Work Follows You Everywhere
And I mean everywhere -- a gurgling, vibrating smartphone can be tougher to resist rescuing than a crying baby. And I absolutely admit it is the rare traveler who can check a load of emails, close the laptop, forget immediately about everything she just read and go back to her summer reading.
Searching for Wi-Fi signals, fiddling with access and cables, and dealing with hotel connection speeds that go up and down as other patrons log on and off can be frustrating work. Thankfully, most hotels have Wi-Fi nowadays making connecting a little bit easier – and a lighter load to carry (no more cables).
Many hotels charge an arm and a leg just to connect to their Internet service. Worse yet, even if you're only going to be using the Wi-Fi for a short period of time, many places make you pay for a full 24 hours.
Email Is a Black Hole
Some folks can't help themselves when confronted with a full inbox; they can't just dip in where necessary, they have to do a full gainer off the high board and soak everyone sitting near the pool while they're at it. However, there truly is no rule that you must respond to every inanity that arrives in your inbox, and it's your own fault if you permit folks to believe otherwise.
You'll Never Keep Up Anyway
Well, it's true.
Post a vacation or away message.
The most effective way to let folks know you're unavailable and whom to contact in an emergency is to set up an auto-response in your email. The most important upside here is that there are no unanswered emails. For an important message to go completely unacknowledged is a worst-case scenario; even if you don't read the thing until you return, at least the writer knows you are not blatantly ignoring him.
Let it do its job.
After you activate your auto responder, do not reply to every casual or nuisance email that comes in. It defeats the purpose, and folks get used to having your attention without exception -- not a good outcome for anyone involved.
Write short replies.
Whenever possible, simply let folks know you saw their email, respond to any urgent questions and tell them you'll pick it up when you get back. Long-winded replies don't get read anyway, and most importantly, you are not at work -- don't behave like you are.
Search for free access.
You can check a website listing various free access points such as Wi-Fi Free Spot, or you can simply fire up a signal search and see what you find. Remember that just because a wireless signal is unencrypted, that doesn't mean that it is public; most public access points will be clearly identified as such, as with the county Wi-Fi example above.
Set yourself up when you arrive at your hotel room, and forget about it.
A laptop is my preferred apparatus; my practice is to spend a part of the first busy hour in a hotel setting up my computer, and then I close it up until I need it again.
Set aside a specific time to deal with your email.
Everyone knows how a string of emails precipitates a string of replies, and another string of replies, and so on. If you are checking and replying to emails all day long, you're never actually on vacation. Set aside a time to deal with your email, deal with it and move on.
One good approach to this is to check in immediately upon your arrival at a destination and handle any problems. If you've spent the better part of a day and a half traveling, checking in right away puts any issues on track, typically buying you another couple days of time to yourself.
Check in during dead time in your travels.
Check email in airports, listen to voice mail while everyone else in the family is showering, etc. There are parts of every vacation day that are all business; might as well do all your business during these same times.
Check in during dead time back home.
If you check your office or personal emails at a time when your correspondents are offline, you're far less likely to get trapped in a rapidfire call-and-response loop; the same thing goes for voice mail. Check your mail when the folks you are communicating with are least likely to respond immediately, and you can get through an entire queue of work in less time and without interruption.
Check in during pure leisure time.
Many travelers prefer to compartmentalize work and play, as phone calls and voice mails have the potential to ruin a perfectly good and lazy moment. However, if you can find an access spot that lets you hang your feet in the water, give it a try; sometimes beautiful, relaxing environs can lift the aura of drudgery from even the most mulish labor.
Check in right before some solo time.
Check in right before you get in the shower, or before going running, or before a long drive. When you head out on a run or stand under the hot water, you may find a few quiet minutes to do any mental review required to respond efficiently and definitively.
Change gears immediately after checking in.
If the goal is to spend less mental energy on your email, not more, take the opposite approach. Getting involved in an activity immediately after you check your messages will help you avoid being dragged down by mundane problems. If you plan ahead such that you are completely engaged in an activity immediately after checking in, you can avoid dwelling on issues from back home. For example, I like to check in right before going swimming; while on a run, I will tend to linger over problems, but swimming doesn't seem to allow me the same bad habits. Same for mealtime; if I am enjoying myself talking with family or friends in a restaurant, I'm unlikely to dwell on a work issue for long.
Don't feel like you need to respond right away.
Your absence allows you one luxury; you don't have to respond to everything in real time. Check in, let some time pass and respond or act on your own time, not anyone else's. Your response will be better, your resentment less, and your time will remain your own.
The Independent Traveler