I just returned from the combined annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion. Here are the three most important things I (re)learned.
1. Bring comfortable shoes.
Last year, I made a wise decision in my choice of footwear and had no discomfort despite the massive amount of walking that was required due to the sheer size of the convention center in Chicago. This year, even though everything was relatively nearby, I had to buy a different pair of shoes after day 1 because I made a bad choice of footwear this year.
2. Lose the laptop.
If you're not giving a paper or having to write or revise your paper at the last minute, do not bring your ancient, massive, heavy laptop. You will not use it at all and you will not want to carry it around everywhere. Your smartphone is now more than adequate for 99% of what you used to bring your laptop for. If you have a light, small, awesome newer laptop, this may not be a problem for you.
3. Bring a coat to the East Coast.
Even if the 10 day weather forecast for an East Coast city says the weather should be cool but not wintry during SBL, bring a hat, coat, and gloves anyway, not just a blazer and a scarf. Weather forecasters can't always see the Arctic cold snap coming that far in advance. Remember this when SBL is in Boston again in a few years.
Bonus Tip: Practice people skills.
Social interaction among academic types can be awkward at times. Navigating new relationships and just-made acquaintances can be complicated for those of us who tend more on the introverted side of things. Before next year, I plan to prep a little better and practice interpersonal communication skills, building rapport, and reading between the lines.