister’s couch). So I’ll stick around here for another day or two, then mercifully head home to enjoy the beach and use of my parents’ car for another two weeks 😀

Add cachaca to crushed ice, muddled lime, and sugar. Stir and serve!

And because I’m anal retentive and have already bought, packed, and planned almost everything else I need for my trip (with some exceptions…you’ll get details later, rest assured), I can fully enjoy some catch-up time when the Third Musketeer, my friend Breanna, comes home in a week or so. I picked up a bottle of cachaça the other day and am very much looking forward to testing out some caipirinhas prior to the real thing in Brazil!

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, crazy like a fox, Excited!, mail, red tape, Toronto, travel documents

The Sticker Picker-Upper

I’m sitting on a bus on my way to Toronto, which means I got my criminal record check this morning! It was a little hectic, as I had to drop my mom off at work, stop off at my work (to deliver a notice of resignation), and then go to the police station all before 9:30 am. I was hesitant to go to the station, because the woman I’d been talking to had done me a great favour already, and this was the second time I’d be showing up without waiting for her phone call. I approached the customer service window with a sheepish look, but fortunately she had the envelope right there waiting for me! Bingo!

I called my dad to confirm that I could come with him (he is doing business in London today), then rushed home to pack. As I was rushing around triple-checking I had all my relevant documents, my grandma shuffled downstairs in her nightie and handed me a twenty. I asked her what it was for, and she just replied, “For being a good girl.” Adorable. It’s going towards my subway fare, as I don’t have any cash on me, but at this point $20 is a big help towards not dipping into my travel savings before I leave!

I also sneaked in a quick email to my prof, notifying her I’ll be in town. I’m hoping I can meet with her today, so I can go straight to the Consulate tomorrow morning – and thus have time to deal with any potential problems before the weekend (here’s hoping there are none).

Have you ever seen the TV game show “Minute to Win It”? It’s a pretty new program, but the concept is really simple: teams of contestants perform challenges with props made of household items in a series of minute-long rounds. Each round brings the team closer to the ultimate prize of one million dollars. I don’t usually watch it, but my grandma does sometimes. The other day it was on, and I watched one team compete in a challenge for $125,000. Their task (or one girl’s; only one person plays at a time) was to hold an egg on a tray and roll it around to pick up these little red stickers without letting the egg roll off – in under a minute. It took her two tries, but she did it and won the $125,000.

This may sound like a stupid challenge, but when you’re standing in front of a studio audience with spotlights and there’s that much money at stake, I can imagine it must be pretty nerve-wracking. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can relate. It’s like I am that egg rolling around on a tray, trying to pick up elusive stickers on a timeline. Strategy goes out the window, and so many times you think you’ve got one of those suckers when in fact, due to the natural curve of the egg, you missed it entirely. I feel about as vulnerable as an uncooked egg too; my emotions are stretched so thin that if all of this falls apart (and I metaphorically roll off the tray), I’ll crack for sure. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen – or if it does, that I have a lifeline like the girls on the show and get a second chance!

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, cheesy metaphors, IICA internship, red tape, Toronto, travel documents

I Booked My Flight!

Woo!!

After A LOT of hassle with my credit card, I finally managed to confirm this morning that my flight booking with STA went through! I’ll be leaving from Detroit Metropolitan at 3:20pm on Wednesday, August 10, arriving in Miami International at 6:25pm. I will then sit on my luggage for approximately ten hours overnight, and then check into my international flight direct to Manaus,

Like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, I'll probably take a shower in an airport sink.

departing at 7:40am and arriving at 12:45pm on August 11. I ended up booking these flights separately because the Miami-Manaus return flight has moveable dates with minimal fees, and I’ll have to move the return date eventually. The Detroit-Miami flight is one-way, and has some steep penalties for changes (i.e. it wouldn’t be worth it), so I really hope I don’t have trouble with the Consulate later this week, or I’m screwed!

I’m also kind of glad that I only have one connection instead of two, like I would have with the original cheap flight. I will be carrying all my worldly possessions with me (okay, the ones I need to survive in hot weather and be able to teach, so not really all), and I am decidedly uncomfortable with the possibility of lost or delayed baggage. Even the travel agent girl who was helping me book seemed to think that American Airlines would be a more reliable choice than US Airways. Any thoughts on this?

Anyway, thinking about lost baggage got me to thinking about travel/medical insurance, and now that’s next on my list of things to conquer. I did some research last night (of course! Do you think I would take a break after accomplishing one goal?), and came up with a few providers that might work for me. STA travel actually provides travel medical at a reasonable rate, but when I asked an agent about it this morning he seemed to think it would be too expensive for me for a year, arbitrarily quoting around $700. Realistically, this isn’t that bad for a year, so I don’t know why he didn’t bother to get me a true quote. But I’m determined to shop around; I don’t want my flight savings to get eaten up by insurance!

I decided to check out providers who are linked with companies and associations I’m already a part of, for instance: my alma mater association, my teaching association, and my banks. I dug out the welcome package from my travel credit card (I have a TD Platinum Travel Visa) and read through the schedule of benefits. Boy, am I glad I did – and doubly glad I didn’t give up on charging the flight booking to my card when I could have used debit! Apparently, as long as I book my travel using the Visa, I have all kinds of travel insurance when on a “Common Carrier,” i.e. plane, train, boat, or rental car. This includes accidental death or dismemberment (ew) up to half a mil, up to $1000 for lost or delayed baggage for >6 hours, emergency flights home, cancellation, and I will never have to pay for car rental insurance again. This is all super exciting, and well worth the $99 annual fee I pay for my card.

Then I checked out the benefits with my newly-purchased ISIC card (shhh! They don’t have to know I’m no longer a student, especially since my college ID has no dates :D). The travel agent who gave the lazy quote also mentioned that the ISIC has basic travel – are you kidding me?This card cost $22 US! So for like $20 Canadian I’m getting some extra coverage on pretty much everything I mentioned with the travel Visa. Saweet!

I still have some following up to do on the alumni association insurance, but I have a phone number to call for another day. Additionally, I left a message with an agent from City Insurance, which is linked to ING (my other bank). And just a few minutes ago I got a tip from a friend who studied abroad recently – apparently her cheapest rate was with ScotiaLife, so I’ll have to look into them, too. That would really be ironic, as I used to sell Accidental Death for ScotiaLife as a telesales agent while I was still a student (hey, gotta make a living somehow). My last option would be to wait until I get to Brazil and buy insurance through the school when I get there, which might work out. My only problem with that would be that any contact with the insurers would be in Portuguese, which I don’t yet speak; but at least the contacts are in the same country as me if something goes wrong. Clearly I have some decision-making to do here.

As you can see, I am clearly anal retentive when it comes to planning trips – but I am crazy like a fox! (Hey, that should be a new blog category!) Between credit card points, thrifty but practical airfares, and shopping around, I bet I’ve already saved myself nearly a grand – which is a substantial portion of my savings, and almost enough to fly back home for Christmas with. I am quite pleased with this progress! On the other hand, I am still freaking out about my upcoming visit to the Brazilian Consulate. Now that I have my flights booked, I feel like everything is carved in stone. If I have visa (the legal document) troubles, I really don’t know what I’ll do, and all that savings will be for naught.

I didn’t get a call to pick up my Criminal Record Check today, so hopefully it’ll come in tomorrow and I can head to Toronto the same day. I’ll keep you posted as always, but in the meantime…wish me luck!

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Filed under bargain hunting, Brazil, Canada, crazy like a fox, Excited!, fear, Flights, immigration, red tape, Travel Insurance

Nothing Worthwhile is Ever Easy

Contrary to what you may think, this has nothing to do with Brazilian bikinis. And you're gross for thinking about it.

You’d think this (the title) was a lesson I’d learned during my undergrad…alas, it is one that I will likely need reminding of my entire life.  It was a pervasive theme throughout all the other mini lessons I learned today.

After last week’s craziness, I decided to put the stress out of my mind for the weekend and get back to it on Monday. So, today was round three of my pre-departure errand marathon. Rather than bore you with the specifics, I decided to make a list of lessons I’ve learned in the last day or two, and in the course of things explain how I learned them.

Lesson 1: Nepotism Works for Me

I found out once I’d received my documents package that I needed a criminal record check, which was a huge piss-off because I could have gotten one done while I was waiting. Luckily, my sister had to get one a few weeks ago, and when my mom went to pick it up for her she got to chatting with the Police secretary. It turns out that she knows my grandma from when she worked at the police office ~12 years ago! She encouraged us to notify her if we needed police services again…well, just three weeks later (last week), I went in with my own police record request. I popped in today to check on the status, as I hadn’t asked her how long it would take. She informed me that she’d put it in as soon as I’d brought it to her last week, and it would be ready likely tomorrow! This is great news, as it’s now the last piece of information I need other than the signature from my Humber professor. Which brings me to…

Lesson 2: Keep in Touch with your References

You never know when you’re going to have to call in a favour, and references are so crucial to getting the things you want. Jobs, internships, and graduate school are some of the most obvious things for which references are needed, and at this point in my career, my résumé isn’t strong enough yet to recommend me on its own. I had a supervisor for my fourth year thesis who would be a killer grad school reference, but I haven’t talked to him in two years. I guess I’d better get on that, before it’s a month before some deadline and I’m praying he answers an ancient email address. Luckily, my college career was only a year ago, and the professor who is referring me for the internship/visa is super nice. I’ll just have to email her with a time to meet up and she should be able to sign my forms. J

Lesson 3: Don’t Forget to Floss

Okay, this one isn’t strictly related, and it’s kind of a no-brainer. But I went to the dentist today for a check-up and cleaning, and got the usual tongue-lashing (no pun intended) from my dental hygienist about flossing. Actually, she phrased it in the nicest possible way. She said, “You’re too pretty to be ugly,” which apparently means I have great teeth but I’m risking having awful ones later if I don’t pick up a dental pick every once in a while. Lesson learned, Veronica, lesson learned.

Lesson 4: Never Assume One Party has Given You Complete Information about a Third Party

I’ve talked about this before, but I’ve had a lot of confusion with the internship people on exact details. Seriously, every time I email them with a question, one person (the assistant) will email me with one answer, and later another person (the professor) will email me telling me something completely different. Even the contact I’ve had with the school where I’ll be teaching (some of it in Spanish, with me using Google Translate) has added to the confusion, and now I don’t know if I’m teaching in Manaus or Rio Branco. But due to language barriers and me giving up, I’m just going to have to figure that part out when I get there. Anyway, I had some questions for the Brazilian consulate regarding my visa application, so I emailed them directly to find out what all I needed to have in order. It turns out I actually need my flight booked before I apply, so I can provide a travel itinerary. Wish I’d known that last week when I found that flight!

Lesson 5: Telephone Customer Service Agents can be your Best Friend

…if you are polite and firm. This also proves true for email and face-to-face interaction. I think I spent about three hours on the phone today talking to various people, and although I suffered through a lot of automated dialing and repetitive hold music, I got a lot accomplished. I jumped right on the flight booking (see my last post for details on the site I found for cheap flights). Fortunately, the cheap flights were still available – but when I punched in all my information to complete the booking, it turned out the website didn’t recognize my Canadian address. I called the 1-800 number and talked to a wonderful, friendly agent for a good 20 minutes. She explained that the ticket I was about to purchase, while cheap, wouldn’t be a good one to use if I need to change my booking because the fees would be high, and on top of that I’d need to pay the flight difference – which would likely be considerable. Instead, she found me a return ticket from Miami and a one-way from Detroit. Although the upfront cost is almost $500 more than the supercheap ticket, I’ll be able to change my ticket for only $50 at a later date. On top of everything, this is still considerably under the budget I’d set for myself, so I’ll have some money set aside for coming home at Christmas J.

*Sidenote: airlines only schedule flights about 320 days in advance. If you want to book a flight for later, you have to book an earlier one and then change it when you get closer to the date. I don’t know how this will affect my travel visa, but I’ll have to go with a June return date for now.

Things went a little sour when it came time to pay and my credit card wouldn’t go through. The travel agent I was speaking with said she’d call me back after I contacted the bank. We actually went back and forth about four times with me calling the bank, then the travel agency calling me, then me calling the bank again. Apparently Visa wasn’t too on the ball with lifting the hold from my account, but once again I had super friendly service and the people were very easy to talk to. I’ve never had a problem with Visa or with my bank, TD – part of the reason I can’t fully commit to an online banking conversion, much as I love ING Direct.

Anyway, I think everything has finally been straightened out. I’m now waiting for a flight itinerary and e-ticket to show up in my email inbox and I’ll be sure it’s all set!  Details to come…

Lesson 6: Make Sure All Relevant People Know You’re Going Away

I feel like I’ve been preparing to go away for a billion years (a.k.a. six months at least), and there are still things to be done! Some of these things will have to be done at the last minute, for example: informing my bank and credit card company that I’ll be out of the country. This was already a problem today when I tried to put a large purchase from an American company on my Canadian Visa. Other people I’ll have to inform will be OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan, for any non-Ontarians) and EI (Employment Insurance), which I applied for last week – hey, I’m technically laid off for the summer, might as well be collecting while I’m in the country! If I’ve missed anybody important, feel free to tell me in the comments. This is my first time leaving for such a substantial period of time, so I’ll need all the help I can get.

Lesson 7: Remember to Breathe

Talk about a no-brainer (I once heard a blonde joke about this), but it’s actually the number one rule of yoga. My mom is pretty good at reading my stress levels (I’m usually projecting it onto her anyways), and this afternoon as I left to do all my errands she said I sounded like I was pretty tightly wound. And, despite a weekend of lying on the beach, watching Harry Potter, and drinking various alcoholic beverages, the thought of one day of running around totally did stress me out. At dinner I reviewed everything I did today, and my mom asked me when, during the next year, I thought I’d start stressing about the year after my internship. Well, I sincerely hope that a year in Brazil will cure or at least treat my rampant control freakism, but that may be too much to ask. For now, I’ll just remember the mantra of my yoga studio: “If you can breathe and smile, you’re doing yoga.” At least I have newly-cleaned and sparkling teeth!

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Filed under bargain hunting, Canada, crazy like a fox, Flights, IICA internship, Life Lessons, red tape, travel documents

I like CTRL

I admit that yesterday’s post was probably a little over the top and revealed my control freak tendencies. But, it did yield results! I got responses from almost everyone I talked to yesterday, and I even found some good news regarding flights.

I woke up this morning to my first ever response from my host in Manaus, whom I had tried to email more than once before. I was pretty relieved to hear from her; after all, it’s pretty risky to head into the jungle on your own without any reassurance that there’s someone waiting on the other end to receive you! Fortunately she wrote that they (she and the school, I’d imagine) are eager to meet me. She also said that I am supposed to be going to Rio Branco, but that I’ll go to Manaus first. She said, “Do not worry about your trip will be great, you will like to know Manaus.” I wasn’t worried about Manaus, I was worried about Rio Branco! It looks like I’ll just have to go along with it, because I’m not getting a straight answer. I’m still working on relaxing my control freak ways, and I think Brazil will pretty much squash them out of me with its laissez-faire attitude.

A little bit later, I got a response from my college professor. I’d had this nagging feeling ever since I’d sent her the email that she wouldn’t want to do it, or wouldn’t be able to. After all, it’s summer vacation; what if she was away? She’s Greek; what if she’d gone to Greece for the summer? But as it turns out, she’s in Toronto, and has no problem signing my paperwork! I actually did a little dance. I had thought this would be my biggest hurdle, but it’s thankfully not an issue. Now all I need is my criminal record check, and I can take my paperwork to Toronto for the last set of signatures, and on to the Consulate. Apparently I have a better chance of expediting the visa process if I bring it there in person, which means I could actually be flying out in late July or early August.

Which brings me to the last bit of good news: I found the cheapest flight ever! I’ve been tracking flight prices for the last six months or so pretty religiously, and with the research in mind had estimated around $1600-$2000 for a return airfare. Then, last night I found an article in the Globe and Mail’s finance section that gave tips on getting cheap flights. It recommended a few sites that give out up-to-date promo codes. While perusing these sites, I came across an online travel booking service I’d never heard of before, STA Travel. Intrigued, I looked them up.

As it turns out, they’re a travel agency geared towards students, under 26es, and teachers – perfect for me. I plugged in some estimated travel dates and locations, and was astonished to see a quote literally half of some of the better deals I’d seen before, return, and taxes and fees included! I called this afternoon to make sure they are legit, and to ask if it would be possible to change the return flight because I’d be booking it so far in advance. They definitely checked out, and even if I have to pay some hefty fees for rebooking (like $300), the total cost would still come in well under budget.

Now, to get my affairs completely in order so I can book this awesome deal! I’m thinking I’ll wait and see what happens tomorrow regarding the criminal record check. If it’s ready for pickup between now and Monday, I can get to Toronto without problems and get the visa going, which means I could probably pre-emptively book my flight! Woo, it looks like this crazy adventure may actually happen after all!

Finally, this image should have appeared at the head of yesterday’s post:

*Note: The term "order" should only be applied to me insofar as I organize my life; it should in no way be associated with my daily lifestyle, which is more appropriately termed "chaos."

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Filed under Brazil, crazy like a fox, IICA internship, mail, overcoming fear, red tape