Prep for Conference Travel

In less than two weeks I’ll be jet setting to Louisville, KY, for the conference I’ve been writing about for the past few months (ACPA). Kentucky might not be an exotic locale (such as when I visit San Francisco in a couple months), and I am looking forward to exploring what Louisville has to offer visitors. Last year, when I went to Baltimore for a conference, I had so much fun experiencing the city along with the conference. I felt a little sad for a lady who told me she had to buy her Baltimore souvenir at a hotel gift shop because she hadn’t done anything but conference related stuff. Then again, I place a high value on travel and exploring, so my priorities might just be a bit different from her’s. Anyway, I thought I’d put together a list of things to think about as you prepare for traveling for a conference and want to enjoy the area as well as the conference.

1. Research the city. What is there to do near where you’re staying? Walking around on foot is a great way to just see what there is around you. You can find restaurants, shopping, and other can’t miss sights. Steph and I did this in Baltimore and experienced everything from Panera & Hard Rock Cafe to climbing Federal Hill to walking around Camden Yards (baseball field) to checking out various piers for the Inner Harbor area. We went to Panera each morning for breakfast to save our per diem (daily meal $$) for nice dinners in the evenings. Is there mass transit to use to get around the city? Are there can’t miss things you need to do while in the city? In Baltimore, we made a point to find some good seafood. In San Francisco, I want to ride a cable car and see the Golden Gate bridge. I still need to figure out a lot of this information for Louisville.

2. Plan your conference itinerary. Do you need to go through the session options before you even get to the conference? At ACPA, there are so many options that it can be too overwhelming to pick sessions the day of. The session offers were available about 2 months prior to the conference (as well as the opportunity to create an online itinerary). I’m attending this conference again with my friend Steph. We’ve each planned to look through all the sessions and make note of the ones we’d like to attend. For most of the time slots, I have more than one session I’d like to attend. Steph and I operate in a mode of divide and conquer when attending conferences. We purposely pick different sessions to attend and generally find ones we’d both be interested in. We debrief about our sessions, usually during dinner or a break, and share our notes. If you are attending a conference alone, pick a couple of sessions for each time slot (if you have a lot of options) and then decide on the day of, which sessions you’d like to attend. I ended up attending some sessions last year that weren’t even on my radar before getting to Baltimore. Often times, there will be buzz about presenters or topics at the conference that might spark your interest that you weren’t aware of before getting there.

3. Volunteer to help at the conference. Volunteering to work for part of the conference can be a great way to meet people. Last year, my volunteering was fairly minimal. I was selected as an ACPA Ambassador (grad student who shows great promise for the future of the organization) and worked with a few other ambassadors to host a social for editors of the various large publications that are put out by ACPA. It was a great time chatting with other grad students from around the country. This year, I’m volunteering, but in a very different way. A component to the conference is Career Central. A ton of interviewing for positions at institutions from around the country happens all in one place during Career Central. A lot of grad students do their job searching this way. I didn’t do this for two reasons, 1) Career Services usually doesn’t recruit/interview in this method, and 2) I already had a job when I arrived in Baltimore. The Commission for Career Development (a smaller group within ACPA for career professionals) is sponsoring a “Lucy Booth” (think Peanuts) where job candidates can ask questions or chat with Career Services professionals while they are waiting to interview. I’m also doing some volunteering that goes along with social media efforts for the conference. I’m excited about both of my volunteer opportunities. I hope to meet some great people!

4. Plan your packing. Pack weather appropriate clothing. Also, dress to the level of the conference. Is it business professional or business casual? If you pack for one and it’s the other, you could end up feeling foolish. For my conference, people usually rock suits or other nice office appropriate dress clothes on all days except the last one. The last day is usually a bit more casual. I need to do some more research about packing. For both of my conferences, I don’t want to have to check any luggage, so I’ll need to be strategic about my packing.

5. Coordinate with friends and/or family that may be in the area or also attending the conference. Do you know people attending the conference? Do you know people who live in the area where the conference is taking place? It could be good to connect with those people, if only for a meal or coffee break. Coordinate with them ahead of time because they have just as busy of a schedule as you do. When I’ve attended conferences during the past 2 years, I’ve noticed that social media and cell phones are very helpful. Using Twitter and texting can be great for tracking people down or making plans.

Well, I hope these 5 things help you when you’re planning your next conference trip. Let me know if you have any other tips. Or, if you know of any must-do things in Louisville, KY, or San Francisco/Berkeley, please let me know!

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