Late nights. Late flights. Lost luggage, misplaced reservations, and unplanned detours. No matter what your experience level, conference travel can be stressful.
But it doesn’t have to be. By following a few simple tips, you can insulate yourself against the fatigue and frustration that come with common travel troubles, and make every trip you take a successful and enjoyable one.
1. Plan Your Agenda
Most conferences publish the schedule on their websites well in advance of the start date. Take some time to go through it and figure out which sessions you’d most like to attend. If you plan to be there for conference coverage, choose the sessions you’ll want to write about.
Some conference organizers also use apps like Sched, which make it even easier for you to plan out what you’ll attend, when, and where the sessions are being held inside the conference venue. If an app like this isn’t available, a simple calendar app or even a spreadsheet will do the trick.
2. Plan Some Free Time
Conference time is a fun, but hectic, time. You’ll probably have little time between sessions to take a break. The conference guide you’ll receive at registration will help you make the most of your available free time, but you can also open up your schedule considerably by deciding before you travel which sessions are essential and leaving things open-ended for the rest.
Even with a prioritized list, tight scheduling means there may not be much personal time during the busy conference day. If you’re an introvert, you may also want to review the conference schedule before you travel to plan some downtime to rest and recharge.
You might even consider booking a few extra days before or after the conference to see the sights and regain your energy before returning to the daily grind.
3. Arrive a Day Early
If you haven’t traveled in a while, a little reconnaissance can set your mind at ease. Getting into the conference city a day early also gives you time to recover from jet lag or prepare any last-minute materials you need for the conference.
Prevent Delayed and Last-Minute Flight Mishaps
Into every life, the occasional delayed flight must drop. Download your airline’s app, or a travel app like TripIt to be notified of delays and gate changes.
The same goes for last-minute flights, booked to arrive the same day as your conference. They may be unavoidable, but you can guard against the frustration created by delayed flights with some strategic scheduling.
Schedule your flight for at least one day before the conference, and you’ll have time to get the lay of the land of your hotel and conference venue. And if disaster does strike, you’ll have extra time to find alternate transportation.
If you’re visiting a huge airport, go to the airport’s website, find the terminal map, and familiarize yourself with the layout before you arrive. And if you can, try to choose flights with long-enough layovers to minimize the chance you’ll miss your connecting flight.
Research alternate means of transportation before your trip. Knowing whether you can catch a taxi, bus, or train and then pick up a connecting flight in another city gives your schedule greater flexibility and reduces the chances you’ll arrive late for the conference—or miss it altogether!
Scout the Conference Venue
Mapping out larger conference centers can help you move around quickly and confidently, without getting lost. Familiarize yourself with the locations of any sessions you’ll be presenting, as well as any sessions you don’t want to miss.
Don’t forget to mark the locations of important resources such as restrooms, concessions, and medical facilities, too.
Find Your Way Around the Venue City
Before you leave, familiarize yourself with not just the area around your hotel and the conference venue, but the city itself. This is particularly important if you’ll be traveling to multiple locations in the area.
Ask friends and colleagues familiar with the area for advice, and carry your mobile phone at all times in case you need a taxi or a little help finding your way.
But the best way to do this? Google Maps (or whatever map program you prefer).
Before you travel, explore your destination city on a map app, and mark the obvious places like your hotel and the conference venue. Then look for other necessities in the immediate area. Restaurants, drugstores, big box stores and grocery stores.
If you plan to spend any extra time in the city, also mark sights to see, museums to visit, or any other fun things you might like to do.
4. Take Multiple Electronic Device Chargers
Few of us can make it through a busy workday without consulting one or more of our electronic devices. And the last thing you want to do is arrive at a session only to find your phone, tablet or laptop low on power or, worse yet, completely drained.
Plan ahead and bring multiple chargers for your devices. You can bring one to the conference venue (where you’ll most likely find charging stations aplenty, but try to verify power resources before leaving) and keep a spare or two at the hotel.
5. Carry Water and Snacks
When you’re darting from one session to the next, it’s easy to overlook your body’s needs. Staying hydrated and fed helps protect you against exhaustion and illness. Just as importantly, it helps keep you focused on the conference sessions and not the lunch menu.
Carry extra water and snacks with you. Better to have them available and not need them, than to sit sleepy and hungry in a crucial conference session.
6. Carry a Backpack
Managing your electronics, snacks, water, documents, and all the other gear you need to navigate a busy day at a conference is tough enough without tying up one of your hands with a tote or shoulder bag.
Backpacks are compact, hands-free, and convenient when you’re on the go. Depending on the size of your carry-on luggage, you may be able to fit your backpack inside it when you’re traveling.
Or, if it’s a short trip and you’re traveling light, you can use your backpack as your only luggage for both the conference and travel.
7. Pack Extras of Everything
A good rule of thumb for conference travel: If you think you may need it, bring at least two more. You can always save what you don’t use on this trip for next time.
From toothpaste to cotton swabs, extra toiletry items can be lifesavers, especially if you’re on a long conference trip of five days or more.
If you’re taking medication (including over-the-counter pain relievers or allergy fighters), consider bringing enough to last a few days longer than you plan to be there.
Whatever you bring, don’t forget to follow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) safety guidelines for liquids, carry-ons, etc.
8. Get a Garment Bag for Dress Clothes
If your conference has formal events, you’ll need something a little more dapper than your conference khakis and T-shirt in your wardrobe.
Garment bags have dedicated compartments for suits and dresses that protect them from wrinkling when folded.
Don’t forget the accessories! Make room for ties, cufflinks, hats, dress shoes or heels, etc., if you’re expecting to attend a black-tie event or a cocktail party.
9. Get Dry Cleaning Done Before You Go
Hotels offer many amenities, but their dry cleaning services are best used in emergencies only. Not only can it cause delays, it’s usually much more expensive than your usual dry cleaner.
Trying to work dry cleaning into an already packed conference schedule will create more stress, confusion, potential delay, and expense. Having your clothes dry cleaned before you leave saves time, frustration and money.
Naturally, if there’s an emergency, or if you receive an unexpected invite to a formal event, you can always take advantage of the hotel’s services or, if possible, a nearby local dry cleaner.
10. Remember to Pack Your Business Cards
One of the most important parts of any conference is making or renewing business connections. It’ll be hard to network if you don’t have a hefty supply of business cards on hand for exchange.
Carry your business cards with you at all times during the conference. Pack extra business cards in your luggage, backpack, and, if you’re exhibiting or presenting, your booth or session materials. It might seem a little excessive, but a little redundancy sure beats the embarrassment of having to provide your contact details on a napkin or spare sheet of notebook paper.
Make Sure You Have Business Cards
Nothing will deflate you pre-conference like being in the middle of packing, opening the box where your business cards reside, and finding just a few, lonely cards. Or worse, an empty box.
You won’t have time to order any new ones, and no one wants to use the cards you print on perforated card stock. It’s just unprofessional.
Take a moment well before you travel for your conference to confirm your business card situation so you have plenty of time to order new ones if necessary, and for them to be mailed to you before you leave.
If you end up cutting it close, you always have the option to order them and have them shipped directly to your hotel so they’re waiting for you when you arrive.
11. Pack an Extra Jacket or Sweater
The only reliable aspect of the weather is its unreliability. Seattle rainstorms, Las Vegas heat, and Minneapolis snows are just a few of the potential pitfalls lying in wait for the unwary conference traveler.
It doesn’t stop at the door of the conference venue, either. You may find the venue’s climate to be too chilly or hot for your liking.
Plan for the unexpected by packing extra clothes and a jacket, sweater or hoodie. Having options will keep you from freezing to your chair or sweating through your clothes.
Conference Travel Doesn’t Have to Make You Unravel
Whether you’re a seasoned presenter or a conference travel neophyte, you can minimize the pains of conference travel with proper preparation.
Taking the time to research your route, map out your destinations, and pack with an eye for the unexpected will help keep travel stress at bay and let you enjoy the journey as well as the destination.