6 Tips on How to Travel in Graduate School Without the Guilt


I was listening to an interesting podcast episode the other day about how addicted we are to technology and how it’s even more escalated for people that have jobs that exceed past brick and mortar workplaces and/or are related to social media.

The description probably sounds a lot like graduate students and even more specifically, graduate students that share their experience on social media.

Inspired by the episode, I decided to become more aware of my technology and working habits and looked back on how my technology dependence has changed in my past 2 years of graduate school.
Let me tell you, it was not a beautiful realization. During my undergrad years, while I was living in Santa Cruz, CA, I rarely went anywhere with my computer and would only bring it with me if I was going to a coffee shop or friends house to work. At the beginning of graduate school, on the other hand, my computer was constantly with me and little defined a working space and a space of leisure in my life. If there was even a sliver of a chance to check emails or work on something, I would bring my laptop.

I wouldn’t say much has changed since the beginning of graduate school, but I did put in place rules about designating working hours and leisure and I don’t feel compelled to immediately reply to emails when my computer pings. Still, even with these little rules, I don’t have a healthy relationship with technology and I don’t see it improving anytime soon. Especially since my research is all computer-based and I’m solely writing my thesis and teaching next semester (more tech-heavy tasks).
With this realization, I decided I needed to find a way to foster healthy habits before I start writing my thesis and reduce my grad school burnout that has completely devoured my motivation this semester.

I decided to spend 6 weekends traveling and here’s how I’m doing it.

Grad School Guilt

Grad school guilt is a phenomenon where students feel guilty or anxious about leaving their research/work for extended periods of time. For some students, it can be a weekend and for others, it can be a month. Whatever the extended amount of time, grad school guilt is one of the biggest contributors of grad student burnout and depression. Although we want to please our research advisors and meet deadlines, this doesn’t mean that we, as graduate students, should be sacrificing our mental health. We need to be mindful of a work-life balance.

For me, my work-life balance has little to do with me taking breaks by going to see movies or spending time going out but has more to deal with escaping spaces that are related to work and my daily routine. This is why my work-life balance is optimal when I’m traveling. Traveling allows me the ability to escape any semblance of my normal daily life and work expectations.

Unfamiliar destinations are a fresh space that forces me to leave old habits behind.

Ditch Your Car

So you’re probably wondering where the balance is when you’re sporadically traveling for over a month.

The traveling portion of the vacation is where the work aspect of work-life balance happens. Whether you’re traveling to a neighboring city, across the state, or wherever, ditch your car and take public transportation. Luckily most of my traveling this month is with my partner, Rick, and he graciously volunteers to drive. However, in the past, I have always opted to take public transportation, usually the train, to my destinations. Why? Because it allows huge chunks of time in low stimuli environments — the perfect place to work.

I use travel time as something like a Pomodoro technique. I set goals that I can relate to the travel itinerary and am further motivated to work hard while en route so that I can enjoy longer periods of time relaxing and exploring my destination.

Invest in a Hotspot

Activating the hotspot capability on my phone was a game changer for me when it came to working while traveling. Before I invested in unlimited data and activating my hotspot, I saw traveling as a huge time suck and always opted for the quickest method of travel, which was usually me driving myself. However, once I got my hotspot, I started enjoying the twice as long train rides to my destinations because it allowed me to relax and work while simultaneously getting to my destination. Not to mention I was way more productive working on the train than I was when I tried to work at my destination.

Destination Inspiration

When I plan a trip that is both a work retreat and a vacation, I’m pretty strategic in where I want to go. Obviously, I’m not going to plan an elaborate trip that will leave me little to no time to work because then I’ll feel like I wasted my money and will want to relax and explore more than finding a balance.

Common destinations that I travel to are places like beach towns or the mountains. I try to stay away from large metropolitan areas because they often have a lot of events and hustle and bustle that will entice me to spend more time going out than relaxing and reflecting.

Last weekend I went to Las Vegas, NV which probably wasn’t the best destination because I did spend a lot of time out gambling and drinking, but I justified it because I had 12 hours of travel time that allowed me to get a substantial amount of work done. On the other hand, this upcoming weekend I’m going to San Diego, CA, which is somewhere I’ve been before so I know I will want to spend less time out exploring and more time relaxing, spending time with friends, and not feeling guilty designating time to work.

Whatever destination you choose, make sure that the balance is there, whether you have a long travel time that will allow you to go out and enjoy the destination or a destination that you’re familiar with and you have a few activities planned and don’t feel guilty working for a couple of hours a day.
Let me know where your ideal retreat would be down below in the comments!

Give Yourself Time

Along with picking a destination that works for your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish, creating a loose itinerary beforehand can hold you accountable while way.

When I was in Las Vegas, I had goals for the travel time on the way over and the way back. I also had a work “schedule” on when I would want to work, usually, I chose the first couple of hours within waking up, which left my days free. If a morning event was involved then I scheduled a midday work session or something in the evenings when I would have time that couldn’t be filled with other activities.

Whether you choose to use the itinerary planning or you’re just going to freestyle it, make sure that you’re being honest with yourself about how much time you will need to accomplish your goals. The worst thing that could happen is that you get behind or aren’t happy with the progress you made.

Give yourself enough time to reset, but don’t get lost in your vacation.

Embrace the Now

Life doesn’t start after graduate school. You are living now and you deserve to be happy and thrive now.
The research will always be waiting for you, but life isn’t going to wait for you to finish graduate school. Take the week off, go on a weekend vacation, turn off your computer for a couple hours or days, because you will never get back this time.

And you deserve it.

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