Packing for three+ days in Austin

Wondering what to bring for ONA18? We’ve got you covered. I’m one of those people who never checks a bag when flying, so I’ve been planning my packing strategy for weeks. Here are the can’t-miss items you should make sure are in your suitcase.

Your networking pro kit

Make sure you have tons of business cards on hand for all the networking that happens at the conference. I like to scribble myself a note on the back of each card about how to follow up, so I keep a Sharpie nearby. (Sometimes glossy cards resist pen and pencil marks.) Job seekers, you may want to print up a few copies of your resume just in case.

Speaking of which, if you’ve set up a job interview during the conference — go, you! — perhaps you’ll want to bring a thank-you note with a pre-stamped envelope so you can easily drop it into a mailbox before you leave town.

Comfortable shoes

If you pack one thing, make sure it’s footwear you can walk around in comfortably all day. The Midway and exhibit space is spread out over a couple of floors in the JW Marriott hotel, and with a schedule this packed with learning and networking opportunities, you won’t want sore feet to slow you down.

(Psst: If you’re like me and can’t quite bear to leave your favorite pair of heels at home, this post has tips for dealing with common issues I always run into at conferences, like foot pain and blisters. Thanks to Rachel Schallom for sharing it in a recent issue of The Cohort newsletter.)

ABC: Always Be Charging

Make sure you have all your charging accessories and portable batteries handy, because this conference will drain your devices like none other. You’ll find charging stations around the conference floor and a dedicated workspace in the back of the Midway will have power outlets and tables if you need to catch up on work for a minute. I bring two external batteries, so one can be charging in my room while the other is with me in my bag.

Take-home tools

You’re going to get a lot of ideas and inspiration at the conference, so make sure you have a good way to take notes. I like to go with the notebook and Sharpie method, but you’ll see folks taking notes on laptops, tablets and phones as well.

Set yourself a plan in advance for keeping the conference energy going back home and stick to it. Maybe you’ll synthesize your notes on the plane, set up a brown-bag for your colleagues where you share your favorite takeaways or join your ONA Local group to stay in touch. One simple idea: buy an Austin postcard and write yourself a message about something you want to follow up on after the conference. Address it, stamp it and send it home — or if you want to get a pick-me-up later in the year, enlist a friend to send it in a month or two.


The ONA dress code is fairly casual — you will see jeans and tees in the educational sessions — but you’ll also fit right in if you prefer to err on the side of business casual. I always keep a sweater or light jacket in my bag during the day in case I end up in a cooler room.

People tend to get more glammed up for the Online Journalism Awards Ceremony + Banquet Saturday night. (Reminder: The ceremony requires a separate ticket from your conference registration.)

After hours

Downtown Austin is easy to get around and it should still be warm in September. If you’re into outdoor activities, make sure you’ve got the gear you need to walk, run, bike, kayak, yoga and swim to your heart’s content. Check out a local’s guide to getting outside for inspiration.

If live music is more your scene, plan your concert wear with this list of local music venue recommendations for conference-goers.

Snack and hydrate

There’s nothing worse than finding yourself hangry when you’re just kicking off a great session. I usually bring snack bags of nuts, dark chocolate, dried fruit or granola bars for emergencies. (When you need something more substantial, check out this list of places downtown to grab a bite.) My collapsible water bottle holds a full liter and rolls up for easy stowage. I’m an iced-coffee drinker, so I also bring an insulated travel mug to keep my ice cubes from melting.

Forget something?

The JW Marriott is right in downtown Austin, so don’t fret if you forget something. There’s a CVS Pharmacy just three blocks north of the conference hotel, at 500 Congress Ave.