In a couple weeks, I’ll be headed across the pond for 10 days of research in London for my next couple Regency romances. It’ll be my third time in the lovely country of England and I have some very targeted sites I want to see. For the most part, I’ll be in London (renting a flat via Airbnb this time that puts me right in the heart of Mayfair, near Grosvenor Square and Hyde Park).
If you’ve never taken a research trip before, here are my tips for things to bring (or do) when you head out one one.
I always arm myself with a few Moleskine notebooks (I prefer the 5×7 soft-sided variety because they’re small and can stuff themselves conveniently in a corner of my backpack). Do put your name in the book! I lost one at a conference one year (devastating!), but because my name was in it, the lovely conference organizers were able to contact me afterwards and return it (wonderful!). Anytime I’m participating in a tour, at a museum, or just out and about, I will whip it out and write down impressions, thoughts, facts…even expressions I hear other Londoners using.
Don’t forget plenty of writing instruments, too! If you’re planning research in a library, keep in mind that many do not allow pens, so have plenty of mechanical pencils with lead. And be careful of pens with liquid ink (as opposed to ballpoints)…they can explode due to the high pressure on a plane (says the girl with some experience at this).
An Empty Smartphone
By this, I mean delete off all the unnecessary data off your phone, including apps, movies, and other media, like photos of your kid’s last birthday, so you have maximum space on your smartphone for pictures. Most do a great job these days of taking good-quality photographs (do remember to clean off your lens before snapping pics! There’s nothing worse than a smudgy photograph). If you’re not using a cloud service and/or an international data plan, then you’re going to be limited as to how much you can store on your phone. If you’re anything like me (I took 4,000 pictures on my last trip!), you want as much space as possible, and plan to download all your pics to your laptop at the end of the day.
Whether or not you’re published, you should have some cards with your contact information. I have two versions…one is for professional contacts, the other is for future readers. The cards for professional contacts I’ll share with other writers or people I meet at places where I’m doing research (libraries, museums, map stores — my favorite — etc.). It has my phone number, personal email address, and mailing address (great if I’m buying books or something people will ship to me later).
The card for readers has my website on it, information about the first book in my series, and the email I give to readers.
An Extra Suitcase or Duffel
The last time I went to London, Jilly can confirm that I had to buy two small suitcases, which I stuffed with books and other things I was bringing home. This time, I’m just bringing an extra. Two small rollerboards, one of which I will have to check, of course, but I’m a ferocious book buyer when I go on research trips. Quite simply, there are books one just can’t find in the US (even on Amazon). Many of my favorite research books are ones I picked up in museum shops. I think last time I came home with twenty-two books. I love old maps, as well, and will make room for them in my suitcase.
If you don’t want to check a bag on the way there, make sure you have enough room for a rolled-up duffel bag that you can fill with clothes on the return trip. Then you’re only paying to check a bag one-way.
Copies of Your Passport
This isn’t for the reason you think…if you’re headed to a research library or some other archive, your passport may be required to check out or look at material. Naturally, ask for it to be returned to you when you leave.
Schedules of Museums and Other Sites
Some museums have crazy schedules or will be closed because of an unknown-to-me holiday, so I’m always careful to plan out my trip, making sure I know which days I have to be out and about in order to see things, and which days I can play it by ear. Some museums are closed on Mondays, others on Tuesdays. Some have exhibits going that you might want to check out, but advance ticket purchase is required.
VPN Software and Offline Maps
In the age of Wifi thievery, it’s important to make sure your data is protected. I recently started using VPN software on my phone and my laptop. It serves two purposes. Primarily, it creates what’s called a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that, according to Gizmodo, “allow users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. Much like a firewall protects your data on your computer, VPNs protect it online.” Basically, it prevents your computer or phone from being hacked when you’re using public Wi-fi or even a cellular network.
The other thing it can do is mask where you’re connecting from. For example, there are some Netflix shows that aren’t available to UK residents, and when you’re connecting to the internet from wifi in London, even though you’re a US subscriber to Netflix, the content you’re presented will be based on the IP address of your current location. VPN software can mask where you’re connecting from, so even if you’re in London, it’ll seem to the rest of the world (and to Netflix!) that you’re connecting from the US.
It’s also helpful to have loaded onto your phone an internet-free map of the local metro system. There are some apps you can download that you can use offline, if you’re not going to have access to cell data on your trip. Check your app store for an app that might work.
Portable Phone Chargers and Voltage Converters
Yeah, there’s nothing worse than being out and about, taking great pics of awesome sites, and your phone dies. Make sure you carry a (charged!) personal charger with you at all times. This is especially important if you’re using your phone as your map to get back to your hotel or apartment. Some voltage converters double as chargers, so be sure to check that out if you’re trying to save space in your suitcase (or just bring less stuff).
Layers of (Recyclable) Clothing
Doing laundry on a trip is expensive. Hotels can literally charge you hundreds of dollars to wash a few days worth of clothes, and I don’t want to waste a day at a laundromat getting my clothes clean. Instead of bring lots of clothes (which also means lugging around a huge suitcase), I plan to layer.
I always go out and buy a few packages of mens undershirts before my trip (enough to wear one each day of my trip, a mix of white and black). I roll them up small and stuff them in my suitcase and wear a fresh one under each day’s outfit. I also bring along enough underwear for the entire trip. But everything else I pack — pants, outer shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters — I plan to wear at least twice, if not more. I definitely don’t care if I’m wearing the same thing a couple days in a row (in fact, most Europeans have a very limited, good-quality wardrobe, rather than lots of low-quality variety).
If I’m going to be sitting around in my hotel room or apartment, I’ll wear a pair of comfy pants or leggings, saving my jeans or outer pants for when I’m actually out of my apartment.
Small, RFID-proof Backpack
We’re fortunate that our family travels a lot, and this purchase I made at REI a couple years ago has been a lifesaver on our trips. It’s an RFID-proof backpack with a special tether to allow me to attach it to the chair I’m sitting in if at a cafe. It’s small and compact, it withstands water, it’s large enough for my Macbook Pro, and easy to sling on and off.
The RFID-proof part means that no one can swipe my passport details using a hand-held device (yes, crooks have gone high-tech). I keep my passport in my backpack, because it’s rare that I need it for anything except getting through customs.
I double that with a small clutch-purse that I wear criss-cross over my body. This holds my ID/cards, phone, and chapstick. Basically anything I want to get to quickly.
So! What things do you find you can’t travel without? What am I forgetting?