September Blogroll: Globetrotting Nerd Edition

Dear readers:

I write this blogroll well in advance, as by the time you see this, I will be in the throes of the most wonderful jet-lag—having bounced from Montréal to London to Oregon in a very short span, landing smack dab in the first week of classes. As this post then suggests, planning ahead has always been my secret weapon to travelling for academic purposes. This has become true both to ensure I can be genuinely productive while travelling, as well as budget-conscious. I am fortunate to be at an institution that offers some reimbursement for academic travel, but as we all know, that rarely covers all you’ll need. While I may draft future posts with greater detail on some of the specific topics that follow, for this I’ll discuss three broad categories:

  1. how to schedule travel efficiently,
  2. how to manage technology necessities, and
  3. what you actually need to bring on academic travel.

How to schedule travel efficiently

In this aspect, I take a kind of perverse pleasure. It reminds me that being a personal secretary or event planner would have also made for fulfilling careers. First, once you have dates nailed down, you need airline tickets (usually). If the conference is in a nearby state, I highly recommend Amtrak, Bolt, or Megabus. These are much more cost effective, less stressful when it comes to security, and you make a great return on frequent traveler points. A few summers back, I covered my round-trip travel to three conferences with Amtrak points, including from Illinois to Austin and back. But, if you must fly, you must fly. For international travel, if you can schedule a year in advance, that will be the absolute cheapest deal, for the airfare and the fees. For domestic, assume three months in advance, or use the Hopper app to track price fluctuations.

When scheduling your flights, use a scheduling site like Priceline and the same credit card for all of these purchases. I have a credit card (Alaska Air), dedicated just for academic traveler and costs that could be reimbursed. The trick is to always only use the dedicated card to get and make the most of their points programs for free future travel. That, and then be willing to figure out their system for reimbursing points. These are never simple, but they do make good. When making choices about what service to use, also consider how usable their phone apps are. So many airports are migrating to mobile ticketing, so it is worth knowing who is up-to-snuff.

The same goes for however you choose to schedule your hotel: whichever medium you use, do it every time. I like because they have an intuitive and simple rewards program that is the easiest I have ever found for you to reimburse. It is like they actually want you to have free hotel nights. I do admit that I alternate between this and AirBnB because, night-for-night, the later is more often the cheaper and more accessible to rail or transit lines (which I will discuss in a moment). Again, the earlier you can schedule your travel and accommodations, the more likely you will be able to use points for them.

The other two things to plan in advance are transit and theatre (or other event) tickets. Cabs are the fastest way in spend all of your travel stipend. Figure out the conference city’s transit map and payment system, and commit to using it. In fact, I often make my lodging reservations based on the ease of access to a metro line. Then I am not obligated to reserving a room near the conference venue, which immediately makes things most more affordable and the stay usually much more interesting. There is also nothing worse than arriving and realizing a show you didn’t realize was playing in that city—and must see—is sold out. Now London, New York, and Chicago are exceptions due to the actual market for discount and exchange ticket businesses. Otherwise, when you are making your dinner plans with colleagues, consider ticket plans. Week nights are always cheaper, so plan to eat out with friends on the weekends.

How to manage technology needs

Oh man and is it ever a need! I actually write really well when I am travelling. For some reason, I am most productive when I think I am “killing time.” In fact, I wrote the entire first draft of the introduction of my dissertation on that Amtrak trip to Texas I mentioned. The temptation is to take more bric-a-brac than you actually will use. With a finicky back, I am always looking for ways to lighten my carry-ons. (I always check my bag. Again, Alaska is great because with the card, the first bag is always free.) Have a moment with yourself about what technology you are actually going to use.

Phone and/as camera

We are blessedly now in an age where you don’t have to get a new phone or a new SIM card in order to use a mobile phone in another country. Call or go online to your phone company about a month in advance of your travel and sign-up for a global package. AT&T offers a daily ($10) and monthly ($40-60) rate depending on the country and your data needs. Don’t wait until you get there and rack up a day or two of overages.

Make your phone do some real heavy-lifting when it comes to recording your trip, including visits to archives. Skip the travel notebook and fancy camera, and use your phone as an all-digital recorder. Consider investing in a photo editing app, like Snapseed, to edit and label as you go. Likewise, for your music needs, get a Spotify subscription (if you don’t already have one) and download your best writing tunes for easy access while on the plane. While this is primarily a streaming service, you can download tracks in-app so you don’t have to constantly be using data. This is also a great trick for road trips when you get in those dead-zones. In-ear noise-cancelling earbuds usefully double for tunes or as sleep aides.

Tablet and/as laptop

This is the big question: to laptop, or not to laptop? Again, with my back, I try to find all the ways to avoid carrying my MacBook, despite how small these have become. A couple years ago, I did a month and a half in Europe with just my iPad and a bluetooth keyboard. Using Dropbox and other cloud services, I could easily get online to grade papers, submit final grades, and reference the documents I needed for writing projects. I’m another iPad up in the generation chain now, and so decided to invest in a new keyboard as I look forward to another month overseas. While a bit pricey, Logitech’s ultrathin magnetic bluetooth keyboard has been my favorite and I recently reinvested. It protects the iPad, doesn’t glitch, and holds the screen at an angle that works best for my posture.

This is all to say that with the right planning, you need not bring the entire laptop with you. Make a schedule a month in advance of your travel to streamline your files, prioritizing gathering reading and research, so you can simply focus on writing while travelling. That way you also do not carry books or other paper reading material with you. That will also immediately take up impractical space and add weight that is difficult to manage. Use Dropbox and/or your institutional cloud service (i.e., Box, OneDrive, etc.) to organize and make sure all of your materials will be within easy reach. Then, you can take your writing with you in a small purse or messenger everywhere.

It likely goes without saying, but, make sure you have all the charging cables you will need for what you do decide to bring. Make sure you also have the right converters for the outlets in the countries you’ll be in. If it is a particularly long haul, you may want to prioritize an airline with known under-seat chargers or invest in a phone case that also holds a separate charge. That, or challenge yourself to actually turn your phone off when you get on the plane rather than merely Airplane Mode.

What you actually need to bring

There are some necessaries that you absolutely must bring with you and likely go without saying. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t include:

  • Passport or other travel documents. While passport wallets are fashionable, I actually like an everyday wallet that can accommodate a passport when necessary. While Rogue Wallet bills this as a passport case, it really does work just fine as a light-weight every-day wallet, too. The RFID protection is a nice bonus.
  • Travel guidebook for the country you are headed to. This may actually be an unnecessary, but having one in advance motivates you to read-up on the tipping practices and cultural norms of where you are headed. I prefer Lonely Planet. They also make a nice row on a bookshelf.
  • Starter currency for your destined country. Give your bank at least a week leeway to get the amount you need. This will likely also be your best rate (or least fee) as opposed to a currency exchange.
  • Credit and debit cards that are FTF (Foreign Transaction Fee) free. If you don’t already have one, transfer your balance to one right away. Like cabs, this is the other killer to your travel budget, and one that is very difficult to track while you a travelling. Do not pack any cards that do have this fee to avoid accidental costs.

And while we are talking finances, call or file online with your bank a notice that our will be travelling, when and where. That way, they don’t automatically shut down your accounts thinking it fraud. Most banks have a system in place to register this online. The other thing to do is to get registered TSA Pre. I only just started with this, and it is as if you have travelled back to the 1990s. Security is far more straight-forward and less stressful, well worth the in-person appointment and $80 fee (which you can frequently get reimbursed by your institution). Do note that this registration is good for five years and you will then have to renew.

The technology recommendations will ideally lighten your load a bit. As experienced travelers will tell you, you can easily do a month of professional business wear in one suitcase. Yup, even with a hair dryer! While I won’t go in to specific clothes (there are plenty of websites that have packing lists by continent and region), I do have a favorite luggage set that has served me well. It is also the only thing I have ever bought from the Home Shopping Network (HSN). Samantha Brown’s luggage has fit in every travel compartment. Here are the pieces I have and actually travel with, all in Burgundy:

And finally, a list of some of the smaller travel things I do require. Note that there are no fussy book stands or spill-proof water bottles. (For the later, train yourself to stop at every fountain and hydrate at every opportunity the steward gives you.) Fair warning, this is a very gender-specific list, and necessarily so.

  • A neck pillow. A basic one from Target will do just as well as anything from Brookstone and likely will be more washable.
  • A blazer. I know I said no clothes recommendations, but a blazer in white or black will dress up every outfit and double for warmth on unexpectedly cool days. Also handy when you realize the Vatican is still not cool with sleeveless.
  • Face scrub. Travel is hardest on the pores.
  • Make-up remover wipes (individually packaged). Again, travel is hard on the skin.
  • Wrinkle release spray and lint roller.
  • The world’s littlest, best razor and refills.
  • Mini-sized loofa.
  • Travel-sized tampons.
  • Pain reliever and non-habit forming sleep aide. (I like to carry mine in a used Altoids tin.)
  • Your usual make-up regimen and products (ideally easily accessible from a grocery so as to be quickly replaced as needed). This is especially true when travelling for business, as you don’t want that cheaper travel mascara running in ways you didn’t anticipate and don’t have the time to figure out.
  • Go with a flexible roll-up cosmetic bag rather than something boxy or chunky to save space in your luggage and prevent spilling.

Hopefully this list is useful in helping you to make decisions about what you actually need when travelling for research, and what is best kept for the fun vacations. There are many other excellent bloggers on the topic, including Dr. Kelsky’s post on dress for the campus visit/job interview. I would be interested to know what other sites you find useful.

Until then, safe travels!

View of the capitol from outside the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., February 2017.

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