Planning Short Research Trips, part II: Housing and Travel Savvy

This post is about where to stay and how to travel well on short research trips. To read my thoughts on how to plan the timing of research trips, read this. I talk more specifically about “surviving the archive” here. For ideas on how to photograph efficiently in the archive, try this post.

In the past six months, I have taken several different trips to archives far from my home in New York City. These trips have ranged in length from less than a week to seven weeks.

For me, finding housing for short trips was a two part process.

First, I had to decide what I was looking for. Initially, a low price was only major factor. As I took more trips, I realized what else was important to me. I wanted a short commute to the archive. I wanted a kitchen to cook in. I preferred to have a room in someone’s apartment or home rather than to be completely alone. I readjusted my priorities as I went and learned more about my housing preferences.

Next, I had to actually find places that would match what I was looking for. I used several strategies. Twice, I stayed with a friend or a friend of a friend for a short-term sublet, and these were arranged by announcing my plans via email or social media. For other trips, I used Airbnb. I also stayed with my family for research in the Bay Area.

I suspect that any arrangement made informally through friends and family will be cheaper than Airbnb, so I would always start by asking people I know for ideas. But in some cases, this went absolutely nowhere after repeated pleas on Facebook, and that’s when Airbnb came in handy.

Advance warning: perfect housing does not exist. However, I found that staying somewhere with an easy commute to the archive turned out to be the thing I cared about the most. Learning that early on helped me plan for good set ups in later trips.

In fact, monitoring what worked for me turned out to be a good general strategy for traveling and staying happy. I like to keep mental notes on whatever seems to make me feel more at ease. When I hit upon a trick that worked, I would repeat it.

Instead of general travel advice, which I am not sure can be responsibly given as we all need different things to be happy, here are some of the things I do. Maybe they will spark ideas about what could work for you.

  • I always travel with one medium sized suitcase that I check, and one backpack because as I realized, that way I don’t have to worry about managing too many pieces of luggage or finding space in the overhead bins.
  • I bring a small French press with me wherever I go so I can always make coffee the way I like it.
  • I pack using organizers that make it much easier to live out of a suitcase when no dresser is available.
  • I visit the grocery store on the first or second day in the new place, and I always buy the same ingredients for the same, easy to prepare dishes.
  • I leave for my trips on Mondays so that I have a full weekend to spend at home before I go.

What works for you? Feel free to share ideas here.

The next post will cover establishing realistic goals for short research trips.

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