How to Have a Happy, Productive Travel Season

Jun 23, 2016 | Publications

This article was originally published at Ideas on Fire on June 23, 2016.

Academics travel quite a bit. We travel for conferences, archival research, ethnographic interviews and fieldwork, lectures we give, summer institutes, and job talks—not to mention the travel we do for family or personal reasons. Travel interrupts our usual routines, as we don’t have the same access to our regular resources and schedules. So how can we get the most out of our travel?

Schedule It

Whenever possible, set your project deadlines for before you travel. For example, if you have a Friday deadline to get an article to a journal editor but you know you are getting on a plane Thursday morning, list the deadline in your calendar and project management system for that Wednesday. Get it done ahead of time so you don’t have to count on having time during your trip. All kinds of unanticipated things happen while traveling, but if you finish the task before you set off, you’re all set to actually enjoy your trip.

Look 8-12 months ahead. If you belong to several academic associations, put the conference dates in your calendar as soon as the dates are released. Some associations even make these dates available multiple years in advance. Put them in your calendar now so you can schedule the rest of your life around them, and aren’t surprised later.

Prep Offline Activities

Internet access while traveling is often iffy, either because of your transportation or lodging situation. Before you leave, prep material you can complete offline. This might mean downloading emails you need to respond to so you can draft your responses offline, setting up a grading spreadsheet so you can record grades (and can easily upload them when you do have Internet), downloading articles you need to reference without Zotero access, or pasting article submission/citation instructions into a Word document so you can format your article for submission.

Travel Light

Lugging heavy bags through airports and train stations sucks. Having those bags lost in transit sucks even more. Whenever possible, travel with digital versions of the materials you need (think scanned book chapters saved as pdfs and digital files of your students’ essays rather than heavy books and hard copies of student work). Your back will thank you for prepping this beforehand and making your bags lighter.

Invest in Good Tools

If you travel at least twice a year, it might be worth it to invest in good travel gear, even if it is a bit more expensive than what you’d normally buy. An awesome bag that doesn’t break your shoulders and has spots for all your stuff, a portable power outlet/USB charger that you can use in crowded airports, a Dropbox account that is big enough to back up your work, and a good set of headphones are solid investments.

Set Up Work Time

For some trips, you need to make progress on projects during your stay. For these trips, schedule work time on your calendar that fits around your other obligations. For example, on a holiday trip visiting family, maybe you set aside an hour every morning to write. Or maybe you set aside an hour in the evening during a multi-day conference to answer emails from students. Having it on your calendar as an appointment can help you remember to do it, as well as keep that work bounded to that time frame (after all, the purpose of your trip is to spend time with family or attend the conference, not stare at your laptop all day, right?).

Actually Enjoy Your Trip

Few people get as much done on the road as they do at home. That’s okay. A bit of work each day is fine. And sometimes you need to take full weeks off from work to just enjoy the reason for your travel. Be brave: unplug. The world will still be there when you return.

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