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International Conference Travel Tips From the SEMrush Speaking Team

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International Conference Travel Tips From the SEMrush Speaking Team

Melissa Fach
International Conference Travel Tips From the SEMrush Speaking Team

Industry conferences are a great place to learn, network, and hang out with like-minded people. Nowadays there are so many conferences all over the world that people want to attend, but for some folks, the idea of attending an International conference can be a bit intimidating. Everything from choosing a hotel to choosing the right flight, and even getting a good night's sleep, can majorly impact the experiences you have. And then there is networking with new people, eating well, and trying to work at the same time.

How does one plan well for an International conference? 

Our speaker's team at SEMrush travels all over the world, so I asked three of our top travelers what advice they have to offer.  Below are some of their best tips for preparing a relaxed trip and for making the most of the event while you are there.

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Traveling to conferences can be many things: exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, and more than anything, a transformative experience. Every single conference presents the opportunity to learn something entirely new, or to be given new information to analyze something you already know, differently. How much you get out of a conference, and how disruptive it is to your life and body, depends on how organized and prepared you are.

Choosing Flights

From the outset, you need to be very careful when selecting your dates and flights. I have heard of some conference goers who miss out on an entire day of an event because their flight was delayed, or something went wrong. I always try to give myself a 1-2 day buffer, arriving at the event at LEAST 1 day before. Not only does this guarantee that I make it on time, it gives me some breathing room to feel ready, organized and prepared. I am also very careful about selecting flights.  For example, a 5 pm flight from LA requires an extra 2 hours of travel time due to traffic. Depending on what day I need to travel, I either select flights between 11 am and 2 pm if it is during the week, or red eye if the distances are long, or on the weekends when possible. The last thing I need to add to a conference is hours and hours of time in traffic and the additional hassle.

Sleep

I have learned that any kind of sleep aid is worth its weight in gold if it helps me to rest and sleep on the plane. If there is wifi, I will always try to work or to prepare for the event. But on flights without wifi, the next best thing is to SLEEP and get as much rest as possible. Olga Andrienko, Head of Marketing at SEMrush, suggested Melatonin, which I have recently been using. I also use pharmaceutical sleep aids for international flights. I know this is a controversial topic, but I feel it is essential when you are going abroad to a conference, have a massive time difference, and are not just expected to function the next day, but to SHINE.

Another huge issue when it comes to international travel is connectivity. For US citizens, I found that T-mobile has an amazing plan with unlimited international data. Instead of having to switch SIM cards everywhere I go, I use my T-mobile phone to get online, which I then use to order my Ubers and to keep in touch.

Tips for Taking Care of You: Food and Hotel

When it comes to staying healthy and eating well, this is always a struggle for anyone who travels often.  I am slightly allergic to wheat and dairy, adding another layer of complication.  What I have found is that always carrying fruits and nuts are essential. As soon as I land at a destination, I try to find a grocery store or cafe where I can find some fruits, salads, nuts, and veggies to keep handy. I then try to use YELP to find nearby restaurants that are relatively healthy; salads and soups are always my go-to meals. I also keep many packets of tea in my travel bag so I always have a cup of tea readily available, as too much coffee can interrupt sleep and creates acidity.

When it comes to staying at a hotel, I have learned to always ask beforehand for a hypoallergenic room.  Many chains will have different products that they use to clean hypoallergenic rooms. I have had one too many hotels that smell of smoke or of powerful cleaning agents that leave me with a headache for days. I have also learned to find hotels that are relatively close to the event; otherwise, it is too easy to spend a lot of money on Uber and time sitting in traffic. When possible, I also look for Airbnb apartments or hotels with a kitchenette so I can buy food at a grocery and cook or heat up meals, instead of having to eat out every time.

With all of these conditions in place, all that is left is for me to spend most of the conference dates at the event, learning, and networking. If I am hungry, or tired, or headachy due to a smelly hotel room, it is hard to be fully present. So, once everything else is taken care of, I can be at my best during the event itself.  

Networking - Introvert Style

Almost everyone at the event wants to meet new people, get new perspectives, and make new friends.  Even though I am an introvert and find it difficult to start new conversations, I find that I can connect with people if I simply introduce myself and ask them about themselves.  Instead of trying to force people to listen to what I have to say, I focus on asking questions and learning about them.  Most people love to talk about themselves, especially if you ask them good questions and focus on their answers, and this should enable you to have lots of good conversations.

One area that I need to improve on is staying connected.  I meet amazing people at events, but don’t always do a great job of staying in touch.  One of my current goals is to find a system to nurture these new connections, not necessarily as leads, but as potential friends and people to learn from.  If you have any ideas for how you do this, I would love to hear them!

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Traveling is a lot of fun, but it is also a ton of work. I am “on the road” going to conferences and events with SEMrush about 1-2 weeks out of the month, sometimes even more. Now that I am traveling at that kind of rate I have learned quite a fit tricks to help make the travel a bit more seamless. Here are a few things I’ve learned lately from traveling:

Embrace the chaos.

Things will go wrong, and when they do, just embrace it. No matter how many times I check my itinerary or how early I show up at the airport and triple check that I have my passport on me, things still don’t always go as planned. 

When I first started traveling, I took these moments as opportunities to reach peak stress levels and freak out in a panic. “I’m going to miss my flight because of this traffic accident! I’m going to miss the networking event because my Uber app isn’t working right now! Why isn’t my luggage coming out??!!”

It is so easy to stress out when traveling, but I have slowly learned to take advantage of these moments and remain calm regardless of the millions of things that can go wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the time everything works out just fine anyways so enjoy the delays and utilize that extra time to catch up on emails or that blog post you have been wanting to write. 

A wise person once told me that red lights were God’s way of blessing you with a moment to stop and breathe. Embrace the travel chaos and think of them as blessings to breathe, not extra digits to your heart rate count.

Work with a travel agent. 

I absolutely LOVE Google docing and exceling every little part of my life, but I am human and have these weird human moments occasionally. Some people call them “mistakes.” 

Since I started working with a travel agent, a whole lot less of these “mistakes” have happened while traveling. Plus, looking for the best hotel that doesn’t have weird stains on the sheets, is close to the conference center, and isn’t going to break the bank can take a ton of time to find. 

Leave it to the travel agent to help you find the best rate, transportation, location, amenities, and deals. That is what they do best, so you should focus on what you do best and not spend 4 hours trying to find a flight that doesn’t exist. 

Make yourself as comfortable as possible. 

It is too easy to get uncomfortable while traveling. From the car ride to the airport to the stiff-as-a-rock hotel bed, traveling isn’t always comfortable. Luckily, there are dozens of ways to make the travel life not only more enjoyable but more cozy. 

Here are a few tips to help you relax and feel as at home as one possibly can while being thousands of miles from home.

Fall asleep during bedtime hours.

When you are traveling through time zones, at least 2 or more, do everything you possibly can to stay awake until at least 8 pm in this new time zone. A 10+ hour flight can feel exhausting upon arrival, but the last thing you should do is taxi to your hotel room and crash out. You will soon find yourself wide awake at 2 am staring at the ceiling wondering why you can’t sleep. The pattern will continue to repeat throughout the whole trip. Check-in to your hotel and then go walk the new town, check your emails, have a couple of meals, get your body moving and not sleeping until it is actually your regular bed-time.

Bring snacks. 

Even in the most familiar of places it can still be challenging to fit all three of your daily meals into your day. Missing meals is mainly due to hectic traveling schedules and not having time to have a full sit-down meal, but it can also happen because you simply don’t know where to go. I find that breakfast can be the most challenging meal to have while traveling to conferences and events, so I always bring a box of protein bars and a big bag of almonds with me. When I am in a rush or new to an area, I can at least get some nutrients on the go with my snacks. Make sure and pick flavors and brands you already love, now’s not the time for trying everything new.

Don’t be afraid to meet new people. 

Being in new places is exciting, but when you are traveling solo, it can be a bit un-exciting not having anyone to share new moments with. Put yourself out there and attend local marketing meetups in these new cities. Get to know the local industry peeps and invite them to dinner or to enjoy a post-conference cocktail. It can be so refreshing to have someone new to chat in a new city. Not only with the local industry peeps have great recommendations on things to do, but they will also be another person within your networking community to stay in touch with. 

Pack a bit of home with you. 

On every trip I take I always bring a book I’m currently reading, my favorite head pillow, and essential oils. These three items give me a taste of home and familiarity no matter where in the world I am and really helps make me feel comfortable in new places. Sure, your toiletries are cool to pack too, but having similar and relaxing items like essential oils give me peace of mind and a memory of home. Whatever your head pillow or essential oils are, make the room in your bag and pack them. It can make all the difference in the most foreign of places. 

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Traveling to conferences around the world is one of the best experiences in life. It isn't just for the thrill of traveling, but to get to know the world while you learn, to get to relate to the brightest minds in each country, and it makes you a better professional and better person.

Whenever I prepare for a trip, I already have an algorithm of actions to be done to have everything ready and to spend as little time as possible in queues and security, and with fewer headaches.

  • First, start with the travel documents.
  • Second, the personal hygiene items.
  • Last, the list of clothes that you will use every day.

Making trips to 3 or 4 countries in a week is a difficult task, but not impossible, the important thing is to have the support of your loved ones, a good organization of time, and good health. One of the worst things that can happen to you during a trip is to get sick, so a good medical check-up before starting to make long trips is highly recommended; the rest is part of the lifestyle you take during travel.

Is it possible to continue working and traveling? 

The traveler's mentality has to be very positive and taking advantage of waiting times between travel and trip is essential to maintain productivity; especially in airport waiting rooms or during a flight. If you have a leading role in an event, use this time to fine-tune your presentation. Keep in mind that your name will end up resounding in the heads of everyone; they will see your pretty face on the web and the event marketing materials. An excellent presentation can result in a building of trust in your personal brand. If you are not speaking at an event, connect with the speakers. The mere fact that they associate with you, and as they speak to others about your work, helps you increase your own credibility.

Relationship Building, a.k.a - Networking

Creating new relationships is probably the main task while traveling. Approach new professionals and reconnect with those already known to strengthen personal and professional relationships. I think the best places to do networking are the least official events and they allow you to have freedom without any labels. That is why one of the best networking events I have experienced has been on the beach with all the attendees in swimsuits and shirts, with hammocks and inflatable balls in the pool, with a series of beach games — the correct definition for This type of networking is beachworking.

Starting a new conversation with a person you have never met before is one of the most enjoyable experiences, but if you have the opportunity to help other people get to know each other, the experience becomes even more enjoyable. Being a connector or relating to the main connector of people when networking is ideal. A connector recommends and introduces you to people you should know exclusively during an event and even after it.

People who participate in conferences are usually open to socializing with the other attendees as they know that from the conversations they have, collaboration opportunities may arise. Also, during these informal meetings, new ideas emerge when listening to other people's perspectives, and these ideas can help you take your vision to the next level. As a result: new jobs, new relationships and new experiences that, in the end, end up making you a better person.

Food

Food during a trip is often not an ally, because the schedules are not always the same and you can sometimes stay without eating or eating very late. I always try to eat salads, eat fruit, and drink lots of water, because at most events there are succulent and abundant dinners. My secret to not gain weight fast is to consume pineapple which helps a lot with digestion and helps you not retain liquids. A piece of pineapple during an event is the salvation for not wanting to eat more because it fills you up.

When choosing a hotel, look at the opinions of people who have stayed there before on sites like Trip Advisor, for example. Reading reviews can help you avoid unnecessary worry. One bonus when you travel to the same city often is to return to the same hotel; you feel an aura of home that makes you feel more relaxed.

Have Any Conference Tips? Any Things to Avoid?

Please share your tips, experiences, and ideas in the comments below; they will be so helpful to our community and conference attendees.

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US Personality of the Year 2017 Winner, SEMrush Blog Editor, and Pubcon Community Manager.
Herder of cats. Superman fan. Non-cook.
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George
Are there any common side effects of Melatonin (especially if you are drinking with conference buds)?
Kate Morris
If you are speaking or attending a conference internationally, plan time for sight-seeing. You went that far, take time off work after the conference to take in the sights. For introverts, this is good downtime after spending so much time networking. Drain the batteries and then recharge on vacation.
Melissa Fach
Kate Morris
Great tips!
Adam Humphreys
I get more from networking than I do from the conferences but at my level of experience that’s generally a given. I find it amusing that the price shopping sites really like to jog the dates of travel so you have to super watch that in particular airlines. Silly things like nasal spray turns a dry Smokey Las Vegas casino into a somewhat tolerable place. I like price shopping online and then calling the hotels direct for deals. If you use your business cards for ad spend you can generate thousands in rewards points pretty fast that can be used towards flights and hotels. In Canada Westjet by RBC visa and Amex for business are great cards for this. When in conferences the power can often be sparing so grabbing another battery pack is often warranted. Finding a hotel near the conference is ideal because while alternate hotels might be more inexpensive you will make that difference up in cab fare in particular Las Vegas but if you are near the train line you can save that way. Book conferences really early especially if your currency is at a disadvantage. Canadian domestic travel is some of the most expensive in the world ignoring for a 24-30% lower dollar to USD which makes it cheaper to travel to Europe than inside the country. That said, booking flights and conferences for early bird rates is a must. I generally like to plan my annual conferences as much as a year in advance and book flights closer to the three month mark leaving on a Tuesday or other day with less traffic and reduced rates. For tall people while emergency exits are enticing the seats in those rows do not recline and in some rows for emergency the leg room is less with no trays in front of you. To get rows with more leg room if you are tall call the airline direct and the better ones will accommodate you at no additional cost. If you are being asked to speak make sure they give you over a months notice as certain regions flights over double during peak season. Most speakers get free hotel + flights.
Shelly Fagin
Adam Humphreys
Yes, when in Vegas it's so important to stay hydrated. Nasal spray is a good suggestion. I'd love to know which conferences are paying for speaker hotel and flights. Most I'm familiar with only gives you a free conference pass. Maybe some paid perks for big keynotes speakers. Something to aspire to. lol!
Melissa Fach
Shelly Fagin
Yeah, larger conferences with tons of speakers could not pay for all those flights and hotels. There is already a cost to be paid per speaker at the convention centers.
Shelly Fagin
I haven’t started speaking internationally but yet, attend several conferences a year in the U.S. I do feel more prepared once that time comes thanks to the great tips above. My first year attending I went not knowing anyone. I followed conference twitter chats and found others new like me looking to meet up. I found a few buddies which made all the difference finding the confidence to walk into networking events and socialize. I also made the mistake of attempting to attend every session and keynote to the point of exhaustion. Doing so much during the day makes it challenging to attend the networking events at night. I learned fast just how valuable these events are in our industry. I definitely second the suggestion to bring Melatonin with you to help you sleep. It’s a godsend. Getting a good nights sleep is crucial! I also plan for at least 2-3 days of downtime when I return home. You’ll be exhausted both mentally & physically and need a couple of recovery days.
Melissa Fach
Shelly Fagin
Shelly, the finding a few buddies is super helpful. I have never tried the Melatonin, but may this year for Vegas. With the time difference, I average 3-4 hours of sleep a night :) And you are right about the recovery time. Takes a few days to reset.
Shelly Fagin
Melissa Fach
Finding your "people" makes all the difference in the world. Now some of my best friends are people I've met at conferences. ;) Melatonin is perfect. Not too strong that you feel groggy in the morning like I do with PM's but just enough to help you fall asleep if your brain won't shut off.
Melissa Fach
I have worked for a conference for 3 years and attend several a year. The bringing snacks tip is a great one. I have issues with low blood sugar and snacks in my backpack have saved me so many times.

All of the speakers above mentioned networking — it is critical. You can learn as much from networking as you can from the conference sessions. The biggest mistake I see people make is sitting back waiting for people to talk to them. If you are up against the wall or not joining in, people don't want to bother you. I recommend people do what George mentioned below - force yourself to walk up and say hello. Meet as many people as you can. When you are sitting in sessions, introduce yourself to the people on either side of you and behind you. You will see them later and you will always have someone to talk to.

Lastly, I don't sleep well in hotels. I bring my own pillow and sheets, which helps. I also bring a small travel fan for noise. This helps a lot.
George
Love the part about networking for introverts. The hardest part of conferences is walking up and getting to know people. I just keep forcing myself to do it, and it pays off. Those connections are like gold!
Adam Humphreys
George
There are literally books on networking for this very reason. Personally, I am not overly shy but don’t enjoy the random card sharing with empty redundant questions so much as asking some unique questions that really engage people to open up to think. Asking people what are some of their biggest challenges and what are some of their goals really helps you to know people better. Asking them what they hope to get from the conference and what their plans are etc is a little more human than the typical what do you do. Asking people where they are from and what sort of things they enjoy etc builds rapport as people. Interjecting eloquently is indeed an art and there are definitely instances where people are so socially awkward they remain closed off which is where sarcasm (friendly) or jokes can help people open up. I put my picture on all business cards so people remember me as a person because that’s ultimately what people remember. At the last conference ai did this with I had people coming out of the woods practically to add me on social media without even putting it on my card so it definitely works.
Simon Cox
Marcela - Twitter must be the connectivity of choice surely! Build your own lists of each conference and add to it the people you meet while you are there. I used to used Google+ Circles for this but you will find more people in our industry on Twitter.
Melissa Fach
Simon Cox
Great tip. When people take the time to create a list, they learn names and faces ahead of time. That comes in handy when you are at the conference.

I also find that our industry resides on Twitter a lot. Many conferences have Facebook groups too, which offer a great way to meet people ahead of time.
Adam Humphreys
Simon Cox
So true, I have met more people through Twitter because of people asking for help. On arrival snap a pic of yourself so people know what you look like and engage with others using official hashtags. Some PR teams news blog every conference session with articles with general take always which is a great way to really embrace what you've learned. Most conferences offer notepads but it’s super easy to lose the papers with notes. These days I use project management software for securing valuable notes and making them actionable so that I act on what I’ve learned.