You’ve heard the catch phrases about it being a mobile, interconnected world. That’s true enough, but like many things, putting it into practice is another thing. By adapting the solutions business people use you can reduce the stress and keep up with your schoolwork during a trip.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, the same caveats apply as they do in school. Preparation is critical.
- Time – when will I have time to read/study/write? Travel time is excellent. Along with a few hours scheduled at stops, this time is usually squandered watching a movie or zoning out.
- Location – Since much of what you will be doing requires either Internet access or power for a mobile device, you need to know what will be available. Surprises can be eliminated by calling ahead of time or visiting websites. This is especially important if you will be traveling overseas – check wi-fi availability, carrier and consider electricity. You don’t want to be caught without the right adapter or assuming that tropical resort has power 24/7.
- Resources – What will I need to take and how much material will I have to cover? The rule here is to go beyond what you expect. There are two good reasons for this. The first is because you may inadvertently miss some resource that stops you from working on task X, and task Y will fill in. But there’s another element as well. We tend to back off without the pressure of work to be done staring us in the face. And why not be optimistic? It’s entirely possible that you will have more downtime to get things accomplished.
- Connections – For business people, connectivity is critical. It can also be expensive. Multiple countries might require multiple SIM cards or an expensive pay-as-you-go plan. For this reason, try to plan your connection time (e-mail, assignment submission, online backups) for discrete times when you know there will be a local wi-fi hookup – usually through your hotel or public hotspot.
Once you have an idea of your basic game plan, you can find out how realistic it is by putting it into play ahead of the trip. Once the trip starts, you’re stuck with whatever you brought with you. Practice will also show you the gaps in your resources. Do you depend on books as references or class notes? Can you manage without them? A bit of pretending will show you your own problems and help you modify your plan.
Have all the phone numbers and contact information you need before you go. This means a contact with faculty (TA’s or profs) as well as classmates. If you haven’t made any social contacts with classmates, here’s your chance. Only by touching base will you be able to find out what’s actually happening on the ground in your absence. Face to face is the best way to go. Let everyone concerned know about your trip – how long you’ll be gone and what you’ve planned to meet your obligations. Most instructors are quite flexible about assignments. Some may agree to taking work by e-mail or suggesting alternates. The key thing is to talk to them before you go and stay in touch while you are away.
A trip is not the time to buy something new – unless you are committed to using it for a while before you go. The reason is simply familiarity. You don’t want to be stuck on a steep learning curve. You don’t have the time for this and it’s a recipe for frustration and stress. It is better to modify what you already use rather than buy something new. That said, you may find your home system just won’t do. In that case, it’s essential to upgrade or switch as soon as possible. You’ll have to make sure all your essential software works or become familiar with what’s available on the new device.
There are usually two problems with mobile devices, no matter what type. Either memory will be an issue, or battery life. USB chargers offer one solution for the latter, and thumb drives will help with the former. One trick is to use several thumb drives – one per subject. I keep mine in doubled plastic ziplock baggies (waterproof). This is a way to scan in gobs of information (like a chapter or two of a textbook) without hogging all the native memory on a device. With images of relevant course material scanned in, I can use my iPad as a reader and swap sticks depending on the subject. My personal favorites for traveling are the newer tablet PCs. These have excellent battery life and a good deal of on-board memory. They are also in the Giga-Hertz range for processing speed.
Backups are crucial. This means having a thumb drive with install programs – a browser, a saved bookmarks file and contact information. I also recommend getting a free trial of an Internet backup service with the same things stashed there. Bandwidth might be a problem if you have to restore, but it will be worth it. Another backup will be having someone who can act as office personnel for you. This might mean printing off an assignment and running it over to your professor’s office, checking a posted grade sheet, or scanning and sending you some important info. Consider a little barter here – something you can get while away and gift when you return. The way to think about your backups is to think worst-case scenario. You are robbed or you fall into the water while rafting, along with your mobile device…what would it take to recover?