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What to Take - and Leave Behind on a Career Break

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 30 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Career Break Packing Abroad Location

Going away on a career break is an exciting time but the hassle of deciding what to take with you can be confusing and problematic. Obviously, common sense is key. Women travelling to a developing country for eight months might need to carry enough tampons and other sanitary products to last the entire trip. If you plan to teach English for two years in Belgium, however, lugging an enormous supply of Tampax with you is unnecessary.

What to take

Bare Necessities:The following are mandatory for everyone. They include: Passport, visas, travel documents, travel tickets, insurance, immunization certificates, EHIC (European Health Insurance Card, which has replaced the E111) and other insurance forms, driving licence, money, emergency numbers. Bring all birth certificates, including those of children travelling with you, and if they will be attending school abroad then copies of their school records should come along as well. You should also carry photocopies of all documents just in case, and leave a set at home with a responsible person who is easy to contact should an emergency arise.

First Aid Kit:Everyone should carry a first aid kit with them, with what to take depending on where you go. If you are travelling in western European countries, for example, expect to be able to purchase pain relievers, decongestants etc from the local chemist. Depending on region, most people will need to take the following with them: your regular medication, pain relievers, plasters, gauze bandages, cough and cold medicines, decongestants, antihistamines, anti-diarrhoea medicine, blister pads, travel sickness pills, tweezers, scissors, sticky tape, sun cream and antiseptic cream. You may also need anti-malaria medication, insect repellent and balms, mosquito netting, water purification tablets, disposable sterile needles, rehydration tablets. Condoms are also a must - they are not available everywhere, and their quality may be dubious.

Proper Clothes:Climate and customs are key. Don't take snowboarding clothes to the tropics, but by the same token, avoid wearing skimpy outfits in Muslim countries, even when temperatures are high. Be prepared for every conceivable eventuality: this means bringing a swimming costume, warm coat, light sweater, pyjamas etc. If you are planning in taking part in specific activities such as kayaking or yachting, either take the proper kit with you or check beforehand that it will be available. Comfortable walking shoes, good socks and flip-flops (even if only for use in a shared shower) will make you a lot happier.

Personal ItemsDon't forget essential items to make your life easier. They include: guide books, a camera, novels or crossword books, torch, sunglasses, sewing kit, penknife, notebook, padlock, earplugs, a decent quality money belt, all personal hygiene items (including toothpaste, toothbrush, condoms etc). Depending on where you go, you may also need things like a sleeping bag, washing powder, a washing line etc, and a backpack for day trips can be a godsend. You may also want to bring photographs of friends and family at home, not only to assuage homesickness but to let new friends know what your real life is like!

What to Leave Behind

  • Alcohol: Depending on where you go, taking alcohol with you is a no-no. Most Muslim countries don't allow alcohol, and many other countries levy tax on everything you bring in. Play it safe and leave the booze behind.
  • Illegal drugs: Don't tempt fate - it's never worth it. Most of us would never dream of taking illegal drugs into countries such as Thailand or Saudi Arabia. But don't assume that just because you're in Amsterdam you can do whatever you want. Every country has laws that should be obeyed.
  • Porn: What may seem like a relatively harmless item back at home can be a big deal in some countries. Leave it behind. Ditto for any publication - including magazines and novels - that could be construed as subversive.
  • Expensive items: That includes your Rolex and expensive diamond wedding ring. Buy a cheap but reliable travel watch instead.
  • Too much stuff: Most people are guilty of packing as much as they can, including the kitchen sink. If in doubt and you know you can purchase the same item at your destination, leave it behind. You probably won't need it.

Getting ready for a career break or sabbatical can help you get organised and mentally plan for the rest of your trip. The longer you are away, the more organised you must be. If you will be away for an extended period of time, for example, it's imperative to investigate reliable storage for your belongings, including your car, well in advance. Take time to pack and think about what you'll need and won't need. Don't rush it - having the right items with you will make your trip a whole lot smoother.

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