Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Pack for the AALS (or any other interview trip)

With the AALS Recruitment Conference coming up, folks in various places are dispensing advice about how to survive the interview gauntlet.  I’ll add something very practical to the mix:  what to pack to make the trip easier.

As an all-too-frequent traveler, I’ve developed my travel strategies over many years.  Here’s what I wish I’d figured out before my AALS experience:

When deciding what to pack, your goal should be to figure out what you can’t live without, and how to make sure you have it without relying on anyone else.       

If you can’t carry on a serious conversation without having had breakfast, do you really want to rely on room service arriving on time, or the nearest Starbucks not being overcrowded?  If you can’t start the day without coffee, are you sure the hotel coffee-maker variety will have enough punch?

The solution?  Do what people who fly for a living do:  “‘I’m not wasting my hour of preflight looking for something to eat,’” a pilot told the New York Times, “explaining that he seals bananas, bread and plastic containers of olive oil in plastic bags and tucks them inside his packed shoes. A surprising number of pilots and flight attendants say they always carry food.”

I protect my quiet time in the morning by bringing breakfast.  My favorite stash is packets of instant oatmeal and raisins.  If the hotel room has a coffee maker, that’s the source of the hot water, and a hotel coffee cup is your cereal bowl.  If you won’t have a coffee maker, bring an infusion heater and a metal or ceramic cup.

Now about the caffeine.  Sometimes hotel room coffee is ok, sometimes it is terrible.  Often, there’s not enough – especially if you want to be able to take a mid-day coffee break without standing in line at Starbucks.  I used to travel with ground Peet’s coffee, a one cup drip cone filter, and some coffee filters.  I made great coffee this way, but I am now more interested in skipping the time and the mess than being a purist.  And so I must confess that I’ve invested in Starbucks Via instant coffee.  If you want a quick, drinkable caffeine hit, this is the simplest way to go.  If you must put something in it, you can find packages of single-serving Coffee Mate at the grocery store.

Other things to pack:

In case you end up with only 20 minutes for lunch, you’d better have your own supplies.  Consider granola bars or nuts and apples, or whatever works for you.

Pack emergency supplies you don’t expect to need: a headache remedy, an antacid, band-aids (for blisters), Neosporin, cough drops.       

Rather than relying on hotel internet access, take printouts of anything essential, in case the wireless connection is not good.

As for everything else in your suitcase, this may not be the weekend to work on traveling especially light.  Bring an extra shirt or two. Bring your tennis shoes to go for a good walk at the end of the day to clear your head.

Best of luck.  You will survive this.

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