Traveling as a PhD student

One thing that keeps me going is my desire to travel all over the world, learn several more languages1, and get out of my shell and make friends with the locals. Being in graduate school does not mean that this goal has to be put on hold; it’s actually given me some flexibility for traveling. For example, here are the places I’ve visited in the past year:

2010

June-July: Shanghai
July-August: Detroit, MI
August: Denmark
September: NH
October: MA
November: Asheville, NC
December: NYC, MA, NJ, MN, MT

2011

January: Funchal, Portugal
March: Costa Rica
April: Boston, MA
May: Vancouver, BC
May – August: Palo Alto, CA
November: Portland, OR; MA
December/January: ???

How do I travel while being a full time PhD student? I look for reasons to travel, plan strategically, and find the cheapest prices. I make traveling a priority because I enjoy it so much and grow every time I travel. This means that I will spend more money on traveling instead of clothes or eating out, plan the trip to minimize time lost from work, and spend the time to look for cheaper ways to travel.

Reasons to travel

The above trips consist of visiting family/friends, conferences, and a summer internship in the Bay Area. I search for events related to my interests (e.g., Maker Faire in Detroit) and my research (e.g., academic conferences) that I can attend if I submit my work or justify how it will help my research. If I get a paper accepted to a conference, or if I’m attending a workshop, I can get funding to go. There’s usually down time before, after, or during the conference when I can go and explore the city. Visiting friends and family is always a nice break to catch up with loved ones and visit somewhere unfamiliar.

Plan strategically

Once I find somewhere I want to go, I plan ahead to make sure that it’s feasible and doesn’t conflict with any important academic deadlines or events (I usually know these at the beginning of the semester). When I’m visiting family or friends during the school year, I try to take advantage of weekends (especially long ones). Conferences dates are not as flexible, and the best I can do is notify my professors in advance that I’ll be missing classes or meetings, but they are usually supportive of it. I also plan my work so that I get at least most of it done before traveling, because I know enough about my work ethic while traveling to know that while I can get small tasks done, I can’t do anything that requires several hours of focus in a row.

Find cheap prices

Traveling often will drain your wallet, and there are loads of tips on getting cheap airplane tickets and hotels. I skip the luxury, even 3 star hotels for cheaper lodging, because I know I won’t be spending most of the time in the hotel, and as long as there is a clean bed and shower, I’m happy. If I’m visiting friends or family, chances are good that I can stay with them, and they can show me around town. For plane tickets, I use Kayak, Jetblue & Southwest (within the U.S.), and sometimes Sky Scanner, to find the cheapest dates and times to fly. I highly recommend reading Life Nomadic and the author’s blog (Tynan) for more advanced travel tips, including how to travel light.

I’m really interested in how other grad students make the time and money to travel and how they choose places to go to. If you’re a grad student who loves to travel, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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1List of languages I want to learn eventually
Portuguese (beginner)
Italian
Russian
Japanese
German
Spanish
Arabic
Hindi

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  • Tiff

    + French ;)

  • Maya Agarwal

    Hey Chloe, may be I can help you in learning Hindi :)

  • Hi Maya,

    Are you interested in doing a language exchange? Are there any languages you’d like to learn? I can speak Chinese, English, French, and some Spanish :)
    Chloe

  • Maya Agarwal

    hi Chloe,
    I am really interested in learning different languages specially French and Chinese, but how is it possible.

  • You can sign up for Frenchpod or Chinesepod podcasts, which is a good way to start since they have free beginner lessons, and will help develop speaking skills. Another way is to find people online who want to do a language exchange with Skype, which is basically you teach them a language, then they teach you their language. If you are currently in school, sometimes they offer language classes that you can take. The best way is to go travel in a country that speaks that language, because you will pick it up very quickly, but of course it’s also not the most accessible option for most people :)

  • Maya Agarwal

    hey Chloe, that was pretty informative, I will surely try to learn at least one language.
    Thanks :)

  • arundhati mohanta

    Hi Chloe! I simply loved your blog post. Those were really helpful tips. I am a prospective graduate student (have applied to grad schools and awaiting a reply) and am very keen on travelling during my PhD years. Also, I can teach you Hindi. :)