Tag Archives: Travel

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.

ASA 2014: Assymetrical Haircuts and Other Adventures

If you recall, I was very wishy-washy on ASA (American Studies Association) last year. The 2013 meeting was controversial, tense, and a little stuffy. The Student Association events were a bright spot, and when I found out that the award I won at EASA came with a spot on an ASA panel, I decided to give the conference a second chance. I’m glad I did, although I still don’t see myself making the ASA an annual pilgrimage.

My trip began with a quick drive to my grandparents’ house. I wanted a direct flight to Los Angeles, and Dulles was the best option. However, it is 2 hours away from my home, and my grandparents live half way. Just as I was preparing to leave (at 4am), the power went out. And they live in the hills, where it’s dark even when the power is on. I felt bad abandoning them in the dark, but I had to get going. It was pouring rain, and it made for a very stressful ride to Dulles. However, after that the flight out was uneventful. Easy time through security and such. I even discovered that Starbucks makes a peppermint mocha frap, which makes me both happy and a walking, talking stereotype. Oh well.

Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.
Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.


The advantage of flying west is that you get three hours back. THREE HOURS. It’s like the flight barely happened. I got settled at the hotel, registered at the conference, and started figuring out which panels to attend. The first panel I went to was a Student Association workshop on “perfecting your pitch,” in which we gave our short (3 minute) proposal on our dissertation / project and receive feedback from a professor who has never heard it before. I spoke with Prof. Libby Anker from George Washington. Her feedback was refreshing, and it was especially nice to hear from a female in the field. She told me to be less apologetic and to emphasize the scope of my project rather than apologize for it. She liked my project, which was validating because I was convinced it wouldn’t fit in at ASA. Thank you Dr. Anker.

My roommate and I attended a lot of student events, including the opening night mixer. The graduate students at ASA are really wonderful to interact with, and we really got effective feedback at all of the student events we attended.

L.A. Manhole Cover
Social conscious manhole cover, Downtown L.A.


A colleague from the Penn State Harrisburg American Studies program, who is now at William and Mary, presented on the first day, and he did a fantastic job talking about the intersection of country music and race. My first day was rounded out with the Regional ASA meeting, at which I represented the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA). Our real rep is in India, so I was happy to fill in. I was fascinated to listen to how other regional ASA’s deal with having conferences. We are lucky enough to have a condensed geographic area and a lot of passionate people on the board, and therefore EASA has an annual conference that fills up every year. SASA (Southern ASA) has a conference every other year, while the Rocky Mountain ASA (which encompasses 8 very large states) has difficulty finding a way to make a conference possible for all attendees.

L.A. Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library, Downtown


Los Angeles is a strange city, and it was difficult to sight-see without a car. My roommate is a lot more intrepid than me, and she pulled me out into the sunlight to see some very cool places just around our hotel, including the Grand Central Market. On the last day, we walked towards the Staples Center, but it was really just movie theatres and regular outdoor malls. I wish we could have seen Hollywood or Santa Monica. Next time.

The student award winner panel was one of the most amazing panels I have ever been placed on at a conference. The discussion was substantive, helpful, and lively. People really understood my research, and it was really an honor to be recognized along side the other winners. I left the conference as a whole ready to dive into writing my dissertation.

I also attended a panel called “Killing the Keyword,” which was a non-traditional event in which everyone put a word or concept that they feel is overused or used incorrectly into a bowl. The panelists then pulled each one out and discussed it at length. Most of the words were just discussed and clarified, but some were “killed.” Neoliberal(ism) was one of the killed words, primarily because people tend to use it as a crutch to sound smart, rather than applying it appropriately. I put that word in the bowl, as did about 40 other people, so it was nice to hear a real discussion about how accessible we are as writers.

My flight home was exhausting, but that’s what you get when you take the red-eye. I was thrilled that I could take that trip, and that it was eventful in all the right ways. I had never traveled alone like that, and so that was a nice change of pace. My roommates were very nice, especially Brittany, who became a fast friend. She’s doing really great work in the Appalachian region, and I think she is going to effect change for that area of the country.

Next week I go to EASA for the 7th time as a presenter. It will be much more relaxing than last year because I did not organize the conference! I’ll write more about that later.

– The Lady Americanist.