This is the first in a two-month series of blog posts on the time I will be spending outside of the United States. Desirée and I are on a journey to see parts of the world that I never thought I would have an opportunity to see. And, while it is a major blessing, it is one that comes along with great responsibility. As I am overseas, I will be navigating the tail end of a hiring process, maintaining my professional development business, and blogging more frequently than I have over the past month.
That’s enough about the plans though. Let’s catch you all up on this first day. I’ve spent about the past twenty-six hours on the move from Durham to London and I am currently on a two-hour train ride to Cardiff, Wales. Yesterday morning, my younger sister Aja dropped Desirée and me off at the Durham Transit Station where we caught the Megabus to Washington, D.C. In the District, we grabbed some food before heading to Dulles to catch an Icelandair flight to London, by way of Reykjavik. Of course, once we landed at Heathrow we had to go through Customs (consistently my least favorite part of international travel) and now I’m on this train ready to eat. Outside of a happy hour beer and wings special I was able to grab in D.C. and a personal pizza at IAD, I haven’t had a meal in the aforementioned 26 hours (if you want to call those meals). I’ll be diving into a plate of fish n’ chips the moment we arrive in Cardiff and set our luggage down.
In the hour since I stepped through Customs, I have noticed one thing: the English take better care of their public transit than we do, at least in the form of trains. From the Heathrow Express to the Great Western Railroad that I’m riding now, the comfort and cleanliness exceeds the standards set by any major rail system in the United States that I’ve ridden, be it Amtrak or a citywide transit rail. And, on top of comfortable seats, they have “trollies” (handcarts) of food that well dressed customer service associates push down the aisles offering snacks. I feel like I’m one of the three black kids on the Hogwarts Express right now, as I enjoy my crisps (look up the lingo). Since they took notes from our democracy, maybe we could borrow a few from their transportation experts. Just a thought…
*Fast forward a few hours*
OK, now that I’ve eaten, I can go ahead and write about what I didn’t feel like pulling together on an empty stomach: communicating overseas. I have a few tips and, while I’m no certified expert, I’ve done this enough to know what has worked for me and will likely work for most American travelers.
1) Not to come off as elitist but, if you’re traveling internationally frequently, I strongly suggest investing in an iPhone. Under most circumstances, I wouldn’t consider an iPhone an investment and, in a traditional sense, it never will be because it doesn’t appreciate but, when it comes to traveling, it’s a cost-effective way to stay in touch with others. Yes, I know that the sticker shock associated with iPhones is a real thing but you don’t need the newest edition to take advantage of the international benefits that come along with an iPhone. Because Desirée and I won’t have a consistent income while overseas, we needed to cut as many expenses as possible and one of those expenses was our phone bill while we were away. What’s cool is, between iMessage, FaceTime (video or audio), and What’s App, I can call or text everyone in my phone as long as I have a WiFi connection (another cool thing about transit here: there is a connection not only in each airport and train station but on the trains). So, though I’m not paying Verizon for these two months, I am still able to check in with friends and family in a way that doesn’t involve Facebook.
2) Social media is an awesome way to stay in touch. Though I’m on Facebook a lot less than I used to be, I still have strong presences on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Social media serves a couple purposes for me: a) It allows me to maintain my brand and brand awareness while away and b) it lets me let people know I’m both alive and well without having to regularly reach out to those who know I’m away. All in all, it’s an easy way of maintaining an engaged community of followers.
3) E-mail is a must for me because communication is not a one way street. While Stateside, I have a few publications, such as the New York Times, and newsletters, such as Morning Brew and Blavity News, that I subscribe to. Not reading these is simply not an option for me, as a young professional who other young professionals come to for paid advice. Additionally, I have clients with whom I still must work. This afternoon (morning EST), I received an e-mail from one young lady who recently earned her master’s degree and needs work done on her résumé. Though I’m not overseas to work too much, I have people who rely on me to help them succeed and, because I care about the successes of those I work with, I’m glad to correspond via e-mail until she has dynamic document that allows her to take the next step in her career.
Those are the good things about e-mail. The terrible side of it is when you get behind in checking it. While I haven’t go through and cleaned it up yet today, I know I’ve gotten an ungodly number of e-mails over the past thirty hours. Now, imagine those days when I don’t check it. Most people I know have gotten the inevitable point of e-mail fatigue where they just stop checking for a couple days or even a week. Finally facing that e-mail inbox, overflowing with newsletters, advertisements, and actual important communication is a challenge to say the least. My goal, while here, is to try to avoid that from getting out of hadn’t and missing no more than two days in a row.
4) You cannot go wrong with good old fashioned snail mail. I’ve got family members who have never left North Carolina. I’ve got friends who cannot legally leave North Carolina. I know some people who just don’t know how to make it fit into their lives. But, to all of these people, my postcard or letter will serve as a peek at a part of the world they may never see. I am my grandma’s eyes over here. I am my incarcerated homeboy’s international experience. The postcards I send out are pictures of a world I had only seen on television before this moment but they are reminders that, if I’m here, they can make it too if they want. Or, if they can’t, it’s letting them know that I wish I could bring them with me.
Communication is key to the human experience and, while here, I will communicate with those I care about, either through direct means or more general ones. Make sure that, when you decide to make the trek across the pond, you have a plan on how to communicate (and let those who you plan on communicating with know the plan).
Make exploring the world a priority.