Call me a nomad

by Anna Blanch on April 12, 2012

I’ve spent many many many hours of my life sitting in airport lounges. I’ve even had to sleep in one or two. I’ve been delayed because of tornadoes, cyclones, dust-storms, the American president (one memorable afternoon in Detroit when President Obama made an ‘unscheduled’  – not that I thought that was possible – visit to the city in Marine 1), volcanoes erupting in Iceland (not once but twice – and one of those times the delay ended up being for three – I say again, three – weeks), mechanical failures, crew illness, blizzards, and a plane having hit a bird. I’ve had luggage lost, delayed, damaged, and go missing for up to a month.

I’ve watched as airports slowly become wifi compatible and technology friendly. In my experience, size is no great indicator of the likelihood of free wifi (for the record Newcastle Airport has free wifi – if ever you find yourself here). For example, Houston has free wifi, but Sydney, Dallas, and Heathrow didn’t the last time I was there. For all other situations, between Skype and Boingo, I can usually find a way to access wifi.

This morning I’m sitting in Newcastle airport waiting for a flight to Brisbane. I’ve watched a number of F/A-18 hornets take off from the military airfield that this civilian airport shares. The children squeal in delight as the pairs of aircraft leave a translucent av gas haze in their wake. There is a buzz of happy chatter, as business man talk on phones, children twitter, the loudspeaker interjects quite violently and the television in the corner is too loud.

Everywhere there are signs, even on the large poles that hold up the roof at intervals, inviting “Tell us what you think.”

This is a small airport. No moving walkways in sight. The security staff are pleasant as they efficiently go about their business of scanning carry-on luggage, doing random explosives residue testing and generally giving the appearance of competence.

There are only three gates, but the seating is plentiful and comfortable (my favourite kind).

I wondered before I left Scotland how this slightly nomadic existence would really work and how productive I could be. I thought i’d offer some reflections on what has been working and what I’ve been finding challenging.

1. Be Prepared with 1-2 hours work most of the time.

* Maybe it is the lot of a graduate student, but I never go anywhere without some work: a draft to edit, a book to take notes from, a couple of journal articles, a research journal to hold some free-writing or some research questions in dot point form to act as a prompt for brainstorming. This habit is helpful for being able to make the most of the odd 30 mins or an hour here and there that might otherwise be dead time.

2. Find technology solutions that work for you

* Some items of technology really have broken down obstacles to working on the move. I do travel with my laptop, because I like the keyboard being full size and because I can usually find wifi access if I need it. I also highly recommend a smartphone (I use an Android with a slide out keyboard) for on the road email access, maps, an address book, a phone, and even a pdf reader (if you need it for reading timetables etc). I’ve written about applications I find useful for academic work before. I don’t have an ipad or an e-reader. I use my laptop as an e-reader (although admittedly it is bulky. I am considering an ipad (with a bluetooth keyboard) for travel (especially for Overland to Oz) as my budget allows. I would be interested in hearing from other itinerant academics (or travellers) who’ve found this solution to be helpful or frustrating!

3. A routine is still important

I’ve found that my mornings (from 6am to 12 noon) have been my most productive writing time while in Australia. Although, it is important to be flexible and have work with you all the time, a routine will do wonders. I’ve found that working in a similar kind of place (an armchair, a table, a coffee shop, a library carrel) wherever I am signals to my brain that this is time for work. I occasionally use the pomodoro technique to help me break down longer hours of work into smaller chunks.

4. Work for an hour a day at minimum.

No matter what else is going on, or however much travelling or however crazy the schedule is, there’s almost always a way to fit in an hour of work a day. Some days I struggle or i’m distracted, but it is this discipline that will hopefully help me finish on-time.

5. If you are a scholar/academic/grad student carry a letter of introduction.

Letters of introduction may seem old-fashioned but a letter declaring your affiliation and position will go almost all the way in helping you access libraries around the world. I’ve talked about this in the past when writing about in my archival tool kit. I’ve already found this useful since being back in Australia.

6. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not as productive as you like

Maybe I’m trying to convince myself of this one. But, as i’ve said in the past, put one foot in front of the other, write one word and then another. I was reminded of my own words the other day when I was feeling a little discouraged and anxious about what lies ahead. I have had one snag in this endeavour, when my shipped boxes are now arriving about 2 weeks later than I had originally planned. This means I will leave for the UK again before they arrive here. I’m having to be even more creative about accessing resources here in Australia – but thankfully, the libraries here are quite good!

How do you handle work on the road?

Listening. Observing. Relishing. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.

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  • Ally

    I just got my iPad this past weekend and it is indispensable already… I really didn’t believe ProfHacker about the fabulousness that is iAnnotate, but oh my – the iPad is fantastic out of the box for reading PDFs you don’t want to print, but the ability to underline highlight and draw/write? It really is fantastic. I’m writing a term paper at the moment that a lot of the primary sources are all available in PDF from google books or elsewhere, and it is so much nicer than dealing with PDFs on a computer.

    • Goannatree

       Ally, thanks for letting me know how you’re finding your ipad. that sounds  really great.

  • Bekah

    Ditto Ally’s comments about the iPad. I started my PhD work last year, and with just a few apps, I am able to do nearly everything I need to for research and writing with it. I’m in a modular program and I teach, so I travel a good deal of the time. With my iPad, I have over 100 books, dozens of PDF articles, and my work all in one place in a travel friendly format.

    I still use my laptop for final edits and formatting, but for research, notes, and general writing, a tablet can help you stay productive away from the office.

    • Goannatree

       that’s really helpful feedback Bekah. I don’t think i’ll have the funds before I’m done with the PhD thesis, but it’s definitely on my post-PhD wishlist.

  • Findo

    There’s a very witty opera about getting an airport (Flight by Jonathan Dove).

    I’m terrible with working on the go. I tend to be overly optimistic and throw in too many options, then usually just end up using the time to sit and think or listen to my iPod..

    • Goannatree

       an opera about flight delays…that’s kind of awesome!

      I usually try to have a couple of different options, but like you sometimes I have to give in to the need to think or freewrite or journal or even write a blog post…or occasionally nothing but read a magazine.

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