Updated ALA Survival Tips and Packing Suggestions for #ALA2013

About two years ago I gave up on lugging around a big checked bag and started traveling with only a carry on. I was tired of paying the extra baggage fees, waiting for my bag at the carousel, and to be honest, I liked the challenge. The first few trips were nerve racking but after I got used to it I never looked back! I don’t even have one of those fancy new carry-ons with the spinning wheels and a bagillion pockets that make it expand so much it barely fits in the overhead bin. My primary carry on is an eleven year old roller bag I picked up at Costco as part of a set. I usually still manage to bring several pairs of shoes though I stick to comfortable ones for big conferences like ALA, especially when it’s in Chicago.

These are the things I can NOT live without at conferences

  • batteryExternal battery for your phone– I cannot express enough love for this device. Seriously go buy one right now! Even if you ignore all the rest of my advice! I have been recommending (and sharing) one for years, and I hear great comments from those who bought one. It’s slightly larger than a cell phone. Just remember to plug it in and charge it each night then throw it in your bag for the day. No looking for an outlet or dealing with a dead phone. I will charge your phone at least twice. If you’re looking for one that will also charge an iPad or other tablet I recommend slightly more powerful one. Both of theses have 2 usb plugs, so if you are feeling really generous you can share with a friend.
  • A good bag in a light weight material. This usually doubles as my second carry-on and my conference bag. Forgot leather – it’s hot & heavy. I like the lightweight the Baggallini bags. The A La Carte and the Only Bagg are big enough to hold most laptops and anything else I either don’t want to have to gate check or want to carry around the conference. I prefer the baggallini a la cart. It has slightly more structure and 3 nice outside pockets.  If you’re looking for a messenger style bag big enough to hold an iPad go with the Hobo Style Tote. It has 3 outside pockets and the strap can be shortened to wear as a shoulder bag or long to wear as a messenger. My current favorite is the Town Tote, it is similar in size to the Hobo, but in tote style. It’s just big enough that my netbook or iPad will fit in it, the outer end pockets are great for a cell phone, water bottle and anything else you need. All of them fold down flat so you can use a bigger one as a carry-on and pack a smaller one for conference use.
  • Portable Power Strip Most hotels still lack a decent number of easily accessible outlets to charge all your stuff. You will  make friends if you take it along when you go out because you’ll be able to offer to plug it in when all the outlets are full, securing a spot for yourself and sharing with others. Double win! This one includes 2 usb slots in addition to 3 AC outlets.
  • ipodiPod Touch – I started recommending this a couple of years ago. They are small and can really help save the battery of your phone. In addition to being a great travel companion (games, podcasts, music, books and more), there are some great white noise apps to help me get to sleep at night or to help drowned out those loud neighbors. Many hotels have a docking station or an mp3 connection to the alarm clock/radio. You can use it to take photos, Tweet, take notes, Facebook, email, etc all using fee wifi.  There are some great note taking apps if you decide not to take your laptop and Dropbox will let you view your PowerPoint for that last minute review.
  • Keyboard case for your iPad – I still have an iPad 2 and I have this one by New Trent I got it  because it has 3 different viewing angles, the keyboard itself comes out of the case for more comfortable typing. The iPad comes out easily as well. It is pretty slim & lightweight as far as keyboard cases go. I also like this back cover which gives you additional viewing angles with the Smart Cover.
  • A water bottle – for travel and at the conference. I have this one (Water Bottle) and really like it because of its small size and the style of lid. Don’t lug around a gallon of water when they are fountains everywhere. And don’t buy!
  • Toothpowder Daily Care Mint works great and doesn’t count as a liquid!
  • Humangear Travel bottles – These silicon bottles are 1.25 ounces each. For most products I don’t use 3 oz even when I’m gone a week, so they are perfect for maximizing space in that liquids baggy at security.
  • Bee Bar Lotions – Love this solid lotion. It starts out solid but when you rub it in your hands it heats up and softens. Won’t leak in your bag and doesn’t count as a liquid!
  • Lanza Healing Style Powder Up Texturizer – thanks to being a powder it doesn’t take up precious liquids space at security and its small size in general makes it perfect.
  • Rub relief for your feet– there a lots of options a stick, bandages, whatever, apply early and often better to prevent blisters than limp around for the rest of your trip!
  • Good shoes, at least 2 pairs, neither new, really a conference is no place to break in new shoes. I’m a huge fan of heels and fun shoes but usually leave those at home in favor of comfy walking shoes at conferences since I often don’t have time to change during the day.  Seriously, if you must wear heels put a pair of flats in your bag, trust me, you will be glad you did.
  • Umbrella – small compact kind.
  • Snack bars – Great during travel and during the conference. If you’re running late in the morning, don’t have time at lunch to get out and get back in time for the first afternoon session or to tide you over until that late dinner. Cheaper and healthier than any concession stand junk.
  • A well planned schedule – I print it out in addition to having it on my phone so I can easily see a glance where I’m supposed to be and when. I politely decline the big printed one at check-in. I already know where I’m going & it’s bit and heavy.


  • Give people your name – wear your name badge up near your face rather than on a lanyard so it’s easy for people to glance at it while talking to.  Introduce yourself, even if you have already met the person.  Some of us have hard time with names and there are a LOT of people to remember.
  • Introduce yourself! – to anyone you think you want to chat with. Most people are happy to chat and super friendly. Maybe have a few questions worked out in your head ahead of time. Where do you work is ok, but there are lots of people who are at ALA looking for jobs, so think of something different!
  • Be on the lookout for ribbons and colored badges – some ribbons are just fun, others offer helpful information about service (Council) or divisions (LITA) and are great conversation starters.
  • Don’t hang out with the people you came with – Go to different sessions, eat meals with other people, maximize your time at the conference you can share with each other what you learned.
  • Meet new people – you’re probably not going to meet new people if you’re hanging out with the people you came with.  Get out of your comfort zone, ask people what they want to get from the conference, how far they traveled etc, you never know what you’ll learn or who you’ll meet.
  • Make a schedule, be willing to break it – make a schedule of what you’d like to attend, know what you absolutely must see and what you’d be willing to miss for coffee with that person you’ve been wanting to meet or the awesome new person you just met
  • Know what amenities your hotel offers – internet access, gym, fridge, breakfast, pool, etc, use them.
  • Ask for the things you need at your  hotel – you are a paying guest, don’t be afraid to ask for little things like more hangers or more coffee.
  • Make time for down time – conferences can be overwhelming there is so much to do, so many people to meet.  Don’t wear yourself out early, it wont matter how much you see if you are too worn out to remember it or how many people you meet if you are too burnt out to make a good impression.
  • Get the right bag – you don’t want to carry too much it’s hard on your back & shoulders, but you need room for important extras like extra shoes, a water bottle and a sweater or wrap. Really think about if you need that laptop. Can you take notes by hand & type them up later? Twitter and check email from your phone or iTouch if you can.
  • Layer your clothes, bring a jacket, sweater or shawl, temperature can vary widely in rooms and you want to be comfortable
  • Drink lots of water – so easy to forget when you’re on the go and it is one small thing that can make you feel so much better

Suggestions from Comments on last year’s post, Twitter, and around the web.

  • In the exhibits, ask yourself before taking swag “would I want this if it weren’t free?” And it is unseemly to push people out of the way to get an advance reading copy. – Steve Lawson
  • Anything you acquire, you will have to bring home. I like to stick a small flattened cardboard box and a roll of packing tape in my suitcase to mail home free books. – Jason P.
  • ALA is very spread out. You need to factor in where a session/meeting is when planning a schedule – @Tombrarian
  • find a grocery store you can walk to from the hotel, so you don’t have to pack snacks for the whole conference – @alisonkcody

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What would you add?

10 thoughts on “Updated ALA Survival Tips and Packing Suggestions for #ALA2013

  1. Good tips! I would add: packing cubes. They keep things hyper organized and make going through security a lot easier, as your unmentionables won’t be flopping all over the place.

    I also swear by ChicoBags. They fold down to the size of a candy bar, very handy to have one or two with you in case the swag calls your name and you (politely and considerately) take a few galleys more than you anticipated.


    1. Thanks Erin! I’ve heard good things about the packing cubes but I haven’t invested in them myself.

      I haven’t used Chico bags but they look similar to Enivrosax which I love! They are lightweight, fold up super small, but are sturdy enough to be filled with books or other extras! http://www.envirosax.com/


  2. Take advantage of shipping things home using Library Rate. It may take longer to get but you don’t have to worry about carrying it around and there is a post office set up right there on convention floor. They also have mailing supplies available (free).


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