This year has been an explosion of travel for me, at this point still domestic. I kind of knew it would be hard to go back to, but was sort of excited about it. Now I’m kind of over it.
When should we travel, and when is it important? That answer is different for everyone. For me, it is mainly fieldwork and collaboration, with a recent funded project requiring research further from home.
Historically, I’ve done long research trips of several months and taken my family with me. But my recent projects are slower moving and focused on building relationships over several years, as well as interviews in different urban centres around New Zealand.
I’ve recently been able to work out what works for me, and how to keep hold of a sense of wellbeing even when travelling. Here’s 6 random things about travel I’ve been thinking about, after doing way too much this year.
Having a clear purpose of the trip is important
Whether it is for a writing retreat (with a SPECIFIC output), a field trip (with a planned list of interviews and outcomes), or to deliver a talk or attend an event, I find it much easier to cope with the travel if I have a clear purpose. I have had a few fieldtrips where I am unclear about what the point of it is, and these feel like they drag on forever — I could be getting writing done or even just weeding my garden back home! I have students to see, interns to supervise, home-based fieldwork to plan, deadlines to meet, mentoring relationships and more that have to be put on hold for each trip, which increases my workload when I return, or when I’m preparing to go. I feel like I need some kind of checklist for this.
I prefer to stay with others rather than by myself, especially for longer trips.
When I’m on my own in a motel room, I feel a sense of dis-ease, like I don’t know who I am. I stay up too late, I procrastinate, I spend too much time online, I feel really down. The solution for me is to stay in more collaborative places: apartments with colleagues I am traveling with, or stay over at someone’s house, even if it is on the floor. There’s something about having the normal food/drink/bathroom negotiations that grounds me and makes it more bearable to be away from home.
Fully flex fares is my new normal
Although it is more expensive, I’ve ended up booking only fully flex fares recently. It’s just too hard after the pandemic, since even a slight cold is problematic when flying or sharing cars and accommodation. Going through corporate travel agents, and having bookings from multiple universities, means that the potential for screw ups is high, so it’s good to be able to easily change them in a weekend if needed. This has meant I’ve had to budget differently. What I find works is to budget for fully flex fares and meals, then stay at someone’s house if possible and buy a meal. This has the added bonus of meeting my social needs and making the trip more bearable and even interesting and meaningful (I love catching up with friends and relatives!).
Pack for self-care
Having fully-flex fares means I now take a suitcase rather than carry on only. Here are some things I always take with me to make the trip more manageable:
- Stainless steel coffee plunger and my favourite coffee. I wake up at 5am most days and I want my coffee without a fuss. I have a mentor who always just brings her own breakfast to keep her grounded.
- Exercise clothes — tights, loose top, sports bra, running shoes. Somehow, having used up space for them makes me more likely to feel I must use them. I try and do one active thing a day, usually a walk but some places I’ve stayed have gyms. I used to take a foldable yoga mat for long international trips too but haven’t done that recently.
- Swimming gear. If I can find somewhere even for a short soak or a quick ocean freeze dip, my wellbeing and mood is kept up. I have two piece set that is pretty much exercise gear so I take that now.
- A novel. I always take something to read. Great for flights, nights alone, waiting times. I usually have a stack of library books by my bed so I take the one I’m reading, and another.
- Something to do: I take my te reo Māori workbook, also found out the Netflix password so I can login if I have enough wifi. You can’t work all the time, even though I used to think I would.
- Gifts: If I’m staying with people, I can’t forget to bring a gift! Even if it is something I picked up on the way.
Short trips are more manageable than long trips, but less cost effective
I tend to travel for about ten days, blocking together 2 or 3 trips into one. This is mainly because if I am going to the Te Ika a Maui | North Island (I’m currently still living in Te Wai Pounamu | South Island), I want to do things on two different projects, visit my workplace and visit my family since I’ve forked out for the fares from research budget. But the trips I enjoy most are ones where I leave during the week then am home for the weekend. Tuesday to Thursday is nice. Monday to Friday is liveable. Anything longer, the domestic doings and the kids and the getting other work done really suffers.
Upload expense receipts immediately
I have learned the hard way to stop and take a photo of a receipt as soon as I get it. I have a corporate card due to research funding, so it’s not like I’m not going to get reimbursed. But things get pretty serious if you lose important receipts, or regularly forget and make life difficult for your administrative support team. For me, since most of our research funding is taxpayer’s money, I take this pretty seriously as an ethical stance. Most places I’ve worked have a system where you can easily email receipts from your phone camera. My current workplace has an app and you can take the picture in the app (so you don’t have a full gallery of receipt photos). I do this within 30 seconds of receiving the GST receipt!
I’m much less inclined to travel for conferences or overseas these days. For me, travel has to have a specific purpose and output — and these trips are enough for me to remember the things I dislike about travel and the way I cope with it. How do you cope with travel you have to do?