Category Archives: travel

Making better use of travel time

I’m going to be in the office a lot more as I help with proposals or coach new hours. Time to think about how I can make the most of the time!

As it turns out, I’m not a particularly audio kind of person. I’ve carried podcasts and audiobooks before, but I rarely listen to them unless I’m listening with another person. I might listen to instrumental music while writing, avoiding songs due to the verbal interference.

If I’m going to the downtown office, I take my bike whenever I can. It’s good exercise, and takes about as much time as the walk and subway trip would’ve taken. With the subway’s occasional delays, biking is faster and more reliable.

If I need to take transit, how can I make the most of that time?

I like writing and mindmapping. I do a lot of both when I manage to find a seat on the subway. I almost always use my Android, as a full laptop feels out of place in the subway. The smartphone works well for one- and two-hand use, maybe even better than a tablet might. The small display forces me to be more concise – good! The 1.5 hour commute up to 3600 Steeles is enough time to flesh out a mind map and draft a few blog posts. Writing is my favourite travel activity. I think I get the most value from it.  

I nap sometimes, but this isn’t particularly restful. Maybe if I try using the nap timer so that I don’t get anxious about missing my stop….  

Reading is fun. I can go through two, three books a day, especially if I get a seat. Carrying books is less fun, though. I’ve read books on my Android and on my tablet, but if I’m going to be using either, I’d rather spend the time writing instead of reading. So I tend to save reading for when I’m eating, walking around the house, or going to bed.  

Sometimes I draw. This is a bit harder, and definitely requires a seat. I don’t want to stare at people on the subway, so I tend to draw from imagination or memory. Index cards and small notebooks are useful here.  

I think it would be interesting to track the specific results of my commuting time. Seeing X hours of travel in my weekly time analysis is one thing. Tallying up Y posts or Z books is another. It’ll be fun!  

How do you use your commuting time?

Travel kaizen and the meaning of life

What do I want to do with my life? Is it worth the trade-offs? How can I make it more worthwhile?

If I’m clear about the meaning of my life and I know that it’s worth the challenges (like travel!) along the way, then relentless optimism will kick in and show me the silver lining to whatever happens. =)

So, what do I want to do with my life?

I want to share what I’m learning. This matters because it means other people can build on what I’ve figured out, and maybe they’ll be inspired to share what they’re learning, too. I don’t need travel in order to share, but travel helps me learn from other people.

I want to help figure out how people can connect and work together all around the world. This matters because I want people to be able to do their best wherever they are, not limited by the geographic lottery. Someday I’ll be able to do this without travel. Right now, sometimes I need to be there in person.

I want to live an awesome life. This matters because I can train people to do most of what I do at work, but I can’t delegate love or experiences. I worry that travel might get in the way of this, but if I learn how to do things better, maybe I can use travel to enrich life.

What can I do to make travel better for work, relationships and life?

  • I can lighten W-‘s load. This could include arranging for cat sitting or dropping the cats off at a cat hotel, doing extra chores before/after the trip to share the workload, taking transit or a cab, and so on.
  • I can meet up with more people and sit in more meetings, like the wonderful times I had in Cambridge and in London.
  • I can try different kinds of food each time, and make more of an effort to get to restaurants with great reviews.
  • I can take my gym clothes along and use the exercise facilities at the hotel. This might mean checking in, as my carry-on is often tightly packed with electronics and travel-ready business clothes. Who knows, maybe it would be great to bring along a folding bicycle. Mel Chua does that. =)
  • I can skip watching television or old movies. If I didn’t think it was worth finding and watching, then it’s probably not worth watching just because it’s there. I can spend the time writing or reading instead.
  • I can fill my iPod with interesting e-books and audiobooks. Time to go through the classics I haven’t read yet…
  • I can wake up earlier, since I don’t need to worry about disturbing anyone.
  • I can set up a calling card, or pay for the Net connection.

Hmm… I just need to figure out how to look at this, and then everything will move more smoothly.

Thinking about travel

I’ve just submitted my application to IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, which sends IBMers to emerging countries. The volunteers work with local non-profit and government agencies to share their skills in IT, management, and other topics. Applicants need to have been with IBM for at least two years, so this is the first time I can qualify. I joined IBM shortly before the program started, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity since then.

The program involves three months of prep work, one month overseas, and two months of service afterwards. While a month of travel makes me a little nervous, W- reminded me that he managed just fine during my three-week trip to the Philippines. He needed to come home earlier to feed the cats and take care of the litter boxes, but things were otherwise okay. Maybe longer-term travel isn’t so scary after all. We can figure out going from three weeks to one month, maybe even two. A year-long international assignment still seems like a big stretch, but maybe we can work it out if needed.

I’d love to be selected and to help make a difference wherever I’m sent. It would be amazing if I’m assigned to the Philippines—plugging into my old networks, bringing people together to do something great. It would also be amazing if I’m sent elsewhere, because then I’ll learn about a different place and connect with new networks. I’d love to tell stories from the field!

In the medium- and long-term, both my first-line manager and my dotted-line manager (ah, matrix organizations) have recommended that I look into global roles or growth markets. If I want to keep growing in my career, I suspect that at least some travel will be in my future.

I’m starting to realize that travel doesn’t have to be the bogeyman I’d thought it was. I’m getting better at the paperwork I need for visas. If we can get a cat sitter or housekeeper to drop by the house everyday, that means W- can focus on work if he needs to. I’ve dealt with culture shock before. I’m starting to find role models who’ve successfully pulled it off before, which is even more encouraging.

It’s worth an experiment.  Maybe I can gradually work up to it: one month for CSC, three months helping with workshops, six months or longer… I need to balance that with other things I want to do with my life, but it would be interesting to explore.

I hate flying

Long flights are the worst. New security restrictions and winter mechanical problems meant delays at the gate in the Pearson International Airport. That meant sprinting through the Detroit airport to catch my connection to Nagoya, a 14-hour flight on which I got stuck beside a talker—an American who told me he initially assumed I was some teenager on a trip with her parents and who, upon finding out I was in IT, showed me a picture of a pile of computers he’d refreshed and tried to impress me with the certs he was going for: CCNA, MSCE, etc. “ASP – you know Active Server Pages?”

I was polite. I made conversation. And I made it very clear that I outgeeked him, in the hope that would get him to stop trying to namedrop technology or military jargon.

I hate flying. I hate the expense of airfare and the time commitment of a trip. I hate the rigmarole of airport security. I hate the paperwork and queues. I hate lugging heavy bags around. Why did my work laptop have to be so big?

As the flight from Nagoya to Manila touched down, the passengers around me broke into applause. Filipinos, glad to be home.

Home. I slipped back into it like a second skin. Home. Family; long-running in-jokes with friends; conversations in Tagalog; even ads that I can relate to. Even my cat remembers our old routines.

How strange and wonderful it is to have two homes, and to know what I take for granted in either.

The shy connector’s guide to business travel

As an introvert, I often find business travel quite stressful. I know I should be making better use of the time and money spent getting me there by meeting lots of people while I’m in town, but the workshops and presentations I’m in town for are usually intense, so I don’t want to overcommit. Here are some things that have helped me with business travel:

  1. Fly with just a carry-on. With some clever packing and trimming, you can fit all of your needs for short business trips into a single carry-on piece of luggage (or maybe one piece plus a small bag, which many airlines will allow). Not only will you never have to worry about dealing with airline customer service when it comes to tracking down lost luggage, you’ll usually be able to skip the lines by checking in online and or through a kiosk. This makes it easier to avoid rush hour, too.
  2. Leave space in your schedule. You’ve already invested so much on travel and lodging. You might be tempted to maximize your trip by cramming every break, morning, and evening with meetings. Don’t. Give yourself time to recharge, especially on your first day in and before any important presentations. It’s okay to spend some quiet time in the hotel room or walking around. You can experiment with meeting people, too. Find people on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Doppler and arrange something beforehand, or use Twitter to plan something on the fly. I tend to prefer organizing things on the fly because that lets me adapt to my energy level.
  3. Ping people. You might not have time to meet everyone (see tip #2), but a trip gives you a natural excuse to reach out to people in the area and tell them you were thinking of them. Check your address book and social network, and send off some notes to say hi. If you share a few details about why you’re in town, you might end up making unexpected connections.
  4. Find a local spot if you want to shake up your routine, or keep it consistent if that works for you. Find out what you like. Staying in interchangeable hotels and eating at chain restaurants can make business trips blur into each other, but that can be a good thing. On the other hand, local favourites might lead to new discoveries. Figure out your style, and work with that.
  5. Have little rituals to ease the transition, and enjoy the silence. It might be the way you pack your bags. It might be the kind of book you take on the plane. It might be the long bath you take after you reach your hotel. Enjoy the silence. You’ve got a hotel room to yourself and no chores to do. Relax in the bliss of being alone, and come out of your shell when you’re ready.

What other ways do you make travel easier?

Notes from the road

Providing consulting services in strategy workshops is a crash course in facilitation and presentation skills. Looking at the presentations and techniques that people have developed is awe-inspiring. The people I work with don’t do death by bullet point. They’re good at research and thought leadership, infographics and design, Post-It notes and presentations. Me, I rummage through my brain to try to as much value as I can with what I’ve read and learned about Generation Y, Web 2.0, and other topics, and I hope someday to figure out how to do things even better than the way people around me do. =)

If I think of the travel as just a really long commute, it’s not that bad. I miss W-, the cats, the garden, and so on, but I’m too busy to feel too lost. I don’t want to do this all the time because I like having a rich relationship with plenty of in-jokes, but short sprints should be fine. I’m learning tons about facilitation and presentation that I wouldn’t be able to learn on my own.

I’m nearing the end of my super-busy sprint, and I’ll have some time to get things sorted out, prepare, and make future workshops run even better.