Traveling as a graduate student: tips on what to wear

I flew to Los Angeles this past week to attend the 2017 International Headache Academy, which is a 2-day educational program focused on headache medicine. I was excited to meet other headache scientists, but I’m not going to lie–I hate flying and did not want to be on a 5-hour flight to LA. I’m always wondering what I should wear to the airport, and then what to wear at the conference. Is something too casual? Or too formal? Well, I’ve found a good way to be comfortable, and still look professional! Below are some tips on what to wear when traveling to a short conference.

1. Choose a comfortable carry-on bag if  your trip is 2-3 days (or less!)

traveling as a graduate student victoria's secret duffle bag
Sport Duffle Bag // $34.95 // Victoria’s Secret

I am the queen of carry-on bags. I hate checking in bags, especially if my trip is only 2-3 days long. Although I think that a luggage set is a must-have for a professional career woman, I also think that a cute duffle bag does just fine for a short conference. I received a Victoria’s Secret duffle bag free with a purchase a few months ago, and have been using it for my travels ever since! I think I was supposed to be using it for the gym, but catching a flight is a workout in itself. Same thing, right?

2. Have at least 2 go-to outfits that are comfortable AND business casual


traveling as a graduate student chicago
Swing Sweater Dress // $44.95 // American Eagle Outfitters

If you know me, you know that I love wearing yoga pants, a hoodie, and a ton of mascara. Unfortunately, you can’t really wear that when you’re trying to make a good impression. Instead, I wear comfortable dresses with pantyhose, and some statement jewelry. I wore this dress in black, and didn’t even notice that I had been sitting in a conference room all day! AEO tends to have sales in their stores, so I was lucky and scored this dress 60% off! I have other AEO dresses that I always wear to conferences. I think that they’re simple enough to be business, but comfortable enough to be casual. Win-win.

3. Invest in comfortable, appropriate shoes

chicago traveling as a graduate student
Liz Claiborne Posh Ankle Booties // $49.99 // JCPenney

You know what’s embarrassing? When you get up to security, and you realize that you wore the wrong shoes and now it’s taking you 20 minutes to take the shoes off. And then your socks are wet or sweaty or don’t match or have a hole in the big toe. And then you trip and you have to have someone inspect you instead of just walking through the detector thing. Let’s avoid all of that, and wear some shoes that you can easily take off, put back on, and also wear with your conference clothes. I found these booties when I was in JCPenney looking for some heels for the military ball. They are so comfortable! I wear them to work, I wear them with a dress, I could even wear to them to bed but that’d be absurd. Do yourself a favor, and invest in a shoe that you can wear everywhere.

4. Be you, completely

chicago traveling as a graduate student

I know, cheesy. But true! Maybe “being you” means wearing your hair natural, or wearing bright red lipstick, or not wearing any makeup at all. The main point of going to these conferences and professional meetings is to network and to learn about the field. You can’t focus on meeting the right people or figuring out how that one lecture is applicable to your experiment if you’re too worried about how you look or if you forgot toothpaste. I’m most comfortable with my hair straightened/curled, and with some eye makeup. I don’t like contacts, so I wear glasses every where I go. And, of course, I carry along a huge bag (not pictured) to put all of my snacks in (they’re a lot of snacks…)!


How do you prepare for a short, professional trip?

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