I make a solo trip around once a month and have created a set of routines that serve me well. I find travelling to be an important component of being an academic because it provides time and space to concentrate and reflect (i.e. travelling helps me to be a secular hermit). Some of the advice below is a little haphazard, but it’s a work in progress.
For very short trips I’ll use a hold all but for anything more than 3 nights I’ll take my Rimowa Topas. This has the benefit of holding everything I need (i’ve used it for 2 week beach holidays) but small enough to fit as carry on if necessary. This can be handy if there’s a queue for bag drop but I prefer to check it. I’ve only ever had my suitcase go missing once and so I wouldn’t keep critical documents in it, but they are hassle to carry around with you (especially if you like to spend time at the airport). I very rarely clear customs before the bags are at reclaim so I don’t feel that checked baggage slows me down. And for connecting flights it makes things significantly easier.
(2) The airport
Yes, I know Tyler Cowen’s advice that if you’ve never missed a plane it means you’ve spent too much of your life at airports. But I do not understand this because time at an airport is highly constructive. As Craig Mod says,
You are hacking the airport by arriving early, knowing that all the work you could have done at home — the emails or writing or photo editing — can be done at the airport.
I plan to arrive 2 hours before my flight, even if I’ve check in, having my boarding card, and taking carry on luggage. For most people 30 minutes at home is better than 30 minutes at an airport, but once you pass security anxiety drops. Those extra 30 minutes you could have spent at home are fraught because you need to remember to remember your passport; consider traffic; wonder about queues, etc. Once you’ve cleared security you can relax. I don’t use lounges and am perfectly happy to just buy a coffee, find a seat, put on earphones, and read a good book.
(3) The airplane
Try to stick to one airline. The benefits of a loyalty programme are worth being loyal for.
I need an aisle seat. Not just so that I can get to the toilet easily (which incentivises me to drink more water, which is good) but it also means that I can go for a walk to stretch my legs.
Obviously if you are in an aisle seat you should be sympathetic to letting people get out. I will sometimes try to sleep and have no problem at all with being woken. The problem I have is people who are constantly getting things from their bags.
What to wear on a flight:
- A hoody is cosy and protects your head against unhygienic seats, but if you won’t wear it at your destination it is too cumbersome.
- A gilet is a clever way to have small items like mints and a mobile phone close to hand whilst being seated.
- Avoid a cold/sore throat from the poor quality cabin air by wearing a lightweight neck warmer.
Embrace no wifi and read:
- I like something light for takeoff and landing – The Economist, The Week, The Spectator, or New Statesman. Not a newspaper. Do not want newsprint on hands. In flight magazine usually worthwhile backup.
- Then a book. If you like kindle fine but I don’t get it. Who reads so much that they can’t carry hard copies? I often read “big” books. But I won’t get through more than 2 on a trip, so they are not prohibitively cumbersome. Even on a 2 week holiday pre kids I would get through 3 or 4 books, but someone else would have one I wanted to read. Books are portable. Durable. Enchanting.
- Or, I may be reading some academic articles. I can see the point of an e reader then because a stack of papers is heavy. But I like to take notes, and I enjoy the process of throwing away articles once I’ve read them. So even if your hand luggage is a burden on the outbound journey, it will be much lighter on the return.
Try to stick to one hotel chain. The benefits of a loyalty programme are worth being loyal for.
The mark of a good hotel room:
- Electrical socket on the desk and on the bedside table
- Black out curtains
I have a reputation for being demanding when I am a visiting lecturer but I am nothing compared to the amazing set of instructions that Richard Stallman sends his hosts. I have simple preferences (e.g. a working shower, mineral water) but put great weight on them being satisfied. One of my preferences is alone time. As Stallman says,
Many people assume that because I am traveling, I am having a vacation–that I have no other work to do, so I can spend the whole day speaking or meeting with people. Some hosts even feel that they ought to try to fill up my time as a matter of good hospitality. Alas, it’s not that way for me.
There are a few cities that I travel to frequently and will often try to spend time with friends. But there is an odd tendency from some cultures to feel obliged to “entertain” you, or to treat your whole schedule as theirs. If I’ve been in a classroom all day I may need the evenings to respond to emails and do other work. Learning that a mysterious person will be at my hotel room at 9pm to take me for dinner isn’t always appreciated.