In theory, traveling for a conference seems glamorous. Your company is paying for you to go someplace new and exciting where you'll stay in swanky hotels, meet lots of fabulous people, and learn tons of new things.
But sometimes, reality isn't so sweet. Maybe your flight gets delayed, or your luggage gets lost, or your hotel room has a barely functional A/C unit, or your favorite suit somehow ends up with coffee all over it.
Not so glamorous after all.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to stack the deck in your favor. I polled my teammates -- all frequent business travellers -- to find out their favorite hacks and tricks for making conference travel more enjoyable. Below is what they recommend you do on your next conference trip.
Planning Your Trip
1) Make sure you understand your company's expense policies. Knowing what kinds of things you can expense and how the whole process works will help you make smart purchasing decisions on the road.
2) Let Twitter and Facebook know you'll be in town to get recommendations from locals.
3) Are all the hotel rooms booked or too expensive? Try staying in an AirBnB instead.
4) Delete your browser's cookies (or use an incognito browser) before you book your trip -- it could reduce your fare. Some airlines and other travel sites will show you higher rates each time you come back to their site.
5) Want a good seat? Don't pick it when you're buying your tickets. Usually the more expensive (and desirable) seats will be the last ones available on the day of your trip -- and when you show up, you'll get assigned to them.
6) If you really want to pick your seat ahead of time, check out Seat Guru to see which ones are best.
7) Use apps like TripIt to easily keep track of your itinerary and travel details.
8) Download Uber, Lyft, or alternative transportation apps available in your destination before arriving so you can easily get to your hotel once you're on the ground. (And if you notice the people you meet want to use them too, you can usually share a referral code to get free credits on the platform.)
10) Use loyalty programs and points to your advantage if you're traveling a lot. Once you sign up for one for a hotel and/or airline, always book your travel and accommodations with them so you can rack up free rewards.
Packing Your Bags
11) Pack lots of Advil and Band Aids -- it'll save you from tracking down a nearby convenience store when your shoes start to bother you or you find yourself with a splitting headache.
12) Bring a comfy, versatile bag you can easily stuff swag and business cards into.
13) Put a Tide-to-Go pen in your bag -- you'll be grateful to have it when something inevitably spills during an important dinner.
14) Pack a power strip and extra chargers for your days at the conference. Not only will you make friends with other folks hunting for an open outlet, but you also will never be caught without power.
15) Another option is to buy an external battery pack for your phone. It's a little less of an icebreaker than the previous tip, but it can help you stay charged all day.
16) If you've never worn a pair of shoes before, don't bring them to the conference. You won't know know how painful they will be until you're actually wearing them all day -- and when you're in a new place, the last thing you want to worry about is your feet hurting.
17) Bring a jacket or sweater, even in the summer. Conferences can be freezing!
18) Pack clothes that can all match. That way, if you realize you need to be warmer/cooler or more/less fancy than you originally anticipated, you can easily adjust your outfit without worrying if it matches.
19) Bring an envelope to keep all of your receipts in. This will make it much easier to do your expense report when you're back in the office.
20) Buy a reusable bag for your liquids and fill it with reusable containers of your favorite shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and lotion. If you travel a lot, having small, reusable containers of your favorite goods can definitely help you cut down on costs.
21) Add a few small grocery bags to your suitcase. If you end up needing to bring home dirty/smelly/wet clothing, you can put them in those bags so the rest of your clothes stay clean.
22) Going to a conference in another country? Print out your conference and hotel information -- it'll make it much easier for you to fill out travel documents and chat with officials at the border.
23) Also, email yourself all of your important documents (flights, conference, and identification) before you leave. That way, if your baggage gets lost or stolen, you'll still have all the information you need.
Traveling Without Stress
24) Write out all the addresses for places you need to be and the times you need to be there. That way, if WiFi isn't available and your phone's data is spotty, you can still figure out your schedule.
25) For the same reason, you should also take pictures of all the maps you need to reference. Don't get stranded because your phone can't access the internet.
26) Download a bunch of episodes of your favorite podcasts for when you're in transit without WiFi or seated next to a Chatty Cathy.
27) Opt for the carry-on -- even if it's free to check your bags. Besides enabling you to quickly get out of the airport once your flight lands, carrying on your bags also makes sure your things don't get lost in transit.
28) If you travel a lot, look into getting pre-approved by TSA. If you're approved, you can go through security much faster than you would otherwise.
29) When you're on a plane, train, or bus, check under the seats! Sometimes there will be power outlets for your laptops -- but they're just a bit hidden at first.
Upgrading Your Accommodations
30) Want an upgrade? Ask for it. You'd be surprised how helpful and accommodating the hotel staff can be when you ask for their help.
31) Check Yelp and Foursquare to get under-the-radar, local tips. For example, many people will leave the hotel's WiFi password in reviews of the hotel on those platforms.
32) Want to relax after a long day at the conference? Pick up some bath salts to use in your hotel's giant bathtub.
33) If you want to stream movies without paying a huge fee to your hotel, bring your Chromecast or Roku from home. All you need to do is connect to the hotel's WiFi and plug your streaming device into the back of your TV. Voila: All The Office you could ever want to watch.
34) Did you fill up all the outlets, but still need to charge your phone? Look behind the TV -- there's usually a USB outlet you can plug your cord in to begin charging.
35) If you're looking for a place to eat at the last minute, check out OpenTable. The app will show you open reservations at nearby places. Just click to book your reservation, then head to the restaurant. This is especially helpful if you're trying to find a last-minute dinner place for a larger group.
Making the Most of the Conference
36) Even if you plan to check email during the conference, set up an out-of-office reply to let people know you might be slow to respond.
37) Sign out of all of your company's instant messaging programs so you're not constantly getting bothered by other folks in the office.
38) Many conferences have groups, hashtags, or event invitations online to help connect attendees and keep them up-to-date on conference information. Make sure you've found and joined them so you can make connections before you arrive.
39) Once you're actually at the event, try to walk around the conference space before everything gets kicked off so you know where you need to go during the event.
40) Scout out the conference agenda in advance to get an idea of what sessions you want to attend -- that way you know which sessions you want to grab a good seat for (and which ones you're okay with sitting in the back).
41) Losing battery? Turn your phone on airplane mode -- it'll disconnect you from your cellphone data, WiFi, and Bluetooth, but some devices allow you to re-enable the latter two while staying in airplane mode.
42) When you have access to WiFi, download the conference app to your phone. These apps often contain agenda information and ways to chat with other attendees.
43) Take a photo of the conference map before you get to the venue and then set it as your background. It's an easy way to keep track of where you need to be without flipping through booklets or using your cell phone's data.
45) Practice your elevator pitch so it sounds smooth and natural. You never know whom you'll be standing next to during happy hour.
Originally published Aug 18, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated June 10 2021