I unintentionally found out how to get schools to respond to your application much sooner. I noted in most of my applications that I would be backpacking and only available by email, and possibly Skype (internet connection permitting), after February. To be fair, at the time I thought this was true. I just ended up pushing my trip back until later because I had some work commitments I didn't want to bail on. And it's not like you can go back and correct your application after you submit it.
But as a result, I've had three POI's contact me concerned that I might be out of the country during their standard interview period - and wanting to know if they could interview me sooner! One of them even went so far as to obtain "special permission" from the adcom to interview me early. I actually felt really bad about that, and let her know I was still around and was happy to wait until the official period. So even though I haven't had that interview, at least I know they're interested!
Actually, my intention in mentioning that I would be gone was sort of unrelated. I wanted to include something about my travels, without doing the usual irritating equivalent of name-dropping. One of my LOR writers suggested I phrase it like that - as an FYI, rather than a "hey-look-how-cosmopolitan-I-am".
I'm definitely not advocating lying about it, but maybe the moral of the story is - it doesn't hurt to be a little hard-to-get?