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STC Summit 2012: Chicago

If you will be at Summit, I'll see you there. Please take the time to say hello and (re)introduce yourself. This page is created to give a few of my personal favourite tips that I receive from people in Chicago, or who will be at the conference. The goal is to have a single location for notes that may help you with your travel, your time at the conference, or your overall conference experience. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for additional notes (there may be a few, but it won't be a flood) @aschwanden4stc as I think of things.

Lastly, if you have ideas on how to improve the content here, email me.

General notes for most

A few things to think about before you leave.

  1. If you are from outside of North America, bring a power adapter to convert your laptop to US 110V systems.
    Most laptops can plug into any connector and convert the incoming power, so there is little risk of electrical damage.
  2. Bring files you need on a memory stick as you may not get access behind a firewall, or the connection may be too slow or expensive.
  3. If you don't have a phone plan that covers roaming, check that you can make calls from Chicago at lower rates.
    Call your provider, change your plan for a week if you can, or add on "USA" or "roaming" packages.
  4. Check the phone data plan as well.
  5. Ensure you have your docs.
    • Photo ID
    • Passport
    • Flight info
    • Hotel name
  6. Depending on how you arrive, check the driving or flying notes.
  7. If you come from outside the US, read the custom controls notes.
  8. Read about travel to the conference, and about travel home from the conference.

Driving notes

If you drive from Canada ensure you follow my Customs control notes. Also, think about the following.

  1. Carpool to keep costs down.
    Consider renting a car (tell them you are going to Chicago) and track tolls and gas. Then split the costs evenly at the end. Be up front about the plan. If one person offers their car, you can offer to pay for meals and gas on the trip (it's cheap if you split it three ways...).
  2. Check your directions.
    1. Print a copy and put it in the dashboard.
    2. Print another and put it in the trunk.
    3. Print a third and keep it with you.
      Yes, I know you have GPS on your phone, but it can be pricey to cross into the US and pay data fees.
  3. Bring food/water to keep costs down.
  4. Ensure you have enough trunk space for all the bags if you carpool (think about this when renting)
  5. Use cruise control (10km/hr over in Canada, 5 miles/hr over in the US) and you should be safe.
  6. Stop every 2 or 3 hours for a good stretch.
  7. When/if you get to an international border, be ready based on customs control notes.
  8. When you get to the conference, compare valet parking with "park and fly".
    It may be cheaper to park off-airport, then take a shuttle to the airport, then take a shuttle to the hotel.

Customs control notes

A few considerations to get you through customs faster if you are from outside the US (like I am). Generally it's easy to travel back and forth, but if you happen to be named Jim Smith, there may be a few delays. (Trust me, Jim Smith gets asked for extra info every time I travel with him.)

  1. Have your docs ready
    1. Print your conference registration.
    2. Print the home page of the conference site, or a very short write up/brochure with dates and hotel info.
    3. Keep your hotel info with you.
    4. Bring a business card.
    5. Have your passport ready.
  2. Know the day you are leaving and returning.
  3. If in a group:
    1. Be able to explain how you know each other.
    2. Have all your paperwork together.
    3. Answer questions individually when asked about things like where you live, what you do, where you are going.
  4. Let them know that you are attending a conference.
    Generally you are not paid to attend it, but it may be a part of your job.
  5. Know what your job is, and be able to describe it in 15 seconds or less.
    You may be asked about the work you do.
  6. Answer what is asked, then be quiet.
    Don't offer any info that isn't asked for, it just opens up the possibility of making a mistake.
  7. If asked to pull over or step aside, just do so, and remain polite.
    You always have the option to say "no thanks" and turn around and go home.

Notes on the way to the conference

Regardless of how you plan to get to the conference (plane, train, automobile, bike, walk, hitch-hike) there are a few things to do to make life easier.

  1. Know what hotel you are at and how to get there.
  2. Call the hotel 24 or 48 hours before you arrive to confirm that everything is in place.
  3. If required, make a list of what you are bringing.
    You will, in almost all cases, have more stuff to bring back after a conference.
  4. Check with customs (if applicable) to know the value and goods you can and cannot bring home.
  5. Bring an envelope to put all your receipts in.

Notes on the way home

Post conference, there are things to remember.

  1. Check your flight time .
  2. Repack and ensure that you aren't over any limits with new weights or bag count.
    You likely will get books, papers, gifts, whatever... This all adds to what you bring home.
  3. Don't exceed customs (if applicable), so know the value and goods you bought to bring home.
    This includes gifts received in most cases.

Flying notes

If you fly in, ensure that you know which airport you will land at. Odds are you will be at Chicago O'Hare, but you could arrive at Chicago Midway as well. If it's O'Hare, there is a free shuttle to the conference hotel. I've got info on that shuttle on this page as well

General flight notes

Before you go to the airport, consider the following.
  1. Check your flight time, arrive early enough to clear customs and security as needed. 
  2. Keep important papers readily available.
    This includes a boarding pass and a passport/government photo ID. You don't need every other thing in your wallet/bag/purse, so put it away.
  3. If you bring checked bags, make them stand out a bit.
    Tie a yellow ribbon... or add some stickers. I put on small maple leaf pins. There may also be a small tag window that you can tuck a business card in, but it's not as easy to see from a distance.
  4. Don't put locks on your bags.
    They just cut them off anyway if they want in.
  5. Don't put cash and valuables in your checked bags.
  6. If you plan to drive to the airport compare fees for "park and fly" as opposed to a cab.
    It may be cheaper to take a taxi when you factor in time and money.

Airport security notes

A few considerations to get you through security faster.

  1. If you need ANY help at the airport, let security staff know before you get to the front of the line.
  2. Pack smart.
    If you have only carry on, then cut down on every liquid you can. The hotel has shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap. Don't pack any liquids if you can avoid it.
  3. If you pack liquids, pack 3-1-1 compliant.
  4. Put your laptop into a bag where it is easy to get it out and put it through the xray machine.
    Do the same with your tablet and phone. Ensure they are all charged so that you can turn it on if asked.
  5. Dress smart.
    Sure, the "I got bombed last weekend" shirt is funny, but don't wear it. If all they see is "I got bomb..." you could be in trouble.
    1. Wear shoes that are easy to take off/put on.
    2. If you wear a belt, make sure it's easy to take off/put on.
    3. If you wear a jacket, take it off in line and put it through the machine.
    4. If you wear a hat, take it off and put it through the machine.
  6. Keep your phone off and away while in line.
  7. Ensure that you have photo ID and your boarding pass to show to security.
  8. If you want water, bring an empty plastic bottle to refill after you clear security.

Flight notes

I travel a lot, and I've flown into O'Hare many times. There should be minimal flight issue, but bear in mind that security will be higher than normal. Tips for all:

  1. Use the restrooms before you board the plane.
  2. If you can, pack carry on only and avoid the baggage lineup for pickup and potential fees.
  3. If you are on a flight over 2 hours:
    1. Consider paying to upgrade to Economy Plus (or similar) if you want the extra leg room. I find it's worth the money if I will work on the plane, or need to have fewer distractions.
    2. Bring ear plugs to drown out a bit of noise.
    3. Bring a book to read.
  4. Drink water every time they offer it.
    This should reduce headaches.

Chicago O'Hare Airport Shuttle

If you are landing at O'Hare, here are some tips to remember. Thanks to Kathryn Burton for the original notes. If there are errors, it's likely in my transcription to this page, so don't blame her. Heck, don't blame me either, I'm just trying to help out. :)

It can be a long, long walk to the baggage claim, and once you arrive get your bags, it is a little confusing to find the bus/shuttle center for the free shuttle to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare (not the Hyatt Regency Rosemont—that is a different hotel).

  1. Pick up your bags.
    Remember, many look the same, so check them carefully.
  2. Look for the hotel courtesy phone and call the Hyatt to let them know you will be waiting for a shuttle.
  3. Look for red bus/shuttle center signs.
  4. Follow them out of the terminal.
  5. Cross two lanes of traffic.
    You will get to a red and white canopied area at the bottom of the parking lot.
  6. Go to Door #1.
    The Hyatt only picks up at Door #1. You will pass several doors with hotel/motel signs though.
  7. Take the bus.
    The ride is short so you’ll be at the hotel in no time at all. Remember to tip the driver if there is help with your bags. About $2 to $3 per bag is fair.

Hotel notes

  1. Call the hotel 24 or 48 hours before you arrive to confirm that everything is in place.
  2. Consider getting a "business plan" if you need web access in your room.
    I think they Hyatt plan includes breakfast, internet, and an ironed article of clothing each day.
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