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How to pack for a conference

I’m in Bern, Switzerland, attending the International Quaternary Association’s 18th Congress. INQUA convenes every four years, and this will be my first time attending. It’s the largest meeting for those of us who study the Quaternary Period, and includes paleoecologists, archaeologists, paleoclimatologists, geologists, and geomorphologists– I believe there are about three thousand of us registered. There are several of us tweeting, using the #INQUA hashtag.This is my first time visiting Switzerland! I’ve traveled quite a lot since I started graduate school in 2005 (one of the many reasons I love my job), for fieldwork, workshops, and conferences. I’ve learned a bit about conferences and conference travel in that time, and wanted to share some of that knowledge for anyone who might be preparing to attend a conference for the first time. Some of this may seem like common sense, but it’s remarkable how long it takes for common sense to become, well, common (in fact, I didn’t take my own advice and am sorely regretting the lack of a warm sweater, in spite of the fact that it’s late July).


For international travel, I’ve put together a little wellness kit for my carry-on. I got an eye-mask for sleeping on the plane (it really helps!). I pack a travel hairbrush, travel toothbrush and toothpaste, mini deodorant, linen face blotters, a travel-sized dry shampoo (it’s a powder you comb through– it sounds weird, but is fantastic! I use Oscar Blandi.), and a refreshing face spray. You don’t always get to go right to a shower or to sleep when you land (sometimes, it’s best not to), and I’ve found that a few minutes with my kit in the airport bathroom does wonders for my mood (and probably for first impressions, too).

Obviously, your laptop/netbook and charger (plus any international power adapters), are essential. Power outlets are often rare at conferences, so if you’ll be using your laptop or other devide to live-blog or tweet or take notes, consider bringing a mini power-strip to turn one outlet into many. Ditto to a cell phone and charger. I love traveling with my Kindle, which saves a ton of space for books and pdf’s, and is much easier on my eyes. Noise-canceling headphones are a luxury, but one that also come in handy in the lab, or writing in a coffee shop. Bring any dongles/adapters for your computer that you regularly use, as well as a flash drive. Bring your camera, with extra film or batteries if needed, especially if you’re going on a field trip (again; it seems obvious that people wouldn’t forget this, but I see it happen all the time). Make sure you have a watch, a cell phone, or some method to tell time and set alarms—many international hotels don’t have alarm clocks.


Print out your flight information, hotel reservation (with address), maps, and the location of the conference center—don’t assume you’ll have wireless access everywhere (and you may run out of batteries and not find an outlet). Most of this can be condensed to one page and kept in your wallet or passport bag. Traveling is a great way to get dehydrated, and airport concessions are notoriously expensive, so a water bottle is a great thing to bring.

Check out the facilities at the place you’re staying– do you need to bring your own towel? Do they have on-site laundry, an ironing board, etc.?

Before you leave, call your debit and credit card companies and let them know you’ll be traveling—they’ll ask where, and when. This will prevent (usually) your cards being put on hold due to suspicious activity (it happened to me when I was in Greece last January, and it was a huge pain to get back in touch with my credit card company using hotel courtesy phones). Find out about cell service – you might not need it, but it’s good to avoid roaming charges for data, too (Skype is your friend).

I tend not to use guidebooks, even when I bring them, but some people like them. I find TripAdvisor and the US Department of State’s website to be worth checking (and both have smartphone apps).

Don’t forget your identification! I keep my passport and boarding passes in a small bag around my neck, so I don’t have to fumble with my laptop bag in line. Print out copies of your conference registration and talk/poster acceptance– these can help prove the reason for your travel if you run into trouble at the border.


Bring business cards if you have them, and color copies of your poster if you’re presenting one (pin

A Tweet-up lunch at the ESA 2011 conference. It was about 50 degrees inside the conference center, and 110 degrees outside. Note: sensible walking shoes, small bags, water bottle, layers. Photo courtesy of Zen Faulkes.

these next to your poster, and make sure your contact information is readable). Bring writing utensils and a notebook for taking notes, if that’s your style—I have a Moleskine that I bring with me everywhere. A water bottle and reusable travel mug can save you time, money, and help keep you hydrated and awake. An umbrella comes in handy! I also tend to pack a small purse or bag, so I don’t have to lug my laptop bag to dinner.

As someone in the comments pointed out, snacks can be a real life-saver, especially if you tend to get cranky, tired, or head-achy without food. Some granola bars, fruit, or nuts in your bag will come in handy, especially when access to food during the conference is scarce (which is often the case). Some travel baby wipes and a hand sanitizer can help you freshen up when bathrooms are scarce (or sketchy), or when you’re eating on the run.

Before you leave, or as soon as you arrive, make a list of people you’d like to introduce yourself to—you can generally search the program online in advance. Try to do a workshop, lunch, or field trip, as these can be great ways to meet people.



Outfits for each day you’re traveling, plus one (in case of wardrobe malfunctions), including underwear, socks, and any necessary accessories like belts or leggings (don’t forget jewelry, if you wear it!).

Outdoor wear– a weather appropriate coat, jacket, raincoat, umbrella, hat, mittens

Comfortable, weather-appropriate shoes

Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo/conditioner, hair products/hair dryer, nail clippers, shaving needs

Passport/identification, travel visa (if needed), wallet, debit/credit cards

Talk (backed up!), poster (with print-outs, in a poster tube with your contact info)

Location of lodging, conference center, flight information, transportation itineraries, etc.

If applicable: contact lenses/solution, feminine hygiene products, bite splints/retainers, epi-pens, makeup, medication, medical bracelets, or other essential extras that you can’t live without

Good to have:

Travel mug and water bottle

Mini sewing kit (for lost buttons, etc.)

Travel laundry bag (these are great)

Portable snacks

Baby wipes and/or hand sanitizer

A small bag to carry essentials

Books, papers, or files you need to work while you travel (or finish your talk)

Notebook, pens

Business cards


Computer/netbook/iPad/e-reader, with adapter(s)

Mini power-strip

Cell phone and adapter (will you have service?)

International power adapter (if applicable)

Camera and charger/batteries, film/memory card(s)

Any adapters needed to connect your computer to a projector

Thumb drive

Did I forget anything? Share your additions and thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Categories: Conferences Tips & Tricks

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Jacquelyn Gill

11 replies

  1. This is a great list and I agree, great advice on the baby wipes!! They always come in handy! I posted a link to your blog on our Facebook page to help other attending PosterSession people!

    Powerpoint design templates mhelps make designing your poster a breeze! We have free templates at our site.

    Goodluck to everyone attending a research poster session!!

    Have a great 2012!


  2. Excellent, useful post.

    Many gadgets can be charged with a (mini or micro) USB cable. I carry a simple charger. It has changeable blug for different countries, and four USB sockets. So i can charge my kindle, phone, camera and MP3 player from a single socket. Saves space, and useful when many hotels have very limited sockets.


    1. That’s a good idea! @DocFreeRide on Twitter suggested bringing a mini power strip, especially if you’re doing a lot of tweeting or live-blogging. Power outlets are generally pretty scarce at conference venues, too!


  3. Love the list.. I’m always travelling to meetings, conferences AGMs etc & some form of this list would be scribbled on the back of an old envelope the night before to remind me of things to take. Now I’ve got a handy list I can print out and stick to the inside of my travel bag.

    I would add on baby wipes or wetones in a small plastic bag & id take 2 or 3 in handbag to the conference ,.handy for refreshing yourself through the day or just a quick wake up boost without having to go back to your hotel.

    Thanks again !!


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