Professional conferences and fan cons can drain even a healthy person physically and mentally. Some people routinely get sick ("con crud") after a conference because they wear themselves down taking advantage of every opportunity the conference offers. For a person with chronic illnesses, conferences are even more demanding and can be debilitating.
Ages ago, when I worked at Science magazine, I attended one or two conferences every month. Later, as a medical writer, I covered in-town medical conferences for various physician tabloids. Now as a fiction writer, I try to go to at least one writing conference or fan con every year. They remain difficult, but over the years, I have learned several ways to make the experience easier and to feel good so I enjoy the con.
1. When possible, I arrive the day before the conference starts. Doing so gives me a chance to recuperate from traveling, get a full night’s sleep, and check out the conference facilities so I don’t get confused and lost during the conference itself. Sometimes the conference has early registration set up, which lets me plan or refine my schedule.
2. I stay in the conference hotel. Yes, it’s usually more expensive. But doing so allows me to take a rest break or a nap anytime I want. Also, I can put meals on my room bill, relieving me of most of the burden of keeping track of receipts.
3. When I reserve the room, I request a refrigerator. It allows breakfast to be less rushed and makes it easier to stay hydrated and (if necessary) caffeinated.
4. I plan my conference schedule ahead of time. Most conferences and cons post the final schedule on the Website before the conference starts. I make a grid for each day, showing for each time period my first-, second-, and third-choice sessions and where they are. I also include the scheduled conference meals and appointments I’ve made to see friends and readings I want to hear. Many conferences extend their special conference rate to the days before and after the conference.
5. I take enough medication for an extra day or two. Sometimes, flights get cancelled because of weather. Sometimes, planes arrive late and one misses a connecting flight. I try to be ready if I have to spend an unexpected extra day away from home.
6. When possible, I travel with another person. Travel, especially plane travel, exhausts me and leaves me confused and disoriented. Traveling with a companion ensures I reunite with my luggage and get on the right shuttle.
7. I skip most evening events, including parties. Yes, I know that’s when most networking takes place, a major reason to attend a conference in the first place. But sleep is priority #1 for people with chronic illnesses. Also, a healthy person may be able to party all night and still be on the ball for a panel or talk the next day; I can’t.
8. I prepare for the panels I’m on before going to the conference. In general, I’m not good at winging it, so I would do this even if I were healthy. But with chronic illnesses, I can’t predict how I will feel on a particular day. Preparing ahead of time means I can do an adequate job on panels even if I’m foggy and confused.
9. I try to schedule nothing for the two days after I get home. I take three things for granted when I get home: 1. It always takes more time to unpack than I expect; 2. Urgent emails will be waiting; and 3. I’ll be too tired to go anywhere or work productively.