Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Academic Travel

It's that time of year when I begin to look longingly at the delicate contrails in the skies, and at the collapsible toothbrushes at Shoppers. It's that time of year when this academic's fancy turns to travel. I've got a conference at the University of Maryland in six weeks, and then six weeks after that I'll be in Victoria. I might be going to England, but that wouldn't be until October. I'm just beginning to buy plane tickets and book hotel rooms and organize to meet friends and colleagues. I'm getting nostalgic for the 10 Minute Manicure booth at Pearson's Terminal Two. I can't wait to get back to Rebar in Victoria, or have the wonderful bartender at UVic's Faculty club make me my once-a-year martini, enjoyed with digital humanists and turtles on the patio. And, oh, the hotel rooms. Those blank, anonymous, heavy-blanketed, blackout-curtained, TV-in-bed, all-to-myself havens of quiet and solitude. I am looking forward to the hotel rooms.

Oh, and I guess I'm excited, too, about sharing my research about Facebook, about computer keyboards, about social media and the role of design in academic practice. I'll write papers and curricula and it certainly always happens that the intellectual work of this travel both pushes me to produce something in the face of a real deadline and prompts a lot of new ideas in all the interaction. But honestly, I'm mostly thinking about the travel right now.

For me, this wanderlust is cyclical. It builds from the late winter and peaks in early summer. I do most of my traveling, and sometimes quite a lot of traveling, in the period between early March and early July. Last year, I did six trips in the eight weeks in that timeframe. When I got back, I swore that I was never getting on another plane ever again. (My husband made a similar vow, after a heroic run of solo-parenting while working his own full-time, demanding job. And then, don't you know, all three of us made an unexpected family trip to Edmonton the very next month.) I was seriously jet lagged, feeling gross from travel food, had had my luggage lost once, had stayed in a terrible hotel during a children's hockey tournament (tip! Don't do that!), and flown through some gruesome weather. I missed my family a lot, my routines, our routines. My bed.

But those memories have receded now. And I'm looking forward to laying out outfits on the bed in the guest room, trying to game the weather while packing enough variety to give me stylish options that will, nevertheless, all fit in a carry-on (cf earlier discussion of lost luggage. I'm looking at you, Air Canada). I'm buying this year's collapsible toothbrush, and sample sizes of my favourite Aveda hair products. My trusty Samsonite roly-bag is coming down from the attic, with my travel yoga mat already folded neatly within it. I'm cheerfully booking airport shuttles in other countries, and checking the exchange rates. It's going to be great: I head out in the world by myself, my purse and my carry-on and my ideas, on an adventure to share my research and learn from others and eat the kinds of foods I like when I feel like eating them. I miss my family, really I do, when I'm gone, but it's so nice to have these brief interludes of only thinking of myself. Of throwing myself right into it. Seeing old friends and making new ones. Learning stuff.

When I was a single graduate student, travel felt different. It felt like a brief entrée into a world of adulthood: wearing suits and eating in restaurants and explaining my work to customs agents as though I were a professional of some sort. Now it feels different, almost like a return to something less "grown-up," freer, with fewer and more-focused responsibilities.

But always, from my staying in dorm days to the quiet hotel rooms now, the travel has been one of the perks of being an academic. I love it, this shift into new places with new people and new routines. (It's always the same coffee and inedible honeydew melon slices, though ...) What about you? How do you feel about academic travel?


4 comments:

  1. Like you, I love it. I get tingly every time I pass the airport. And it's a good thing too, because I'm going to be away for research trips/courses/conferences almost non-stop between the end of May and the beginning of August. As much as I usually come home from academic travel physically tired (a combo of jet lag and the strain of suppressing my natural introversion), I always come home mentally jazzed--my intellectual batteries need the periodic charge of being immersed in a group of people who do what I do, love what I love, and have so much to teach me. Not having to make the bed is a bonus.

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  2. I haven't done much traveling for conferences yet, but I have a conference in Boston next month. I do not mind the actual traveling part as much as the expenses because they are a hassle for those of us who are, for the moment, independent scholars. I look forward to meeting new people, and enjoying a nice hotel room, and I am used to hotels, flights, bus rides, and long car rides because I used to be dragged all over the country by relatives who had to travel for work. As long as I am going by plane and have everything mapped out ahead of time I can avoid the stress. The only part that unnerves me, aside from the expenses, me is the actual traveling because I worry that something will go wrong. However, I love every other part of the traveling for conferences experience.

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  3. Melissa, I love that phrase "the strain of suppressing my natural introversion" -- conferences definitely will do that do you. That's why I really need a hotel room to myself, so I can go 12 hours without talking to anyone to recover. An archive trip is different. That can be downright monastic in its solitude, and I will actively seek people out to interact with. And yes, there's really something to love in a bed that I don't have to make. (Around here, I very often have to make three beds of a morning ...)

    S.B. Orphee, yes, the expense is hard. When I first went to Boston for a grad conference at Tufts, I actually bunked in a local grad student's apartment. I had a small travel stipend from my uni, but it only goes so far, right? I have a kind of meditative 'zone' I get into when travelling, where I just mostly mentally check out (see me with my Life an Style celebrity mag, or a whole season of Arrested Development on my iPad!) while remaining alert enough to move from terminal to terminal. Ugh.

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    1. I think I may have to try being in my own meditative zone, but at least I am attending the conference with a friend. One time I went to London, Ont for a Graduate conference, but I arrived at 3am and had to be at the conference for 8:30am so I drank a lot of coffee in a Tim Hortons before dodging to the site. I ended up falling asleep during the final keynote speech. It was a great conference--I met amazing people, including a contact/friend who helped me get the RA job I have now. I tell all the grad students I know to network at conferences because you never know who you might meet and what opportunities will be presented to you (I also had a conference paper reviewed and sent back to me with suggestions by a major scholar in one of my research fields).

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