Jet-Set Nerds

Symmetry magazine has an article on travel tips for physicists, from other physicists. There are two scary things about this:

1) The degree to which the picture that emerges from the different tips aligns with unflattering stereotypes of physicists. Some of the items are funny travel stories, but the tips are all about keeping your laptop running, and how to live out of a single back for two weeks, and how to avoid actually talking to anyone during your travels.

2) The fact that I think most of the advice is excellent. God, I'm a dork.

They're absolutely right when they say "if you must check a bag, it should never contain work-related items," by the way. Unless you're on your way home from a conference, the absolute most important thing you have with you is whatever you need for your presentation. You have to treat that material as if it contained nuclear secrets. Actually, given the track record of the people who actually have nuclear secrets, that's probably not secure enough-- treat it the way you wish they would treat nuclear secrets.

Several years ago, now, they held DAMOP at the University of Connecticut. The restaurant situation in Storrs is, um, not that great, so most of the attendees ate in the dining hall. The first day of the meeting, they attempted to ban shoulder bags in the dining hall, and it nearly led to a revolt-- everybody there was basically handcuffed to the bag containing their laptop or talk slides, and they got very twitchy when the food service people tried to take those bags away...

After at least a dozen arguments (that I heard, and I was only halfway back in the line), they relented, and for the rest of the meeting, everyone at the salad bar had a little physics-meeting shoulder bag with them. And they were all perfectly happy.

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I have a really good trick for getting rid of really chatty guys, but it only works for women. I always carry a Cosmopolitan magazine with me. I just pull it out and they leave me alone. It really works. I just carry one with me for that purpose; there's nothing in there really worth reading."

I bet that would work for men, to get rid of chatty men.... one of us should try it sometime.


I've given (or am giving) a dozen talks this year, which is more than usual for me, so I'm opinionated.

I guess I'm not part of the "pack lightly" crowd. I check a bag, and I put all sorts of things in it (except of course the laptop). There's no sense trying to worry about having your bag lost unless it's a haute interview. I might be wrong, but I think my talks would have an audience no matter what I was wearing. That, and I can't live without at least 3-4 pairs of shoes.

My colleagues and I always laugh about how physicists are unique travelers, we're incessantly frugal, we can't easily handle 6 hours without an internet connection, and we eat and drink like we're grad students on welfare.

Now I've got to go work on another talk.

I wonder how many people bring their own coffee and grinder? I know a couple at least.

Thank goodness the TSA now lets 3oz or less bottles in carryon. That brief period of time where I had to actually check luggage was horrifying. It must add like 1.5 hours to every flight.

By Brad Holden (not verified) on 15 Oct 2006 #permalink

My inhouse physicist is a 1K flyer on United -- that's 100,000 miles/year. Yeah. He almost never checks a bag either, but he's with the guy in the article who can't see why he'd need more than the shoes he's wearing. Guys can get away with that a lot easier than us chicks can. Even if it's just a weekend, I nearly always want 2 pairs of shoes. As for me, I'd much rather have onplane internet than movies or telephones.


If you're giving a talk, the only thing you really need is a flash-drive with your presentation. You can alwats borrow a laptop. Otoh, if you're presenting a poster then your materials are much harder to replace.

If you're giving a talk, the only thing you really need is a flash-drive with your presentation. You can alwats borrow a laptop. Otoh, if you're presenting a poster then your materials are much harder to replace.

That DAMOP was long enough ago that PowerPoint talks weren't completely ubiquitous-- lots of people were still using overhead transparencies.

Also, borrowing a laptop or other computer system is always a little risky-- you never know if the graphics and fonts will turn out right. I use PowerPoint for my classes, and one time got ten minutes into the lecture before discovering that the classroom computer didn't have the font with h-bar in it, and had substituted the dingbat font. Every place I had put an h-bar, there was a little ambulance...