Carrying On.

I bet you thought this would be an inspirational post about persevering through adversity.

You would be wrong. I don’t write inspirational posts in that vein.

Until about a year ago, you could say I was terrible at packing for trips. The best example of this was my honeymoon. I bought the biggest suitcase I could find and filled it to the gills. It was almost half my body weight. Those who know me know that I am not a fashionista, nor am I terribly high maintenance in terms of my hair or make-up. I just wanted to be prepared. But for what? It was 3 nights of cruising followed by four nights at Disney World. I knew what to pack on both fronts, but I feared not bringing enough. It was unseasonably chilly in Florida that year, and I ended up wearing my one pair of jeans almost every day in the parks. I used about half of what I brought as a result.

Anyway, when I started attending conferences in graduate school, I realized that I needed to pack more efficiently. On my first multiple night conference as a Ph.D. student (PCA/ACA in D.C., 2013), I found I struggled with my luggage on the train (we had to change trains in Philly to get to D.C.; it was a challenging ride, to say the least). I brought way too much. The next long conference was to D.C. again, and I again overpacked. I thought the event was more professional dress, only to find that I was over-dressed. Oops.

Last year, I flew to Chicago for a conference that lasted 6 days and 5 nights. I’m a nervous flyer, and I didn’t want any issues with my baggage, so I committed myself to carry-on only. I managed to pack an outfit for everyday, plus my presentation outfit, PJs, shoes, toiletries, AND my camera bag in a carry-on suitcase. I also took a backpack for my laptop and such. I wore everything I took and my only regret was my shoe situation. I only packed Toms (which I wear everyday from March to November) and heels. Well, it rained the day we left and my Toms got soaked. They dried out fine and worked OK, but I wished I had a pair of back up flip flops or something.

When I packed for ASA in 2014, I was a seasoned packing vet, and I decided to share that advice with you (with pictures!)

Almost done packing!

1. Plan Your Palette.

This tip is perhaps the most helpful. Attempt to bring clothing and shoes that all coordinate, or at least mostly coordinate. I am a huge fan of navy, white, and grey, so that is what I tend to pack, with a few accent pieces in mint, coral, and yellow / gold. This allows you to re-use pieces if you need to, especially pants, shoes, and jackets, which take up a lot of space. It also prevents me from bringing too many scarves. I love scarves.

2. Minimize.

Get the tiny toiletries. If you can, use the hotel stuff. It’s not for everyone or every product, but it cuts down on bulkier items like soap. I put my hair products (wax and straightening cream) in a contacts case. It was more than enough, because I use so little, and took up very little room. If you are traveling with close friends or family, perhaps coordinate toiletries. On my Chicago trip, one friend was checking her bag, and she brought body lotion for everyone in our room.

This tip also applies to HOW you pack, not just what you pack. Use all the space in your suitcase. There are a lot of handy guides on Pinterest, and the best advice is to roll your clothing. Socks into shoes. I even roll my underwear. Not only is it a space saver, but it prevents wrinkles. Put things where ever they will go. My camera bag also houses my presentation cards (for conferences), tea bags, and hot chocolate packets (in a separate pocket and Ziploc bag, no worries).

With your personal item (backpack, purse) you can get a lot of use out of those items as well. If you have a lot of reading to do, just pack a Kindle or e-reader. It may not be your preferred method to get your reading list completed, but your back will thank you. Ditch the extension cord part of your computer cord. Take unnecessary things out of your wallet. Little things make a big difference!

3. Know the Itinerary.

Have a good idea of what each day holds. Perhaps you are going to a wedding, but know exactly what events are planned for each day. For conference trips, I know what day I present and coordinate my casual and presentation outfits accordingly. You won’t be caught off guard, and you’ll have just what you need. For ASA, I wore a lace skirt with a blue blazer. After the presentation, I ditched the skirt and went for a pair of khaki shorts. Plan outfits that go from day to evening (or presentation to sightseeing) easily.

My flying outfit: blazer, comfy but nice pants, t-shirt, scarf, and shoes that are easy to remove at security.

4. Civilization is Near.

Unless you traveling to a more remote locale, you are always near a mall, drug store, or grocery store if you forget something. No one wants to spend extra money on a trip, but it’s not the end of the world and you won’t spend as much as you would to check the bag.

I have some other items that I like to bring on trips. I always bring a soft purse that I can pack during travel, but that I can use once I get to my destination. I also bring a light blanket with me. It folds up small and is just the right size for a cold plane or train. It can also double as a pillow. I also travel with food. I like to snack and eat, but I hate paying for restaurant food all week at a conference. I especially recommend fruit leather, Cliff bars (good breakfast), peanut butter M&M’s, and any other small nosh. I request a fridge if it doesn’t come with the room, and I try to find a grocery store or CVS near by to get some yogurts and such once I arrive. It stores leftovers too!

Graduate school and conferences are expensive, but these are some simple ways to cut costs. The only thing you have to do now is control yourself at the book sale, and you’ll be OK for the ride home too. (And on the book sale? See if you can wait until the last day. Publishers don’t want to take everything home, so they offer much deeper discounts. At ASA, some sold all paperbacks for $5 or $10 and hardbacks for $10 or $15.)

Finally, enjoy the conference! It’s a professional trip, but they always present opportunities to see new things, meet new and fascinating people, and get effective feedback about your research.

– The Lady Americanist.

Leave a Reply