Update: See the improved version 2.0 of this post here.
Most researchers travel a lot, and I’m no exception. Recently, I’ve been collecting tips to optimize my travel. Nothing incredibly insightful, but the gradual accumulation of small but consistently applied habits has made a big difference to my travel. I thought I’d post them here as a way of forcing myself to systematize them, in the hope of providing something useful to other people, and in the hope of hearing some other tips in comments!
Buy at least one large or extra battery to enable longer laptop use on the plane.
Buy a collection of travel adaptors which will enable you to plug in anywhere.
Put together a travel drawer at home. This contains foreign money collected on earlier trips (one envelope per currency), my passport, travel adaptors so I can plug in my laptop elsewhere, remote mouse for presentations, the checklists mentioned below, and any other specialized equipment – it’s handy to buy miniature versions of various things (toothpaste, laptop adaptor, and so on), in order to minimize luggage.
Try out some different types of earplugs, and when you’ve found some you like, buy a large supply of high quality earplugs. I find these extremely helpful for sleeping on planes. (Some people like noise-cancelling headphones. I find them okay, but prefer earplugs.)
Join the Qantas club or equivalent. This provides access to Qantas and partner lounges all over the world. Most significantly, this means access to showers and good quality chairs while connecting, as well as faster checkin. It’s usually not possible, but some lounges will have a massage service, which I find helps significantly with recovery at the end of the flight.
Construct a list of standard routes and flight times that work best for you, and request those. To be effective, you need to either memorize the list, or file it in a location very easily accessible (< 30 second) from where you make travel bookings.
My preferred seats are forward in the plane, on the right hand side (get off faster), window seat (people don’t climb over you when you’re asleep), exit row or bulkhead.
Having exit row or bulkhead seats is particularly important, as most aeroplane seats are sufficiently small that it’s very difficult to use a laptop onboard unless you’re in an exit or bulkhead (or business). The exception seems to be American Airlines, who have extra legroom.
Frequent flyers can set up seating preferences which are then applied automatically to every trip.
Preparing for the trip
Create a checklist for choosing a hotel. Here’s mine:
- Is the hotel near the conference venue?
- Is there a supermarket nearby, so one can purchase good food to eat during the day?
- Are there kitchen facilities in the hotel rooms?
- Do the hotel rooms have high quality internet access?
- Do the hotel rooms have a restaurant on premises?
- Do the hotel rooms have a laundry service?
- Do the hotel rooms have heating and cooling?
For beating jetlag, I find one of the most important things is to be relaxed. A corollary is that if I’m to speak publicly on a trip, I prefer to speak as early as possible. No matter how well prepared I am, I find anticipation of a public talk creates a little nervous tension. It’s best to get it out of the way, so I can relax. I haven’t done it yet, but in future when speaking at a conference where I expect a lot of jetlag, I plan to ask the organizers if they’d mind scheduling my talk for early on.
Have a checklist. For me this is: passport, tickets, do a ticket check (am I going at the right time?), laptop, pda, keys, remote mouse, a generous supply of clothing (I usually find I need more changes than I think – something always gets spilled, or ripped, or whatever), toiletries.
Make sure you can carry all luggage onboard, especially on long flights. It makes it less likely that you’ll miss connections, you won’t lose your luggage, and you’re not lugging huge quantities of stuff around. Most importantly, you’re likely to save about half an hour per connection in waiting time. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re traveling for 20 or 30 hours, every bit counts.
Departing at the airport
Buy some water. You’re rarely served enough onboard.
Buy some healthy snacks to eat onboard.
Get some foreign currency. It’s tempting not too – you can usually get by without it – but it’s usually useful to have at least a couple of hundred dollars for emergencies.
Take walks in the morning sun to reset your body clock, and relax.
Treat yourself well. As tempting as it is to go out late and party, or drink lots, you just make yourself sick, and increase the effects of jetlag. All things in moderation and all that.