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9 Essential Items for Your IT Conference Survival Kit

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Published on February 28, 2017

If you've been to a tech conference (or any conference for that matter), you know that they can be eye-opening, educational experiences. They also can be exhausting, hectic, and even a little inconvenient. But they don't have to be.

In 2017 alone, we've highlighted 10 conferences you won't want to miss, and even how to get your company to pay for you to attend at least one of them.

These items will help you retain the information you're learning, stay (somewhat) connected while away from the office, and relax in your downtime.

Caffeine delivery systems: Most conferences have an all-day supply of tea and coffee. Don't forget to bring your favorite travel mug for greater caffeine capacity, and to help the environment.

Small power strip: The world needs heroes. There are some instances when you shouldn't try be a hero. Like taking the last piece of pizza for the good of group. The world doesn't always need that type of hero. It can go in the fridge.

When you're dealing with devices failing due to lack of battery life, that's when the world needs you. Most IT conferences should know attendees will have at least two devices that will inevitably require charging during an 8-hour period. For that reason, they roll out the mobile charging stations. Some conferences do not plan or do not plan well, so plan accordingly.

Bonus: A small power strip is an essential airport tool. No more wandering the terminal looking for an electric oasis. Bring a small power strip and be a hero.

LTE Hotspot: The optimistic part of your brain that assures you the conference center will have enough plugs, also tells you they'd have screaming fast internet. It's a tech conference, right? Unless you're at Defcon or Cisco Live, your conference internet might be at the mercy of the conference center's internet.

A hotspot will likely unshackle you from the pain of slow internet. (After all, slow internet is sometimes worse than no internet.) But here's the "likely" part of that statement: Sometimes your LTE has trouble penetrating the yards of concrete in some conference centers. It's hit or miss.

Bonus: Bring your hotspot anyways for your hotel. Plenty of hotels have gotten into the habit of providing free internet access. Many have not. Avoid the $15 charge. Bring your hotspot.

Comfortable shoes: Conferences usually mean you're running around all day. In the case of AWS Reinvent 2016, one of our DevOps guys logged five miles per day. Your sessions might be on opposite sides of a huge conference center.

You might (thankfully) have a hotel close to the conference space, in which case you're still walking. After-hours events are typically at adjacent venues, which means more walking. Overall, you'll be on your feet for eight to 12 hours. So, ditch the dress shoes for sneakers.

Water bottle: As pointed out by our resident IT pro, you gotta stay hydrated. Most conferences not only have a constant stream of caffeine carts, but also water stations. You can either bring your own water bottle, or try to find one from your favorite (or any) vendor. There's almost certainly one vendor who will be giving away water bottles.

Expenses envelope: If you're old school, or your company requires a real, hard copy of your expense receipts, then remember a small envelope and figure out a good system. As soon as you get a receipt put it either in the front or back of your stack.

Kick up your organizational skills a bit and mark the date and description right on the receipt. There's nothing worse than getting back from a conference only to find out you lost a receipt. A small envelope makes all the difference.

Bonus tip: If your company will accept receipts in any form, take pictures of your receipts as you get them. They'll not only be in chronological order, you won't have a wad of thermal receipt paper on your person smudging against one another.

Pen and paper: In the magical world of electronics, sometimes you just need a pen and paper. Or at least a pen. You can likely pick up a pen at any number of vendor booths, but why not bring you own? Mark your expense receipts. Jot down a note. Sign a credit card bill. There are many uses for this low-tech device. In the crush of the technology, be a hero. Bring a pen.

Swag bag: Planning on picking out your 2017 wardrobe from conference t-shirts? A few shirts won't turn your carry-on into a check bag. If you're a swag hunter, then bring an extra bag and refer to this post about how to increase your swag haul. With your brought-from-home swag bag you'll make transporting your free stuff back home and around the show hall a snap. You'll be like Swag Santa in reverse, carrying your bag of goodies home.

Taxi or rideshare app: If you're not coming from a city with Uber or Lyft, then take a moment to download the app and connect a credit card. You'll disembark, and be ready to go. Research whether these ridesharing services operate in your destination city, or whether there's another app that takes it place. For instance, Austin and Chicago taxi services have apps similar to Uber.

BONUS ITEM: Your best nerd gear: If you're an introvert, this tip goes right into the next post, 7 Conference Networking Tips for the Introvert. Here's the gist: At your conference, you're among colleagues and peers. Bring the nerdiest apparel you have. Your Millennium Falcon schematic shirt? Bring it. That Malcolm Reynolds jacket you have? Wear it. Why not? It's awesome, and someone else will think so, too.

There are plenty of great tech conferences in 2017, large and small. Bring these essential items to maintain your connection with the real world, remain comfortable while away from home, and maybe, just maybe, become a hero.


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