Travel tips: Conference and otherwise

I like to think I’ve got a few things figured out, travel-wise. I also like to think I’ve got a few things figured out, conference-wise, which, coincidentally, often involves travel. Maybe we’ve all got our own travel and conference preferences worked out, but here are my top tips:

General travel tips:

  1. I’ve learned this one the hard way on many occasions: Don’t travel hangry. You won’t be able to find food when you need food. Bring enough snacks for one or two times a day for at least a few days. I find it best to choose things that don’t need special care and taste just as good if they get a bit battered around or slightly melted. For me this means apples, nuts, Clif Builder’s Bars, trail mix, and/or homemade energy bites. I function best if there’s a substantial protein component to my snacks. These can be combined for emergency meal replacement (apple/Builder’s Bar/trail mix) or can simply fill in the gap after an inadequate meal or time zone change.
  2. Scarves and/or shawls take up almost no space in your luggage or bag but can be used in a million ways. Keep warm in cold spaces, block sun when you’re trying to sleep or avoid sunburn, cover your head and shoulders if you want privacy or you’re visiting religious spaces where modesty is required, wipe up spills, etc.
  3. Powdered laundry detergent means that you don’t have to pack a separate change of clothes for every day you’ll be gone (and you don’t have to worry about the 3oz. liquids rule). A few basics with some interesting jewelry and the aforementioned scarf will be plenty if you take a few minutes in the evening to wash what’s dirty in the bathroom sink. Word to the wise, cotton dries slowly so plan accordingly.
  4. You need less clothes than you think, especially if you’re traveling carry-on only. I like to look nice and put together every day. Looking nice and put together does not mean that you need a separate outfit for every day. I prefer dresses to separates for summer travel because I feel they take up less room in my suitcase and I just like them. Maxi dresses can be quite nice for travel days as they keep you covered but are as comfortable as pjs and look much better. A few relatively plain dresses (2-3 for 4-7 days of travel) with a couple of sweaters or cardis and some interesting jewelry will allow you plenty of mix-and-match options. And, ok, you might not want to see those two dresses for a few weeks when you get home, but so what?
  5. Honestly, I’m not much of a shoe fiend, and I get by just fine on one pair and a back-up. Both worn for years and broken in very well with a history of long walks and minimal irritation. Usually, I bring two and only wear one. It’s worth it to have the insurance in case of sore feet, since I am very prone to blisters. In the summer, I default to my Birkenstocks.
  6. The air blower on the plane might as well be called The Plague Distributor. Don’t use it unless you’re really desperate, and even then avoid directing it at your face. I tend towards motion sickness that is amplified by being too hot, and I still recommend avoiding the air blower on planes. If you manage to get blasted in the face, or you’re feeling especially vulnerable to illness (super stressed and exhausted, must be at peak performance while traveling, etc) I highly recommend Airborne before and after a flight to help ward off any possible ick. Maybe it’s just personal superstition at this point, but I’ve never gotten sick after traveling when using it, even when I was flying every weekend for super stressful auditions.
  7. You’ve probably seen those horseshoe shaped pillows they sell at the airport. Man, they’re helpful, and I say this as a person who is basically incapable of sleeping sitting up. Here’s a secret: You can get inflatable versions that do the same job and take up basically no room in your bag when not in use. You’re welcome.
  8. If you are not traveling exclusively carry-on, make sure you have anything you can’t live without for a day or two in a carry-on bag. This includes somewhat obvious things like travel documents, prescriptions, toothbrush, and a change of underwear/socks, but also anything that you might need immediately at your destination like presentation materials (or, as I learned the hard way once, reeds and music). Even if it weighs down your carry-on bag, you will be super grateful for this precaution in the event that your luggage is delayed, especially if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place.

Conference specific (Maybe you’re going to ALA?):

  1. Everything I said above still applies to conference travel, including the shoe and clothes recommendations. Unless you’re presenting at a conference or are looking for a new job, make sure that all clothes and shoes you bring can do double duty for conferences and sightseeing. Interesting jewelry and scarves can liven up plain clothes, and no one will be the wiser that you wore that dress the day before yesterday. Carefully consider shoes, as you will no doubt be walking miles in them. I wear my Birks, but they’re classy ones, I swear! In my experience, these recommendations will put you firmly high-middle-of-the-road for conference dress, but you do you.
  2. I tend to travel tech-light. These days that means smartphone, Kindle, and iPod. I will not be bringing back-up batteries to support a phone, laptop, and iPad to ALA, no matter how many friends it might win me. There are lots of great tips out there if you lean that direction.
  3. For conferences, I infinitely prefer notebooks to other tech for note-taking. I find notebooks much easier to wrangle in conference halls that may or may not have tables, and they encourage organic note-taking for me. Since I’m no longer a student, my notes have changed significantly. I no longer care about recapping a presentation but about the ideas or quotes I can use or engage with in my work. I write down threads to follow later, and I write down lots of questions and insights as they spill from my brain. Capturing the questions and ideas that come up is one of the most valuable parts of the conference experience for me, and I do that best on paper. Example: 
  4. If you’re going to ALA or other similar conference where you might pick up far more freebies than will fit in your bag, you might want to consider taking some packing tape for boxes to ship home. ALA has an on-site pop-up post office, which is super convenient.
  5. A note on tote bags: You don’t really need to bring a special bag to a conference, trust me on this. They’ll be throwing the things at you, and it’s often nearly impossible to say no. If you have special considerations for your bags or you’ll be doing lots of job hunting, you may prefer your own, but I tend to just stick with whatever my Midwest sensibilities won’t allow me to refuse.
  6. Do take the time to do some non-conference related stuff in the area, even if it’s just one museum or tour.
  7. You will reach saturation point. Don’t feel bad if you need to skip out on a session to either go back to your hotel and rest or simply find a quiet corner to decompress.
  8. As soon as you can after the conference, like maybe even in the trip home, write down all the thoughts that are swirling around in your head, insights, confusions, frustrations, possibilities, etc. Capture everything, because you will forget in an astonishingly short period of time. Did you take notes? Go back through and highlight everything that is a thread for you to follow. Even if you found the conference to be largely an echo chamber (it happens), you probably came away with at least one new way of seeing. Don’t lose it.

You can see more travel trips for foreign lands here.


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