3 Tips That Will Transform Your Research Time Abroad

Whenever I’m asked about going abroad for research, time management quickly becomes a hot topic. After digging a little further into someone’s research plan and asking how they intend to use their time, I inevitably give the same advice. There are several ways to maximize your time on the ground, but there is one thing that will make your research time abroad more productive and enjoyable and far less stressful than anything else.

It’s also the one thing that most people don’t want to do.

Plan to be in Country 2-3 Times Longer Than you Think You’ll Need

The greatest objection I hear when I say this is that it’s way too expensive to stay 2-3 times as long. Swooping in, hitting all the hot research spots, and heading right back to the airport is more than feasible. Maybe you’ll see something of cultural significance on an odd night out. I get it. I understand the financial aspect of simultaneously paying a mortgage back home and a hotel abroad. Or not having enough vacation time. Or when there’s childcare involved, including the stress on your partner or family back home caring for small children or ailing parents on their own. Life is real. It’s also time to rally the troops because we’re likely talking about a handful of extra days.

Here’s why this objection is short sighted.

You Can’t Afford to go All That Way and Not Get What you Need

If you’re concerned about staying a few days longer just imagine the cost of having to make a second trip. When you’re on the ground with specific goals that may even be attached to a contract, coming back empty handed isn’t an option.

For example, I have a list of museums to visit on this trip to Krakow and I stopped by one yesterday to confirm the hours. It was too late to go in, so I planned to hit it up this morning. As you can see by the pic I snapped, the electricity was out. What a fluke! They happen to be doing a massive renovation on the adjacent road. But that’s not all. I’ve also been derailed by closures due to two national holidays back to back, and was walloped by a gnarly cold that kept me in bed for the first three days of this trip.

Remember that interviewees have emergencies too, or they turn out to be so fascinating that you know you will need more time with them. Museums and archives will be closed due to weird circumstances that you couldn’t see coming. You also might hit upon so much good stuff that you need extra time to get through it all. There will be tech problems and travel delays and sickness.

If I only planned to be here for a week or ten days and hit everything in succession, I would be so stressed. In my first six days in Krakow, I’ve already had three major delays. Good thing I’ll be here all month.

But what if it all goes off without a hitch? Congratulations!

You Still Won’t Be Left With Extra Time

Just because you’ve completed the research end of things doesn’t mean you’re done. You still have to compile your notes, organize your material, and start drafting. There’s nothing like being in the location to get the juices flowing. If you find you have a few days left at the end of your trip with nothing slotted into them, take advantage of the quiet time without the responsibilities or distractions of home. It’s a gift not everyone has, so use it.

Alternatively, if you’re 50 miles from Pompeii and you’ve wanted to see that site since you were ten years old, go. Make it your reward for being a research rockstar. Use it to recharge your batteries for the next big creative push. Either way, you win.