Wondering what to pack for AWP? Veteran AWP attendees share their tips so that you have everything you need to make this the best conference ever. I’ve divided this list into: What You Need Because It’s AWP, What You Need Because It’s a Conference, and What You Need Because It’s in Portland. Plus, check out the bottom of the page for resources on AWP and Portland. Enjoy! And make sure to check out my other piece: Can’t Miss AWP Events and my article: How to Make the Most out of AWP.
What You Need Because It’s AWP
Writing Garb: Do you own a t-shirt that says, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel,” “Writers do it on laptops,” or other cute expressions about our species? What about a pin with an inspirational quote from Maya Angelou, or a hat from your visit to Walden? This is the time to wear such items. Not only will others be jealous, these pieces are great for conversation starters. (By the way, if you enjoy this article, please send me an Edgar Allan Poe scarf.)
Comfort: Wear comfortable clothing and dress in layers. Have fun with your outfits. Leave your suits in the closet; this isn’t IBM.
“Bring outfits that make you feel fantastic.”
~ Sassafrass Lowrey, Author of Fiction and Nonfiction
Your Calling Card: Print or obtain some business cards. You will meet a lot of folks that will want your contact info and this is an easy way to share it. It also prevents anyone from touching your phone, or from having to read your handwriting.
“Bring business cards. If you don't have them, get some made. This is a great way to meet folks and stay in touch.”
~ Sherri L. Smith, Young Adult Novelist
Writing Gear: It might seem obvious to bring something to write on and write with (a notebook and pens, or a laptop/tablet, or a phone) to a writing conference, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t. Don’t be one of them. You will be bombarded by writers listing their favorite books and you will want to write those suggestions down. You’ll also want to take notes during sessions, write down contact info for new friends, and, dare I say, write. By the way, I said pens not a pen—don’t get stuck with a pen that runs out of ink. Some paper outside of your notebooks is a good idea too—I often see people ripping pages out of beautiful notebooks to provide information for others, so having a small notepad or paper to share prevents this monstrosity.
“You'll be full of inspiration and ideas, and surrounded by new and old friends. Make sure you have a way to keep track of who you met, what you heard and what you thought. Bring business cards and a notebook if you are an analog person like me, or use your phone.”
~ Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Novelist and Memoirist; Faculty at Goddard College MFAW; Hedgebrook Alumna and Teacher for Hedgebrook’s Vortex Salon
Power: Buy a battery charger for your phone. Seriously, it’s inexpensive and it’s one of the greatest things you will ever purchase. You don’t want to waste time at the conference hunting for an outlet, and even if you find one, someone else may be using it. Of course, if you do find one, another great thing to have is an outlet multiplier. This is an item that you plug into the wall and it turns one outlet into three (or two, or more, depending on what you buy). This allows several people to use the outlet instead of just one. These two items aren’t just good for the conference but they’ll also be handy at the airport.
Your writing: If you’ve published a book(s), bring it—others will ask to see it. Also bring poems or excerpts from your prose as there will be open mic events.
A Sense of Humor: Remember to have fun.
“Your sense of humor. It's a massive gathering. There will be ridiculous snafus and run-ins with the exhausted, stressed, and perhaps hungover.”
~ Sandra Gail Lambert, Writer
A U-Haul: You’ll be buying a lot of books and other items at the book fair. Bring a backpack or a bag on wheels to protect your body from hauling all that weight. Yes, AWP does provide a canvas bag, but I recommend using that bag for all the extra things that you buy that won’t fit in the backpack that you brought (this will happen, you will end up with more than you imagined at the book fair.) Also, as you pack, leave extra space in your suitcase for your purchases. Many writers bring an extra suitcase for this purpose. You don’t want to be one of the writers running around on the last day of the book fair asking if any of the vendors has an extra cardboard box.
“You’ll have a chance to buy books signed by some of your favorite authors.
Save extra room in your luggage so you can buy gifts (!) and add books by newly discovered authors.”
~ Carla Norton, author of crime fiction and true crime
“Bring an extra bag / backpack ... so many books to buy.”
~ Donnelle McGhee, Poet/Novelist and Publisher of Thera Books
What You Need Because It’s a Conference
Get on Your Feet: You will be amazed at how many steps you take at a conference. Bringing comfortable shoes was literally the top suggestion from our veterans, and it’s a great suggestion for any conference. In fact, it starts with wearing comfortable shoes to the airport as your gate is always further away than you think. At AWP, you’ll not just be walking a lot but also standing a great deal—whether you’re in line for workshops, purchases, or the restroom; stuck in a standing-room-only situation at popular events; or chatting with friends at the book fair. If you choose to ignore this advice, remember to pack Band-aids.
Don’t Get Sick: There’s plenty of great freebies at conferences, but don’t let the flu be one of them. Every conference is a germ factory so consider bringing PURELL or Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer (kills germs and has a pleasant lavender smell). I’ll be dosing on echinacea and zinc, though Emergen-C also gives a great immune boost. Creative nonfiction writer Sarah Einstein recommends Airborne. Consider carrying tissues—you may need them, but also you can pass a tissue to someone sneezing so that the sneeze doesn’t permeate the room, everyone will thank you.(Note: We’ve not received anything for mentioning brands in this article.)
Dine with Friends: Bring cash. This makes splitting the bill a lot easier at restaurants or for sharing an Uber. Don’t waste time at AWP hunting for an ATM. There are also great apps for this purpose, such as Venmo, but not everyone is on them so be prepared with paper money. Do also download Venmo as you don’t want to be the only one at the restaurant that is a luddite. Cash is also great for tipping at a hotel or if you do curbside check-in. Also, there are still some small businesses that only use cash, including at the book fair, and you don’t want to miss out on their wares.
Make a Good First Impression: Carry gum or breath mints—especially since you will be eating at odd times and also that you might be drinking more coffee.
Stay Hydrated: Bring a water bottle. You don’t want to spend precious conference time waiting in line for water, and you don’t want to pay the conference center prices. This is also true food so bring snacks or bars as you don’t know when you’ll be able to break for lunch.
What You Need Because It’s in Portland
Cool: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the average temperatures in March are a high of 56 and a low of 37, and in April a high of 61 and a low of 44 (all temperatures are in Fahrenheit).
Layers: At any conference, it’s a good idea to dress in layers, and this is also true for any trip to Portland, Oregon. Spring in Portland is known for scattered showers so be prepared. I recommend picking up one of those small travel umbrellas—they take up hardly and room in your suitcase and you will be thankful you have it when you are not walking around wet all day. A light raincoat or windbreaker are also recommended.
“Bring a good windbreaker. You have to come and go and see Portland & offsite events and Powell’s Books,
and you need a light but strong coat for wind & rain.”
~ Melissa (Misha) Cahnmann-Taylor, Poet & Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia
Powell’s Books: Cahnmann-Taylor is right, you will want to visit Powell’s Books, the largest independent chain of bookstores in the world. There are five locations, but the one that you want to visit is the flagship store which has over a million books! The store is so large that when you enter, they give you a map. CNN says, “Visitors should set aside a good two to three days to get lost in this iconic Portland landmark.” Powell’s shelves new and used books next to each other. Time ranked Powell’s as the #4 thing to see in Portland (although AWP folks might rank it as #1), and says, “Cruise the aisles, grab some coffee and enjoy the lost art of thumbing through bound paper stamped with words.” (Lost art? Try daily pastime!)
“Buy a week TriMet pass and use public transport. Download the PDX bus app. Portland public transportation is excellent!”
~Cooper Lee Bombardier, Writer
Get Outside: Portland also has beautiful gardens. In addition to a luxurious trip to Powell’s, I loved visiting the Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which are just a few of the many parks to visit. Scattered showers will make the ground wet, so make sure to bring comfortable shoes that will keep your feet dry and play well with mud. Take a day trip outside Portland to great hiking or wineries (Or both, after all, a glass of pinot is perfect after a hike).
Tip: Wear your bulkier shoes on the airplane to save space and weight in your suitcase.
Check out the resource list at the bottom of this page for links to Powell’s, gardens, and articles about traveling to Portland.
CNN’s list of the world’s best bookstores, including Powell’s:
Lan Su Chinese Garden @chinesegarden
International Rose Test Garden, Washington Park
Portland Japanese Garden @PDXJapaneseGdn (Pictured)
Things to See and Do
The Crazy Tourist
Travel Portland @travelportland
US News & World Report