What to Take to a Writing Conference

I've been to my share of conferences now and every single time I umm and ahh about what to pack. I'm also a reformed chronic over-packer (true story!) so I think long and hard every time I flip that suitcase or carry-on bag open. Packing isn't one-size-fits-all, but here are the things I take...and a few I don't.

THE NECESSITIES

  • A suitcase/bag that isn't full to the brim on the way over: Here’s a little secret about conference…you get a lot of books! It's easy to get caught out not having the space to bring them home, and shipping can be pricey if you're travelling internationally.
  • Comfortable shoes: I know, I love shoes. But I've made it my mission to find cute shoes that won't kill my feet, because life's too short for blisters. These are my personal conference go-to cute shoes. They give height, look pretty with all my dresses, and are easy to walk around in.
  • Business Cards: I'll admit, I'm pretty terrible about handing mine out but if you happen to chat with someone while waiting in line for a drink and they ask you what your website is, people are more likely to hang onto a card than a scrap of paper.
  • Water, headache remedy of choice, hydrating eye cream and a facial mist: This is my ‘anti-tired’ kit. By day three I want to crawl in bed and sleep off the exhaustion, but I also don’t want to miss out on the fun. The water can be bought at the hotel or in a nearby shop, but I HIGHLY recommend keeping hydrated. Hotels often have air conditioning running and it can make you feel really sluggish and headachy.
  • Chargers for your phone/other devices: This seems like an obvious one, but put it on your list anyway.
  • A printed copy of your schedule: I always have a spreadsheet printed out with my schedule in case my phone dies at an inopportune time. I don't always need it, but I know I'll be thankful that one time my phone fails me.
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THE "GOOD TO HAVE"

  • Writing implements: Whether you prefer pen and a notepad or a tablet/laptop, it’s good to have something to take notes on. This isn’t just for workshops but for any ideas that spring up thanks to all the additional creative energy you'll be experiencing, and to jot down the details of those you meet (in case they haven’t brought their business cards). I generally take a notepad and pen because I'm old-school like that.
  • Camera: You don’t want to meet your favourite author only to realise you don’t have a camera with you! Phone cameras are totally fine.
  • Something unique: I think it’s a great idea to have something unique with you that will stand out and make people remember you. It might be a flashy necklace, a cute headband or a stuffed llama (my personal item of choice!) Every little bit helps!

THINK VERY CAREFULLY ABOUT WHETHER YOU NEED THESE ITEMS

In the interest of saving space (or weight) in your luggage, I'd think long and hard about whether you need the following:

  • Books for authors to sign: I know, there’s a huge signing and your favourite author is going to be there. But books take up space and you’ll be bringing a lot home with you anyway. If any author is participating in a singing, they'll have books at their table. So do you really need the extra weight in your suitcase?
  • Your manuscript: The rules for pitches (and general conference etiquette) is usually that you provide our manuscript electronically after the conference if (and only if!) you get a request. Check the conference website for guidelines, if you're unsure. Having printed copies of your work on hand won’t make your chances any better of getting a request and they’ll just take up extra space in your luggage. 
  • That tenth pair of shoes: Honestly, I put this in as a reminder for myself. I always have the "choose half" rule applied pair after I've picked out all the shoes I'd like to to take. Those ten pair of heeled pretties? Reduce by half...at least.
  • Laptop: I've never worked at a conference. I know many writers do and if that works for you, awesome! Personally, conference is a time to mingle, attend workshops, make new acquaintances and foster existing relationships. I make it a rule not to hide away on my laptop, and that's very easily achieved by not bringing it with me. I keep a notepad and pen handy at all times, in case I have a sudden idea for something I'm working on or if I'm stuck at the airport and want to get some work done.