Packing for an academic conference: 16 things you can’t afford to forget

Academic conferences tend to be intellectually rich experiences. But they have a significant physical dimension which is often underestimated.

Travel is tiring, and sharp temperature or time zone adjustments can take their toll. The familiar rhythms of normal life are disrupted as you spend your day sitting, queuing or talking to strangers, with no instant access to everyday items you commonly take for granted.

The final hours before you head off to a conference can be stressful. Whether you are finalising your presentation, finishing off outstanding tasks, or briefing the people who will be covering your commitments at work and home, it can be all too easy to rush your packing.

But what you forget now can seriously hamper your conference experience. You don’t want to end up shivering in the wrong clothes, or wasting time and money buying an expensive new cable you already have at home.

However, a little planning and a few handy hacks can help you ace your packing and make the most of your next academic conference. Here’s how:


Investing in the right kit will set you in good stead for the next conference you attend – and all those that follow.

1. Lightweight luggage – This will free up weight allowance for far more important things.

2. Packing cubes – These can help you sort items quickly, and minimise the movement and therefore creasing of your clothes.


How to pack the optimum combination of clothes for an academic conference is a subject that has stimulated serious debate.

A quick reckoning of the outfits you are likely to require can be daunting: from the right clothes for day-time seminars, evening dinners and field trips to days off – and even what to be seen in during an impromptu middle-of-the-night fire alarm.

Our advice is to plan ahead and pare down. A simple colour palette will allow you to mix and match items, making a limited number of clothes stretch to a useful range of outfits. Don’t forget:

3. Layers – You may be travelling to a different season or climate, but even if you’re staying close to home, conference rooms are famously chilly. Packing layers will help you adapt quickly to changes of temperature.

4. Accessories – These can transform an outfit for a more formal setting, giving you valuable versatility.

5. Shoes you can comfortably walk in – You may need to cover quite a distance between conference rooms, so shoes that won’t cause blisters are essential.

6. Gym clothes, swimsuit or hiking gear – You are likely to be sitting for long periods, so don’t forget to pack clothes you can get active in.

7. Garment steamer – This may be well worth the space it takes up in your suitcase. Using only water and no chemicals, a garment steamer can remove creases, refresh clothes for re-wearing and kill odour-causing bacteria.


Getting this part of your packing right is crucial. Clothes can be fairly easily swapped, shared or shopped for. But forget a vital part of your technical kit and you will regret it. Make sure to pack:

8. Cables

9. Chargers

10. Socket adapter (the ones that include multiple USB charging ports are great)

11. Power bank / Battery packs – Conference days can be long, and running out of steam halfway through is the last thing you want.

12. Headphones  – Noise-cancelling headphones may be a good investment, as they can relieve the strain of intrusive background noise when you’re travelling.

Day bag kit

Don’t forget to pack your conference day bag, too, with essentials such as:

13. Refillable water bottle – Staying hydrated will help you maintain focus throughout the day.

14. Snacks – Nuts or granola bars will give you a slow-release energy boost, particularly useful for late afternoon sessions.

15. Business cards – Make sure you have a supply of up-to-date business cards to make the most of all your conference networking.

16. Notepad and pen – These won’t take up much space but could come in useful if you need to jot something down quickly.

It is a good idea to keep a running list of the items you pack. Add to it those things you wish you had remembered, and note those that proved superfluous. That way, you will end up with a tried-and-tested checklist tailored to your individual needs, saving you valuable time and energy in the future.

Further reading

Assistant Professor at the University of Tulsa, Emily Contois, on how to pack for a summer academic conference

The Global Academy Jobs guides to:

What not to wear, a dress code for academia

Four things to consider before booking your next conference

How to get the most from an academic conference

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Jo Mitchell is an experienced writer and editor. After studying Modern Languages at the University of Oxford she worked in fundraising at Oxfam GB and Viva, where she specialised in writing communications for major donors. She now provides freelance editing and copywriting services at Nightingale Ink in the firm belief that sometimes words can sing.

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