I've been thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins a lot this morning as I prepare the groundwork for preparing the groundwork to leave the country for a year. I am specifically thinking of that line from one of his Terrible Sonnets in which, overcome by yet another spiritual crisis, Hopkins ends up gnashing his teeth at the heavens while wailing something like 'I wretch lay wrestling with/ (my God!) my God.' Which pretty much sums up how I've been feeling these days about getting my life organized enough to travel.
Because, (my God!) MY GOD there is a lot to do. If you are planning to leave the country for a year, you have to check and make sure things like passports and driver's licenses haven't expired (Guess what? Both have!), that your bank won't screw you with foreign exchange commissions and ATM fees (Guess what? It will!), that you don't need visas for everywhere you want to be (Guess what? Even France needs one if you stay there for over 3 months!), your airline tickets booked (Guess what? Those frequent flyer miles are useless due to blackout dates!), that your health record is fairly clean and you're up to date on your shots (Guess what? The doctor LOST that record!), that maybe you should get your Pap smear and mammos done to make sure you aren't dozing happily on a nude beach somewhere while little rivulets of cancer are silently trickling through your body (Guess what? The doctor also lost those test results too so now you have to take them over!), that your computer has skype so you can do all those pesky dissertation committees from abroad (Guess what? Your computer, possibly out of spiritual sympathy, broke down!) and that maybe you need to get your house rented and thus your closets emptied and organized and your dogs newly housed and your vet stuff sent to the new vet and your phone situation re-thought and your job notified and your life, essentially, entirely, utterly, exhaustively redone.
Guess what? I just drank all the scotch in my cabinet!
So I'm trying--in between belting out stress arias at my beloved and my pets and even my mirror reflection at odd hours of the day--to look at the upside of all of this. I've come up with four upsides:
1. I really needed to go through my closets.
2. Turns out I was getting HOSED by bank fees: I just never noticed it.
3. I will be so used to having my feet in stirrups and getting shot full of dormant viruses that, should any actual emergency take place, such annoyances will cease to frighten me.
4. At the end of this, I'm going to eat a bunch of snails in France.
In the meantime, however, I would like to find the nearest customer service representative for Delta Airlines and THUMP HIM.
For those of you contemplating a year abroad, let me offer the following bits of advice:
1. Get a Capitol One Venture Card. A friend whose spouse has been living in Rome this past year let me know about Capitol One, and this card is the best deal going. For those of you in the market for a new checking and savings account, they also offer a very sweet interest rate and no foreign exchange fees or ATM fees on their debit cards either. Win win.
1.5 To find out how your existing card and bank stack up, check out www.nerdwallet.com and it's blog on foreign transaction fees.
2. Delta Airlines is the devil's airline. To think you can fly internationally using your hundreds of thousands of frequent flier miles is, evidently, tantamount to imagining yourself as the next vessel (or victim?) of the Immaculate Conception. Evidently, this little miracle happened to someone, somewhere, and no matter how widely reported this tale continues to be, it sure as hell won't be happening to YOU. Those thousands upon thousands of air miles? They get you one free checked bag and an extra packet of peanuts.
3. Air Treks, however, is awesome! For you world travelers, check those folks out. What I learned? It is cheaper to fly halfway around the world on a leg-to-leg route now than it would be to fly RT to Europe. Or it is, at the very least, comparable. This is not the year to travel RT anywhere. It is, however, the year to wander in a (somewhat) direct line until you somehow end up in your driveway. Wanna go to Italy? I recommend you just keep going East.
4. Tax fiends: if you get paid to live for a year outside the country, this is tax-free money. That is, if you stay for the WHOLE YEAR. If you come back a week early, all bets are off. This is hard--nay, I say, (my God. MY GOD!) impossible for many. The good news is this: everything you eat, wear, sing to, sit on, snort up, and visually take in is tax deductible. You just have to keep a lot of receipts. Oy!
4.5 On top of that, the post-Lowellians I've started to talking to about their tax situations have all indicated that, in terms of taxes, the year's a wash: nothing usually gets owed because, in the end, the money doesn't go so far. Gulp.
5. Get rich and HIRE SOMEONE to do all this stuff for you.
Kathy Graber, who had the Lowell two years back, informed me that I-Tunes Europe doesn't exist or something, thus I should download everything onto my nice new I-Pad, (which I've named Ling Ling) NOW before I go. And I plan to. Only I can't get Ling Ling to turn on. Because (deep breath. My God. MY GOD.) my current Apple Product (very very old and itself recovering from recent nervous breakdown) doesn't have the rightly recent software to run the rightly recent version of I-Tunes to EVEN RECOGNIZE THAT LING LING EXISTS.
My God. MY GOD.
Must buy more scotch. Must find Apple customer service rep.
Must thump him.