Long hiatus from blogging. Hard to find time for much on the interview trail when you're constantly switching time zones, packing/repacking the suitcase, and hustling to catch the next flight. I took a true "vacation" over the holidays and checked out from anything academic... first time in over 2 years.
Anyways, with a month spent traveling, thought I'd past along some tips from my own experiences and experiences of classmates and fellow applicants:
1. If at all humanly possible, downsize to only a check on bag
Yes, checked luggage does get lost, and it does happen to medical students. The risk of your luggage going lost increases exponentially if your flight gets delayed, or you have 1+ connections, and the last thing you want is to arrive in a city without your suit. Trust me, it happens every year and it happened to a few people I know this year. So go to the store and get those little 3 oz toiletries, and make it work. If you're having trouble fitting everything, wear your suit on the plane. The peace of mind is worth it.
Interviews can be a logistical nightmare with all the airline flights, hotel confirmations, car rentals, etc. I was lucky I stumbled across this little gem, tripit.com. It allows you to create individual "trips" for each of your interviews and keep track off all your flight information, confirmation codes, addresses of interview dinners, and even gives you maps. They have an iPhone and Droid and you can access it online from any Smartphone or laptop. Plus it syncs so you don't need web access to retrieve your info. It's been a lifesaver as far as keeping everything in one place and being able to pull it up at a moment's notice. Plus it's free.
3. Research your hotels
The "recommended" hotels provided by programs are not all nice places to stay (learned that the hard way), and often are not the cheapest or closest places. Before you book anywhere, google the hotel and read some of the reviews to weed out the stinkers. You also want to make sure you are at a place with an iron (so you aren't crumpled on interview day) and internet access (for checking into flights and for sanity). If you have a rental car or there are limited hotels in the area around your interview, you can often get away with using hotline.com to get a deal as well. At one interview, there was only one hotel by the medical campus, and even with the "medical discount" it was still $100+ a night. I did a hotline search for the area, found the hotel (even though it was hidden, I knew it was the one) and was able to book for $68 a night. These little savings add up in an expensive endeavor.
4. When possible, book extra time in a city when you visit
It's impossible to get a feel for a city when you're around only for your interview day. When possible, I'd try to get in earlier the day before or stay the night after and see the city a bit. Plus, this whole process is supposed to be kind of FUN. It's way more fun when you have time to explore a bit and try out some cool little restaurants or walk around a downtown of a city you've never been in before.
Along the same lines, if you have an opportunity to stay with friends, take it up in a heartbeat. On one trek, I had a 4 day layoff between two interviews and didn't want to fly the 2000 miles home in between, so I made a quick jump up to a city 500 miles north and stayed with a friend I hadn't seen in 7 years. Made the trip much more enjoyable and I saved some money on airfare in the process.
5. If you're going to drink, tread carefully.
Many of the social dinners are open bars, and occasionally the residents and/or faculty will take you out beyond that. Don't be afraid to have fun, but also tread carefully. The last thing you want to be known as is the applicant who was sloppy or did something inappropriate. I have seen this happen at several of the social events. Interviews are exhausting and stressful, so feel free to have a drink or two, but know your limits.
6. Take notes
After a couple of interviews, the places start to blend together. Use the flight out of the city as an excuse to take 30 minutes and go stream-of-consciousness on a tablet of paper. It helps when you're trying to remember your impressions from places weeks later. It gets old, but at the same time I have no idea who I'd make me rank list without it.
7. Exercise and hydrate
When changing time zones a lot, your body gets really confused. When sitting on planes a lot, your muscles atrophy. When eating airport food and drinking airport coffee, you gain weight and get dehydrated. Bring along some running shoes and workout clothes and hit the pavement or the hotel gym when possible. You'll feel better and sleep better. And trust me, you want to be rested for your interview day. I've had two interviews already where I was absolutely exhausted the day of and between the powerpoint presentations and repetitive questions, it was very, very difficult to stay locked in. Do everything you can to help your energy level.
90% of my interviews have been very casual and very conversational. Even the more difficult ones have been because of interesting personalities or "behavior-based" questions. Even the curveballs have been fairly soft, so try to relax when the interviews come up. After the first couple interviews, you'll be in a flow and already have a rote response for 90% of the questions that will come your way.
Four interviews left then it's time to create my rank list. CRAZY.