10 travel tips I learned from RailsConf 2006 that could apply to any conference.

chicago_cityscape

  1. Pack light. O’Hare airport, like many others across the globe, was enormous. Having to only worry about the bag on my back made navigating the maze of terminals and floors a lot easier.
  2. Call ahead. It takes 30 seconds to contact your hotel the day before to double check reservation, shuttle transportation, or other expected services. If for some reason there is a problem, you’ll enjoy solving the issue much more before you’re miles away from home.
  3. Presentation seating. Arriving early does not mean you’re early if everyone else still beat you to the good seats. Set the alarm and allow for plenty of time in the morning to get set up for the day.
  4. Power up. Make sure to grab the seats near electrical outlets and/or bring a power strip to make better use of available electricity. Most conferences last longer than the life of a laptop battery, so plan on recharging at some point. Even if this means grabbing a seat against the wall or in the back, go for it. It’s not like high school where only the kids in front could see the chalkboard; most presenters use a large projector and microphone to reach even those far in the rear.
  5. Bring a lot of patience. There will forever be the person who attempts to correct the speaker constantly. These are the folks who ask questions at the end of a presentation purely to hear their own voices in front of a crowd. Ignore it. This would be a good time to work on that app or take a bathroom break.
  6. Munchies. Pack a small lunch and bring plenty of snacks and water (unless in food restricted areas). You’re paying money to learn at the conference, don’t spend all day driving to and from local restaurants.
  7. Make friends with the maids. This is no joke. On the first day I arrived in Chicago, my room key didn’t work and it was a maid seeing my struggle who helped me get in. I thanked her kindly and made time for a friendly chat, something I’m sure few people often give her. I became friends with the lady who ensures clean towels and a fresh bed each day, a good person to know while living in a hotel.
  8. Choose presentations based on speaker, not content. Chances are you’re attending a conference to learn more about something you’re not already an expert on. In the case that multiple presentations are going on at the same time (very likely) and you’re not sure which to attend, make your choices by who is presenting and not so much what they are talking about. I would say that 50% of the speakers I listened to at RailsConf branched off in other areas that weren’t on the agenda anyway, something that an experienced veteran can pull off. Just because “Ajax” or another hot keyword is in the title, doesn’t mean the speaker will be able to deliver a strong presentation.
  9. Paparazzi. A great tip for all of you bringing a digital camera: turn the sound off! It really isn’t necessary to have your camera making Star Wars sounds when focusing and capturing the shot. Most digital cameras have settings to turn this sound off, please do so! Neither the speaker nor listeners need a symphony of electronic crickets.
  10. Bring cash! I questioned Jay Zimmerman enough times about extra conference t’s that there was finally an announcement made to sell the leftovers. You never know what deals you’ll find and plastic isn’t always accepted.