Conference Virgin

- by Sam Hunter

So, in a few weeks I head off to RWA to my very first writer’s conference — ever.  Also my first book signing, ever, and my first time meeting my agent and many people I have only known online, ever. My first time flying alone, ever.  For all of this, I am excited and ready to go — very happy to be taking part, and meeting people I have been waiting to spend time with, but I also feel I am sort of blind babe in the woods.  I’m not even sure I know the right questions to ask.

Someone asked me “where are you sitting for the book signing?” (I dunno… chair, at a desk?) I didn’t know there was a list. People have discussed all kinds of things one should bring, must bring, must not forget. It’s a blur.

I made it easy on myself by not scheduling anything but social dates so far — and then whatever I can fit in, I will.  I’m kind of making fun a key goal.

But since I had a log jam in my brain as I try to get work done and finish deadlines before July, this blog is late, but this is the topic I planned on anyway, so I’ll make it short and sweet:  If you had one piece of good advice for a traveling/conference virgin, what would it be?

Do you all have any good tips for traveling alone,  learning experiences you can share, or conference wisdom that will see me through this adventure?

NINC in St Louis, will be my second, ever. ;)  I should be experienced by then?

Also, book signing advice — never did one, and figured the best place to set up shop for the first time is with hundreds of other authors. I know I won’t be lonely either way — so any advice from readers or writers on booksignings would be great, too.

With great thanks and apologies for lateness to Pat,



  1. Traveling alone: I’m a 60+ woman who has traveled mostly alone for the past 20 years, after a previous ~20 years of traveling only with spouse, and a short period of traveling alone before that.

    My concerns are security, comfort, and staying within my energy budget (money budget we all think about–energy budget is another kettle of whatever.)

    Personal security–it’s worth it to pay for a safe place to spend the night. If traveling by car, choose intermediate stops with room doors that open to an interior corridor (e.g. Marriott Courtyards and similar) rather than ones that open to the parking lot. Last summer, I had made reservations at a La Quinta that put me in a ground-floor room opening on a lot with a lot of night traffic. Not happy. Remember to check fire exit route on arrival in the room, walk through it as far as the fire stairs to get body-memory of it. I’ve never been in a hotel fire, but close friends have. Be situationally alert at all rest stops, etc. Carry proper ID and have it on your person at all times (or within grab reach while in your hotel room.) Always double-lock hotel doors while in your room. Always lock car doors while on the move or while in a rest stop or eating place. If you take your laptop and other electronics along, be sure to use the room safe if there is one, or keep them with you.

    Comfort: have one pair of really comfortable shoes, larger than you think if your feet ever swell. (If they ever swell, they will swell on a trip.) Pack light–dragging a heavy suitcase around is no fun. Once in the room, quickly assess to be sure there are enough towels and go get your ice. If traveling by car, though, it’s worthwhile to take your own pillow (unless staying at really high-end places) and a small cooler for snacks. On road trips, I take my own preferred cereal mix (homemade), take baby carrots and celery sticks, buy a little milk, some club soda (I like fizzy drinks and it has no calories–with a lime squeezed in, it’s great), better apples than convenience stores carry, and save a lot of money (and eat healthier) by doing so.

    Energy budget and health. Take your meds with you. Easy to forget, if you take them in the morning as you leave–put up a sign on the bathroom mirror or something. Have a small first-aid kit (costs less to put in a Zip-lock of your own than to buy somewhere else: a few Band-aids, a tube of triple antibiotic ointment…) Solo travel tempts me into the kind of eating that doesn’t maintain health or energy. You may have more self-discipline. If driving, don’t push for too many miles/day. Alone in the car, with no one to talk to, is good thinking time, but not if the road you’re on is heavily traveled…and you’re more likely to lose concentration and be a less safe driver. Stop every two hours at least, get out, walk around, “drain and refill” more than the car. Try to be at your destination at or shortly before they say rooms are ready….certainly in daylight. Navigating a strange city to find your hotel is harder in the dark.

    At the conference: take time out for a break when you need it. No matter how stimulating it is to be around other writers (and it is) if you’re a Lark, go on to bed no later than midnight. (If you’re an Owl, I can’t help you.) If you feel yourself fading, go take a nap: if, like many writers, you lean toward introvert, the exposure to that many new people can both stimulate you and exhaust you. Watch out for alcohol. Not everyone in the convention hotel is going to be at your convention, or reliable: the woman traveling alone who gets a bit blurry with alcohol is asking for trouble (I don’t drink, but I’ve seen problems.)

    If you can afford it, stay one extra night at the end of the conference…that’s your recovery time. Good dinner, go to bed early, and then the trip home will be less exhausting.

    Have fun! Travel alone is more tiring than with a family member or friend, but it’s also a lot of fun, and you have more freedom to discover how *you* like to do things.

  2. Have fun at RWA. Make sure to have your toiletries, medication and a change of clothes in your carry-on bag in case they lose your luggage.

  3. Elizabeth, thank you for much good advice. :) The shoes re: swelling is a very good point. I live in Birkies which are loose on me normally, but yes, in high humidity and heat, if you are on your feet a lot, swelling will get the best of us. So you can bet the Birkies are going with me, and may well be all I wear, though I did order a pair of Clarks last week, I may bring those too (as you can see, I am not one of the show mavens, LOL).

    Energy budget is a big one, especially since I may be up for as much as 13 hours before the booksigning even starts. That should be interesting, unless I have time for a nap. :)

    Jane — I have direct flights on small jets, so you would think losing my bag would take some effort (but I imagine it happens) so I think I am going to take what I can in my one carry on bag, and check it at the gate. I’ll might actually just send my cosmetic case on through the mail, since it’s got larger things they won’t let me carry on, but I don’t want to pay the charges for it.

    I think it will be fun. Fun is really my goal, LOL.


  4. Um, re: previous comment that would be SHOE mavens, LOL.


  5. Small jets have tight overhead bins. Backpacks are easier to stow in those bins than most rolling carry-ons. With laptops, I’ve found laptop backpacks a lot more travel friendly than traditional shoulder bags. They distribute weight better & reduce fatigue & back pain. They’re easier to maneuver in the tight confines of an airplane, too.

    For a 3-4 day trip, I would put the contents of my purse & a small empty soft purse inside the backpack. That let me condense a lot of stuff into the backpack for air travel rather than manage separate bags. But I’d have a smaller purse that was more convenient for going to restaurants when I was at the destination.

    Leave your big wallet at home. All I ever really needed for most travel was a form of ID, my debit card, one credit card, & enough cash for incidentals & tips. You can get more cash at the hotel/airport ATM, & you don’t need your Sam’s card/library card, etc. $40 to $50 should get you from your home airport to the hotel (even if you have to pay for a taxi), just make sure you have some ones & fives for tips. I have a men’s trifold pocket wallet that I use when I travel, & it holds everything I need.

    I could pack all my clothes, shoes & toiletries into one rolling carry-on. If it didn’t fit in the small overhead bin, the gate agent or flight attendant would tag it & it would get stowed on the plane at the gate. I would pick it up at the gate when the flight landed. That way, there was no worry about it getting put on the wrong plane & lost.

    You’ll have to take your shoes off when you go through security, so consider slip ons. I wear crocs when I fly. They are comfortable, offer me good support, & are easy to take off & put back on.

    Laptops, electronics & toiletries have to be removed from your carry-on bags at security for screening, & there are strict limits on the size of liquids you can carry. Check your airport website for details, & put your liquids bag someplace easy to get to (not buried in the bottom of your carryon). Consider leaving your shampoo, conditioner & lotion at home, most hotels provide those free of charge.

    For tall &/or plus size travelers like me, try to get an aisle seat. It gives you more shoulder room & you can stretch your legs in the aisle. Most seat arms raise which is more comfy for those of us with a little extra padding in the hips. If the seat belt is too tight, just ask for an extender.

    Most nice hotels have some kind of airport shuttle, often free. Check out the hotel website to see when it runs, if there’s a charge, etc. I always give the driver a tip, usually $3 to $5. You may have to call for a ride when you land. There is usually a kiosk somewhere in the baggage claim area with hotel shuttle info. Just in case, keep the hotel’s phone number handy. Sometimes airport signage is less than ideal.

    Have fun!