I’m leaving tomorrow (or tonight, if my husband Jef has his way, he likes to drive at night) for the AMTA National Convention. Last year was my first year attending, and I loved almost every minute of it. I learned a ton. Not just about massage therapy, either. I learned a fair bit about attending conferences in general. And one of the most important things I learned was what to pack.
If you’re curious about the basics, there are lots of great guides to packing for professional conferences, and I highly recommend looking a few of them up if you’re a fellow procrastinator and haven’t put your own list together yet. “Business casual” clothes, your various and sundry mobile devices, business cards, all that kind of stuff. But there are also things that never seem to appear on these lists, even though they can improve your conference experience dramatically. Why people are keeping these things a secret is beyond me, but here are some of the items I won’t show up without.
Super-Secret Packing List!
- A pair of jeans. Yes, yes, professionalism and all that. But you’re not going to be in workshops (or meetings, hi delegates!) all day. Eventually you’re going to want to hang out. And if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t quite feel like a human being in dress slacks, don’t torture yourself by attempting to chill out in the evening in fancy shoes.
- A tote bag. This seems counterintuitive, since you know perfectly well you’re going to get a bag when you arrive. But if you’re going to want to buy things from vendors, (or if you’re an instructor stocking up on freebies), one cheapo backpack is not going to cut it. A tote can be thrown into your other bag and take up very little room until you need it.
- Your appointment book. No, most of the people you meet will not be local, and have no interest on jumping on your massage table once you get home. But what if you want to set up a phone appointment with your newly-discovered mentor or BFF? If you’re one of those pen-and-paper folks, keep that book handy. Digital people, I know you couldn’t be surgically separated from your schedule if your life depended on it, so feel free to ignore this advice.
- A shawl. Ladies, it’s true that you’ll warm up at the dinner dance once you’re getting your boogie on. But do you want to freeze until then? A nice shawl doubles as a scarf during evening outings, so it’s totally multipurpose and well worth the few extra inches of suitcase space.
- Snacks. This is a conference, not seventh grade. If you find your blood sugar tanking during a lecture, just eat something! Nuts and raisins are great if you’re trying to be a good example. Dark chocolate peanut M&Ms are good if you either don’t care about being an example or would like to share with me. If you’re a tea drinker, bring your own bags. The tea at most hotels is rubbish.
- Water bottle. For washing down the above. Bottled water is such a racket.
- Nail clippers. This is the sort of thing people who write about conferences in general (as opposed to massage therapy conferences) never mention, but the last thing you want is to realize four days into your week off from work that you’ve grown talons and have nothing to trim them with!
- A good book. By Saturday of last year’s convention, I was seriously overloaded on social interaction, and desperately in need of some introvert recharge time. So I curled up on the sofa with a young adult novel and didn’t speak to anyone for a couple of hours. It was exactly what I needed.
- An old-school notebook and pen. It’s just handy, especially when you end up working in a group, whether it’s formally or on your own time. “Does anybody have paper?” gets asked all the time. “Does anybody have an iPad?” just … doesn’t.
- Questions. This is your one shot to ask all sorts of people who know all sorts of stuff all of the questions that have been nagging you this entire year. So, naturally, you will forget them all as soon as you’ve arrived. Write them down! Carry them in your pocket. And when you run into that special somebody, ask away.
Have you been to a massage conference before? If you made some unconventional packing decisions, dish! What was a waste of space? What wouldn’t you be caught without?
Kat Mayerovitch is a licensed massage therapist practicing in a nonprofit chronic pain management center in Cleveland, Ohio. She also works as a copywriter, volunteers like mad in local community development, and plays the ukulele. If you liked this, Kat writes more good stuff at LMT or Bust.