Cisco Live – The Minimalist Packing List

Cisco Live 2014 is right around the corner! It’s almost time to start packing. The other day, Keith Miller (@packetologist), a first-time Cisco Live attendee, asked me on Twitter:

I have a bit of a reputation among some of my consulting clients as being ready for just about anything. Normally, that means my laptop bag weighs about 50 lbs. But for Cisco Live, I choose to travel light. I’ve seen people in the airport on the way to, and from, the event with a LOT of stuff. Sure, some folks are presenters or carrying company stuff but for the rest, you probably just have too much stuff.

Why choose to travel as light as possible? Here are just a few reasons:

  1. Airline bag check fees
  2. Airlines are great at losing/abusing your stuff once its out of your hands
  3. Due to #1, everyone is always fighting for room in the overhead bins and you end up checking your “carry on” anyway
  4. If you land early, you have to check your 3 tons of bags, or else haul them around with you
  5. Moving through crowded airports, convention centers, and city streets with a bunch of luggage sucks
  6. At any trade show, you will return with more than you embarked with

What to Bring

So, with these things in mind, here is my minimalist Cisco Live packing list. This is all I’m bringing. Consider it the bare essentials. I have everything I need, nothing I don’t need:

  • Clothes
    • Remember that it will be cooler in SF than some past Lives
    • Consider the climate of the host city, the fact that you will be in a convention center most of the day, and what kind of attire you want to be seen in
    • I’m not going to tell you what clothes to wear, but you may wish to coordinate so as to not accidentally coordinate
    • If you want to go super-light, plan on wearing some of the schwag t-shirts you will pick up at the conference!
  • Comfortable shoes
    • You’ll be walking a lot.
    • Not 6 pairs. I usually have my “main” shoes and a pair of sandals/flip-flops for casual around-the-hotel type wear.
  • Toiletries
    • Light-travel protip: You’re probably staying in a hotel. They will provide shampoo and soap!
  • Any Medications you require, obviously
  • Business Cards
    • Yes, some people still use them and it’s a nice gesture to hand them out
  • Planning to bring a laptop?
    • Remember that you’ll be walking a lot and may not always get back to your room to drop things off. You probably don’t want to plan on lugging your 20″ portable gaming rig around downtown San Francisco, or even back and forth through the halls of the Moscone Center.
    • Bring a multi-outlet extension cord. In some lecture rooms there are plenty of outlets, others not so much. If your cord has 3 or 4 outlets on it, you can share and be more likely to get plugged in.
    • Personal hotspot – While I think the CLUS network team does a great job, the reality is that any network that goes from zero to 30,000 devices in 3 days will have some problems. If you can’t be without Internet for a few minutes at a time, bring your own, but please don’t leave it on all the time as it potentially interferes with the conference WiFi.
  • Maybe just a tablet
    • My preference. Generally better battery life, light and easy to carry, and less risk of serious data loss if it was lost/stolen/forgotten/destroyed.
    • Bring an external keyboard, and along with VPN and RDP software you can work remotely if you need to. I’ve done it. Slightly awkward, but doable.
    • You can pre-load all the conference preso PDFs into Dropbox and view them on your tablet or sync them to something like GoodReader.
  • Phone
    • Unfortunately you probably can’t tell your co-workers you forgot it at home.
    • Bonus: It doubles as a good-enough camera for most of us
    • Also necessary as a mobile Twitter platform for keeping up with all the goings-on with the Twitter Crew.
  • Chargers and external battery packs for phones/tablets
    • Sometimes you’ll get lucky and be able to bum some juice off someone, but you look much better when you’re the one offering some spare electrons to your conference-mates.
  • Good earbuds
    • I use nice sound-isolating ones for the flight

Don’t Bother Bringing These

  • Console cable and cable testers and screwdrivers and stuff. I know, it feels weird to go somewhere with 20,000 network geeks without them, but you don’t need them. You’re not doing an install at the conference. John Chambers isn’t going to pick you out of the crowd to go console into a core router and fix the video stream during the keynote.
  • Notepads and whatnot, unless you’re particular — You will get plenty
  • A suit, unless you’re an executive. It’s a casual environment, and no one is really that concerned with how you’re dressed. I usually bring a nice shirt or two in case I do end up at anything “fancy.”
  • Things you want to use but won’t, like a swim suit (when are you going swimming? Go meet people!)
  • Empty luggage to bring conference schwag home in — remember, you’ll get an extra computer bag at the conference that will provide you more space on the return (and cost you more if you checked too much on the way to the show!)

Using the above rules, I have, for the past 3 years, had a perfectly lovely time at Cisco Live carrying nothing more than this bag on the way out, a Tom Bihn Tri-Star. It fits under the seat in front of me on pretty much every plane in the world.

This was my luggage from CLUS2013, waiting to board the flight.

This was my luggage from CLUS2013, waiting to board the flight.

Without a doubt, packing small and light takes more planning. You have to think through and plan each outfit you’re going to wear and try to make reasonable reuse of things where you can (don’t tell me you wash your jeans after every time you wear them. You’re lying.). You have to pack carefully on the way out, and also on the way back. But I’ve found it to be much less stressful this way. You can show up to the gate at the last minute, you don’t have to worry whether your bags made it,  you don’t have to wait among the herd at the baggage carousel, navigating unfamiliar airports and city streets is much easier with a single bag over your shoulder (or in backpack mode as the Tri-Star can convert to), and you’re forced to be more organized and systematic.

So there you have it. The bare essentials for a successful trip to Cisco Live (or almost anywhere else in the world for that matter).

See you in San Francisco!

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2 thoughts on “Cisco Live – The Minimalist Packing List

  1. Wear the t-shirts you get at the conference and use the hotel toiletries instead of bringing your own? That’s hardcore. I like it. Challenge accepted.

  2. […] McCouch has his “CiscoLive – The Minimalist Packing List“.  He has a great list there so I would definitely suggest reading […]

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