Planning travels for conferences around the world
Traveling to new places, both near and far is a wonderful, life-enriching experience. We get to meet new people, learn about history, try local cuisines, experience new cultures, new languages, magnificent architecture, and so on.
As a person who did very little traveling for 30 years of her life, and then got to travel to so many new places in the next 1 year and counting, I have so much anxiety whenever I travel.
I started speaking at conferences a little before the pandemic in 2020, and then with everything going online in 2020, I saw a whole new world open up before me, and I was able to be part of many amazing conferences around the world as a speaker.
In 2022, when the world started opening up for offline events again, the first feeling I had was excitement — to be able to see new places, and meet new people in a completely different continent, so far away from my beloved homeland, India, where I had lived and worked for 30 years before I decided to stir up my whole life and career and relocate to the Netherlands.
But it came along with anxiety. In the last 7 months, I spoke at 7 in-person conferences and traveled to 6 different countries. It was smooth most of the time, except for when it wasn’t. For my travel to Milan — where my direct flight from Amsterdam and Milan was not only preponed by KLM but also converted into a long journey with 3 flights and one more cancellation and delay in between. It was a pretty rough day for me, and I spent the first few hours in panic.
And, as I settled into the idea that it is going to go that way in any case, I tried to calm my mind by trying to journal a few things, and I ended up writing a rough sketch of how I plan for my travel to conferences or new places in general. Now that I am recovered from that wild adventure, it is time to write it in a more readable format. So here you go.
Planning journey for a conference
Choose journey dates
I prefer to reach the destination at least one day before the conference.
There are multiple reasons for it — getting to know the surroundings, and transportation, and avoiding last-minute travel route cancellations or delays by airlines or train companies.
Also, it allows me to relax at night and not worry about stuff before giving my talk the next day.
Choose the transport mode
When choosing between transport modes, I take the time of travel into consideration. For journeys that take up to 6 hours, I prefer the train, because I have experienced the same aggregate travel time when the flight time is less than 2 hours (special thanks to the Schipol mess, I need to be at the airport at least 3–4 hours before the flight time to have my mental peace). For any longer time, the flight is my preference.
Also, when using the train, I prefer first class for any journey more than 2–3 hours, as it is more comfortable when I have to do the journey sitting for around 6 hours and I can also work a bit.
For flights, economy class is what I travel in right now, and I have no complaints so far (Though someday I would like to try the business class and see the difference in terms of comfort and the level of tiredness I feel after every flight).
Prefer direct Flights
For flights, I always always always want to travel with direct flights. Layovers add to my anxiety, and I saw it go through roof for my Milan trip. I would not like to go through that again. But I know, it will not always be possible. In those cases, I would at least try to keep around 2 hours of layover time to account for some unforeseeable flight delays. Although it will not always be perfect, trying to plan it better is all I can do.
Window seats are my choice of seat. I love to look at the world from that height and appreciate all the beauty, as well as love the feeling of flying through the clouds, witnessing sunrise and sunset from a different perspective. Those are magical moments.
Also, I like to click lots of pics, and no, I am not ashamed of that… I also recently created my Instagram just so I can share all those pics.
Do what you love folks and do not worry about any judgment. We only live once.
Get travel insurance, so that in any unforeseen situations, some/full part of the ticket could be reimbursed. Some insurances also provide medical emergency cover and well as cover for luggage theft too.
When you are traveling to speak at a conference, the conference will provide you with a hotel. So this part is mostly taken care of by them.
I prefer at least 2-night accommodation because
- I fly one day before the conference, and
- I would not prefer to rush out of the conference after my talk to catch the flight.
There are multiple aspects of attending a conference, and one of the most important aspects is the people — the attendees, the fellow speakers, the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and so on.
I enjoy meeting and talking to people who attended my session, because that’s when you also know if they liked it, and what else would they like to learn about, which could be an idea for a potential new session or an addition/update to the existing one. I also like to attend other sessions at the conference and learn from what my fellow speakers have to share.
Apart from that, the speakers’ room is where lots of cool conversations happen, meeting those amazing speakers, knowing about their journey, and also talking to volunteers and the sponsor team is the way to make new friends and connections.
And then one of the best feelings is to meet them again at future conferences.
You would not want to leave any crucial document behind and forget stuff that could make life a bit tougher in an unknown city or country. So I maintain a to-pack list for my travels.
Sharing the most important part of that list with you all, maybe you can find some inspiration or reference in these:
The ‘cannot leave behind’ items
Mobile and Laptop
I mean, mobile is kind of a lifeline these days, so definitely do not forget your mobile at home.
Also, a laptop, because that is what I would use to give my presentation at the conference. Although, always keep an online version of the slides, so that in unforeseen circumstances, if we have to use some other laptop, we can still access the materials for the talk.
Documents are one of the most important items, we always need to have our ID with us, when we are traveling to another country. As an ex-pat in the Netherlands, I need to carry my passport and Resident permit with me everywhere. The document requirement might be different for you, but it is always useful to have a small bag/purse specifically for storing the IDs’.
Also, always keep the ticket or boarding pass with you, either digitally or in a physical copy. I prefer a digital copy in the app, but also I download the document and keep it in my online drive, as a backup so I can access it from anywhere. It’s always good to have a backup option for documents.
Debit / Credit cards
Always check if you have your cards on you before leaving for the trip. Also, I prefer to have some expense limits on the card, so that anyone with unauthorized access to the card cannot spend a considerable amount of money.
I know almost everything is digital nowadays. Still, I prefer to keep some amount of cash with me, just in case. Also, I have been to places where I had to use cash because I couldn’t use the app to book a cab for me due to internet connectivity issues and the local taxi only accepted cash. Rarely do I want to withdraw cash in an unknown place. I know I sound extra cautious, but my motto in life is “better safe than sorry”.
Whenever I step out of my house, the 3-point check I do unconsciously are:
- Mobile and laptop
Everything else can be manageable, but without these three, most probably the travel would be disrupted.
Other important items to pack
General painkillers and paracetamol are the medicines I always have in all of my backpacks. Apart from that, I also have certain health conditions, so I need to have prescribed medicines with me all the time.
Chargers for mobile and laptop
Also, a power bank, if possible — so that you don’t have to find a charging point everywhere. I cannot imagine myself traveling anywhere without power banks. I usually only need to use it once in a whole day, and that too when I take lots of pics. Still, when I have it with me, I have peace of mind and I do not need to search for any charging point anywhere.
In case the charging plug is different for the country you are traveling to, these will come in quite handy.
I prefer earphones in flight as they also act as kind of earplugs, while I play some nice songs to calm myself during the take-offs.
For longer journeys, these are the saviors. When I went to South Korea, my flight was 13 hours. I had my pillow with me and actually, I ended up sleeping for a good time due to that, and hence I felt less tired than I expected to be.
One pair of clothes in the laptop bag
Just in case of emergency, what if the other cabin bag gets misplaced?
I always carry a packet of dry fruits and cookies with me, which I rarely end up eating, but a few times they have been my savior, as I munch on them while searching for a good restaurant in the new city.
Also, I am terrible with directions, so very often I catch the wrong train or bus and so I always prepare extra to cope with my adventures of getting lost in a new city, I would not like to do that on a hungry stomach.
Books or movies for entertainment
I keep a few online books and I utilize airport wait time as well as air time to read them. Sometimes, I do not feel like reading, so I always have some offline downloaded movies on my amazon prime app, and I watch them. My go-to movies are the LOTR series (LOTR fans, say hi).
Traveling is a wonderful experience, and planning it in an organized way can make it so much better.
I hope you found my travel planning ways useful. I am curious to learn what are some of your methods to plan the trip.
Also, share with me any tips and tricks about travel planning and habits, I would love to hear them all.
Till then, let’s keep on traveling and exploring the world, one city at a time!