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Lori Soard

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Help! My Suitcase is the Size of a Ford Pinto!
by Lori Soard   

Last edited: Saturday, March 23, 2002
Posted: Saturday, March 23, 2002

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Aren't sure what to pack for your first writer's conference? Try this suitcase on for size.

Help! My Suitcase is the Size of a Ford Pinto!
by Lori Soard

I remember my first conference. The excitement of editor appointments. The thrill of getting time to myself. The absolute soul-numbing horror that I would make a fool of myself. I was completely clueless about what to wear or how many items to take. I wound up lugging a suitcase I could have easily fit in (and I'm not exactly petite) plus a second smaller suitcase.

Whether you are getting ready to attend your first conference or you've gone to a million, I think the handy checklist I've created will help you pack. If nothing else, it will keep you from forgetting those important items.

____ Toothbrush

____ Toothpaste (if you forget these it isn't the end of the world. Most hotels offer complimentary kits)

____ Curling Iron (most hotels offer hair dryers now but you might want to check)

____ Hair Clips (try to pick one or two favorites and stick with those)

____ Face Cleanser & Moisturizer

____ Makeup (you have my permission to take too much of this. You never know when your Purple Passion Fruit lipstick is going to clash with your Neon Red cocktail dress)

____ Hair brush (Duh! I always forget this and have to buy one)

____ Nail Polish and Remover (It never fails you get a chip)

____ Hairspray & any other Hair Gunk you use

____ Deodorant (If you forget this one, please keep your distance)

____ A can of Lysol Linen Scent (did you see that special on what's on hotel sheets? Just trust me. Take a can. I'll feel better for you if you spray your sheets down.)

Don't bother with:
*Shampoo or Soap. Just use the hotel's. It's too much to pack and deal with.

*Perfume. Many people have requested no perfume. They are allergic and it makes them sick. I love perfume but I try to be aware of this in large group settings. I don't want anyone to spend their evening over the porcelain alter because I had to wear my Lemon Verbena (okay, I don't really wear that but I like the way it sounds)


This is the tough one right? Not at all. A brilliant friend of mine once told me the key to dressing for conferences or business. You pick three or four colors (all but one neutral) and you stick with them. This allows you to mix and match quickly.

Example: My colors are typically white, tan, red and black (love's slimming). So, if I go out and buy two skirts, a jacket, three blouses and two pairs of slacks, they will all be in these colors. I also try to make the bottom half one of the neutral colors. I just think it looks better on me. You may be opposite.

But that still doesn't answer your question about what to wear does it? The best advice I can give you is to dress as though you are either going on an interview or are working in an office environment. Yes, dress slacks are fine. Don't pair them with a halter top.

Would you find someone in jeans, thongs and a bikini top professional? I know you can tell I'm exaggerating here but it illustrates the point nicely.

I wouldn't wear jeans except on an outside excursion. I wouldn't wear shorts unless they are the really dressy ones that look like a skirt (those are comfy aren't they?)

Always take an extra outfit. If you're going for five days, take six outfits.

Here is your checklist:

_____ Blouses (one for each day plus an extra)

_____ Blazers (two)

_____ Slacks & Skirts (one for each day plus one)

_____ Undergarments (don't forget slips and teddies. I always forget those)

_____ Scarves (these can be a great accessory to dress up a plain blouse)

_____ Hats (these are hard to transport but I love the look of a good hat)


*Want to pack less stuff? Use the hotel dry cleaner to reuse slacks and skirts. Wear the black slacks and red blouse one day. The black slacks, white blouse and blazer another.


For RWA's national conference you'll need at least:

____ One formal gown (full length, think Hollywood Red Carpet type dress)

____ One cocktail dress (think spring dance all grown up)

* Guess what? My color rule doesn't apply here. You don't have to be able to mix and match these dresses so buy them in any color that strikes you. Just please don't buy one of those multicolored mermaid dresses with a million sequins. Trust me that it makes EVERYONE look like a rainbow trout. If you love sequins stick to one color or a simple pattern.


The most important thing about footwear is comfort. You are going to be on your feet a lot. If you invest in one thing for conferences, invest in good shoes. You'll need to take:

____ Comfortable but dressy shoes. EasySpirit is a great brand. And no, I'm not their spokesperson.

____ Frilly, pretty shoes to wear with your cocktail dress. What the heck. You won't have these on long.

____ Walking shoes in case you do any sightseeing or your feet just can't stand the other shoes any more. It might be a good idea to take a loafer type shoe in black. That way you could wear them with your dress clothes if your feet decide to swell up into a horrible aquatic parody of themselves.

* I have been known to wear ballet slippers with formal gowns. If the gown falls correctly, it should just brush the floor. No one will ever see your slippers and if they do, they don't look bad. You can get satin or whatever and they come in black, pink, tan white. They don't look good with a cocktail dress however. Also, if you are petite you may want the added height of a good heel. I always think I'm tall until I do this (5'7") and then I realize I can't see over half the people there.


This one is easy.

____ Pantyhose (number should equal number of skirts/dresses you plan to wear plus one) These don't take up much room and you don't want to bother with washing and drying them. Just take extras.

____ Knee highs or stockings (number should equal number of pants you plan to wear plus one)

____ Socks (to wear with walking shoes. Just take two or three pair)

I'm still waiting for them to invent something that will suck in everything and make me look about forty lbs. lighter. Let me know if you discover anything that works.


This is up to you. I am not a big jewelry person. I usually wear my watch, my rings and take along some nice earrings. If I have a neckline on my evening gown, I'll take a nice necklace.

_____ Earrings (if you like to match your outfits then you'll need a pair for each outfit)

_____ Necklace (ditto)

_____ Bracelets (I don't think I even own any but they're pretty)

_____ Rings (probably easiest to wear them)

* Note: Remember that anything you take with you might be lost. I had a couple of items lost out of my luggage on my last trip. I think because they searched bags or who knows what happened. I would take costume jewelry or carry real jewels in my carry on or wear them to the conference and home.


_____ Paper

_____ Pens

* Or your laptop. Please don't forget this. Inspiration often strikes at these conferences. You want to get it down while it's fresh.


If you are insane enough to take anything else, then I can't help you. You are as bad as me and you might as well just resign yourself to dragging a small car of a suitcase with you wherever you go. Maybe you should just buy a large trunk. At least you'd get a lot of attention when you dragged that through the airport.

So, enjoy the conference and don't worry about making a fool of yourself. We all do that sooner or later anyway. At least you'll be well dressed and won't forget anything important.

Lori Soard has a Ph.D. in Journalism and Creative Writing. Thousands of her articles and short stories have been published along with several books. She currently serves as RWA's Region 2 Director and encourages members to contact her with questions, concerns, or just to chat. Lori Soard, PO BOX 452, Greenfield, IN 46140, 317-462-0037, or
This article may be reprinted in its entirety

Web Site: Lori Soard

Reader Reviews for "Help! My Suitcase is the Size of a Ford Pinto!"

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Reviewed by Nicole Boedeker 1/29/2003
This is exactly what I've been looking for. This will be my first year at National and I've been looking for articles by RWAers who have been before and could offer packing advice on what to take. Thanks a million!
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