From booking a flight to working the exhibit hall, here's how to make the most of your conferences.
Tradeshows can challenge even the smartest business traveler.
It starts with the hotel, which you ought to book well in advance because rooms sell out quickly. Most tradeshows negotiate lower rates on blocks of hotel rooms. But just because the room block has sold out doesn't mean all the rooms have sold out. It also doesn't mean that the negotiated rates necessarily represent the best deal. You often can find cheaper rates on the Web. The secret is, always shop and compare before you book.
The same holds true for airfares -- those promotional codes aren't always the best buy.
Here are 15 tips to smart tradeshow travels:
1. Get on the waiting list. If all the rooms at your preferred hotel are sold out, don't despair. Put your name on that hotel's waiting list. People often reserve rooms knowing they can cancel them a day or two beforehand. Last-minute cancellations can free up the room you want at the rate you want. But first you have to be on the waiting list.
2. Pack wisely. You'll probably check the weather forecast before packing. But also remember to check as to whether or not your meetings have a dress code. (Some do.)
3. Give yourself time.. Don't take the last flight out the evening before you're supposed to be at the tradeshow. You'll be cutting it too close if a flight glitch crops up. Among the most common of these are flight-delaying thunderstorms, which tend to occur on afternoons.
4. Be aware of cab fare. Getting from airport to convention center presents wrinkles. In many cities the convention center is close to the airport, which means a taxi can be an affordable alternative to taking the shuttle bus. Especially if there is no bus. If you're visiting a city for the first time, ask an attendant which the reputable cab companies are and get an estimate of price and drive time to your hotel. Stick to the aiport's cab line.
5. To rent or not? Renting a car is an option, but it means navigating in what may be unfamiliar territory. If you're serious about renting, get a good map before you go. Many car rental agencies also offer GPS systems that can cut lost-on-strange-streets stress. But unless you're in a city that really sprawls and you need the wheels, I'd pass.
6. Orient yourself early on. Know how far the hotel is from the convention center. Get a map of the neighborhood. But remember, if the map shows your hotel is five blocks away, five blocks in Manhattan is different from five blocks in Miami. Know the distances. Learn if there's a shuttle bus. Most convention centers are small cities.
7. Comfortable footwear is worth its weight in gold. After all, it's all that's between you and acres of indoor-outdoor carpet. People forget that convention centers are enormous. Foot fatigue is not an uncommon complaint. Since you'll be on your feet much of the day, select accordingly just one pair you can wear everywhere.
8. Check it out. Most tradeshows have an attended coat check area, so bring clothes for the day. Better still, don't bring anything that you can't carry all day.
9. Lug your laptop. Convention centers sometimes have public wireless access -- "hot spots" -- that your laptop can take advantage of. This comes in handy at tradeshows where your cellphone may be slow to connect because everyone else is trying to connect. Another reason to bring a laptop (or PDA) is that most convention centers don't have computer kiosks on or near the convention floor. Most do have a business center with free Internet access, but those can be quite a hike from where the action is. Don't forget laptop and cellphone chargers because usually you'll find an electrical outlet to plug in and charge up.
10. Avoid food fright. Give thought to your meal schedule. Some convention centers have better food access than others. Sometimes it means bringing food that travels well.
11. Prepare for your day. If you're job includes manning a booth, create a booth kit beforehand. It might include a bottle of aspirin, antacid, band-aids, and other little things for common problems. You'll be shaking a lot of hands, so think about hand sanitizer and packaged towelettes. Stay hydrated by stocking up on bottled water.
12. Make your own breaks. Restrooms tend to fill up just before exhibit hours start and during breaks. When mealtime arrives, food lines are long. Beat the crowds by having breakfast and lunch after the crowds. Beat cravings by bringing snacks. And beat the traffic by arriving at the convention center early and leaving late.
13. Save your voice. Tradeshow floors are loud. Constant hollering to be heard above the ambient noise means not a few attendees return to work with laryngitis.
14. Depart smart. When it comes time to leave the tradeshow, getting a taxi can be frustrating. So leave yourself plenty of time. You might even want to think about buddying up in a taxi with somebody. If it need be, consider reserving a car service.
15. Leave it behind. You collect a lot of stuff at a tradeshow. But before you leave your hotel, look at the materials and giveaways and consider what you really want to keep. If you plan on bringing a lot back, plan to bring an extra bag for those items. Or, instead of taking it onto the plane, you can use the shipping services provided at most major tradeshows, or you can have the hotel business center ship it home for you.