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Smart Travel Tips for Academics (or people who really, really love books)

  • Posted by: Alice Bampton
  • Posted Date: July 18, 2016
  • Filed Under: Library News

Summer is a glorious time for academics and booklovers alike, with the prospect of long interrupted afternoons and time, sweet time allowing us to finally get things read. It’s also prime time for traveling and wrestling with fitting the essentials (chargers, backup chargers, books, electronic devices and one more charger) in with all those darn non-essentials (i.e., socks, underwear) in your kit bag. Good thing that intrepid English/Theatre liaison librarian Sarah Wingo knew just who to ask for smart, concise travel tips tailor-made for people just like you (i.e., people who frequent library blogs!) 🙂 Sarah Olive is a lecturer at the University of York and University of Birmingham who travels often with just one bag and sometimes a cat yet a commodious need for books, notes and other trappings of academic life. Here’s her tips!

I’m going to Helsingor tomorrow (Elsinore, to those of you who are more familiar with Hamlet than maps). Last week I was leaving a fortnight’s research mobility in Hong Kong to return to my teaching at the University of York. Last month, I was in New Orleans to run a seminar at the annual Shakespeare Association of America congress. I live in Stratford-upon-Avon. When I’m in the UK, my cat travels on the train with me between the two institutions where I work twice a month.

You can probably tell the important things you need to know about me from that introduction. I’m a Shakespeare academic. And I know how to pack (a requirement when you’re working with someone whose complete works weigh 4.8 pounds in paperback). As a student or a member of staff at a university or in your graduate life, I hope you will get to travel as much as I do. It sounds fun and it is fun which is why I work really hard at it. You can usually find me slamming in funding bids, jamming my trip schedule full to make the best possible uses of my time and that of my hosts at other institutions, or writing reports and papers when I’ve finished a trip. Some days I’ll be doing all of the above – quite probably on different projects. These trips bring me unquantifiable amounts of knowledge (it’s handy that it’s unquantifiable because otherwise I’d totally be over my luggage limit).

Travelling for study, academia and other graduate work isn’t much fun if you get your packing wrong – particularly when you have a bad habit of book-ending trips (at the end of this month, I’ll have done 6 talks at 6 institutions, on 3 continents in 6 weeks: it sounds like a boast, and it kind of is, but more about my logistical abilities than intelligence). You’ll be too hot, too cold, or covered in plane food stains, need a taxi rather than being able to manage on public transport (usually ace and affordable in East Asia, where I travel most), have male delegates offering to help you carry stuff – which is very kind, but not necessarily how you want to network as a feminist scholar. I was asked to share my work-travel tips with you for this blog, which isn’t necessarily how you should travel and won’t work if you don’t like dressing in women’s clothing (it’s also very tongue-in-cheek). But you should be able to adapt it to your needs and tastes.


  • •  Some people manage with just carry-on bags. I don’t unless it’s a weekend-sized trip.
  • • If you are checking luggage, a cheap suitcase is a false economy. It will most likely add extra weight (light frames seem to be the most expensive because of the materials and technology used) and may get torn apart during the handling. I like that mine is expandable – but I acknowledge that that could lead to problems on the way back (don’t travel with it expanded on the way out…you’ve got to leave space for conference programmes, cheap books you pick up on the last day at the publishers’ stands, and souvenirs!). I was lucky to get mine as a present from my parents who live in Australia, and it has survived thirteen years, including moving from there to the UK for my Master’s degree.
  • • Handwashing liquid means you only need to pack a week’s worth of clothing at most. You wash your clothes in your hotel bathroom, wring them a bit, lay them on a towel, then tightly roll one end of the towel up like you’re making a jellyroll or palmieres (that’s instead of your spin cycle, you’re welcome!) Then hang them up to dry.
  • • If you’re not sure what the temperature is going to be like, if you take long skirts or dresses you can always sneak on a pair of leggings or tights underneath if it gets chilly.
  • • Pack multifunctional clothes wherever you can. This may not be for the day you’re presenting, but for example, pack nightwear that can double as casual/lounge wear, gym wear that doubles as lounge wear (wash after heavy use as per above). You want the most multi-tasking stuff you can muster for your off duty wardrobe. If you have old clothes you can wear for nightwear, gym wear, etc., and then throw away rather than bring back if you end up close to the weight limit, do that.
  • • I still pack an old drawstring physical education kit bag from school. I use it to keep underclothes together on the way out, and to ram all my dirty laundry in on the way back. I like keeping my suitcase in order because sometimes I don’t hang things up and I just want to rummage through wearable stuff. While I’m on the topic of plastic bags, while you’re at your destination, hang on to the plastic bags you get given – use them to wrap and double-wrap any liquids you’re taking back (air pressure does funny things) or anything fragile.
  • • Take bath and beauty products that only have enough left in them to last the trip. Then you come back lighter! Besides, who has time to do messy decanting into miniature containers? Keep any sample perfumes you are ever given and keep them for travel.
  • • Try not to overdo or underuse the shoes. Take one pair that make you feel invincible for your presentation, however impractical. Then remember that airports, campuses and conferences usually mean you hit your 10,000 steps a day and you need to be able to walk. Stuff the cavity of your shoes with rolled up accessories like belts, or anything that needs a little cushioning, like shoving your camera into a sneaker.
  • • Take basic first aid – if you are at an international conference, not only can you make sure you look after yourself, not get overcharged at the super expensive hotel shop, but you will make friends with anyone who caught a cold on their flight…and one day they may hire you, or pass you in your viva, or whatever. Also save money on, again stupidly expensive, hotel breakfasts by taking individual oatmeal sachets, maybe some instant noodles for lunch, then splurge on somewhere gastronomically exciting and local when your day’s work is done. Invest in a spork for your oatmeal, noodles, take-away in case your accommodation only offers you a coffee stirrer. You can also clean your nails with it when you get bored (wash in between).

Carry on:

  • • Use a backpack. People who insist on ramming bulky, supposedly cabin-sized cases into the overhead lockers really get my goat. There’s hardly ever room for my dinky bag…and then, the whole flight, when you’re trying to sleep, they’re standing up, tinkering away to find stuff they want to take out of the case ‘cause it’s too heavy to lift down. Capacious handbags are beautiful, but if they’re made of leather, I often find them really heavy to be carrying around all day at a conference or across town for meetings. Instead, fit a clutch or something else streamlined or squashy inside it (or pack in your checked luggage) for any dressy occasions.
  • • Take a pashmina or another similarly multi-purpose piece of clothing on board. It will keep you warm, can be rolled into a head rest, used to mop up spills (wash it later!), catch your travel sick (throw it away & get a new one at your destination), as a blindfold (to shut our cabin light…tut), or to cover your nose if the person next to you smells bad.
  • • Pack a non-bulky, light change of clothes in here in case, heaven forbid, anything happens to your checked baggage. It will buy you a bit of time and comfort and freshness until you get to a mall.
  • • I discovered very cute, very cheap velcro or popper-secured cable tidies when I was in Korea, and I’ve accumulated more since in Japan and from Scandinavia (if you’re not into cute animals and pastel shades). They help me avoid irritating tangles of wires – headphones and chargers – in my bag and elbowing other passengers as I unpick them.

On the plane/train/boat:

  • • Adjust your watch (or any clocks on devices you’ll be checking) to the time at your destination as soon as you’re in your seat. Start thinking and behaving like you’re in that time zone. Don’t keep thinking, “Ugh, I’m so tired it’s 3.30am back home.” Let. It. Go. You need to be mentally and emotionally tuned into your destination (reading the guidebook you bought months ago when you first heard about your trip on the journey will do this too…I did get called out for having neon place-markers and making pencil annotations by the guy sitting next to me on my last trip but it turned out he was from my destination city, so we had a conversation and he added to my must do, must see list). And have a wonderful trip!

Sarah Olive is lecturer in English in Education at the University of York. She also teaches at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham…which is how she knows Sarah Wingo. Her research interests include Shakespeare’s popular cultural afterlives, especially on reality television, and the teaching of Shakespeare in East Asian higher education.




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Last Modified: July 18, 2016

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