A colleague in digital humanities recently asked on her blog, "What's in your conference bag?" I happen to be at the German Studies Association conference in Washington, D.C., right now, so I decided to answer her question with a quick experiment by emptying my tote bag onto my bed when I got back to the hotel after the second day of the conference.
I am using a tote bag I acquired in high school on a Wider Opportunity as a Senior Girl Scout that involved me flying down to Savannah, Georgia, by myself to dress up like a Victorian teenager and learn parlor games, how to talk with my fan, and proper dinner party etiquette. My mother sewed me a beautiful hunter green moire ball gown that I still have in my closet--not that I could fit myself into it anymore! But I digress. I obviously still use the tote bag.
Because I refuse to get with the times, I am still lugging around a 15" PC laptop (with cord). It lets me look at two documents side by side on the same screen--like a conference paper on East German visual artists in the 1980s and a power point of photographic images. Also, I left my paper copy of the conference program lying on my desk, so I have to consult a pdf to know which panels I want to listen to next. (The conference folder from the Austrian embassy just has a map, a drink ticket, and an errata sheet.)
When I left my room this morning, I packed a umbrella because apparently it's monsoon season on the East Coast; my smart phone for checking in with friends I want to see while we're all here; a wad of cash/IDs/credit card/room key; and a pen. After breakfast I decided I wanted some chapstick, and while rifling through my backpack up in the room, I also grabbed the following: a pack of gum; a baggie of candies; my inlaid business card holder from South Korea that my parents gifted me for my PhD graduation; my wallet; hand sanitizer; and a travel tube of ibuprofen. Being a Girl Scout, I had also stashed a yogurt cup and spoon from breakfast, and over the course of the day, I also acquired a packet of oyster crackers from lunch; a water bottle; and a couple of half-used napkins.
I would venture this is pretty typical of my travel style: prepared to work (laptop, business cards); to fill in down time (laptop, phone); to eat (yogurt, crackers--I usually carry an apple, too); and to handle "messes" like spilled tea or an aching knee. Probably I overpacked. After all, even though I am traveling with just my backpack, the whole reason for the tote bag is that the backpack has accumulated so many supplies that I *might* need (highlighters, USB key, mirror/brush, spare change, paperclips, etc.) that it is kind of heavy or at least cumbersome to carry around, even without the laptop. Basically, my backpack functions like a purse with two shoulder straps. As they say, the bigger the purse, the more stuff you will find to put in it.
What do you carry with you when traveling or working? Anything you find indispensable that others might not think about?