Packing for Nationals? A Few Tips on What to Take

Many eager authors are already gathering in Denver for the annual Romance Writers of America National Conference, but for those of us who are still frantically throwing things into suitcases and doing the early online check-in for our flights, I thought I’d toss out a few conference veteran tips on what to chuck into that suitcase.  I’ve been to six or seven of these babies (which makes me a conference newbie by some standards) and I’ve definitely refined my packing since year one, coming up with my seven handy-dandy must-brings – but please chime in and add your own tips in the comments!

#1 – Comfy shoes.  An absolute must for me at conference.  Yes, I will bring a cute pair as well (and hopefully those are reasonably comfortable), but by day two I’m always in my most comfortable pair. There will be walking (oh yes, there will be walking) and the last thing any of us want is to be slowed down by a blister.

#2 – Layers.  Lots and lots of layers.  I am always cold, but the effectiveness air conditioning  in the workshop rooms and ballroom spaces can vary wildly, leaving some rooms practically arctic while others are nearly tropical.  The best thing you can do is be prepared with shawls and sweaters that are easy to put on and take off when the temperature shifts fifteen degrees from room to room.  Pro-tip: There is almost always some savvy author who has put branded fans in the Goodie Room – swing by and grab one to help you stay cool!

#3 – Vitamin C & Hand Sanitizer. Or whatever you personally need to stay healthy when you travel. You’re going to be meeting two thousand authors – and their germs.  You want to enjoy conference, not come home with conference plague, so be prepared.  Also, HYDRATE.  We’re in Denver this year, at altitude, and even if you haven’t had a problem with it in the past, be sure you’re taking care of yourself and drinking plenty of water so you don’t get felled by the elevation.   Pro-tip: I also like to tuck a few Advil, some band-aids, and a bunch of cough drops into my bag – even if I don’t need them myself, they have always come in handy.  And when someone needs a band-aid and you just happen to have one?  Instant conversation starter.  

#4 – Pins or bling from previous conferences/chapters/etc to bedeck your badge.  Speaking of conversation starters, those badges are, IMHO, the easiest way to strike up a conversation with someone.  See a first timer ribbon?  Ask them about that.  See a Golden Heart or RITA nom?  Congratulation them on that!  Don’t have any bling on your badge?  Swing by the Goodie Room where you might be able to score some ribbons or pins to tell people what subgenres you write or other ways to make your badge represent YOU.

#5 – Business Cards.  Once you’ve started that conversation, you want to actually remember the person and have them remember you.  I don’t know about you, but I meet so many people at conference that I get simply overwhelmed trying to keep everyone straight.  And then I kick myself endlessly for mixing up information.  Exchanging business cards (and maybe making a little note on the back of where you met that person or what you talked about) is a great way of actually retaining all those connections you made at conference.

#6 – Extra space in your bag.  (Or an extra bag in your bag.)  There will be swag, you guys.  Mucho swag.  And chances to snag books (both free and purchased at Saturday’s Literacy Signing) from your favorite authors.  But then you have to get all that stuff you’ve collected all week home and that is when it can get tricky.  If you brought a lot of swag or books that you gave away, you can always take things from other authors home in that space, but my favorite hack is to put a collapsible duffle bag inside my regular suitcase on the way to conference – which then becomes the receptacle for my dirty laundry on the way home, making room in my suitcase for books & goodies.  I know other authors who will pack a flattened flat-rate box to fill with things and mail it before they fly home.  There will be a shipping center at the hotel, but the prices may be a bit on the steep side, so if that’s going to be an obstacle for you, make alternate plans in advance (and if you’re planning to swing by a nearby post office yourself, be sure you check their weekend hours!).

#7 – Optimism.  Last, but certainly not least.  I am a firm believer that a good attitude can make a world of difference when coming to conference.  One way I focus on the good I’m getting out of conference is by keeping my expectations moderate – I don’t expect the workshops to be non-stop new-to-me knowledge, so I’m excited when I come away with one or two new tips/tricks/insights during each one I attend – and at some point during conference I will almost always have some sort of ah-ha moment or breakthrough when I least expect it.  I don’t expect an editor to offer me a six-figure deal on the spot, so I’m happy when I get a partial request or just have a good conversation during a pitch appointment which will leave the editor/agent with a positive association with me.  I don’t expect every author I meet to be my new BFF – but I invariably make a few new connections during each conference who become part of my author friend group in years to come.  Focus on the good, keep your energy positive and enjoy conference!  (At least that’s what I’ll be trying to do!)

What tips to YOU have for those packing for conference? 

Lizzie Shane is a seven-time RWA conference veteran, and a three-time RITA-nominated author of contemporary romance whose latest release, The Deocy Bride, hit shelves May 29th.  She lives in Alaska when she isn’t indulging her travel addiction and also writes paranormal romance under the pen name Vivi Andrews.  

10 responses to “Packing for Nationals? A Few Tips on What to Take”

  1. Julia Day says:

    Hello from Denver! I arrived Sunday–and I’m sitting on the side of a mountain, looking at the Denver skyline. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets here!

    My tip is–Pace Yourself. Don’t feel as if you have to cram a workshop into every free hour. If you’re like me, there is a finite amount that can be absorbed before you reach the saturation point.

    Go to everything that interests you and listen, but take breaks. Join someone for coffee, and don’t feel guilty. They might brainstorm a plot point you really need. If you see an old friend, talk and laugh. That workshop you might be missing will likely be recorded.

  2. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    Excellent advice and reminders, Vivi!
    I am so going to miss my Ruby sisters and the conference. Feeling bummed that I won’t be dancing with you this year.
    Have fun and make memories!


    • Hopefully you can make it next year, Jenn! And aren’t there a lot of online “staying home” events that crop up around this time? It’s definitely a good time to soak up some writing energy whether in person or remotely. 🙂

  3. Tamara Hogan says:

    Great tips, Vivi! I second your “comfy shoes” suggestion SO FREAKING HARD. For me, getting a blister on Day One pretty much ruins the week comfort-wise. With an eye toward prevention, I’m building my conference wardrobe around a pair of kicky black skimmer flats. 🙂

    Make self-care a priority – take breaks as needed! And in addition to water, consider carrying a few breakfast bars. You never know when you might need a quick energy boost!

  4. Liz Talley says:

    Great suggestions, Vivi Liz!!

    My only piece of advice is to be warm and friendly (but not stalkerish). Lots of anxious people in one area and that stressful energy can snag you and make your emotions swing to and fro. It’s always nice to have quiet time or find a person who makes you feel comfy 🙂

  5. Darynda Jones says:

    I love this so much, Vivi! Fantastic list.


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