Thursday, September 08, 2011

Planning travel is a time-sink

To get started on a happy note, here is a picture of me at the Xerox Research Centre Europe (XRCE), Grenoble, last week. Many thanks to Onno Zoeter, Guillaume Bouchard, Chris Dance and Shengbo Guo for excellent hospitality and stimulating discussions.

When taking any trip, booking the flights etc takes a significant amount of time. It was a particularly big problem while planning my trip to FOCS. FOCS is in Palm Springs, a place which I had heard of already since it gets a mention in I had trouble in getting to Solla Sollew. Too many decisions, is the problem. The narrator of IHTIGTSS wouldn’t sympathize, but he never had to ponder the relative merits of a more direct flight versus a longer trip by shuttle bus, or what are the best arrival/departure times. He never had to make any bookings, either. Endlessly refining searches on kayak, you know that a great itinerary is out there, if only you could find it.

I was reminded of this talk by Kevin Leyton-Brown, who also (via Google+) drew my attention to decision fatigue. The talk was about a model of economic decision making in which the agents incur a cost for assessing the value they attach for some outcome. It makes sense that one should indeed incur a cost for evaluating one’s own valuations. Decision fatigue means what you think it means.

On a related topic, I learned that I’m not allowed to charge any kind of seat upgrade to the research grant that pays for this trip; even some kind of “premium economy” is off-limits, never mind business class. In light of the above, maybe I should be glad to have my choices limited, but it’s a worrying restriction; if economy class travel continues to deteriorate in quality, that will become quite a big deterrent to attending conferences overseas.


Edith said...

Took me a few working days to figure out the travel plans for this summer. But I am very proud of the result: I never paid more than EUR 150 for any trip within Europe. As for the upgrades, the trick is to collect miles on European itineraries or through credit cards and use them for upgrades.

Anonymous said...

"I’m not allowed to charge any kind of seat upgrade to the research grant that pays for this trip"

Is this the EPSRC policy, or the university?

Paul Goldberg said...

I got told the policy by someone in the HR dept of the university; not sure what EPSRC would say. I think they used to allow it, but they might have changed more recently, due to spending cuts and not wanting to be seen to be overspending.