Travel tips and links for your summer conference season – 2018 edition

After a relatively sedentary winter/spring, I’ve started traveling again, and will be headed to Cisco Live in Orlando next month as well as the Cisco global sales kickoff in August in Las Vegas if all goes well.

2014-05-19 rob-smh-clus

Disclosure: I work for Cisco and will be attending Cisco Live as an employee and speaker. however, nothing in this post is endorsed, reviewed, or even necessarily noticed by my employer or the event staff.

I posted some tips and tricks a year ago on rsts11travel, with a focus on Las Vegas. A lot of the advice there is still relevant. In this post I’ll focus on hotel promotions you should look into, as well as some new product recommendations (with affiliate links, so you can help with my gadget addiction and hosting fees).


clus18mapThere are 30 official hotels for Cisco Live this year, as shown on the hotel map (PDF). There are a few Rosen properties that don’t have loyalty programs, but you can find something for your preferred hotel chain if you choose one of the chain properties.

Obviously, these offers will apply for other conference locations, as they’re chain-wide.

  • Marriott: Castle Hotel (Autograph Collection), two Courtyards, three Fairfield Inn & Suites, Orlando World Center Marriott, 2x Residence Inn, 3x SpringHill Suites

Marriott has a MegaBonus program through June 30, 2018. This gives you 750 bonus points per night, starting on your third night during the offer period.

  • Starwood: Four Points, Renaissance at SeaWorld

Starwood Preferred Guest has “SPG More Nights, More Starpoints” going through July 20, 2018. With SPG, you’ll get 250 bonus Starpoints per night, starting on the third night.

  • IHG: Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn

IHG has their Rewards Club, but no promotions currently posted.

  • Hilton: Doubletree, Embassy Suites x2, Hampton by Hilton, Hilton Grand Vacations

Hilton Honors has a Double Points promotion through August 31, 2018.

  • Hyatt: Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency

The World of Hyatt program has a 20% bonus for Las Vegas stays (MGM properties or Hyatt Place) through July 31, but I’m not seeing a system-wide promotion at the moment.

  • Wyndham: Wyndham Orlando resort

Wyndham Rewards has a “stay twice and earn 15000 points” promo which would get you a free night at certain properties. Your two stays must be completed by July 1, 2018.

It’s always worth checking your credit cards for additional promos or benefits. You’ll usually get extra points if you use a hotel-branded card, and others like the Barclay Arrival Plus and American Express Blue Sky have special considerations for travel redemption/statement credits.

FoundersCard may provide you with benefits as well. They have a discount for the Omni ChampionsGate Orlando, as well as status offers for Hilton Honors, Marriott Rewards (which can be matched to Starwood Preferred Guest), several car rental agencies, and a few airlines as well. This is more suited for entrepreneurs and people who manage their own business travel, but it’s possible to make it worth the $395 annual fee in one or two trips (especially if one of those trips involves Caesars Entertainment properties). Our referral link will get you the current promotional rate ($395 as of this posting, although sometimes it goes lower), and we get a promotional credit as well.

You may even find that eBates offers a cash back offer for your hotel, regardless of the card you use. It’s worth checking out. (Our referral link is here, and will give you $10 on a $25+ purchase, while giving us a bonus as well.)

Travel Gadgets and Luggage

I have a quarter of my walk-in closet occupied by luggage that seemed like a good idea at the time, and I still try to use a lot of it when I can.

Photo courtesy of

Genius Pack G3 22″ Carry On

My short trip bag lately has been the Genius Pack G3 22″ carry on spinner. It’s a bit smaller than I would use for a full week, but it’s good for checking or carrying on. There’s a compression bag for laundry, copious pockets, an available umbrella with designated pocket, and if it’s your smaller bag  you can unzip the back and slide it over your larger bag’s handle. It’s $239 from Genius Pack, either direct, or fulfilled by Amazon.

I typically travel with a backpack on the plane, and a messenger bag in my checked bag, swapping out for the messenger when I arrive. On my last trip, I found that having two iPads and a mess of chargers and cables gave the TSA a bit of a fit, so I carried both the backpack (with laptop and battery packs) and the messenger (with iPads) and it went through smoother. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Power is a big thing for me, and at larger events you can’t assume you’ll have a power outlet handy in the sessions (and definitely not for the keynotes).

Cheat mode: I have added the Native Union SMART HUB BRIDGE extension cord to my bag this past month. It gives you extra distance from the wall along with two AC outlets and two USB high speed charging ports (advertised at 3A/port, 5.4A across both). It even has a USB-C port for charging newer devices.

But if you can’t reach a wall outlet, there are other options.

anker 26800pd

Anker 26800 PD charger

If you have a laptop that charges with USB-C Power Delivery (modern Macbooks, smaller Dell laptops, a few others), or an iPad Pro, you have a number of choices. Here’s what I use:

This is the standard that I judge other packs by. It’s hefty and holds a good charge, and lets you charge USB-C and USB-A devices (including 30W of USB-PD).

zmi qb820 zmi_protectioncollection_pouchfor_original_xiaomi_zmi_qb820_20000mah_pd_20__quick_charge_30_power_ba_1502067434_02fbb95a2

ZMI QB820 USB-PD charger with case

This one has seen a lot of use by me lately. ZMI provided me with a battery pack and the somewhat-matching charger for evaluation, and it’s proven very capable in my recent travels. If your device supports 3A charging, you can get 45W out of the pack. At 20V, it’s only 2A, so it will not charge an XPS 15, but it should do fine with an XPS 13.

The ZMI pack has an unexpected feature for a battery pack, in that you can configure it to operate as a USB 2.0 hub connected to your laptop’s USB-C port. It also supports pass-through charging (only for USB-A type devices, as the only input for this battery pack is the USB-C port).

Both of these chargers (with the USB-C to Lightning cable) will rapid-charge an iPad Pro or iPhone 8 / iPhone X as well.

If you don’t have USB-C  but do have a laptop that will charge on under 100W, there are a couple of options available to give you an AC (or HVDC) outlet on the go.

I backed two crowdfunded projects that fit this need… the OmniCharge Omni 20 battery pack (which offers 20400mAh of juice, an AC outlet, a DC cannon plug, and USB) at about $250, and the Chargetech PLUG (42000 mAh, up to 250W, AC outlets, and USB) at about $370. There’s a USB-C version of the OmniCharge now on IndieGoGo, and an cannon adapter for the older ones as well. These are pretty pricey but if you need the power and don’t have the right PD device, they may be the way to go.

Caffeine On The Go

In-room coffee at conference hotels can be hit or miss. Coffee at the actual conference is usually a big miss. And when you throw 20,000 people into a convention center, the coffee shop lines may back up pretty badly.

Check the Tripadvisor reviews, or tweet at the hotel, to see what coffee options they have. You can probably get additional coffee packs as well as sweeteners and milk/cream at a local shop to supplement whatever’s in the room.

If you want to bring your own equipment, check out some of the ideas in my post from last year, “The best part of waking up is coffee in your room!

You might consider a Minipresso NS ($43 at Amazon) if you already have Nespresso Originaline cartridges on hand or like those varieties. This device does not heat the water, but you can use any sort of in-room coffee maker (or even hot tap water in an emergency) to get you there. There’s an original version that uses ground coffee too.

I’ve been using Sudden Coffee on my trips (and sometimes at home) for the past year or so. This is an artisan instant coffee (I know, I sorta cringed at first myself). It’s definitely not your father’s Folgers; their current variety is an Intelligentsia light roast, and comes in single serving compostable plastic tubes. They offer subscriptions as well as one-off purchases, and if you don’t want the tubes, they now offer a 24-serving resealable pouch. Great for the conventions themselves, when you can get water but want your own coffee.

Some closing tips and tricks

Never buy shoes right before an event. Give yourself at least two weeks to break in a new pair before running your Fitbit out of battery. (Oh yeah, don’t forget your Fitbit charger.)

I usually bring two pair of shoes and plenty of extra socks, and change out mid-day if I can. It may be overkill, but a fresh pair of socks and a cool pair of shoes can be very refreshing between booth shifts, expo floor marathons, and just wandering the halls of the convention center.

Scope out local retail outlets for the supplies you might need. A grocery store, convenience store, or even some big box stores will probably offer things like beverages, snacks, toiletries, and the like far more affordably than the hotel itself. If you left your socks at home again, consider taking a rideshare or taxi to a big box store or local mall to stock up.

Sample boxes can add a bit of luxury. There was some drama on Twitter with someone somewhat famous complaining about hotel bath amenities. The famous person had never heard of bringing your own shampoo on trips, I guess. But carrying on full size versions of your favorite bath products can be a pain. Check out services like Birchbox (for women) and Birchbox Man. For $10-20/month you get a box of samples, some of which I’ve found are very useful during travel.

You can also get refillable bottles at a local store, and squeeze some of your favorite products into them. I’m partial to Baronessa Cali Tarocco myself, and I refill some hotel-size bottles that I got at a San Luis Obispo hotel to keep the product convenient for travel. You can fit a lot of travel tubes in a quart-size zipper bag.

Donate your swag. Four years ago I wrote about the idea of making better use of some of the giveaways. Cisco Live has a program to donate unwanted event backpacks to Teachers Exchange, and you can donate the shirts and gadgets you don’t need either in the event city or when you get home. (You can probably leave the fidget spinners at the booths though.) And most larger airports have places to donate hotel toiletries to benefit veterans.

Ship your stuff. This works both ways. If you know you’re going to need some heavy stuff like full-size toiletries, hiking boots, aerobics weights, etc, ship them to your hotel (note “c/o Your Name” and your arrival date so the hotel knows what to do with the package). You can also drop ship from Amazon or the like, so your bulk pack of STOK caffeinated shots is waiting for you on arrival. You may want to check with the hotel for any package receiving charges to avoid unpleasant surprises though.

If you travel light but know you’re coming home with 13 shirts, a hoodie, a Lego set, and a dozen 2600mAh battery chargers, stuff a USPS flat rate box (or three) in the bottom of your suitcase. You can print a label at home and just cancel it later if you don’t use it.

Compress your stuff. Space bags or even large/extra-large zipper bags are great for reducing the space that your clothing requires coming home. It can also keep your unworn clothes from picking up smells and stains from the worn clothes, and you can use an extra bag to stash those hotel toiletries you bring home and never use (that can’t just be me, can it?).

So where do we go from here?

Well, I’m going to Orlando. Hope to see a few of you there.

What travel tips and tricks have you found that I might not know about? Share them in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Travel tips and links for your summer conference season – 2018 edition

  1. Pingback: Crosspost: Travel tips and links for your summer conference season – 2018 edition – rsts11travel

  2. Pingback: Quick Take: The Energizer XP20001PD Type-C 45W Power Bank/Battery Pack – rsts11travel

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