I mentioned before that I’m attending #BlogHer16 this week! It’s my first time attending a conference for my own personal interest—but this isn’t at all my first time in the conference rodeo. I usually attend about 7-8 education conferences per year for work. The basics are the same, so I feel pretty comfortable in this environment… now.
But I remember my first conference, two and a half years ago. I wore the WORST shoes. I was freezing. I could never find a business card when I needed one. I was conflicted about using my iPad or a notebook… It seemed all the cool people were taking notes on their iPad, so I did too (and therefore didn’t take many notes). I’ve learned a lot since then! If you start attending conferences, you’ll get in your own groove, too, but I thought I’d share my packing list in case you’re interested!
My Conference Packing List
My iPhone is much easier to use at conferences than the iPad. It’s faster to access for taking pictures, scanning social media, looking at the conference app, finding restaurants nearby, and calling an Uber to get around in a new town. My iPhone is my lifeline at conferences!
- Portable charger
This is an absolute must. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, an exhibitor will be giving away portable chargers as swag—that’s how I’ve scored a few in the past. But it’s always best to be prepared with your own, because it’s really crippling to have your phone die while at a conference. Then you have to figure out how to do things the old fashioned way. And nobody wants that.
The portable chargers I use hold about one complete charge each, so I always carry at least two—just to be safe. You can buy bigger chargers at Best Buy or even Target.
- Notebook & pen
While we don’t want to have to travel the old fashioned way, taking notes is a different matter. I much prefer to carry an actual notebook and pen with me at conferences. Again, this is all about speed and access. You never know when you’re going to need to write something down quickly—and it’s usually easiest to just whip out your notebook. Plus, I’ve gotten in the habit of taking notes manually during sessions, then later typing up those notes. Having to go over my notes again makes me reflect more on the session and better remember key takeaways.
- Business cards
Do not forget your business cards!! This is critical. You never know who you’re going to meet at a conference. You never know what opportunity might come your way—an opportunity that depends on someone being able to contact you. I like to keep business cards in lots of easy-access places, like stuck in the back of your name badge, in pockets, in the front pocket of my purse, and in my wallet. Yes, I keep at least a few business cards in each of these places because, again, you never know when you’re going to need one and what will be easiest to access. I usually keep a bigger stash of business cards in the body of my purse so I can restock as needed.
I often get headaches at conferences because you’re constantly moving, it might be very cold in the hotel or convention center, you’re probably tired from whatever event happened the night before, coffee is not always easy to find, and I often forget to drink water because I’m so focused on other things. Keeping Advil or Tylenol handy in a small to-go container is really useful. And I’ve often found myself helping out others who forgot to bring their own.
- Cross-body bag
I have a little gray cross-body bag I like to take to conferences. It’s just a simple bag from Target—but it has TONS of useful nooks and crannies while still being small and lightweight. It’s just big enough to hold everything I need, and still have room for whatever else I might pick up along the way.
At some conferences, you might need or want to bring a laptop (and charger). In that case, I recommend bringing a backpack if the conference isn’t too formal; otherwise, try to bring a shoulder bag that isn’t too heavy. Caveat: If you are taking a backpack, I suggest ALSO bringing a small purse for later that evening when you go out to dinner or to an event. Arrange to stash your backpack in the car or hotel room or your friend’s hotel room while you’re out.
- Comfortable cute shoes
I’m usually walking about 15,000-20,000 steps a day at a conference. That’s a lot of walking, and you will be in a world of hurt if you’re not in comfortable shoes. But they also have to be cute enough for whatever evening event you’re going to, if you don’t have the luxury of changing between sessions and dinner. My favorite place to find comfy cute flats or sandals is G.H. Bass. They have thick soles and I’ve never gotten a blister from their shoes!
I cannot stress enough how important dressing in layers is! Earlier in July I was at a conference in Washington D.C. It was about 90 degrees and humid outside, and at MOST 65 degrees inside. Talk about overcompensating. It was by far the coldest convention center I have ever been in… I was wearing short-sleeve dresses and, of course, I’d forgotten a sweater or jacket. I got sick from walking in and out of the hotel. NEVER AGAIN.
What you wear will depend on the formality of the conference. This can range from very casual, where attendees are free to wear jeans, to more formal, where business attire will be a safer bet. It’s great if you can ask friends who have attended in the past what other attendees usually wore. But if you can’t, then my go-to attire is usually a semi-casual dress and a cardigan. This versatile outfit is perfect for staying warm enough inside, cool enough outside, and fitting in no matter the formality of the conference. Wearing a dress on the first day of the conference also means you can scope it out and wear something more comfortable the next day.