Planes, trains and automobiles: How to write while travelling in your PhD

One of the things you will notice about your PhD is how many things actually get in between you and writing your thesis.  For me, travelling has been a big part of this.  I’ve been to America, Belgium, and Ghana for symposia, to name a few! This also doesn’t include the travel within the UK for fieldwork and conferences.  Although I’m very fortunate to have had so much opportunity to see the world during my doctorate, I think sometimes we can forget how tiring and challenging travelling can be!  This post will include tips for self-care while travelling, as well as the best ways to work en route to different places.


img_1330Take care of yourself

Lots of travel can be tough on your body and mind, especially if you aren’t used to it.  Make sure you make time to eat, even if you’re travelling over meal times.  Drink lots of water and don’t be afraid to rest when you need to.  Listen to your body, it knows what it needs!  If you can, structure in some ‘recovery time’ after a big trip, where you can catch up on rest and admin you’ve missed out on while you’ve been away.  Even if you don’t have jet lag, research trips and conferences can be very intense, involving a lot of socialising and energy.  I consider myself extremely extroverted, and even I sometimes feel the need for a couple of quiet days after a work trip.


How to Write

It’s tempting to let conferences become ‘off-time’ when you’re in the write-up phase, but unfortunately this is often a luxury we can’t afford!  Using the time en route to the best of your ability can make a huge difference, and might buy you the rest day you need when you get back!


  • Set realistic goals – Choose limited things you can achieve during a journey to focus your mind.  Rather than just saying “Continue writing” say “Proof read chapter one”.  This will help to keep you motivated throughout the trip!  If you choose too large or vague a task, your mind will wander and you won’t achieve much.
  • Minimise distractions – Everyone works differently, but I tend to find that too much background noise can make accomplishing anything tricky.  A good set of noise cancelling headphones can be invaluable to a PhD student on the move, helping you to maintain a calm space, even if that baby in the back row starts crying.img_1168
  • Consider using it as meeting time – This is obviously dependent on travelling with others, but if you can, sit beside someone who can be helpful to you.  A flight can be a useful time to catch up with colleagues and to get a second opinion on some ideas.  One of my most productive flights was spent talking to a fellow researcher and poet, who provided some excellent insight into my work.
  • Work in bursts – Only the most disciplined people could spend an entire long-haul flight writing.  Build in some break time to rest, and don’t expect yourself to do the impossible.  It can also be good to have a ‘non-academic’ task you can switch to when your brain needs a break.  Writing a blog post or a bio for an abstract can be necessary, without needing the same level of analysis as a paper.



With all of this in mind, make sure you enjoy your travels!  Embrace the sights and sounds of new places, and take a little bit of time to breathe in new surroundings.  Even though it can be hard work, try not to lose sight of how great the opportunity is.


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