Check Your Bags: 14 Travel Essentials for the Working Mom

travel momtravel momLast week I went to Washington DC for four days to attend TEDMED, the health and medicine version of the very popular TED Conference. I arrived early in DC on Tuesday and headed to a comfy spot in a cafe before the conference started so I could get some work done, only to find that I had already lost an important component of my cell phone charger. You know the part that plugs into the wall? Yeah, that one. I had just made it into the first few hours of a long trip and I was already unable to charge my phone, which by noon was at 20% battery.

No problem, I thought. I have a Mophie, so I'll be able to use that to keep my phone charged. Only it kept running out of juice as well. Okay, Katherine, let's try option C. Just use your USB plug and plug it into your computer while you sleep. Nope, that didn't work either. Moving on to option D, I decided I'd simply hang out by the conference's charging stations each day and use my USB plug there. Except so many people were using those stations, probably because they had all already lost their chargers like me, that the stations weren't charging anything. You might think, just forget it, who needs a phone? We lived for eons without them! True, but my kids were at home for four days with a new babysitter. My husband was traveling. What if one of them needed me? What if the school called? What if there was an emergency? As a working mom, my cellphone is my lifeline, not just a tool for my job.

Related: 5 essential tips for traveling on a budget

It wasn't just my lack of operational phone that was a problem, either. There were so many people at the conference that no one could get on the wireless network, so even if my phone had worked most of the time there was no signal inside the Kennedy Center and no wireless to be had. And then there was the issue of pollen, which made my nose run nonstop, and which I would have blown if I'd had any Kleenex but I didn't. And also, I had to drive from DC to Rockville, Maryland, every night, in the dark, without the cell phone I was going to use for navigation, so I had to wing it to find my way back and forth. You should have heard the awesome new swear word combinations I made up during those hair-raising trips.

In the end, the TEDMED conference was fantastic, but I was not. I was a lost, snotty woman in a sound-proof booth, unable to communicate out or receive messages in.

I realize these are first-world problems but I'm a first-world working mom and I've decided I've got to do a better job preparing for trips. I've created a list of what I'm going to bring with me when I travel for work henceforth.

Personal items to be packed in 1-gallon Ziploc #1:

  1. Small packs of Kleenex - for allergy emergencies
  2. Band-Aids - for the blisters I get from wearing fun new shoes to conferences
  3. Via - the coffee at the events I attend generally stinks, so I'm going to bring those little packets of Starbucks Via so I can have a decent cup of joe
  4. Mints - to mask my permanent coffee breath
  5. Earplugs - for those roommates who snore (and no, I'm not talking about you, recent bunkmate) and for the college students in the next hotel room who insist on partying until 4am
  6. Extra medication - so that when I forget the bottle on my bedside I have backup
  7. Snacks - there's never enough food at these events, so I'm going to pack a few bags of almonds and maybe some Kind bars so that I can avoid the temptation to chew my arm off by midday of conference day two
  8. Makeup - I almost always forget to pack at least one makeup item, usually an important one like foundation or mascara - my eyelashes are blond, y'all - so I'm going to keep backups of some of those key items in the bag too
  9. Hair elastics - because all those plans I have to get up early and give myself a blowout each morning invariably get thrown out the window so I can sleep in, which means I'll need to rock a ponytail

Work items to be packed in 1-gallon Ziploc #2:

  1. My own wifi - because I've given up on ever being able to get access to the free wifi offered at conferences, which doesn't actually exist but is a figment of our collective imagination
  2. A car charger - it has taken me a while to figure this out, but if I'm going to be driving a rental I'm going to need a way to charge my phone in the car, DUH
  3. Business cards - time to order extra and make sure there is always a supply in the bag because I invariably forget to pack them
  4. A backup phone charger - for when it takes me less than an hour to lose the first one
  5. Mophie - I already own one of these backup power packs, and let me tell you, it saves my butt all the time

I'm going to keep all this stuff in Ziplocs so that I can easily transfer the bags from an overnight bag to my computer bag to my suitcase, depending on where I'm going. This is my plan. I just know I can do this.

-By Katherine Stone
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