Tips for conference travel packing

As you might know from previous posts, I like to travel with a carry-on. Since the number of things you can bring with you decreases, there’s some optimization involved: bring at most a carry-on and a “personal item” full of things, while maximizing the comfort your trip. I can spend lots of hours doing research about this and overthinking each item. This is not the most productive use of my time! But, to get maximum benefit from the time spent, in this post I share a couple of things that have been making my conference trips easier.

1. Good carry-on

I think the first time I felt like a Real Adult is when I bought my Samsonite carry-on. I have one of their more budget models, but it’s still really nice to use. The things I find important are:

  • Four wheels, easy to roll behind OR next to you
  • Side pocket for quick stashing of e.g. your boarding pass
  • Handle that allows me to carry it horizontally, since I’m too short too carry it vertically

The exact model I have is not sold anymore, but there are several similar ones available.

2. Good shoulder bag

I use a backpack in daily life, but for travel I prefer to have a shoulder bag because it’s safer and I feel like it’s easier to argue it is my “personal item”. Recently I got a really awesome shoulder bag from PACSafe. My favorite features are:

  • Lightweight
  • Can secure the zippers and straps for extra safety
  • The inside has a light color, which means I can find everything inside it easily
  • Fits my laptop, case with headphones, Kindle, wallet, phone, water bottle and a few things I like to have accessible during the flight

3. Fabric poster

If I have to bring a poster, I always print it on fabric. This means I can fold the poster to fit into my carry-on, or even in my shoulder bag. I print my posters for 21 euros including delivery at, but there are many options in other countries as well. Although this was new in 2012 when I did it for the first time, at the most recent conference I went to I estimate that about 1/3 of the posters were now on fabric.

4. Black running shoes

I think everybody should wear what they want at conferences. But I would have never felt comfortable wearing running shoes – too informal and colorful for me. This was until I found these 100% black Asics, which are great for running, and in a pinch, I can also wear during a conference day (at least, at the kinds of conferences I go to). I wear these while I travel, as they are the heaviest shoes I bring.

5. Leggings WITH POCKETS

Leggings are the best for long airplane rides, except that often these don’t have pockets at all, or only a tiny pocket for your keys. But after hours of research (really :’) ) I found leggings WITH REAL POCKETS. They are non-transparent, comfortable and also very affordable. I’ve also used these for running, although they are a bit too hot for summer.

6. Bose headphones

Yes, everybody has them, but I still had to mention these. I only bought mine this year because it always felt like a luxury item I couldn’t afford, and can’t believe I waited so long. Airplane rides are just much more comfortable now and I even managed to get a nap in on the last one, which is huge for me. I have the QuietComfort I which was a bit cheaper than the lastest model, and I’m happy with it.

7. GoToob

Since I travel with a carry-on, all my liquids have to be smaller than 100ml and fit into a 1l plastic bag. Although lots of small containers for toiletries exist now, I swear by these reusable GoToob containers. They are cheaper in the long run than buying ready-made small containers, since i just refill them from the larger container. They are also more comfortable than the typical reusable containers, since you can squeeze them, and clean them easily.

8. A USB mouse

Much more relaxing when doing a bit of work from your hotel room or somewhere where you have a table.

9. Powerbank

This one is a no-brainer, but I don’t like my phone running out of battery especially when I’m travelling. I’ve got the Xiaomi 16000 mAh which is good for charging my phone to reasonable battery levels at least a few times.


These are the things I bring on every trip – would love to hear what your “must have” items are!


How I plan my conference trips with Todoist and Evernote

How I plan conference travel with Todoist and Evernote |

As an academic I get to travel to different places for conferences or to give talks. It’s a great part of this job, but it can also be stressful sometimes. In this post I explain how I simplify the travel process and plan my conference trips with Todoist and Evernote.

How I plan conference travel with Todoist and Evernote |

Create a project

The first thing that helps me stay on top of everything, is to see a trip as a project. Each time I decide I’m going somewhere, I create a project in Todoist and a notebook in Evernote. The Todoist project is for actions I need to take, and Evernote is for information.

As soon as I know I am going, I already have a few tasks I can add to Todoist, such as:

  • Register for conference
  • Book flight or train
  • Book hotel
  • Prepare presentation
  • Submit reimbursement forms

Although I usually add these tasks by hand each time, I now decided I can automate the process a bit more. I created a Todoist template! Here’s what I started with:

How to organize conference travel with Todoist

Now I can import this template anytime I’m going to travel! If you are a Todoist user and want the full template, I will be sharing it through my newsletter – sign up here if you don’t want to miss it! (Mailchimp, no spam, you can always unsubscribe).

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Preparing the trip

The next part happens in Evernote. When I book my flight or hotel (I use, which for the same hotel, can still be cheaper than the “special rate” via the conference website) etc, I email the confirmations to my Evernote, so I have all the documents in one place.

I also use the notebook to write an outline for my talk and store other information I might need for my trip.


Just before the trip

A few days before the trip, I always do the following:

  • Make the Evernote notebook available offline, so I can access all the information without using internet
  • Print the most important documents*
  • Share the notebook with my partner in case of an emergency

*At one point I decided to stop doing this and save trees, but then my phone died completely just as I got off the plane… I didn’t get lost thanks to skills such as “following the people with the poster tubes”, but it would be more relaxing to just have the directions printed out.

If I’m going away for longer than a few nights, I might also create a packing list in Evernote – of course for travel with a carry-on.


During the trip

I use the Evernote notebook to make notes about the talks, or to add business cards I receive.

If you need to provide receipts for food etc to receive reimbursement, you could also take pictures of the receipts and store them here.

After the trip

Once I am home again and I want to submit my reimbursement form, all the documents are already there in my Evernote, so this has become a painless process, rather than searching for everything in my email.

The final thing is to archive the Todoist project and “archive” the Evernote notebook. Evernote doesn’t have such a function, so what I do is:

  • Tag all the notes with a name that describes the trip, like “London 2018”
  • Move notes to a general “Archive” notebook
  • Delete the original notebook



I’m curious to hear how you plan for travel – is it different each time or do you have a process? Let me know in the comments below.


Conference travel with a carry-on

Conference travel with a carry-on |

Although it’s now been a week that I’m back from MICCAI I haven’t had the time to sit down and write the really important posts that I promised several people to write. But to nevertheless share something useful, I’ve documented my packing process for a week of conference travel, with just a carry-on!

Conference travel with a carry-on |

I decided to go carry-on only in 2012, when travelling to Japan for a conference, for a trip that lasted two weeks in total. I think it was then that I researched how to actually achieve this, so I looked at lots of packing tips, mixing and matching outfits. Pinterest is pretty great for this:

It’s also when I started printing posters on fabric.

I liked the approach so much that I don’t think I ever checked luggage for a trip afterwards. Since the items I bring for each trip are similar (not the items themselves, but their types and quantity),  I like to think I have gotten quite efficient at the process.

Of course there are much more beautiful posts about packing, but I give you my very real, non-Instagram quality packing process: (WordPress was kind enough to rotate the images to random orientations as well).

Preparation: Get a good carry-on

This is step 0 because you only have to do it once, so it doesn’t really count as a step. I have a lightweight Samsonite carry-on. I cannot find the exact model online anymore, but here’s a pretty similar one on Amazon:

The most important feature for me is that the size is accepted by all airlines.


Step 1: Small flat items

Now for the packing! First, I fill in the gaps between the handles of the bag.

Conference travel with a carry-on - fill unused spaces

I usually put some smaller, but flat items, such as ballerinas/flats and underwear (in plastic bags, not shown).

Step 2: Jacket

Now that the bottom is a bit evened out, I put in my blazer/jacket part of a suit. I admit this probably only works if you are short, like me.

Conference travel with a carry-no: place jacket on bottom


Step 3. Add bigger “packs”

Next I add bigger “packs” of shoes or clothes. I do not use any packing cubes, but instead I roll my clothes (bonus: no ironing needed). In the picture below I added 3 “packs”:

  • Running shoes (with socks to fill the empty space)
  • Bottoms (1 pair of jeans, 2 skirts, 1 pyjama pants)
  • Tops (2 long-sleeve things, 3 things with short or no sleeves)


Conference travel with a carry-on: roll your clothes


Step 4. Add smaller “packs”

Now I also added:

  • A “pack” of running shorts, shirt and a cap
  • A MICCAI 2017 umbrella, a gift from the conference

Conference travel with a carry-on: add smaller items

And now also:

  • Toiletries in a 1 liter transparent bag
  • Chargers and other small electronics in a waterproof bag

Conference travel with a carry-on: add smaller items


Step 5: Leave a bit of space

Now that all the main things are in the suitcase, I fold back the sleeves of the jacket so it stays in a nice shape:

Conference travel with a carry-on: leave a bit of space

It looks now like the suitcase is full, but that is not really the case. I can still put items on top, and easy close it.

I do this because I also have a personal item (A4-sized shoulder bag) which fits my laptop and a few small items I want to use on the plane. Most airlines allow this, but I still get nervous that I would need to check in the carry-on because I have two bags in total. So, I make sure the whole personal item fits into the carry-on!

For aesthetic purposes, here is a picture of the two biggest items from my shoulder bag inside the suitcase: my laptop and Travelrest travel pillow. But the bag itself with the smaller items (wallet, headphones etc) still fits on top.

Conference travel with a carry-on: space for your personal item


All done!

Conference travel with a carry-on: done!

And no, I didn’t pack the cat 🙂



How do you travel for conferences? If you check luggage, would you consider going with just a carry-on instead?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Keeping up with habits while travelling

I just returned from MICCAI, where I had a great time, met some wonderful people and got lots of new ideas! But, other side effects include sleep deprivation and generally not feeling very healthy because I haven’t been keeping up with my habits on Habitica. In this what I’m aiming to be short post, I share some experiences of keeping up with habits while travelling.

In Habitica you can “rest in the tavern”, which pauses your daily habits. This means not doing your habits for the day will not hurt you and your party. However, you can still complete the habits if you want and get rewarded for it, but the reward only benefits you, not your party (i.e. you don’t do damage to a boss, if your party is on a quest).

I think this is the first trip since I started using Habitica, which was several days AND in a different enough timezone. On other trips, I would usually not use the tavern feature, but instead disable the 1-2 dailies that I would not complete. But with the time difference, and having to prepare things on top of the conference, I thought the tavern was the best choice.

What I noticed when filling in the habits when I would open the app, is that most habits fell into three categories:

  1. Completed, but without thinking about it, such as walking 10K steps (my average for the conference is 15K!)
  2. Did not complete, but could have done so, such as stretching
  3. Could not possibly complete, such as exercise with weights which I didn’t bring with me

Since I knew no habits were going to hurt me and others, I didn’t even really try to “check in” with myself and see if there were habits I still needed/wanted to do. That’s too bad, because several of them are really good for me, and can be done in under 10 minutes.

I think a better strategy would have been to disable habits in category 3 for a while, and still try to complete habits in category 2. It would be great if Habitica had an option to “customize” you Tavern experience, but in the absence of that, here is how I think I will implement this next:

  • Create a tag “Off during travel”
  • Add the tag to all dailies which might fall into the “could not possibly complete” category
  • Before going on a trip, filter dailies to only see “Off during travel” list
  • Go through each displayed daily, and unselect all days Monday-Sunday, so the daily is never “on”
  • Select the days again after the trip

If you use Habitica, would you use this type of method? Or do you prefer the Tavern as it’s available now, without any pressure?

How to print your posters on fabric

The Problem

Probably all PhD students face this problem in their career: the poster presentation, and bringing the poster with you to the conference. This usually means you need one of those poster tubes to keep your poster all neat until the poster session. Not too bad if you are going to a local conference, but more annoying when you are going to, say, Japan, where I attended the International Conference on Pattern Recognition in 2012.


I was determined to go to Japan with just a carry-on bag, something I have never attempted on trips longer than 3 days. Of course, I would also have a “personal item”: my regular bag for my laptop and valuables. I really, really did not want to add an extra piece of luggage (the poster tube) to the list of the things I had to bring with me. So I decided to look for a solution: posters that would fit into my carry-on!

The solution

For paper, this would mean either a very small poster, a poster with fold lines, or a poster consisting of several small parts. Neither of these seemed very appealing, so my material of choice became fabric. After some searching, I settled on this product, in particular the “vlaggendoek” or “flag sheet” variety. This material weights just 115 grams for 1m2, which is conveniently almost the same size as an A0 (841mm × 1189mm). Printing + delivery costs just over 20 euros, which is actually cheaper than an A0 paper poster with a plastic coating. That’s not all: apparently the material is fire retardant, because you never know when fire could break out at a conference.

But the best thing of all? You can fold it and it still looks great when you unfold it! Here are my two posters folded a few times:
poster folded

These did not only fit into my carry on, they even fit into my purse (and made a great padding for my mini laptop).

I received a lot of compliments (about the content too of course 😉 ) and heard a lot of  “I should have known this earlier!” during the poster sessions. So this is me, telling you: print your conference posters on fabric! If you are in the Netherlands, you are welcome to stop by to see the real thing.

Where else to get it

France: Easyflyer (thanks to @cazencott!)

Belgium: UniversityPress (thanks to @dan_marinazzo!)

Germany: Diedruckerej (thanks to @chrshmmmr

UK: SciencePosters (thanks to @IAugenstein!)

US: Spoonflower (thanks to @jengolbeck!) and Postersmith (thanks to @astent!)

If you know of any more companies not in these countries, please let me know (comment below or via Twitter) and I’ll add it to the list! As of July 2017, I’m still updating the list.



You can get your textile poster repurposed into a piece of clothing or accessory at REpost Science. See my newest blog post about this.





Firsts: moving for an internship

Exactly three weeks ago I got on a train to Tuebingen, Germany, and right now I feel I can say that I’m settled in, which means it’s time for a post.

One of my goals when coming here was to concentrate on the project that I am here for. Therefore I wanted to spend as little time as possible on “settling in”, and although I can’t say I was 100% successful, I learned a few things that might be useful when moving to a different country (even if it’s just from the Netherlands to Germany).

Luckily, I was able to arrange a room beforehand, and the room was furnished. I assumed I only needed to get bed sheets, so I ordered those at IKEA and had them delivered to the house before I arrived.  However, “furnished” does not mean “you have everything you need”. Here are a few things I did not really think about, and really missed in my new room:

– A sofa. A bed (though very comfortable) is just not exactly right if you want to read, watch a movie or relax without falling asleep.

– A coffee table. For the laptop that is getting too warm, or food and drinks to go with the movie.

– A coat rack and hangers. I’m not too organized when it comes to my closet, but hanging things up is easier than folding, and a few items (coat, bath robe) just don’t belong on a shelf.

– An electric kettle and a coffee machine. Tea and coffee are basic necessities and specialized tools definitely beat heating up water in a pot on the stove or in the microwave.

– Laundry “accessories”. There is a washing machine in the building, but laundry needs to be stored and dried somewhere as well.

About half of these things I bought second-hand (through Facebook groups or at flea markets), the other half from convenience stores. Now life is more comfortable 🙂 A few other things that I arranged as soon as possible, and that have been very helpful, are:

– A prepaid SIM card with internet. I’m using with my dual SIM phone. I would recommend Alditalk (great value for money), but not so much the phone (dual SIM is great, but it’s quite slow compared to my deceased HTC Desire S).

– A bank account. I did not really want to get one for the few months that I’m here, but the German bank card-operated washing machines thought otherwise.

– A bus pass. I only need to worry about which bus I get and where to get off, not about having the right amount of fare.

– A bike! For all the times that a bus is not that convenient, AND it feels just a bit more like the Netherlands now 🙂


Firsts: visiting a lab for an internship

Last week I visited the Machine Learning & Computational Biology group in Tuebingen. It’s difficult to summarize everything, but Tuebingen is a nice city, the institute is a great place to do research, and there are a lot of friendly people there! Therefore I am looking forward to my longer (few months) visit in the fall of 2013 🙂

At the group, I gave a presentation about my work, attended other talks, and discussed the project that I would be working on. The project is still being defined, but it is probably involve classifying brain data, and in particular, the connections in these brains. For instance, it could be the case that healthy people have different connections in their brains, than people suffering from neurological diseases. I hope to find out more about this very soon.

I also have to find out more about living in Tuebingen, and getting financial support to do so. So far, most grants seem to be for MSc students, PhD students who do not get any salary (but they are also supposed to be in the Netherlands, where PhD students DO get a salary… confusing), or more senior researchers. There are a few things I have to investigate further, so I hope something will come up :). It’s amazing (and unfortunate) how much time this search is costing me, though.

Another thing to think about is learning German. I don’t think it’s really necessary for a short visit, but I enjoy learning languages and I’m curious how quickly I could pick it up. There are no courses in Delft (they do have Chinese though, how awesome is that!), but there is a language exchange program. You pair up with somebody who can teach you a language, and who can learn a different language from you. I’m going to try that, and maybe also just start by myself. There must be an app for it!

Let me know if you have any experiences with exchange scholarships for PhD students, or with learning German 🙂

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