Conference & Travel Packing & Survival Tips

Almost 3 years ago I gave up checking 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 it felt like a challenge. After a few trips I got used to it and 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 13 year old roller bag I picked up at Cosco as part of a set. I usually still manage to bring several pairs of shoes though I stick to comfortable ones for conferences these days.
These are the things I can NOT live without at conferences –

  • New Trent Portable Dual USB Port External Battery Charger/Power Pack
    batteryExternal battery for your phone or tablet- 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, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space. 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. Most 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 is 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. 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. I like one with a little bit of cord in case the outlet is hidden behind a nightstand. 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.
  • A water bottle – for travel and at the conference. This Contigo Water Bottle is my current favorite, thanks to it’s autoseal function and easy one-handed operation. Don’t lug around a gallon of water when they are fountains everywhere. And don’t buy bottled water!
  • 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!
  • Rub relief for your feet– there plenty of options a stick, bandages, whatever, apply early and often to prevent blisters!
  • 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 comfortable 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 and most airport food.
  • 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 badge up near your face rather than on a lanyard so it’s easy for people to glance at while talking to you. 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 – 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 won’t 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.

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5 thoughts on “Conference & Travel Packing & Survival Tips

  1. Don’t forget moleskin for your feet, along with tape and small scissors. You can cut the moleskin to fit the “hotspots” on your feet and toes. I prefer the thinner version vs. molefoam. I also agree a second pair of shoes is a must…you can switch off during the day vs. night, and your feet will thank you.


    1. Great addition Gary! I’ve found that if I apply the anti rub stick early and often I don’t end up needing moleskin, but I do have it in my first aid bag along with Vaseline just in case.


  2. I agree with so many of your comments but please don’t encourage people not to check their bags. If you are too old, too short or too frail to put your own bag in the overhead DO NOT CARRY ON YOUR BAG. It’s not the responsibility of your seat mate or other passengers to help you and the flight attendant doesn’t always have the time. Before you leave home perform this simple test. If you you can’t EASILY “clean and jerk” your bag above your head check it. More than once I’ve had bags fall on my head and neck because someone decided to check a bag they couldn’t really lift and I couldn’t get to them to help in time. It also unnecessarily delays the boarding and exit process if you have to wait for someone to help you.


    1. You’re absolutely right. I am not encouraging anyone who cannot easily lift their bag and easily place it into an overhead bin without assistance to attempt to carry on.

      It is not the responsibility of the flight attendants (and they may not be allowed) or fellow passengers to do this for you. I’ve seen someone get hit more than once in this situation.

      In the same note I strongly recommend checking that your “carry on” bag will actually fit into the overhead bins. I’ve seen many that are too long and have to be turned sideways taking up the space of two bags. Put your smaller bag under your seat. Your jacket doesn’t go in the overhead bin until everyone else’s stuff has a place.


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