Personal Lessons Learned from an Around-the-World Trip

I returned from my wonderful around-the-world trip last Friday afternoon. I didn't try to work until Monday, but I realized today that I was still Asleep at the Wheel. I attempted to use a new-to-me configuration management system (Subversion). In my befuddled state, I managed to use some CVS commands instead of the Subversion commands. It's ok, go ahead and laugh. The real problem was that I didn't know what was wrong until today, two days later. I was unable to diagnose the problem because my brain hadn't caught up with my body. I was unable to think clearly.

Here are my new guidelines for international travel:

  • If possible, avoid sitting among the charming teenagers who take flash pictures before I'm awake, and who are coughing and spreading many germs. (This is more luck than planning. 🙂
  • Give myself a couple of days on either end to do cleanup work, not new development.
  • Whatever I do develop, especially once I return, make sure I obtain review.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. When I'm tired and not thinking clearly, I tend to be more defensive. If I hadn't asked for help with my mistake, I would still be wondering what the heck I'd done.
  • Avoid scheduling trips longer than two weeks. I find it difficult to do substantive writing on a long trip, especially one with many time zones, like this one. I also find it difficult to keep up with my normal reading and writing.
  • I can take much less in my carry-on bag. I normally fly with enough reading material, snacks, and water to keep myself healthy on long trips. But carriers outside of the US, even on their domestic flights, seemed to provide healthy snacks and sufficient water. I will certainly check with each airline the next time.
  • Look into rolling briefcases that weigh less than the one I have. I ran into trouble with some carriers who have carry-on weight allowances. Surprised me!
  • Don't plan on doing any work for the first couple of days back.

I normally give myself a day on either side of a trip to get ready and to recover. But when I change lots of time zones (more than three or four), I need more than one day to recover. I suspect I'm not the only one. I was talking with Andy Hunt this morning, who says it takes him about a week to recover. Actually, he said something like, “It takes me about a week for all the giblets to settle down into the right place,” or something equally colorful 🙂

I love to meet people in out other countries. I love the teaching and consulting. So I'll keep traveling. But I'll plan my returns and commitments a bit differently in the future. My guidelines might help you on a future trip. But what I hope you take away from this post is this: travel takes a toll on each of us. Don't expecting someone who's been traveling to think clearly when she returns from a trip. The longer the trip, the more time she'll need to recover. And, for you big strong men, this applies to you too.

2 Replies to “Personal Lessons Learned from an Around-the-World Trip”

  1. I find it takes a couple of days to bounce back from a 5 am deployment or a late night hacking… if I’m lucky.
    If I’m unlucky, I completely invert my schedule and wake up at 1 am thinking about race conditions.

  2. NASA research (that is widely cited on the web but for which I cannot find a link!) apparently showed that recovery to full mental and physical capacity can take as much as a day per timezone crossed…

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