WordCamp 101: 10 Things to Make Your Experience Rock

Congratulations! You’re attending your very first WordCamp. If you’re choosing WordCamp US as your first camp, we’re flattered and excited to share nearly a year’s worth of work with you. Over the years I’ve attended several conferences and other WordCamps and learned a lot of lessons. I’ve put together 10 of the most important tips and tricks to help make your first WordCamp a great experience.

1. Wear good, comfortable shoes.

If there’s one thing that makes me miserable the fastest, it’s when my feet hurt. I’m not talking about just a small ache because I did a lot of walking, but the kind of pain where chopping off your feet sounds like a reasonable option. If you want to have a great time the whole time you’re at WCUS, I STRONGLY recommend wearing shoes that are comfortable, but give you lots of support. You don’t want to miss out on all the fun stuff we have planned because you have to take a break to rest your poor tootsies.

Pro Tip: Don’t wear brand new shoes either. I made the bad choice of doing this when I went to Las Vegas for a conference earlier this year. During the 3 days I was there, I walked over 20 miles. By the end of the conference, my feet –  and the rest of me – was screaming. I could have easily prevented this by wearing shoes that were still in good condition, but broken in enough to conform to my feet.

2. Bring a laptop.

The first WordCamp I ever went to, I only took my phone and my iPad. Needless to say, I was miserable. Everyone around me was able to follow along and try some of the cool things the presenters were showing us, but I was stuck sitting there with my iPad. If you want to get the most out of your WordCamp experience, be sure to bring a laptop. You’ll be far, far happier.

Pro Tip: Bring a notepad too. Sometimes getting to an outlet to charge your laptop can be tricky. So that you don’t forget something important while your laptop charges, bring a notebook or notepad (I’m particularly fond of legal pads) and a pen or twenty and take some notes. You’ll hate yourself a lot less later for not getting to an outlet sooner.

3. Bring a water bottle/travel mug.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to WCUS to learn. What keeps me from being able to learn? Among other things, being thirsty. While I could just run and grab a refill in a cup when I need it, that takes away from my valuable learning time. Because for me, it’s not just running to grab the cup of water, there’s also the part where I have to come back in and get focused again, which isn’t one of my strengths. Bringing a refillable water bottle means that I can stay focused on what I’m doing longer and get the most out of the sessions I’m attending. Not to mention, using a water bottle instead of a disposable cup is far better for the environment. If you’re more of a coffee drinker, I recommend bringing a travel mug for the same reasons.

Pro Tip: No matter how much you trust your beloved Nalgene, there’s a chance it could leak all over your laptop and anything else in your bag. Either find a backpack with a pocket for your water bottle, or get a carabiner clip and clip it to the outside of your backpack. You’ll thank me later when you’re not crying over the corpse of your waterlogged laptop.

4. Bring chargers for all of your devices.

There’s nothing worse than being out and about with a dead phone/tablet/laptop. Bring chargers for all of the devices you intend to use at WordCamp. If you use a battery-operated mouse (or wireless remote for presenting), bringing an extra set of batteries couldn’t hurt either. Even if you don’t end up needing them, you could find yourself with a new friend when you share those extra batteries with someone in need.

Pro Tip: Be sure to keep all of your cords separate. I wrap mine using this cable shortening method. It keeps the cables in a neat loop that I can clip on to one of those carabiner clips that I mentioned earlier. It works pretty well for charging cables, earbuds, extension cords, really anything that gets tangled easy.

5. Bring a pair of headphones.

As much as I want to be able to unplug from my job and just focus on the sessions, it’s not always possible. Sometimes you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get some work done. If you’re the type that needs to listen to some music while you work, bring along a pair of earbuds so that you can focus and not disturb others around you.

Pro Tip: Besides learning about new concepts and ideas, we’re at WordCamp to connect with other members of the community. Tuning out and keeping to yourself may be tempting when new people and situations make you uneasy, but when you stop yourself from meeting new people because you’re afraid of the worst, you also keep yourself from opening up to the possibility of making a great connection that could lead to a life-long friendship.

6. Condense your stuff.

My usual “load” for a day involves a purse, laptop bag, lunch bag, and the occasional tote bag. While this is fine when I’m going to work, it’s not so great when you’re running around all day at a conference. When I attend conferences, I usually condense my backpack down to the following:

  • Laptop
  • Chargers (phone and laptop)
  • Batteries
  • Wireless Mouse (and presenter remote if I’m speaking)
  • Wallet – I condense my wallet down to the following
    • Driver’s License or other government-issued Photo ID
    • My Debit Card
    • A Credit Card (for emergencies)
    • Insurance Card(s) (just in case)
    • A card with emergency contact info – ICE Card is a pretty great resource for this.
  • Luggage Tag – put this on the outside of your backpack
  • Flash Drive/External Hard Drive
  • Extra Socks (optional) – I hate wet feet, so I always pack an extra pair.
  • Any medications you might need during the day – pack each medication separately in a clearly labelled container. I usually just keep mine in their bottles from the pharmacy and black out any personal info.
  • A small snack – there will be food and snacks provided throughout the day, but I always bring an extra just in case. Think nuts and granola bars vs. something soft and/or melty. Choose something durable that won’t get destroyed in your bag, but will give you a little energy boost if needed.

Pro Tip: Get a small tote or even a Ziploc bag to stick all of your conference swag in. That way all of the stickers and little bits and pieces are in one bag that you can stick in your luggage at the end of the conference.

7. Invest in a good backpack.

Getting a good backpack is a sound investment in your neck, shoulders, back, knees…really your whole body. Carrying around your stuff all day in a tote or shoulder bag is murder on whichever shoulder you choose as your victim. I strongly recommend a backpack, preferably one that has a strap that connects the shoulder straps across your chest. This extra strap helps to distribute the weight more evenly across your upper body, keeping your neck and shoulders safe and the straps in place. I usually look for the following in a good backpack:

  • Laptop pocket – it’s usually situated closest to your body when you put it on and it’s padded for extra protection for your most valuable device
  • Accessory pockets – I like a variety of pockets to put all of my little bits and pieces in
  • Good padded shoulder straps
  • The cross body strap I mentioned above
  • A water bottle pocket
  • Rain cover – this is a feature I didn’t know I wanted until I got stuck out in the rain one day with my backpack. I ended up putting my jacket over my backpack until I could get inside. I was soaking wet, but not a drop of water ended up inside my bag.  Something like this backpack cover would have saved me (and my hair) a lot of grief.

Pro Tip: Get a lock for your backpack, something that can loop through the laptop zipper and then wrap around something. While I hope something like this wouldn’t happen, it does, and it sucks. While WordCamps are generally very safe environments, people often meet up for breakfast in the morning before the conference or dinner after, and they have their backpacks with them. Extra security never hurts. I have had my laptop stolen and I still get the heebie jeebies when I think about the stuff I lost.

8. Dress in layers.

Let’s face it, room temperatures are unpredictable. For this reason, I would bring a sweater or hoodie that you can throw on and/or take off as the climate requires. As I write this post, I sit in the middle of a Meetup freezing because I left my sweater in the car. Don’t be like me, bring a sweater. Otherwise, your brain will freeze. Disclaimer: I’ve never actually heard of someone’s brain freezing from being too cold.

Pro Tip: Let’s not forget that we’re going to be in Nashville in December. The historical average for that time of year is in the mid 50’s (about 12 – 15 celsius). However, last December temps were in the 70s (anywhere from 21 – 26 celsius). Bottom line, be sure to check the weather report and pack accordingly.

By Sportstagid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

9. Wear a medical bracelet.

Do you have a condition that requires special treatment such as a food or medication allergy, asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy? Wear a medical bracelet. Under normal circumstances you may not need one, because people familiar with you probably already know about your medical history. But you’re going to be coming to a city you’re not familiar with and hanging with people who may not know about your medical condition. In the event of an emergency, first responders will need to know these things and if you’re not able to communicate them, you could be in a whole lot of trouble. There’s loads of options out there (Walgreens carries several different kinds), pick one and make sure you wear it.

Pro Tip: If you have an allergy that causes anaphylaxis, such as a bee sting, and you carry an epinephrine auto-injector (you may know them as Epi-Pens), it couldn’t hurt to label that pocket on your backpack. That way if you can’t get to it fast enough, someone can help you get help.

Attendees talking between sessions at WordCamp US 2015 #wcus Photo by Sheri Bigelow, licensed cc-by-nc.

10. Bring a friend.

While not required, having a friend tag along with you can make for a memorable WordCamp experience. If you’re like me and you’re road tripping to WordCamp US, think of all of the awesome photos, sing-a-longs, and weird roadside attractions that you’ll see and get to enjoy together. If you’re flying, it’s always nice to have a travel buddy to keep you company while you’re waiting at the airport during the inevitable layover.

Pro Tip: Don’t use your buddy as a reason to shut out others. Go in with an open mind and you’re sure to find another new friend (or friends!) to share the experience with.

Whether you follow my advice or not, WordCamp US is sure to be a great event. Tickets are on sale now for the low cost of $40. Get your ticket today!

Post Contributors: Laura Byrne-Cristiano

Featured Photo Credit:

  • Top Left: Attendees at WordCamp US 2015 #wcus Photo by Sheri Bigelow, licensed cc-by-nc.

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