Things I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me About Exhibiting – Packing 101 for the Road Warrior

February 25, 2020

Candy Adams

Candy Adams, aka “The Booth Mom®,” is a hands-on trade show exhibit project manager and trainer. She helps exhibitors maximize the return on their exhibit investment using the best strategic, tactical and training practices. 

In my earlier blogs, I’ve talked about pampering your exhibit staff and making sure they’re as comfortable as possible when they’re on the road and working at a trade show. But what about you, the exhibit manager – who’s the ultimate road warrior? What do you do for yourself?

Here are five things that I do for myself to make my life on the road as a Booth Mom easier:

1. Buy comfortable shoes 

I buy the most expensive, comfortable shoes I can afford. If I really like the look, I buy both my usual size and a pair ½-size larger. I wear the usual size in the morning and switch after lunch to the larger size with an extra foam or gel insole. As your feet swell, remove the insole if necessary to give your feet room to spread out. I’ve also learned that if I want to wear heels with slacks that boots with a chunkier heel give great ankle support and my legs aren’t as tired as if I were wearing shoes with the same height heel. My favorite brands are Naturalizer and Clarks. 

For men, there are dress leather oxfords that are built more like a running shoe for long days on the show floorRemember, you’re working at a trade show; it’s not a fashion show!

2. Keep an on-the-road travel kit packed and ready 

My personal kit includes small bottles of toiletries that fit in a compartmentalized travel bag that hangs on the back of my bathroom door in my hotel (I purchased it at The Container Store). I also pack a small night light for my hotel bathroom and mini-flashlight for next to my bed. I really like a free app called Nite Time that’s a digital clock, so when I wake up in a strange bed, I can see the clock and find my phone.  

My portable office set-up in my hotel room includes my mini-printer (a used Canon BubbleJet that I bought off of eBay) and cables, paper and Neat scanner, retractable cell phone charger cord, 8’ extension cord, a cube tap, laptop power cables, extra charged laptop battery and a little zip-close bag of essential office supplies (Post-It Notes, pens, mechanical pencils, highlighters, binder clips, paper clips, tape and hand-held paper punch).

My carry-on suitcases also hold some individually-packed snacks like nuts and granola bars to tide me over if I don’t get a real meal, extra contact lenses, a back-up pair of glasses, my mini-umbrella, plus one-day’s change of clothes in case my suitcases happen to miss my plane or get lost. Two items never leave my possession, regardless of the size plane I’m on: my laptop and my critical show paperwork.

I keep extra dry-cleaner bags to use between pieces of clothing that I’m packing flat, which will keep them from wrinkling, and roll as many items in my suitcase as possible. I’ve learned to save shower caps that I receive in the mix of bathroom amenities and use them as shoe bags, and bring along extra plastic bags for the rest of the bathroom amenities that I collect for a homeless shelter.

To facilitate packing and not miss anything critical, I have an “everything I’ve ever taken to shows” list on my PC where I highlight what I want to pack for a show, then cross it off as I pack it in my suitcases (if you ever have to put together a claim for lost luggage, this comes in really handy to not miss any items!).

3. Color coordinate

Traveling up to 80 percent of some months, I’ve come to love the non-color, black. It goes with everything and doesn’t show dirt. I even have an assortment of clothing items that are either reversible to hide dirt or are guaranteed to dry overnight if I need to rinse out a few things in my hotel room. Run a Google search for “travel clothes” and you’ll find some of my favorite shopping spots for these items like TravelSmithMagellan’s and Chico’s Travelers.

4. Be prepared on show site 

I also pack my lanyard that I wear on show site with a retractable box cutter, small black Sharpie felt-tip marker, pen and exhibit keys on a retractable key ring so I don’t strangle myself every time I need to open a door.

Behind my exhibitor badge, you’ll generally find some business-card-sized Post-It Notes that I use to write myself notes (like my daily lead count and a shopping list of things to pick up at the store in the evening), a few of my business cards and a $20 bill for emergencies if I need cash on the show floor to buy someone a coffee, soda or sandwich. I also have my daily “things-to-do” lists tucked here to check off time-sensitive things that have to be completed each day.

5. Ship your show clothes with your exhibit properties

I’ve mentioned this in my sessions at The EXHIBITOR Show for years and been laughed at, but shipping my suitcase of “show clothes” with my exhibit or equipment going to a show lets me schlep one less bag on the plane, and allows me to pack my show binder, dozens of homemade cookies and those pesky last-minute hand-carried items that didn’t make it on the truck to a show without paying excess baggage fees.

Your dirty clothes get to ride home the same way if your exhibit and/or equipment reside close to home. If you get as behind as I do when you’re on the road, you won’t have time to do laundry when you get home anyhow.

Safe travels!


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