I have to write this post today. Why? Because I've spent the past three days at the Detroit Auto Show, and I have three toes that are still numb because I was in a hurry and didn't use my checklist. Fortunately, I've spent enough time in and out of airports - and attending conferences - that I can back quickly and efficiently, but I forgot to pack shoes. I had only the shoes I was wearing when I got on the plane - the largest ones I was planning to wear, so that they wouldn't take up valuable space in my suitcase - and my feet are reminding me that I need to go back to using that checklist.
Yeah. Lesson number one when going to a conference? Make sure you pack the right shoes. You will be on your feet so much that wearing pretty shoes just isn't feasible. No one is judging you on your shoe choice, knowing that we're all walking and need to be able to walk again the next day (and I'm not joking about my toes being numb). Take this opportunity to show your personality with your shoes!
So what's on my packing list? I'm glad you asked.
Clothing for each day: Bring one outfit per day. You won't be changing as often as you think you will, and you won't wear half what you bring if you have options. Save the suitcase space for other things. Layers are good, so bring a sweater you can toss over what you're wearing for when it gets hot or cold, and it will get hot and cold over the course of the day and night. That said, choose outfits in coordinating colors so you can wear the same pants twice and minimize the shoes you need to bring to match. Having a single color palette also means you can cut down on the jewelry and accessories you need to pack. Don't forget any belts or scarves that you will wear with your outfits.
Shoes: Make sure you have shoes that will go with each outfit you're wearing. My trick is to wear my largest shoes on the plane so I can save suitcase space and then try to only bring one other pair of shoes if I can - and again that single color palette helps so I can bring just another pair of black shoes or the like. And if you can, bring gel inserts for your shoes. You'll thank me later.
Undergarments: Count out the days you'll be there and make sure you have socks and underwear for each day. For some reason, I don't do well with "1, 2, 3, 4" so instead count out items for "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday" instead. If you need a flesh colored bra for an outfit, make sure you pack one. If you need something that is strapless, make sure you pack it. I lay out each outfit for each day with all the accouterments I will need for it, which includes...
Jewelry: I generally choose one pair of earrings that will go with everything and then change up my necklaces each day, sometimes with fun bracelets, too. This also includes what I'm going to do with my hair. Since it's short right now, this isn't an issue, but think headbands and ponytailers and the like. Again, this is a great way to express your personality, so don't forget to pack what goes with each outfit.
PJs: You don't want to know how many times I've forgotten to pack pajamas. Fortunately, this has been an issue only when I've been traveling for work and staying in my own hotel room. This isn't something you want to forget when you're going to a conference, especially if you're sharing a room with someone else.
Bathroom gear: There's a lot you want to bring here. I actually have a separate travel/gym bag that I keep constantly packed with a spare set of everything, so for me this is easy. I even keep all my liquids in a quart size bag so it's ready to pop into my suitcase since anything liquid needs to go through security separately (and must be under 3.4 ounces). You'll want your:
facial soap and routine
Any special shampoos or hair product you use
A straightening iron/curler if you use one
Any special hair dryers (though hotels always have them, they're frequently small and if you're sharing a room with someone, you may want your own)
Toothbrush and toothpaste, as well as mouthwash
Contact case and solution if you use them
Lotion (you'll need it - conferences are notorious for dry air)
Purses: I always bring two purses. One is my big purse that will hold my iPad and camera and everything I need and want for the day on the floor. This becomes my carry-on purse, as it holds more items and again saves space in my suitcase. I also bring a smaller purse for evenings and times when I'm not at the conference itself that is my day to day purse and will hold just those necessities. Again, by choosing outfits within a single color palette, I can bring just one extra purse and have it work.
Something to do on the plane: I read a lot, and generally now I read on my iPad. That said, there is that little prohibition about using electronic devices during takeoff and landing. I grab a magazine to read on the plane during those times, knowing that when I finish it, I can leave it behind and further reduce the weight of what I'm carrying.
Technological gear: This is where people differ in their opinions, and you need to choose what works best for you. I am one who takes great notes (in my humble opinion), so I want my iPad with me and the accompanying keyboard. I'll also sometimes bring my laptop if I'm planning to do any posting or other work at the conference because my iPad is somewhat lacking in that department. You need to figure out what you want to do there, and then bring the gear for it, knowing each additional item is something else to carry and take care of.
Keyboard for said tablet
Smart phone (don't tell me you don't have a smart phone!)
Camera and any spare lenses/flashes - I bring my DSLR because there are always awesome photo opportunities and learnings, and don't forget the USB to connect this to your laptop so you can download the images you've taken
mini-video camera - I bring my Sony Bloggie because it's tiny and will also take quick pictures and captures fun moments
A power strip - trust me, you'll make friends if you're the one who has this
A mi-fi - while I don't have one and deal with it, getting onto conference wi-fi is always an issue. If you want to be sure you're connected, bring yours
Your iPod/iTouch - music on the plane or when you just need to chill? You can't put a price on that... and don't forget the earbuds to go with it
Chargers: The last thing you want to have to worry about is running out of power while you're on the go. You want to bring your chargers for every item - your camera(s), your phone, your laptop/iPad, etc. I also bring my travel charger (I have an iGo) so that when I'm running out of power during the day, I can recharge my phone even when I'm somewhere that doesn't have a place to plug in.
Business cards: A conference is a place to meet people. It may be meeting with brands or industries, or it may be meeting with people who will become collaborators with you or simply new friends. You need some way for them to know who you are and how to contact you. I put my picture on my business cards to help people remember, and I've been told that makes a huge difference in sticking out from the crowd. You'll also want your name, site, email, Twitter, and other contact information included - you decide what you're comfortable sharing. There are great sites to get low cost or free cards from VistaPrint to Moo Cards that come in awesome shapes and more. If you buy 250, that's more than enough, but make sure you bring business cards regardless. And no, you don't need to attach all sorts of gee-gaw to them.
Other: There are always other things you need that don't really fit into a category, but that doesn't mean they aren't as critical.
Your smile and a good attitude!
Wallet with ID
Your itinerary, including any confirmation numbers for flights, hotels, conference registration, etc. It's always good to have backup, and yes, it's saved my bacon in the past.
Snacks - granola bars or dried fruit, something for the plane and between meals to get you through and keep your energy up
Paper and pen - I always bring a notebook to take notes or jot down ideas, key if I lose power unexpectedly!
Water - I bring a stainless steel water bottle everywhere. Have a plan to stay hydrated, as again, conferences are really dry
Cash - I know the commercial says "Don't leave home without it" about your credit car (and bring that, too), but some cash is key
Vitamins - you've got to keep your energy up
Earplugs - Shutting out the ambient noise so you can sleep at night in a hotel is huge. And yes, I'll even put mine in while on the plane to drown out some of that noise sometimes.
Next week? How to pack so everything fits in your suitcase. Yes, I did bring a carry on to Detroit for a three day conference, and it held my clothes, my DSLR camera bag with spare lenses and flash, my iPad, my laptop, and everything described above. It's totally doable.
Can you think of anything I forgot since I'm typing this from memory and don't have my list with me? Or better yet, what's the worst thing you've ever forgotten?