My recent trip to the 2010 Atlanta Family History Expo was a learning experience in more than one way. Since I had never before attended a genealogy event, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Hopefully, the things I learned will be of help to you when you attend one yourself.
1. Make a list of everything you want to take with you and check things off as you are packing it. I can pretty much counting on leaving at least one thing out of my bag whenever I pack to travel away from home. On my recent trip, however, my brain must have been on vacation while I was packing because I forgot several things. I ended up having to go shopping when I arrived in Atlanta to replace the items.
2. If you plan on driving from your hotel back and forth to the conference location and time allows, do a test run the day before the conference is scheduled to begin. I was late the first day of the Expo, partially because I got stuck in traffic and partially because I had to backtrack after missing an exit. If I had done a test run the day before, I would have had an opportunity to get familiar with the route and would have been aware of the fact that they were doing construction along part of my planned route, which added to my travel time.
3. It's handy to have something to carry stuff in. You will get all kind of stuff while at the genealogy conference from vendor goodies to handouts and items you purchase. Having something to carry it all around in frees up your hands. If you will be carrying a lot of stuff like your genealogy notebook to compare notes with other genealogists or a laptop for taking notes, you may want to consider a bag with rollers on it. I took a backpack and while it was handy for holding everything, my neck and back were sore at the end of the day from the weight.
4. If you have the option of printing a syllabus before you get to the conference, make sure you print out the outline for all sessions you are considering, not just your final choices. A session may run out of seating before you get there, you may begin a session only to find out you don't like it or you may decide you want to try a different session than you originally planned. Whatever the reason, if you don't have an outline of the session, you may have trouble keeping up or get a cramp in your hand writing down everything that was already provided.
5. Consider what research resources are nearby and plan your trip accordingly. Many conferences are held near major genealogy libraries or record repositories. For instance, the Georgia State Archives and the National Archives Southeast Region are both near where the Atlanta Family History Expo was held. This can be an excellent opportunity to not only expand your knowledge of genealogy, but also get some research in on the same trip.
6. If you don't want to go broke eating at the conference, consider packing foods and drinks in a cooler or leaving to get something to eat. Convention centers typically have vending machines and/or concessions, but they can be expensive, not to mention offer a limited selection.
7. Don't be shy. You never know when the person sitting beside you might have the key to your long-standing brick wall or have access to a resource you don't have. This is something I really had to work at. By nature, I'm not really talkative unless I know someone. Then I've been told I'm hard to shut up. This weekend, it was hard for me to walk up to strangers and introduce myself, but because I did, I met some really great people.
8. If you're on a budget, be sure to check back with the exhibitors on the last day of the event. Many mark down items the last day so they have less to carry back with them. However, don't wait too late in the day as many vendors will be packing up to leave by the time you get there.
9. If a vendor or presenter is selling a book that would be helpful in your research, but you can't afford the price, jot down the title and author. When you get home, check your local library for the book. If they don't have it, they might be able to get it through inter-library loan. My public library also has the option to fill out a purchase request for books they don't have in their collections. If there is enough interest in the book or they feel the book would be of use to other patrons, they buy a copy.
10. Check the syllabus, class handouts or business cards of presenters to see if they have additional resources that may be helpful in your genealogy research. By doing this, I learned that Arlene Eakle, the presenter of two of the sessions I attended, has a blog for general genealogy research, as well as ones for researching in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.