By Richard Parfitt |
One of the most common difficulties when you start doing your archival research is planning visits abroad. Typically, these kind of trips consist of two or three weeks in a country of choice, in which time you need to do six or seven weeks’ worth of work. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some funding from your university to cover travel, sometimes even a portion of accommodation costs, but regardless you’re likely to find yourself using your own money for a chunk of the outlay. Planning is therefore essential, but don’t be put off.
- Fly Cheap
You’ll hear all sorts of horror stories about flying with budget airlines. ‘They charge extra for everything’, ‘they fly to the wrong airport’, ‘they don’t bring you complimentary gold studded lobster’ and so on. There really isn’t anything to worry about. Flying with a Ryanair or an Easyjet can save you a lot of money on travel, helping you stretch that miniature grant that bit further.
- Pack Light
Hold luggage? Overrated. A week or two’s worth of clothing and essentials, laptop and all, fits quite comfortably in your standard carry on suitcase. Be minimalist, take what you need, a laundrette is cheaper than paying for the extra luggage. If you’re really stretched, wear a big coat and pack the pockets (this isn’t entirely a joke, I’ve done it before).
- Book smart
When it comes to accommodation, this is the one area where I wouldn’t recommend going for the lowest bidder. For a short trip, a hostel is probably fine, but ideally you want somewhere with a proper kitchen so that you can save on food (see below). I’d recommend booking a room in a house or flat. AirBnB is great for getting an affordable room in a good location, and the hosts are used to giving directions to baffled foreigners, which I always find useful.
- Eat cheap
The main reason I recommend a flat or house is food. If you stay in a hotel, even a cheap one, you end up eating a lot of takeaways. It hurts in the wallet. Get to the local budget supermarket, stock up and make yourself some packed lunches (novelty lunchbox optional) and the cost stays minimal.
- Plan as much as possible
You do not have a lot of time, so don’t waste it trying to work out what you’re supposed to be researching after you get there. Plan everything in advance. Familiarise yourself with every archive, library or other facility that you need to use and plan as precisely as you can where you plan to be and what you intend to look at on each day. At my most gloriously pedantic, I’ve had two week trips planned down to individual one hour slots. It’s fun, for me at least.
- Be relentless
See above. Every minute counts. Use a camera (or your phone) to photograph documents if you can, then read them when you get home. Arrive the minute the building opens, stay until they have to carry you out by the ears.
- Ask for advice
Contact the people who run the library/archive in advance and get an idea of how much ground you’ll be able to cover while you’re there. Even if you don’t need to book in advance, they can give you advice, and they often know about some material you haven’t considered.
- If you can’t work, rest, relax and enjoy
Mercifully, there will be times when even my concerning levels of enthusiasm can’t get any more research done. You should resist the temptation to tax yourself further at these points. Writing papers and reading journal articles can wait. Rest, relax, go and see the city, watch Netflix, whatever works for you.
In essence, the key is to make the most of you resources – both in terms of time and money. Plan carefully and choose frugally and you give yourself a great chance of getting a lot out of your trip.