Making it through a conference with your sanity intact can be a challenge. Whether you are going for work, for fun, or something in between—they are a part of life. But for better or for worse, it’s not like a regular day in the office! You’ll likely be walking plenty, in a huge room with tons of people, in a climate you can’t control. The food will probably be scarce and overpriced, and there is never enough caffeine. Like everything, with a little planning you will survive your conference and maybe even learn something new!
Here are the steps I follow when packing for a conference:
- First, the cardinal rules of conference clothes: comfortable and professional. I’m going to add one more: layers. Even though it may be warm outside it could be cold inside, and you want to be able to adjust as necessary.
- Comfortable shoes. Conferences are usually synonymous with huge hotels or convention halls. You may have to walk close to a mile just to get to the location (especially if you’re in Vegas as so many conferences are). Comfortable shoes are a must, otherwise you will be crying by the end of the day. If you have to wear heels, slip some flats or flip-flops in your bag for the commute. Your feet will thank you.
- Figure out the different occasions. How many conference days are there? Will you want to change for dinner? Will there be any free time? Will there be a chance to swim? Just in case, consider bringing a couple of cute, non work items.
- If it’s a longer conference plan to wear items more than once. To avoid checking your bag, you will need to wear items multiple times. Change accessories as needed to keep things fresh. If you don’t think you can wear something at least twice, it shouldn’t make the cut and should stay home. Be sure to spend extra time planning outfits, and bring more accessories (primarily necklaces and scarves, and maybe an extra pair of shoes) than normal. You could also take advantage of your hotels laundry service if they have one.
- Think about toiletries. If it’s a longer conference make sure you have enough of your everyday toiletries. Some of my grooming items are kept in 3 oz bottles (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion) which is plenty for me as long as the bottles are full. But for multiple weeks you’ll most likely need to increase items that you would normally carry smaller amounts of (face wash, moisturizer, makeup remover, and hair products).
- Make a preliminary list. On the first list, write down everything you think you should take, no matter what. Also, at this point start figuring out what you need to get for the trip (yay shopping!) Then start figuring out outfits, and adding and removing as necessary. Finally, get everything out and try to fit it in your suitcase, just to make sure you are being realistic about what will fit, and what you can actually lift.
- Save room for conference papers and freebies for trip back. When you go to a conference it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with stuff you weren’t planning for. Most of the time it’s a bunch of handouts and the occasional freebie. Make sure you leave a little extra room in your suitcase for these items. If it’s a lot of stuff consider shipping the items to yourself if you can stomach the expense to do so.
Here are the steps for getting through a conference:
- Snacks and water. Why is it that the speaker right before lunch is the most long-winded person in the world? And then when you get out you have to compete with a thousand other people for that one lunch spot. You never know when you’ll get to eat again! Keep snacks like nuts, a protein bar, fruit, or maybe even some Dark Chocolate handy so you won’t go light headed from hunger before you get to eat.
- Bring a Pashmina. As mentioned above it always seem like conference halls are always either freezing or boiling, never much in the middle. Thus, I also always keep a pashmina (pictured) in my bag in case the room is cold.
- Electronics. Of course you will want to take notes (or FaceBook. I won’t judge.) during the conference, but your laptop can’t keep up with the constant use! Make sure to have all of the chargers you need—don’t leave any behind in the hotel room, because without fail that will be the one you need. Want to be the most popular person there? Bring a power strip. If you have a portable charger, bring that too. Tip: Scope out the plugs as you’re walking in so you know where to go when you need a charge.
- Plan for sickness. Of course no one ever expects to feel bad, but it could happen. Minimize the impact of illness by keeping some medicine on hand. Once at a conference at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas I got a blinding headache. The Home Warrior hiked across probably two miles of casino, with a baby, to bring me some ibuprofen. Now I always keep ibuprofen and Pepto in my purse. I also have Emergen-C—there is never enough coffee available, and Emergen-C will get me through the post lunch slump. One other tip a reader once gave me is to take breaks. Sometimes you just need to walk away and clear your mind if possible. A little break can go a long way in getting you through the day.
- Expect delays at the airport when departing. If the conference is large enough you’ll want to allow for extra time to get through security when leaving. I’ve seen some insane security lines when traveling home from a big conference.
- Bonus tip: Don’t be embarrassed to use a rolling briefcase. It will hold everything you need, plus conference freebies, and not hurt your shoulder. Win!
Readers, what are your best conference tips?
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