Conference Packing List: Carry On is the New Business Casual

Shawn Forno

I like conferences. A lot.

Show me an event center packed with enthusiastic like-minded people wearing name tags and I’m there.

For novice conference attendees packing for a conference—in a carry on—presents a challenge. How do you look professional in such a small amount of space? It’s easier than you think.

Below I’ve created the ultimate conference packing template—full of must-haves and things you should leave at home. Follow it and you’ll be a networking machine and an industry standout in no time.

Clothes: Dress to Impress

Unless you’re actually going to a ComicCon, it’s best to leave the X-Men t-shirt at home. Business casual—shirt, no tie / blouse, skirt—is best, with one normal outfit for the flights both ways.

Ties, especially that bolo tie. Even Elon doesn’t wear a tie! Ties are way too formal. They make you look stiff and unapproachable, not professional. It’s the weekend; dress for the room. Exception: Sweet bow ties.

Toiletries: Don’t Smell Like “That Guy”

Your hygiene and appearance matter, but at conferences, it’s twice as important to make a great first impression. Steal a few pages from the Dapper Dude packing list to bring your corporate A-game, because nothing shuts down a meet and greet faster than B.O. or spinach in your teeth:

Leave At Home:

Shampoo and Soap. They’re both at your hotel, and the little bottles make you feel like a giant. So that’s fun.

Technology: Less is More

Unless you’re at a Luddite convention, you’ll bring some everyday tech. The key here is to not go overboard. A laptop is great if you have to actually work during the conference. If not, consider leaving it at home for the weekend and bring a tablet or even just your smartphone and a notepad. Less is always more when you have to carry it around all day.

Leave at Home:

Bulky laptop. It sends the wrong impression, and honestly, you’re not gonna use it. Let those emails pile up until Monday.

Conference-y Stuff: Old-School is Still King

Smartphones have changed the way people network, but conferences by their very nature demand that you go a little old school. Even the best event centers don’t always have available outlets to charge your devices, the wi-fi can get patchy, and often you only have a matter of seconds to get a someone’s contact info or pitch your next big idea—a screen that won’t load is an instant deal breaker. Make sure you pack enough analog gear to get you through:

packing for a conference

Leave at Home:

That bad attitude. Be positive and friendly and you’ll build relationships that will take your career to the next level.


Conferences are supposed to be fun—even the boring ones can be a blast if you pack the right stuff.

Let me know what you wear to conferences, and if you did attend ComicCon this year, by all means tweet me a pic of what you cosplayed as. Especially if it’s Deadpool.