Traveling Smart

by Shelagh Donnelly


In just a few days, legions (not the Roman style!) of administrative professionals from around the globe will descend on New Orleans for Summit 2017. Have you begun to pack? In my experience, many people fall into one of two camps when it comes to preparing for travel.

Some have their suitcases out a week or so before departure date, because they’ve already begun laundering and folding (or rolling) clothing; they’re itching to get travel gear tucked away in their luggage as soon as possible. That’s me, when it comes to this month’s travel.

I know; it’s a bit nauseating to be friends with this type of traveler if this isn’t your style, but these people don’t intend to be intimidating with their organizational habits. Besides, those same organizational talents are to everyone’s benefit when it comes to the office!

Are you a late packer?

At the other end of the spectrum (and I’ve been in this camp, as well), some travelers wait until a night or two before departure to start thinking about laundry, luggage, chargers, and little details such as transportation from the destination airport to the conference site.

These late packers aren’t necessarily disorganised. While some may thrive on the adrenalin rush of pulling it all together at the last minute, others are simply relaxed travelers. They may rely on lists they created for past conferences or holiday. They’ll sit down at their laptop, open a travel file from a past trip, and begin updating their packing list according to the location and nature of the upcoming journey.

What of the others among the late packers? Frankly, they’re doing pretty well simply to keep up with all the other pre-departure demands on their time. They’re so busy taking care of other people, and keeping multiple balls in the air, that they don’t give much advance thought to taking care of their own needs. This is particularly true if you’re facing work deadlines as your own travel date approaches.

I remember one occasion when I worked late into the night the evening before I was to depart for a conference. Have I mentioned that I attend a number of evening meetings as part of my job, and that the night shift cleaning and security staff and I are on friendly terms? Anyway, I’d already taken care of the laundry and general prep, but it wasn’t until after midnight that I began packing for a 7:00 a.m. departure that same day. I finally let my head rest on the pillow, but not before I’d set my smartphone with three distinct wake up alarms to ensure I didn’t miss my flight. It’s true; there really is something to be said for that adrenalin rush! 

Dry Cleaning

If you didn’t have your dry cleaning done before leaving, your hotel may be able to help you—and often at a lower cost than you’d pay to have the cleaning done at home. I learned this through a mishap at a Washington, DC conference a few years ago. Don’t make any assumptions about timing, though; if you want a certain outfit for a certain time and date, check in advance with the hotel.

It’s going to be hot and muggy

 The forecast is for lows of 77F/25C, and highs to 98F/36C. I’ve been getting advice from one of my readers, who lives in New York City and used to visit her sister in New Orleans. Anyone who’s been to NYC in the summer knows that it has high humidity, so this reader knows what she’s talking about when she gave me a heads up that Louisiana “has humidity like no other state.” Be prepared, and think light, breathable clothing.

Are these items on your packing list?

 Have you considered developing a core packing list that you can update according to the season, location and purpose of your travel? If not, here are a few core items you’ll want to ensure you have with you when traveling to Summit. Print this out, and strike off or highlight each item once you have it organized and packed.

  • Think lightweight, breathable fabrics—including linen, where possible. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself. I don’t want you overheated any more than you have to be. With the serious heat, you may want to avoid black for daytime wear when you’re outdoors.
  • Wardrobe – find the right combination of conference, dress and casual attire, remembering that you’ll be in air conditioned meetings rooms some of the time and out in some seriously hot and muggy weather at other points in the day or night.
  • Shoes – perhaps a combination of business casual, something special for nights out, sandals, and running shoes and socks.
  • Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.
  • Mosquito repellant – I’ve read that some locals joke that it’s the mosquito, and not the Brown Pelican, that should be Louisiana’s state bird. Consider yourself warned, and stock up.
  • Wet wipes – these may come in handy on the hot summer days.
  • Ziplocs and a bag or two for laundry – Once something’s worn and ready for laundry, it’s nice to be able to tuck it in a separate bag rather than leaving it amidst the rest of your wardrobe.
  • Spare bag – It’s true; the currency exchange rates right now are a deterrent for Canadians who love to shop in the US. However, if you find your suitcase bulging or overweight on your return flight, you’ll be very glad to be able to whip out a lightweight spare bag. Paying for transportation of a second bag costs far less than the fee for overweight luggage.
  • Umbrella? You tell me. I’ve read more than a couple of recommendations that people bring an umbrella for protection from the sun, but I’ll stick with sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.


If you’re among the travellers who tucks everything in carry-on luggage, you have my admiration. I’m not about to join those ranks, though, as I use my carry-on for the following.

  • Passport.
  • Nexus or Trusted Traveller card; visa and/or other required travel documents.
  • Wallet – before leaving, remove and safely tuck away cards you won’t need while away.
  • Smartphone, with charger and portable battery—which doesn’t cost much, but can come in incredibly handy for photographing the sights, the conference… and all the amazing presentations!
  • Documentation – your flight itinerary, accommodation reservation, and your travel/health insurance, including contact numbers/coordinates should you need some help.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Sleep mask.
  • Earphones – noise-cancelling earphones, or perhaps your iPod.
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Dental floss.
  • Travel size deodorant
  • Refillable water bottle – this can also come in handy when you’re out and about in New Orleans.
  • Gum or mints.
  • Cosmetics, for those who use them.
  • Wash cloth or face wipes.
  • Jewellery you may wish to wear during your travels.
  • Cosmetics you may use while traveling
  • A good book.
  • A pen.
  • A snack – it can come in handy if you have a long travel day.
  • Any medications you may require.
  • Business cards.
  • Laptop, iPad or other hardware you may take on your travels.
  • Camera, with memory card, lenses, lens cleaner, battery and battery charger.

Cull that luggage before you head to the airport

Once you’ve packed your suitcase, walk away for a bit. Then go back and examine it with a critical eye. Are you really likely to need or use everything in there, or will you simply be lugging around extra weight?

As a rule of thumb, I try to cut a third of everything I first tucked into the suitcase. It may feel drastic, but you’ll thank yourself for it later… particularly if you want to leave room for some shopping once you’ve reached the Big Easy.

Making your flight a good one

 You likely bring gum or something else to help avoid ear popping as the plane lifts up and lands. Have you brought your own water bottle to tuck into the seat pocket before takeoff? You can buy one after clearing security, or you can bring an empty bottle through and fill it up at a fountain before boarding the plane.

Do you choose your flying wardrobe with comfort in mind? This is particularly important if you’re flying coach/economy, and traveling for hours. While it’s certainly nice to dress to impress, you’ll likely be most comfortable if you go with a simple tank top and a pair of slacks, with a lightweight sweater and comfy flats for your feet.

Some seasoned travelers discard their shoes once they settle in, and slip on a pair of sock footies, with treads on the bottoms. Please think twice about others’ nostrils before slipping off shoes in the cabin; I don’t advocate going barefoot on planes. You see people doing this, particularly on long haul flights, and it’s understandably frustrating for attendants and fellow passengers alike.

More than a few people attending Summit will be traveling significant distances. If this is you, and you use a purse, consider tucking it into a smallish, second carry-on bag that you can tuck under the seat in front of you to use as a foot rest. You’ll likely be grateful for the opportunity to elevate your feet, however slightly.

Arriving rested, and looking and feeling fresh

Want to arrive in New Orleans well rested? Consider taking a sleep mask and earphones for the flight. If you’re like me, you may find yourself drifting off to a pleasant snooze while still on the runway, only to be yanked back to a state of alert once the plane has reached altitude and your attendants make announcements about inflight services and so on. Thanks to one of my favourite hotel chains, I have a lovely sleep mask that shuts out the bright lights. Thanks to good fortune, I can usually tune out most noises around me when sleep calls. If that doesn’t work, earphones can help.

Want to arrive in the Big Easy looking fresh? On flight day, I’ll leave home at 7:00 a.m. Two flights later, and at 6:30 p.m. in a different time zone, I’ll be happy to make my way through Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. With that in mind, I’ll put on only a bit of makeup at the start of the day.

I’ll wait until near the end of the second flight to make my way into one of those charming cubicles to wash my face before adding mascara and a fresh bit of gloss or lipstick. I’ll also take advantage of the facilities to again floss and brush my teeth and wash my face before we land.

It’s also not unusual for me to roll a nice, simple dress into my carry-on luggage. Then, once we’ve landed and before picking up my suitcase, I’ll pop into the first (women’s) bathroom I see for a simple change of outfit that has me feeling fresh and presentable as I head to my hotel.

See you at the Sunday afternoon Ed Talks

 I’ll be presenting one of this year’s 10-minute Ed Talks at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 23rd. See you there!

The author:

Living in beautiful Vancouver, Canada, she is the founder and publisher of Exceptional EA, Shelagh writes from a position of extensive experience and engages with a high performing, international audience of administrative professionals. A compelling speaker and trainer, she presents at local, national and international conferences.
Join Shelagh on social media.

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