Packing Light for VMworld

People who know me, well maybe even those that don’t know I don’t like to travel. It’s all the things really – packing, getting to the airport, check-in, security. After 15 years in IT, spending most of my time accounting for what could go wrong, it has bled into everyday life. Until I have something finished or know I’ve accounted for what can go wrong my anxiety is through the roof. About the only thing when traveling I can account for is my bag, the rest is out of my control. To that end, I decided to try a test my first year at EMC World – 1 carry-on bag, for 5 days. That’s it. I wouldn’t have to worry about bag weight, long lines to check my bag, or wait for it at baggage claim. Luggage achievement unlocked! It forced me to really think about what I need, and how to pack. I made a few mistakes on that trip that had me washing clothes in the bathroom sink of the Luxor, but those lessons helped me at future VMworlds (which I will not be at in 2018 – sad/happy about it).

First thing I did was to NOT pack cheap, disposable items I could purchase at any hotel: toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. Yes I paid more than I typically would, but no sense taking up space with stuff like that where I could cram in another pair of socks or t-shirt. Space matters.

Knowing I was going to try this, I packed “disposable” clothes. That is to say, clothes I might have ended up throwing out soon anyways. Most socks, undershirts, and underwear had holes in them. The benefit, I didn’t have to worry about bringing them home. Once I was done they went in the trash. I thought this would have given me enough room to pack any swag I came across (it didn’t). How did I get the swag home? Easy – and it was something I hadn’t thought about – the conference bag! I could pack any clothes I was keeping in my carry-on, and treat the conference bag as a personal item. Losing luggage, or having to wait for luggage at the airport achievement maintained.


My only bag to get me through EMC World 2015. Hat for scale.

The first bag I tried was a nylon bag, it barely lasted the conference (though it also made a Disney trip, heavily duct taped). I was able to fit (almost) enough clothes to get me through a week of booth duty and get home. A few problems I ran into:

  • I destroyed the only pair of shoes I had
  • The bag was not durable enough to be stuffed
  • No room for a “real” laptop.

The shoes, well I just dealt with it for the trip home, nothing I could really do except buy another pair while there. The bag I fixed for my next conference (more to come) which was a more durable material and also had room for a reasonably sized laptop.

For my next attempt, I purchased a pretty basic 40L tactical backpack. You don’t have to go crazy on this, I paid about $25 on Amazon for it and it lasted me 3 conferences. In addition to being a much more durable nylon material, it also had straps that helped me get the bag compressed as much as possible once it was fully packed.


This is my current conference bag, and at only $25 doesn’t break the bank.

It was just big enough that it allowed me to overcome 2 of my previous issues. Destroying my shoes and packing a laptop. Wait …what? How did it help me from destroying my shoes? It didn’t help with the destruction actually. This time I purchased a pair of Merrel lightweight sneakers for the trip back that I could easily pack in the bag. My conference sneakers went the disposable route. Good quality, but towards the end of their life. They were enough to get me there and through the week, but destroyed and trashed at the end of the conference. They probably would have got me another month or so of “regular” use so I felt like it was a good time to make them conference shoes.

I was able to fit a bit more clothes in here, even some necessities like toothpaste thanks to the extra compartments while still leaving enough room for a Surface Pro.

A few tips even if you are packing light:

  • Never skimp on the shoes. You need shoes you’d be comfortable walking about 10 miles a day in (about my minimum for most conferences)
  • Remember you can buy stuff when you get there, an extra pair of sucks
  • Pack what you can’t buy, or what isn’t cost effective to buy
  • Pack as many disposable items as possible

Packing light isn’t for everyone, so this post isn’t to say you should, but more showing how I did it if you are interested. As always hit me up on Twitter @jfrappier