Travel tips for academics?

I have a strange relationship to travel. On the one hand, personal history and persistent lack of money have made it seem unappealing to me for much of my adult life — but on the other hand, I’m fascinated by the practical side of planning it. I always read this kind of article in the NYT Travel section, for instance. Most of these advice pieces naturally focus on business travellers, but I wonder if there might be some benefit to discussing tips for specifically academic travel (conferences, campus visits, etc.).

Do any of you have tips you’d like to share?

29 thoughts on “Travel tips for academics?

  1. if you are flying alone, always dress well, as it can help you get upgrades if they need to shift someone up to first class. sounds ridiculous, but has happened to me three different times. also, if you are travelling for a conference/interview and want to carry on your clothes, wear your blazer onto the flight, and roll your pants up in your bag, wrapping them with tissue paper if possible. This way your suit will be wrinkle free the next day.

  2. This is an okay piece, but just like with all things academic, it is always ideal to draw on multiple sources. For academics, who generally have to dress a touch better than jeans and a t-shirt, for our conferences, some of this doesn’t work. (Also, and the comments section of the piece points this out, if you’re not a hip, under 35, Silicon Valley tech head the mileage varies.)

    For my travels (I generally go out about a dozen to fifteen times a year) I pack light and utilize wrinkle-less clothes that can be cross-matched to create a bunch of different outfits. I do use the types of under-garments the article recommends and some of the ancillary stuff. I can usually get most of my stuff into a rollerboard carry on and then my tech needs in a messenger bag type. I don’t carry books and have an assistant (or myself) scan relevant pages and pieces for use on my iPad or MacBook Air.

    The general rule for my travel is packing light enough to avoid the hassles of life, being aware of the idiocy which passes for “security” at airports so to not poke the bear, and not stressing over situations that can’t be resolved. Technology has helped with a lot of my travels, but clothes are still clothes. This is probably too long. Nevertheless, a good link.

  3. Re: undies. I recently invested in some nice merino wool boxer briefs. In addition to being incredibly comfortable, I’ve found that they dry almost instantly, suggesting that a field washing strategy would probably be feasible if necessary.

  4. For academics, who generally have to dress a touch better than jeans and a t-shirt, for our conferences, some of this doesn’t work.

    At risk of revisiting issues best left forgotten… really? I’ve never worn anything other than jeans and a t-shirt (a shirt once; maybe cargo pants or cords) at a conference. As far as I can tell, I wasn’t dressed too differently than anyone else. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I was dressed basically the same as everyone else.

    But then, unless I can drive to the conference, I don’t go. Which, I suppose, is an anti-travel trip: stay home and sleep! But, if I do travel and have to stay the night in some foreign city, I always bring an ethernet cord and a bag of chips.

  5. My advice: calm down. Wear something comfortable (Mike is in a flyers club which I am willing to beat has more to do with his upgrades than a suit). Don’t overpack. And lobby the government to build some goddamn fast trains!

  6. But, Adam, your quip belies a serious point: there’s a major problem with the amount of flying that many/most academics do–highly environmentally damaging. Beyond that (as APS surely knows!), the fees associated with conferences (participating, lodging, food, merch table) and the travel cost of them is economically damaging. Graduate students are rarely the sort of who can drop $1500-2000 on a weekend. (Consider that the average rate of pay for a contract instructor in the US is around $2000/course.) Yet, they are expected to. Junior faculty rarely have resources provided to them from their employers, yet they are expected to attend conferences. Senior faculty meanwhile get their tickets paid for, their registration paid for, don’t miss teaching because they aren’t teaching, and get an honorarium or speaking fee. Abolish the conference! (Plus you can never get vegan food at a conference. Campuses are horribly repressive foodwise. Convention centres, too.)

    Disclosure: I’m the only academic in the world without a passport. Almost got one once, but then I was like, “Why would I stand in line at the passport office to stand in line at an airport and be body scanned in order to go to Rhode Island to present a fifteen minute paper that is more of a favour to the organizer than something I’m actually interested in and spend $1500 to do this?” I quickly sobered up.

    We did price some kayaks last week, but I don’t think there are many universities I can Kayak to, especially in winter (although with summer lasting from March to December that will change soon). Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo would likely be the extent of it. Besides, we couldn’t afford them so its a moot point.

  7. There are a lot of very serious questions to be asked about conferences and the ways they reproduce and reinforce the inequalities in the academic system, as well as the wastefulness of so much flying, etc. This is especially true of big national conferences like the MLA or AAR.

    As usual, though, your cynicism may go too far. Smaller conferences can be great, or at least that’s what I hear. Maybe Anthony can comment.

    Another thought that occurs to me: what about explicitly regional conferences? Like a conference in Chicago that only invites and solicits proposals from people within the Great Lakes region, for example.

  8. Given my habit to only drive to conferences (which is bad–I should likely take the train), I only go to what we call “The Learneds” (or, if we are funny, “The Stupids”) which is sort of like the Canadian version of one of the major US association meetings–except it literally involves every major disciple (and dozens of obscure ones) at a single meeting. Theoretically it should be interesting, but it turns out to be the most expensive graduate student conference in the world because faculty rarely go–they’ve been and know it is a waste of time! I’ll only attend if it is in a major-ish city in Quebec or Ontario. I don’t like it. Too big, too many people, too little quality content. As a result, the conferences I end up attending are either organized locally (i.e., in Ottawa) or a quick (half-day) drive’s away. They tend to be small. The smaller ones are more tolerable (likely because more specialist). But, still, most of what happens there could easily be done through Skype and pre-distribution of papers on a simple WordPress blog.

    Regional conferences rather than national conferences that are regional in the sense you mention could be interesting–doesn’t philosophy already do this? And political science? How do those work out?

  9. I know the AAR has regional meetings, but those are more or less explicitly geared toward grad students — the Midwest region asks that actual faculty only do either presiding or keynotes, for instance. I’ve never gone to one, because I always had the impression they didn’t count for much, but that’s probably just my toxic careerism talking.

  10. i’ve heard fellow grad students refer to the regional AAR meetings as basically an easy way to get a presentation line on the CV. i went one year and probably won’t go back. you’d think that they’d foster more interesting conversation, since they’re small. but they seem to suffer from all the problems of a big conference, perhaps in large part because they work off the same basic model.

    i completely agree with what you’re arguing, craig. the academic conference is extremely unsustainable, environmentally and economically. i’ve basically replaced almost all my leisure travel with academic travel, since i’ve been in grad school, for both of those reasons. but i disagree that blogs, and other virtual platforms, can simply replace them. i like conferences because they allow me to *sniff out*, in meatspace, the context in which certain ideas seem to be unfolding. i just feel like they give me a different sense of a discourse, especially at a small conference where everyone is more or less fixated on a similar set of ideas for days at a time. i’ve left conferences with the sense that i just absorbed volumes worth of information, by proxy. and i’ve also left them feeling like i no longer want to have anything to do with a given set of ideas, or thinkers. i think virtual, or textual, interface with these discourses has certain qualitative differences.

  11. Since you’re weeding out the negatives of the conference, you should drop the blog reference and call it a proference. *waiting for minds to blow*

  12. My experience of conferences mostly comes from the UK and those havex tended to be really good for me. Not the papers – my God! – but talking to the people who wrote them after, or meeting new people whose work suddenly intersects with yours, getting drunk and declaring that “this here is the new shit!”. That’s what you totally don’t get at the big conferences. I mean you do a bit, but something about the location is always alienating, and the required flight is awful. This year I have had to fly way too often and I’m not happy about that, but in the UK if there was a conference in, say, Liverpool, then I could take the train.

    This year at the AAR I am thinking of doing an alternative event. Not sure how yet though. Want to find a bar with a function room.

  13. Yes. Small conferences all the way. That’s one of the delightful thing about the British conference scene. So easy to put together, and success is basically measured in pints poured.

  14. Re: the conference alternative. Here are my two suggestions: (1) participants submit in advance an abstract — maybe longer than a usual abstract, around 500 words. And then at the ‘conference’, they extrapolate on that abstract, but not read a paper. They’re given the amount of time it takes to finish a drink to do so. (2) An alternative to that is to keep the slow drinkers in check. Each paper/abstract is given to a reader, who in effect interviews the writer on the day of the ‘conference’. A certain amount of time p/ paper, rotating around the room, whereupon everybody both observes conversations and actively has one.

  15. With drawstrings at the ankles, the pants morph into capris, eliminating the need to pack both.

    I think that may be an example of conflating wants with needs, but I can’t figure out how that even counts as a want.

  16. Just as undergrads worry way too much about GRE scores and language requirements, grad students worry way too much about conference participation. I remember the feeling when I was doing my PhD that “Oooo. I’m giving a paper at SUNY-Stonybrook. I’ll bet the job panels will be impressed with that.” But they weren’t – and they won’t be. Conferences are good for three things, in declining order: 1) meeting up with old friends 2) they make you get some work done and 3) erm, networking. I wouldn’t worry too much about the last one – it’s a distant, distant third.

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