Conference Travel Mishaps

Last week, I listed a few things that can go wrong when you travel to a conference. Today, I’ll offer a few ideas that might help overcome these mishaps.

Getting there

1.) The car taking me to the airport doesn’t show up.

This has never happened to me, but I know an alternative car service I can call if need be.

2.) I don’t arrive at the airport on time.

I always allow much more time than I need. I’d rather drink coffee and peruse the internet at the airport than miss my flight.

3.) I accidentally pack something in my suitcase that sets off the airport security alarm.

I haven’t set off the alarm but my curling iron did cause suspicion at one airport. The last time I flew, I overhead another passenger say he had been stopped for a random search. My airport always stations TSA agents at a point in the initial security line where I see them pull people for random searches. Again, allowing yourself plenty of time to navigate the airport is the solution for possible delays.

4.) My flight is delayed.

This has happened to me. For this reason, I try to schedule nonstop flights so at least I don’t have to complicate my trip more by missing a connection.

5.) I miss my flight because of my own error.

This happened to me once. Thankfully, the conference director rearranged my ground transportation and was very cheerful and understanding. I am eternally grateful for her spirit. What my missed flight taught me was to read everything not once, not twice, but three times to minimize the chance of making a mistake.

6.) My flight is cancelled.

So far this hasn’t happened to me but if it does, I figure my best bet is to try to relax. Conference directors understand about travel and know there is nothing to be done but to be patient. All will be well.


1.) My suitcase got lost.

This hasn’t happened to me yet, and I think that’s partially because I schedule nonstop flights to minimize the number of times my suitcase changes planes. Some people cope by using a carry-on only. However, on about 80% of my flights, the airline has asked passengers to check their carry-on luggage since there isn’t room enough in the overhead bins for all the luggage, so you end up surrendering your valuable luggage and going to baggage claim anyway.

2.) The hotel doesn’t have my room ready so I have to wander aimlessly in the lobby for an hour.

One can only hope for a free cup of coffee and wireless access.


1.) I forgot a critical toiletry or clothing item.

2.) My phone charger is still on the breakfast nook table.

3.) My important conference papers are still on my desk.

To help with these three, either use a phone app or make a list of everything you need for all your trips and keep it ready to print out so you can check off everything. I have a list an author shared with me years ago that my assistant can send you if you ask. Email

Another tip I got from Steve Laube: Pack all your exotic makeup early. (Ha! Just wanted to see if you are paying attention.) Then the morning of your flight, as you use your toiletries and cosmetics, place them all in a container as you are finished and then pack them, and that way you should have everything you need. Pack this container in luggage you will be carrying so you will have it if your main suitcase is lost.

4.) Shampoo spilled everywhere, ruining much of my wardrobe.

I pack spillables in a freezer bag, then again in a plastic grocery bag, then again in a zip compartment in my suitcase. So far, so good.

On site

1.) Though the food is awesome, for some reason, eating sets off a terrible illness.

This hasn’t happened to me but I do know a conference attendee who experienced this. Her friends were there immediately to help her, and she recovered. You will also have friends — or at least a temporary family — at any conference who will help you in times of distress.

2.) Seasonal allergies kick in.

If you know changes in climate affect you, or if you have other maladies that occur when you travel, be sure to  pack all the medications you may need. And if you feel ill, take a break for a nap. Better to miss one workshop or dinner than to be ill through several events.

3.) Through a comedy of errors, I fail to appear on a panel or at a meeting.

Make a list of everywhere you absolutely must appear BEFORE you leave for the conference. Go over it in your mind and keep it with you during your trip.

4.) I manage to feel like an idiot at some point.

It happens to all of us. If in doubt about whether to say something, try to remain silent.

5.) During an appointment, I make someone cry.

I try not to do this. If you need to cry, it’s okay. Just know that I really, really do feel bad about your distress.

6.) Someone else tells me off in front of several other people at the closing banquet because I rejected her work at our appointment.

Yes, this has happened to me. And now you know why a lot of us agents and editors tell everyone to send everything. I try not to do that for your sake. But if I do turn you down, I understand if you’re angry. However, sharing your anger with the agent, especially in front of others, does not leave the best impression about you and may even make everyone else feel sorry for the agent. And you wouldn’t want that to happen for that terrible, mean, no-good agent, would you?

7.) The shoes that felt like walking on pillows at the store are now cutting into both feet.

This has happened to me. Many times. Definitely bring options for yourself. And bring band-aids.

8.) This outfit doesn’t look as good as I thought it would when I packed it.

So yes, throw in that extra dress or blazer. Another tip: When packing, I make a list of what outfit I plan to wear each day of the conference. This helps me to pack everything, and to let everyone know that yes, I do own several black dresses and that I’m not just wearing the same one three days in a row. I take the list with me to the conference.

May all your conferences be mishap-free!

Your turn

What is your favorite app you use to help you travel trouble-free?

What other tips can you offer?



12 Responses to Conference Travel Mishaps

  1. Jackie Layton April 16, 2015 at 5:23 am #

    This weekend my friend showed me a traffic app she has on her phone. My parents were heading back to Louisville, and she pulled her app up and showed us a wreck. There was a red line on the road to indicate the traffic was not moving. If you’re driving to a conference, this would be a good app to have.

    I learned to pack in the plastic bags you get from the cleaners, and it helps keep wrinkles out of your clothes.

    Thanks for the helpful hints, Tamela!

  2. Robin Bayne April 16, 2015 at 6:02 am #

    Great list, Tamela! I’ve experienced many of those things at conferences.

  3. Martha Rogers April 16, 2015 at 6:07 am #

    Your hints are great and right on. I do the same as you with what I’m going to wear each day at a conference and what I will wear on the plane home. Sure saves time. One time I spilled food all over my pants and had to go up and change. I had packed an extra pair of khaki pants I knew would go with anything, so disaster averted. Making a list and checking it off at home as you pack and at the hotel as you pack is vital for me. I once left two t-shirts and pajama pants because I didn’t have a list and forgot to check the drawers and a pair of shoes that slipped under the bed.

  4. Jeanne Takenaka April 16, 2015 at 6:21 am #

    Great tips, Tamela! Two things I would add: If you can, pack an extra outfit in your carryon. My luggage has been lost, and having at least one change of clothes made it easier to deal with the stress of not having what I’d planned to wear. (This also works for facial cleanser, makeup, etc). The other thing I always pack in my carryon are my chargers–for phone, computer, and whatever other electronic I’m bringing with me.

  5. Tammy April 16, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Thanks for the tips, Tamela. I just arrived in Rhode Island two days ago. Having family on the east and west coasts, I’ve traveled extensively. Some tips I’ve learned along the way have been life savers.

    Always wear flip-flops or slip on shoes; this makes the security line less cumbersome.

    Wear layers: allows more options in wardrobe design and those planes get breezy, especially on night flights.

    Don’t be afraid of booking a red-eye especially when you fly east. Now this may be difficult if you need to speak at a conference the next day, but I find a doozy red-eye and a small nap, sets me up with the new time change within a day. The flights are quiet and seem to ‘fly by’ as you sleep more than you imagine.

    Keep that old feather pillow. It can be scrunched in the side of your laptop case, and although flat as a pancake at home, it feels miraculous on a plane.

    Do take Airborne or Emergen-C several days before and after your flight, you bump shoulders with a lot of people in the airport. It really helps.

    • Tammy April 16, 2015 at 7:52 am #

      Oh, and one more important tid-bit. If you take that red-eye, make sure you wear waterproof mascara or none at all. I walked through an entire terminal before popping into the bathroom to discover black residue smeared down both cheeks. Oops.

  6. Carol ashby April 16, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    The easiest way not to catch something on a plane is to turn off the air jets as soon as you get to your seat. That keeps the germs from the whole plane being blown on your face.

    I usually take breakfast bars, tang or equivalent, and instant coffee. That keeps me from having to find a place to eat breakfast that serves fast enough that I don’t miss part of the first session. I can sleep later, too.

    Don’t use curbside check-in or check your luggage a long time before your flight. It reduces the risk of your luggage getting on the wrong plane, especially at busy airports. Too early checkin is less risky now everything is barcoded, but things still get sent on the wrong plane. I let my paranoia reign on this one.

    Try to find out the “dress code” for that conference. It can range from tidy vacation attire to button-down Boston blue suits in my nonwriting profession. What’s the standard at some of the major writers’ conferences?

  7. Tamela Hancock Murray April 16, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    Carol, thanks for asking! The short answer to your question is that for most conferences, I think you’re pretty safe going for business casual. But as I kept typing and kept typing a good answer for you, it seemed to be turning into a blog post. Soooo, I think I’ll post the complete answer in a post very soon. I appreciate you for being a faithful reader, and thank you again for stopping by and posing a great question!

    • Carol Ashby April 16, 2015 at 9:29 am #

      That will be a great help! Young colleagues have asked me that question so many times I know it is a stress point.

      I want to thank you for all the time and effort you expend on your blog. It is especially helpful to us newbies. I look forward to learning something with every post, and I’m seldom disappointed. All of you at your agency have been a blessing to me and many others.

  8. Marti Pieper April 16, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

    Wow. I wish I had read this before I started traveling and teaching at conferences. I had to learn most of these tips the hard way, although I must say I’m grateful to Steve for the exotic makeup idea.

    I keep a small toiletry bag packed with the basics for traveling to give myself a head start. I also tuck an extra toothbrush and disposable razor inside. Those bonus items have come in handy more than once. Another way I make packing easier is keeping a “travel drawer” in my dresser stocked with special things I need for some trips (voltage converter, passport, basic medication etc.).

    Another conference tip if you have room: pack hangers. Rare is the conference room that has any or enough. It’s worth the space in your suitcase to be able to hang your clothes. And yes, I’m one of those people who has to unpack in order to feel at home. ; )

    I also agree with Jeanne, who said to keep a change of clothes packed in the carry-on. I try to do that, even if it’s a very simple outfit. I also include snacks and some small-size toiletries. That way, if my luggage is lost, I at least have some of the essentials.

    Great tips, Tamela! See you in Colorado (where a friend lent me a coat when I thought I had forgotten mine last year. It turned up later, crammed into an outside pocket of my suitcase.)

  9. Martha Rogers April 16, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    One other thing I learned about carry-on if you check your large bag is to be sure to include one set of underwear with your other essentials. I put mine in a plastic zip bag and put it in the bottom of my carry-on tote that also serves as a hand-bag. I roll up a pair of slacks and a knit top as well. They fit nicely in the bottom of a tote bag when rolled.

  10. Robin Mizell April 16, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    Thanks! I needed this, because I’m headed to a conference tomorrow. I especially appreciated your “If in doubt about whether to say something, try to remain silent.”

    When I was in my twenties, a coworker told me, “Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt,” an aphorism sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

    I’ll be the one listening thoughtfully…

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