Relocating to Foreign Lands with the Family: A Practical Guide 2

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Welcome back to the series of Relocating to Foreign Lands with the Family: A Practical Guide and today we are on the second of the series. Last time, my focus was on preparing and the paperwork involved until one gets a visa and work permit or any other form of authorization that is needed. Then I promised that the next step was on what is needed as one settles in the foreign lands, but someone wrote to me and said what about what is involved in the actual travelling? My assumption was that that one is simple and straightforward but the person challenged me and said my assumption was wrong because some will be their first time to travel abroad. I accepted the criticism and reorganized my series and today I am focussing on what is involved on the travelling date till one arrives in the foreign lands. Now you have all the required documents and ready to go and this is my practical advice.  

Running out of fuel

  1. Be at the airport for check-in on time.  

Check-in for international flights is normally three hours and two hours for regional flights. The biggest temptation especially with afternoon and evening flights is to have tight schedule in the morning then rush to the airport in the eleventh minute. I must confess that on many occasions I tried to clear off any commitments in the final day of travel but without success. For example, on this very last trip, I had to wake up in the morning and drive to Goromonzi and that is almost 40km from Harare city, collect my Covid test results in the midday, drop off my office keys and shave my head. All this was in the final day of travelling and by the time I finished all these activities, I was already tired and running behind time for travelling to airport. The danger with that is that; you end up speeding to the airport and that is not safe. I witnessed a number of fatal accidents that killed people as they were rushing to the airport. The moment you realize that you are behind time, you panic and begin to drive recklessly without observing road rules. Some years back when speed traps were still in use in Harare, airport road was a cash cow for the police. Secondly, you need to reserve time for unforeseen events associated with any travelling by road. The fun thing that happened to us as we were going to the airport the car ran out of fuel while the fuel gauge was indicating that the tank is half full. We did not know that the car fuel gauge was no longer working. Fortunately we had two cars and at the same time we were closer to the petrol station. So the people in the other car have to rush to the petrol station to look for fuel. Just imagine if we were late and with only one car, what was going happen? One cannot rule out the possibilities of mechanical failures in such instances hence it is wise to create enough time by leaving earlier.

Robert Mugabe International Airport

Family members at Airport

2. Get Ready for Surprises at the Airport.

Fun things sometimes happen at the airport as you check-in and you should be ready for that. Therefore, your shock absorbers should be ready. Six years ago when I travelled to United States with my colleagues for studies, we encountered a surprise that led to the cancellation of our trip on that day. The travel agent had purchased tickets for us with multiple connections which involved connecting from Germany and Belgium before flying to Chicago. However, what we did not know was that for such connections one should have a schengen visa. That information was only revealed to us at the airport and it was too late to change the tickets. We had to miss our flight and go back to the travel agent’s office for new tickets. Fortunately everything went on smoothly and the following day we were onboard South African Airlines on our way to United States. This year we had another surprise as well. At the check-in counter we were then told that Spain is not receiving any travellers from outside Europe till 31st May due to Covid 19. That was another big surprise and a contradiction as well. I had to ask the lady who was serving us; how can you say Spain is not accepting travellers when we are holding visas from the Spanish embassy that were issued two days ago? On top of the visa was an instruction to travel within seven days of issuing the visa. There I had to stand my ground and she then consulted her supervisors who later authorized the processing of our trip.  The second surprise, we can’t let you in without completing the SpTH forms. The embassy had advised us that the form should be completed just before entry into Spain not before leaving Zimbabwe. We could not complete the forms earlier because we had to get our ticket with all the flight details needed for completing the forms on the very day of travelling and it was too late to complete them. The plan was to complete the forms while onboard when there is enough time and a relaxed environment. Again I had to stand my ground and that is the beauty of having experience. They later processed our boarding and we were the last people to be checked-in.   

Zimbabwe’s longest brand pen

3.  Carry a pen/fully charged cell phone and a charger

These appear to be obvious and straightforward but I have seen some people most of the time asking for a pen to three to five people without getting it. It is even difficult for someone to borrow you a pen in these days of Covid 19 pandemic. There are times when we are required to complete certain immigration papers before landing and just imagine completing five sets of papers for the whole family. Yes we are in a world of technology but there is nothing that replaces a pen when it comes to writing. It is just like a whistle in soccer. To avoid the embarrassment of borrowing a pen to five or six people before being given , just carry your pen with you. It reminds me of a certain experience at Bole International airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I was busy completing my forms and one guy came to me and greeted me in Shona-Ndeipi (Hie) and I was surprised. How did this person know that I am from Zimbabwe and before replying, he said, I saw the Eversharp pen and I knew that you are from Zimbabwe. The guy was travelling from China to Harare. Don’t forget to carry your pen. A fully charged phone helps you with communicating with the people you are leaving behind and those who are expecting you. I normally put my phone on roaming while in the departure lounge to enable me to call back home soon after arrival and to call those who are expecting me soon after landing. Unfortunately this time around I failed to do so because I did not have enough time in the departure lounge as I was trying to complete StPH forms.

4. Have the full address and contact details of your destination          

Make sure that you have the full address of where you are going as well as the contact details of the contact person. Again you might face some surprises on your arrival. I have experiences in the past of surprises on arrival at my destination. In 2012, I travelled to Abuja from Harare for an interfaith youth conference in Jos where I was also one of the key speakers. Arrangements were made for someone to pick me at the airport but guess what? She came late almost an hour after my arrival. She had experienced some challenges with traffic congestion. I called the organizer who assured me that someone was on the way to pick me up and the only thing I needed to do was to stay calm in arrival lounge until she arrives. This happened again to me three years ago in Abuja as well. This year the church’s organising committee for our travel had made all arrangements for our arrival. They had hired a bigger taxi for the whole family and luggage but, guess what? The taxi guys have wrongly captured the arrival dates; they thought we were arriving on Sunday instead of Saturday. So they were not on the scene to receive us. Fortunately, Shirley who is one of the churchwardens had come to see us being picked up. After more than ten minutes she realized that no one was coming to pick us and she had to call the taxi company. They came almost thirty minutes later. This happens when travelling and one should have plan B for such situation. This is where the contacts of the persons on the ground are important. If the situation becomes worse one can simply hire a taxi and provide the address of the destination to the taxi driver. Please don’t leave things to chance be thorough because this is a foreign land where you don’t probably know anyone.  This means you have to carry some money with you especially when you are coming from countries where their bank cards are not accepted in other countries.


5. Carry a book to Read or load a playlist of music of your choice

Long flights are sometimes stressful and you need something to entertain you. Personally, I enjoy reading while travelling especially non-academic books. This is because putting earphones for a long time affect my ears. So, I therefore spend much of my trip reading and taking a nap. Again sometimes the playlists of music in the plane are not of your choice and the journey becomes more and more stressful. Load the music of your choice to make the journey easier for yourself. This applies to movies and unfortunately I am not a movie person as well. But for those who like movies can also load movies of their choice in the phone or any other electrical gadget of your choice.

6. Other Small Things

Remember that you are travelling with children and therefore do not forget to buy some snacks for them in the duty free shop. They may not like the meals in the plane and those snacks will help them. They are also important in keeping them occupied when they are tired of the journey. Carry some mints for your mouth because the journey is too long. Have you ever had an experience of sitting next to someone with a bad mouth smell? Fortunately, in other planes you are given a tooth brush and toothpaste. These are my practical advices on travelling with the family. In the next article, I will focus on first impressions on your arrival.  

Arrival photo courtesy of Shirley Roberts

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