As anticipated, when I arrived in Vancouver there were a million and one things to think about, organise and sort out, which wasn’t quite the paradise that you might imagine the geek in me to jump at. The epic to-do list that I worked my way through before I left was suddenly on the increase again, so on my first full day in Canada I decided to start with a task that was small, manageable and didn’t involve a bank account or social insurance number – I got my very own Canadian mobile number.
There are a lot of mobile phone providers in Canada (way more than the UK), but a lot of these are smaller networks that run through the few national providers e.g. Chatr use Rogers. They all offer similar deals and I decided to go with Fido (owned by Rogers) as they came recommended by other BUNACers. I always thought that North America were more advanced than the UK when it came to technology, but with mobile phones I could not be more wrong.
In Canada you pay for everything. I mean everything. I signed up for a SIM only contract so I could use my unlocked and Canada compatible UK handset, which is just as well as the most basic cell phones (think pre-Snake) cost $50 and up over here. I paid $10 for my SIM card, with a $35 activation fee. I signed up for the $35 a month plan which includes unlimited worldwide text messages (useful), free evening and weekend local calls, and 350 weekday minutes. These minutes cover not only calls you make, but calls you receive as well (crazy), and only for local calls (in the Greater Vancouver area). For my first month I get free caller display and free voicemail, but after that this ‘value package’ will be added to my overall plan at an extra $10 a month. If you have an iPhone and want to actually use it, add another $25 for 500MB of data.
As you’ll be aware from reading my previous posts, my boyfriend and I travelled to Vancouver on a BUNAC group flight. This means that we booked our seat with BUNAC rather than directly with Air Canada (BUNAC always use Air Canada flights) who sorted out the paperwork for us and met us at Heathrow to give us our documents and make sure we checked in OK. At the other end a SWAP (BUNAC’s North American counterpart) rep met us at Vancouver airport, loaded us all onto a bus and took us to our hostel (one night’s accommodation was included in the package). We also received a t-shirt and a phone card, and we’re able to change our return date for approximately £35 (essential if you want to stay for a year as you can only book a return date 11 months from when you book your flight).
The best thing about the group flight is that it’s a great way to meet other people who are travelling to the same place as you on the same visa, with similar work/travel plans. There were 38 of us on our group flight, and meeting for a drink in the airport bar helped calm the nerves (and not just because of the alcohol) – we soon realised that we were all as terrified as each other. We’d already set up a Facebook group for everyone on the flight, and stalkerish pointing and shouting ‘I recognise you!’ definitely broke the ice. As you know I’d already sorted a place to live, but it proved a great way of getting to know potential housemates and the majority of the others on the flight are now living with each other.
The pain of packing one’s worldly possessions into a suitcase was so much that I’m only just bringing myself to write this post five days after the incident took place…and I’m still suffering post-traumatic stress even thinking about it. Monday 10th January 2011 was one of the most stressful I have ever known, made all the more difficult by the realisation that all my things were just not going to fit.
My first attempt at packing had my suitcase at 28.5kg (my limit was 23kg) and my little ‘shoes’ holdall at 10kg. At that point, all of the clothes in the ‘maybe’ pile had to go, unfortunately along with most of the ‘can’t live without’ pile too. My second attempt was better, with my suitcase weighing in at 22.5kg, however the holdall wouldn’t even do up with less than half my remaining belongings. As a result, my Mum was dispatched to collect a newer, bigger holdall from Argos to fill (and I mean fill) with what was left. My third and final attempt at packing left my suitcase at 22kg, and my new Puma holdall at 18kg, with my hand luggage consisting of a backpack and a laptop satchel.
Backpack – Book, guide book, scarf, gloves, slippers, ear warmer, tissues, flu tablets, throat sweets, bottle of water, deodorant, make up bag, glasses, contact lens case, plasters, purse, passport, immigration documents, padlocks, Vaseline, iPod, diary, pen
Satchel – laptop, laptop charger, money, jewellery, magazines
Suitcase – Coat, salopettes, handbags x 2, hoodie x 2, hooded jacket, jeans x 2, denim skirt, smart trousers x 2, smart tops x 3, dresses x 6, tops x 10, leggings x 6, tights x 2, underwear
Holdall – Snow boots, Trainers x2, heels x2, ballet pumps x 2, work shoes, heeled boots, wash bag, wash bag with hair bits, wash bag with make-up bits, phone charger, camera bits, scarves, hat, ski gloves, good luck/goodbye cards, framed photo
This time in 4 days I’ll be beginning my descent into Vancouver International Airport, which is for some reason abbreviated to YVR. It’s getting pretty close now, and the final countdown has well and truly begun this week with the release of the contact details of other BUNAC participants booked onto the group flight. It just so happens that I’m running low on reading material for the plane, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to matter as there will be 37 other people to talk to!
I was expecting 10-15 others to have booked onto the flight through BUNAC, but it’s great to see that there’ll be even more of us turning up to the airport decked out in ski jackets, bulky hoodies and a million and one layers dragging the world’s biggest suitcases and weeping relatives (just me?). What’s even better is chatting to everyone and realising that I’m not the only one who hasn’t quite finalised my CV, told my bank I’m leaving the country, or chosen how many pairs of shoes to take with me.
Whilst I have noticed that I’m sleeping less and grinding my teeth more (classic anxious Lizzie) I’m also thinking about what to wear to the airport and planning my first few days in the city (classic excited Lizzie). The more I worry the more I realise that there are dozens of things I haven’t done that I could have, or even should have, but the more I also recognise that none of these things are likely to really make a difference in the long run.
Anyone who knows me (and anyone who doesn’t but has been reading this blog) will know that I like to plan. I’m not a total Monica Gellar, but part of me definitely subscribes to the notion of ‘organised fun’. As a result, most of my anxiety stems from the fact that in 4 days time I’m going to be in a brand new situation that I cannot possibly imagine let alone plan for; in essence, there is no plan! It’s not that I’m not prone to moments of spontaneity (I have a list as long as my entire body of items I purchased on a whim but never used, and it includes a violin and CDJ decks) but I do like to know what’s happening next, so jetting off to live in another country with no job is going to be a scary but liberating experience.
I’m jumping head first into a scenario where I won’t know what the coins in my purse are worth, how to turn my mobile phone Canadian or where to get the bus to the mountains, but the thought of living without any trace of a plan is strangely refreshing. And if it all goes wrong, at least I’m in good company…