Nancy: Conference Packing Tips

Warning: This message is being brought to you by the mother in me.

Sadly, like Michaeline, I will not be with the other Ladies at RWA Nationals in San Antonio next week. But I have attended Nationals (and other conferences, both writing- and non-writing related) in the past. I have learned the hard way that, unless you are a veteran business traveler, there are some ‘essentials’ that are easy to overlook when you are trying to maximize space in your suitcase.

So, as part of my ongoing quest to be a cautionary tale (because I am so rarely a good example), I bring you a list of conference packing recommendations.

*Two extra outfits. Yes, I know most airlines charge for checked bags, and I know you don’t want to wrangle multiple suitcases off the luggage conveyor belt. But there might very well come a conference day (let’s say Friday), when you get up, peer into the hotel closet, and realize you hate every damn thing you packed. Having a few alternatives on hand might save your sanity. (Note: This could also come in handy if you were to break a pen and have it leak black ink all over your favorite white blouse, forcing an unplanned wardrobe change. Not that this has *ahem” happened to anyone I know.

*Two extra pairs of shoes. Okay, yes, checked bags, yada yada. But at least consider one pair of shoes over and above the ones you are currently planning to pack. Even comfortable shoes (and no, that does not include sneakers!) can become much less friendly after you’ve walked back and forth across a conference hotel in them for eight hours. By the end of a second or third day of that, you could be desperately seeking a Payless Shoe Store or contemplating wearing your sneakers outside of the hotel gym (don’t do it!).

*Bandaids (or non-brand name plastic bandages). I recommend a variety of these. First and foremost, get the newfangled ones made for blisters. These are akin to manna from heaven when those ‘comfortable shoes’ turn on you. But don’t forget other types and sizes for the various minor injuries that could be sustained during the conference (for instance, cutting one’s finger on a stiletto heel while using it to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew).

*A corkscrew. Do not assume all conference hotel gift shops sell these. A surprising number of them do not. If you are traveling by plane, obviously this will have to go in your checked luggage (you are going to check luggage – remember your extra outfits and shoes? – make peace with this fact!).

*Over the counter meds. We typically remember to pack our prescriptions, but  might assume that a) we will not need other meds,  b) the hotel will have any over-the-counter things we might need, or c) there will be a drug store within reasonable distance from the hotel.  These assumptions could prove to be ill-advised. Examples of the types of meds you might want to toss into your toiletry bag include stomach aids (conference food), allergy pills (if you suffer from any type of allergy, assume you will be highly allergic to something in the hotel or some local flora and fauna), and your choice of headache/muscle ache relief tablets (think about all the walking and the stress of pitching!).

For those of you fortunate enough to be traveling to Nationals next week, I wish you safe travels and a wonderful conference experience. For those not making the trip, be sure to drop by the blog. We will be going strong all week, and I am pretty sure our conference attendees will have exciting tidbits (and hopefully pictures!) to share here.

What items are on your ‘must-pack’ list for conferences or business trips?

21 thoughts on “Nancy: Conference Packing Tips

  1. (-: I love a good “to-pack” list! And this is great!

    I would add a few packets of chamomile tea (if the hotel room has a hot pot), and some lavender oil, which is my all-around panacea for everything. Burns, bug bites, freshening the linens and freshening up the shoes.

    Seems like a good place to talk about shoes, too. I’m looking for some comfy ones for walking. I tried some Dr. Weil’s shoes, and I like them so far, but my arches are just a little high for them (had to let them out to the edge — these are orthotic sandals, so they also aren’t very businessy — will provide more details to anyone who wants them). I bought men’s sandals from Amazon. But now I see the website, and I WANT those cute women’s sandals on the home page . . . .

    Also, has anyone tried FedEx’ing their luggage to a hotel? In Japan, sending your luggage ahead isn’t that expensive, and so great when you’ve got train travel or buses in your schedule. The stuff I’ve seen about FedEx’ing in the US is mixed — they say you might save money on oversized luggage, but not on regular — and some hotels charge a baggage receiving fee (and you need to tip the bag boy to get them out, etc. etc. etc.) All my knowledge is armchair, though. Would love to hear if anyone has done this.

    • I like the idea about lavender oil. It’s one of my favorite fragrances,and in addition to the things you list, it’s also supposed to have a calming/relaxing effect, which is perfect for a hectic conference!

    • I wear Dansko shoes and they are fantastic for me. I don’t know if they’d work for you with high arches. But they’re very good to relieve/prevent knee and back pain. Some styles are slightly more stylish than others, but basically they all look sort of clunky. I don’t care. Clunk is the new fad.

      As for FedExing luggage—I’ve done that when I’ve gone to visit friends and couldn’t carry a bag. It wasn’t cheap, but it was across the country, and it didn’t cost more than a checked bag would have cost ($35, but prices no doubt have gone up). I haven’t FedExed a suitcase to a hotel, but the Marriott has a statement on the web site that they won’t accept a package that isn’t from a registered guest. I think that means you just need a reservation, you don’t actually have to have checked in. And the Marriott definitely does charge a $40 receiving fee, which I learned last year when I had something sent to me at the conference. No tip, as I picked up the package myself from the package claim rather than have it delivered to my room.

  2. Something you don’t have to pack (although I always pack a spare pair of contacts- trust me on this one!) – water. Drink lots and lots of water. The plane ride will dehydrate you, the new environment will dehydrate you, the hotel air will dehydrate you, etc…. Even if you are drinking little sodas and whatnot, everytime you think about it drink some more water. It will stave off everything from the light fuzzy-headed feeling in the afternoon up to a full dizzy migraine. Fortunately, I figured this out by the end of the first night when I was at PepCon. 😀

    • And RWA typically has water stations throughout the hotel where you can refill your water bottle throughout the day. You are so right, Penny, water is very important.

  3. I’m on a business trip this week and I wholeheartedly agree with your recommendations, Nancy. I always pack a boatload of bandaids and first aid stuff (I had to buy a few things once at the gift shop because I got blisters, and the prices were insane $$$). A few snacks (again, the gift shop prices).

    Comfortable shoes are a must (see above), but something a bit flashy that can go with a variety of outfits is good, too (never know when you’ll be invited to a nice restaurant.

    I also pack a “white noise” machine (although this hotel will provide one to you upon request), safety pins, an emery board, tweezers, and a disposal razor. And of course swim gear in case I have the opportunity to swim a few laps.

    I’m sorry to hear you won’t be at National. I was looking forward to meeting you.

    • I sleep with white noise every night and usually have to bring that, as well. It’s very cool that this hotel will provide one. Of course, with such a huge conference, they could run out, so it’s probably not a bad idea to bring your own.

      I know not going to the conference this year was the right choice for my new business, but as it gets closer, I am getting more depressed that I won’t be there with the other 8LWs. I think you’re going to have a blast!

    • I always take moleskin for blisters. Much better than bandaids for me, which peel off again in about two seconds. Moleskin, though, really sticks and is nice and thick.

  4. Wet Ones individually packed hand wipes, a few in my purse and a pile in my luggage. NOT the store brand, only Wet Ones. I no longer give these to my family to clean their hands because my daughter’s pediatrician suggested I switch to a less toxic, alcohol-based wipe for her. But I still carry them to clean everything else. These things are like miracles in a packet. If used promptly they will take almost anything out of clothes (ink, blood, gum, salad dressing, blueberry syrup, you name it), they don’t damage the fabric, and the wet spot they left from cleaning dries in minutes. Even hours or days later they will significantly lighten and often still entirely remove most things. I keep one of the big tubs of them in my laundry room, too. Weeks-old pet stains that went unnoticed on a rug under the desk? No problem- pour a bit of the liquid out of the container onto the spot, scrub with a wipe, and you’ll never know it happened. Love these.

    • Wish I’d known about this last week, when I went into central London and discovered (all too late) a splodge of concealer on my black t-shirt. The more I tried to deal with it, the worse it got. Very glad I’ll know what to do next time – thanks, Jennifer!

      • I always pack baby wipes…just Costco brand baby wipes. They’re great for everything. My kids are WAY out of diapers, but I still buy them by the case.

        My only other packing advice is extra chargers — iPad, iPhone, whatever. I can’t tell you how many of those damn things I’ve lost over the years traveling to her and there, and they’re definitely pricey in the hotel shop (and the airport, for that matter).

        I second Kat on the snacks and instead of bringing (or buying) bottles of water, I took the initiative and bought one of those reusable bottles that purify your water immediately. Best idea ever. Not only does the water taste good, but I can fill the bottle up anywhere.

        I’ve reconciled myself to checking luggage. Part of the conference fee is how I see it. I’d rather overpack and be overprepared (with extra outfits) then not.

        • I’ll have to stock up on wipes. I would love to have something that works on anything from pet stains (4 cats in this house!) to make-up or ink stains on clothes. These sound like a miracle product.

          Good point about the chargers, Justine! And I might add, an end-of-conference checklist to make sure you locate and pack all your chargers throughout the hotel room might be a good idea. I had to buy three new iPhone chargers last year because they were white and tended to blend into hotel walls when I was doing post-packing room surveillance. Oddly enough, those expensive suckers were never found and returned to me by the hotels.

  5. Just remembered – the other thing I learned at National was to leave room in my bags for lots of fabulous free books. I had to make some hard choices and leave half of them behind last year, and it really, really hurt. I won’t make that mistake again.

    • Jilly, the one thing I always splurge on at writing conferences is boxing up and sending books home via UPS or FedEx. I think at Nationals conferences they’ll have a station somewhere in the hotel (front desk should know or the conference materials might have the info) specifically for this service. This might be costly for you since it requires international shipping, but might be worth considering. The best part is, a few days to a week after you arrive home, having a box of books show up on your doorstep. Reader heaven!

      • Jilly, in years past, I’ve used zippered canvas bags (durable enough to be checked baggage or carry-on) for a variety of things from snorkel gear to baby clothes. Perhaps tucking one of them inside your suitcase is the way to go. That way, you’ll be sure to have enough room for everything. I think that’s what I’m going to do this year. Whether I pay for the additional checked bag or I pay to ship, I’m going to pay extra. I’d rather have all the room I need than be making difficult selections like which books to bring home.

        Another thing I just though of, but I always bring one of those collapsible luggage carriers (the ones where the handle extends and the front flips down and you can load everything on top and drag through the airport). I usually bring it for my laptop bag and my kids backpacks when we do family travel, but I’ll definitely have it to tote my bag and any extra books through the airport.

        • Last year, I spent the money to ship my books back from the hotel. Most of the them are still sitting under my desk in the box, unread. I may try the canvas bag idea. I have a luggage scale that I always take with me to make sure my luggage is under the max weight so I can distribute the books until I reach the max.

  6. I take protein bars for breakfast. I don’t like paying $20 for a couple of cold eggs via room service for breakfast and I prefer not to eat the pastry/bread stuff they usually have for the continental breakfasts. If I get to the breakfast area early enough, there is usually bananas or some other fruit still available, but that goes fast. This year, I think there is a buffet breakfast one day.

    I also take exercise gear. There should be a place to jog and if I go early, it won’t be too god-awful hot. It also combats the aches and pains I get from sitting in conference chairs all day.

  7. Fresh back from the not-so-glamorous-but-totally-brilliant RNA Conference I’m able to add some packing tips: 1. Do not leave your brand new top for the Gala dinner at home; 2. Take an extra couple of tops in case no 1. occurs; 3. Take a corkscrew so you don’t have to carry round an un-openable bottle of wine the whole conference.

    Now just working my way back through the posts I’ve missed while I’ve been away, so apologies if I add comments to posts you’ve all moved on from (I’ll try to restrain myself).

  8. I’m in awe of everybody’s packing tips! I applaud you, and at the same time, I like to travel light. I take as little as possible. I take spares of nothing. I take as few clothes as I think I can get away with, and I make sure they’re washable in the sink if I have unexpected spillage. I take black pants and add a gauzy scarf if I go to the Saturday night event. I leave no room for books, although sometimes I take some and sometimes I ship some.

    I know this “don’t burden me with things” thing is a personality flaw, but, well, I hate lugging stuff. If I could get away with just taking a tote bag, I would. One day…

  9. Oh, oh, a me too on the wet wipes. And a canvas bag or two. And also, I bring an multiple-outlet extension cord for all our chargers, and I have bungee cords to strap the canvas bag onto the top of my carry-on.

    That said, I really agree with Kay . . . those bungee cords start to weigh two pounds each by the end of the trip (but they let me carry about 20 pounds more than I could otherwise, so they are worth it).

    Jilly, I’m not sure if you checked into it last year, but AFAIK, shipping via the post office is very expensive. Even books cost a lot. It’s much more economical to take the extra baggage fee, in my case (and even, sometimes, buy a suitcase, and pay for the taxi ride to the K-mart that’s selling cheap suitcases this week).

    I am so worried about my luggage this time around, because we’re planning to take the train at one point. Otherwise, my luggage should be free because it’s part of an international round trip.

    $40 for a baggage handling fee, though?? Whoa. Good to know, but sorry you had to go through that.

    I wish I could be a total hippy and just get by with a backpack and a stick of deodorant.

    BTW, how was RNA and Pepcon?

  10. Wow, you guys are rocking the ideas here. The conferences I usually go to are drive-able (NJRW, some MD conferences). I’ll keep your ideas in a folder for the next conference. Thanks!

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