Phew! Just booked two book trips for the next month – to the Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia and Left Coast Crime in Reno.* And before we all start going on about the glamorous life of a working author, I thought I’d share the rules I follow when I plan these adventures, a sort of “How to Book Tour 101. “ Yes, these are pretty basic, commonsense tips, but I had to learn them all the hard way and so I share. (Most apply to non-book travel as well.)
First, know your con. Roughly speaking, book conventions can be divided into cons for writers and cons for fans. Those for writers, like ThrillerFest or the New England Crimebake, focus on the writing craft and publishing, and those attending often aspire to return as authors up on the podium. Cons for fans, like Left Coast Crime or Bouchercon, are more about the books, and those attending come to talk about their favorite stories and meet the authors, rather than join their ranks in years to come. A little bit of homework – the con website, the blogs of people who have attended – will usually let you know if this event is for you.
Never book the cheapest hotel. Travel is pricey, I get it. But whether you’re going to a convention or booking your own (book or other) tour, think twice about what you’re saving – and at what cost. Safety, cleanliness, sanity – it’s easy to take these things for granted until you’re woken in the middle of the night by a screaming fight in the hall outside and worrying that it’s about to break down your door. Don’t like sleeping on top of the bedclothes, fully dressed, cell phone in hand? Don’t book the cheapest hotel you can find, especially in a city you don’t know. (Buy me a drink at LCC and I’ll share the full story…)
In fact, book the convention hotel if you can – as soon as you can. Even if your plans are fluid, look into booking. With most hotels, you can release your booking if your plans change, and this way you won’t be locked out of the convention hotel (or the convention rate). Being in the con hotel isn’t the end-all and be-all of attending a convention, but it will make it easier to enjoy all the social opportunities in and around the official events, from the quick morning coffee to the late-night bar hang. (Along the same lines, if you’re shut out, book a safety hotel – but then try the con hotel again right before the conference. Some folks who booked the con hotel “just in case” might have released rooms!)
When booking your flights, it helps to know your airports. A 45-minute layover in Charlotte will allow time for lunch. In Chicago, it might not be enough to reach your connection. Again, talk to people. Do some online research. And when in doubt, make sure you have at least an hour between connecting flights. Worst case scenario? You’ll have time to use a full-size bathroom (see last tip)!
Figure out how you’re going to get to the hotel (and back again). As an East Coast urbanite, I’m used to the prevalence of public transportation, as well as readily available cabs and ride services such as Lyft and Uber. They don’t exist everywhere – and it took almost missing a train out of Richmond to learn that! (Luckily, the wonderful Caroline Leavitt warned me about the lack of options in getting to Nacogdoches, Texas, home of the otherwise quite wonderful Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend, or I might have ended up stranded at the airport like she was.) That said, it can be really fun to learn about local mass transit – I’m inordinately fond of the D.C.-area Metro!
Always pack a sweater. Do I sound like your mother? She was right. Over-enthusiastic air-conditioning can be as bad as a drafty convention room, and you can always take your sweater off once the thermostat (or reason) kicks in! For that matter, always pack a book and a snack – a small bag of pistachios or a power bar – as well.
Finally, your mother was right. Whenever a bathroom is available, use it. Trust me on this one.
So what did I miss? I’d love to hear your travel tips before I start packing again – and I’m sure many others would too!
*At PLA, I’ll be taking part in a “Wine, Cheese, and Murder” mixer on Thursday, 3:30-5 p.m. at the Booklist booth. At LCC, I’ll be on the “My Kind of Town: Rural and Suburban Crime Fiction” panel, Sunday, March 25 at 10:15 a.m. (This will be particularly fun for me, since I’ve just done the very urban World Enough and am now back to small-town Beauville with Fear on Four Paws).