Business Travel Tips: Conferences

At the beginning of this month, I attended the New Media eXpo conference (formerly Blog World) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before I went, I did a couple of searches online to find out dress code and any other useful information about this specific conference, but I didn’t find anything helpful. Writing about business travel tips is new for me, but as long as I see a need for it, I’m going to do it. I did several things to prepare for this trip and for all you fellow conference travelers out there, I wanted to share how that worked out for me and what I could have done better.

Here are some things I did right:

  • Purchased my plane ticket early when it was affordable
  • Reserved my hotel room early when it was affordable
  • Ordered 100 business cards just to bring to this event
  • Spruced up my website for all those new eyes that would be checking it out
  • Organized all my confirmations in one place in order of time (there was a lot going on at this conference and some events required tickets)

Here are some things I did wrong:

    • Booked a time-sensitive flight with an airline that doesn’t have a great reputation for being on time
    • Packed for the wrong dress code
    • Didn’t bring a some specific items that would be very useful at a conference

Let’s start with what I did right:

As soon as you know you are heading to a conference that requires travel, book your travel and accommodations before the prices go up. Our room ended up being an average difference of $135 cheaper per night because I booked it early. My roundtrip flight was approximately $250 cheaper than a friend’s same roundtrip flight booked last minute. I gave out about half of my business cards, but having more than you need at a networking event is far better than running out. My new, clean website design impressed many new visitors to my site and I heard a lot of great feedback immediately. A note on that: if you want to be a professional, you need a professional-looking website. If something can be done to improve yours, think about how that might help you if you are about to meet hundreds of new people at a conference! You only get one first impression online. Finally, having my reservations and events timeline organized in one place was incredibly helpful. At such a busy conference, I always knew where I needed to be at what time.

photo 2
I missed Pat Flynn’s presentation, but was lucky to meet him anyway.

Moving on to what I could have done better:

Flight: I am lucky I made it to my conference at all because I booked with an airline that has a poor reputation for being on time. My Friday night flight was cancelled and rescheduled for Saturday morning. This meant that I missed the first few sessions of our conference, including my favorite speaker*, which is something that I simply can’t get back even with a good apology from the airline. Moral of that story: don’t book a time-sensitive trip with an airline that has a bad reputation for being on time (pretty straight forward). *I did end up meeting him later at a meetup, which was awesome, but the fact that everyone said that his presentation had been their favorite of the weekend still hurt.

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You never know when you’re going to meet Miss America

Dress code: I tried looking up the NMX dress code before I packed, but couldn’t find anything about it online. I watched a couple of videos recorded there from past years and it looked like everyone was dressed business casual, which seemed appropriate since the last conference I went to was also business casual. It wasn’t until after I left that I found out there really isn’t a dress code for NMX. “It’s a bunch of bloggers,” as my friend told me. Yes, most people wore jeans. Oops. I was able to tone down my outfits a little with what I had, and was thankful to wear comfortable shoes rather than the low heels I brought. I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to the fact that it was Vegas, and only had one option for dressing up to go out. I definitely could have done better there. Moral of this story: ask people who have been previously if you can’t find anything online about dress code for your conference, and think about the meetups and after-parties you might attend and bring appropriate clothing for those.

Business Trip Packing List

I have compiled a list of some extra items that would be helpful to pack if you are heading to a conference, keep these in mind next time you travel for business!

  • Name BadgeBusiness cards: Bring too many, you do NOT want to run out of business cards at a conference where you are networking with other professionals. In fact, keep a handful tucked into your name badge if it permits so they are always readily accessible. I found this was a good place not only for mine, but for others I collected as well.
  • Gum or breath mints: You will probably be drinking a lot of coffee, talking with a lot of people, and not spending a whole lot of time in your room to brush teeth or freshen up.
  • Water bottle: Keep hydrated, your own bottle is easier to refill and carry than plastic cups that may be offered.
  • Sweater or jacket: Many conferences have the A/C on no matter the season, don’t let being cold distract you from the speakers you paid to see.
  • Comfortable shoes: Even though you may spend most of your time sitting through presentations, you could end up walking miles throughout the hotel or convention center each day.
  • Notepad: Don’t expect your conference to provide you with note-taking supplies, if you are a note-taker, bring your own pen and notepad*

*A note about laptops: If you must have your laptop and can’t take notes any other way, so be it. However, here are a few things to keep in mind that might be disadvantageous to carrying your laptop:

  • Tapping on keys during a quiet presentation could be bothersome to your neighbors
  • You may not have a table to put it on, which would result in having to rest it on your knees
  • If you don’t end up using it, it is just dead weight in your shoulder bag for the day (nobody likes sore shoulders)

You could definitely bring it with you to the hotel for Internet and work access, but perhaps think twice about carrying it throughout the day at your conference.

Bose Headphones

Last tip for packing: Leave some extra space in your suitcase. You will collect gadgets and random things if there is a booth expo going on, and you never know when you’re going to win a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones (SCORE). Shout out to the nice folks at Bloggershield, thank you!
Have you traveled to a conference before? What did you do right to prepare and what could you add to my list of what to do better?