So, you want to take your significant other with you to a conference?

The topic of taking one’s significant other with them to a professional conference came up on Twitter recently.  I was referenced as a veteran of this, as my husband has accompanied me on a total of five conference trips – 3 SLA, 1 BIALL and 1 CALL/ACBD.  (And, yes, we’re still happily married!)  As per request, I am sharing my insights on this.  Tips and tricks, if you will.

If your significant other absolutely cannot meet these requirements, do not even try to bring him/her with you on a conference trip.  Bring back a nice souvenir and leave it at that.

Dealbreaker #1 – If you don’t already travel well with your significant other, don’t think that a conference trip will change things.  Leave him/her at home.

Dealbreaker #2 –  If your significant other cannot cope with doing things alone, e.g. dining, sightseeing, then leave him/her at home.  They will have lots of time to kill during the day and need to entertain themselves.

Did you make it past the dealbreakers?  Congratulations!  Now, you can proceed with entertaining the idea of bringing a significant other with you to a professional conference.


First, let me explain that traveling for a conference is, in my opinion, very different than traveling on holiday or a straight-up business trip.  How, you may ask?  Well, let’s say it’s a “business casual” trip.  You are representing yourself, your career, and your employer.  Conferences are fun, but it’s not Spring Break.  So, your traveling companion needs to either be of this same mindset or at least respectful that you need to be in your zone…and won’t be doing body shots until the conference is over.  (Well, in most cases.)

– Cost – can you realistically afford to have both of you there at the same time?
– Location – is this a place he/she really wants to go to?  Is it worth the trip?
– Activities – does this location have enough attractions and sights to keep someone occupied?

Bringing a significant other with you to a conference can be fun for both of you.  Just be sure that it makes sense.  The conference-goer needs to accept that he/she may not see all the great sights of the city, but that their significant other will.  Unless you plan for vacation time together after the conference, don’t get all up in their grill that he/she saw things that you didn’t.  Tell your significant other which sights you want to visit together after the conference.  If he/she goes on their own anyway, he/she will be prepared for that second visit.  The significant other must also be crystal clear that he/she may not see their significant other very much while the conference is on.

Communication and courtesy are the keys to a successful conference trip. 

Practical Tips:
– Decide if you want your significant other to actually be at the conference with you.  SLA, for example, offers a Family Pass registration for $150.  I highly recommend this.  My husband received his own lanyard and was able to enter the INFO-EXPO hall and attend any of the social/networking events that were open to all conference attendees.  I’ll address this more in-depth later.
– If you would rather just have your significant other join you when the conference ends, make sure you have him/her arrive on a day/time when you can see them or join up with them fairly soon after their arrival.  Who wants to wait around in a hotel room, not knowing when they will see the person they came to see?
– Make sure you put your significant other’s name on the hotel room.  In case he/she wants to let themself in while you are busy, or if he/she loses a key.  This way, you won’t be disturbed during a session to come rescue him/her from the lobby.
– Establish when it’s appropriate to text or call during the conference.  If you don’t want to be disturbed during the middle of a session with a phone call, unless it’s urgent, make sure you tell him/her that.
– Provide a schedule or itinerary for your significant other.  Show them your conference schedule, so that he/she can see when you are in a session versus a board meeting.  If your significant other gets a conference Family Pass, give him/her a schedule of where you want them to be and when.  Again, more on this later.
– Personally, I think it’s acceptable to bring your significant other to evening conference events if they have the Family Pass.  I wouldn’t feel too comfortable bringing my husband to an event that he wasn’t supposed to be a part of.  If the event is sponsored by a vendor, just be courteous and ask if he/she may attend.  This is kind of a gray area, slippery slope kind of deal.
– Don’t be afraid to introduce your significant other to your fellow conference attendees.  Nothing is creepier than having a silent, brooding significant other shadowing someone and the person doesn’t introduce them to you.  If you are bringing them to the conference, bring them into the conference with introductions and include him/her in conversations.
– Lastly, and this may sound mean, the conference goer must not hesitate to establish or remind their significant other that this conference trip is for them and about them.  This is your Bridezilla/Groomzilla moment, embrace it!  Your significant other is there because you have this trip.   While the conference is going on, the conference goer is in charge and rules the trip.  It has to be this way, or else it turns into a bad vacation where one person is bored and the other is being pulled between a conference and making someone happy.  Make this crystal clear before the trip starts and all will be well.

My Story:
In a nutshell, here’s how my husband and I handled SLA Chicago in July 2012.  It was a no-brainer that he’d come with me, as I already established that he’s a veteran at this point.  Plus, since this is my year as Chair of the Legal Division, I wanted him there for support and encouragement.  We established that we didn’t have time to add vacation time on to this trip, so we booked our flights accordingly.  My husband got the SLA Family Pass and I crafted a schedule just for him.  I gave him the times and locations of all the events that his pass would allow access.  He then, on his own, figured out which sights he wanted to see.  The agreement we made was that his time during the day was on his own, but he would join me for conference events in the late afternoon/evening.  He’s a pro at this by now, and would always know to double-check with me what the appropriate attire was for the event.  Since he’s been to a few of these, he does actually know some people that he can talk to them on his own.  I’m fortunate that my husband is quite the deipnosophist and I can leave him on his own.  During the conference, he would send me texts, photos or emails showing me what adventures he’d gotten himself into around Chicago.  I enjoyed this.  If it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have eaten any Chicago deep dish pizza.  Knowing that it takes a long time to bake, twice he went to Lou Malnati’s in advance of our meeting time just to order the pizza so that it would be ready when I showed up during a brief break in the conference action.  This kind of communication and courtesy is what I mean by being key.  I got to have a meal with my husband, eat local food and it didn’t adversely affect my conference schedule.  Score!  At this point, I only feel comfortable having my husband attend the SLA conference with a Family Pass, because it’s “my” organization.  He traveled with me when I attended BIALL in Belfast and CALL/ACBD in Calgary, but arrived as those conferences ended.  He did briefly get to see the BIALL exhibit hall and meet some people.  Later, he and I hung out with some of my fellow conference goers.  The Belfast and Calgary visits are what I call conference trips, since he didn’t actually attend with me.  Anyway, we’re already looking ahead to thinking about SLA 2013 in San Diego!

I hope you find my tips and thoughts helpful.  As I said, nothing about this is rocket science.  It’s merely communication and courtesy that you and your significant other need to have a command of before doing this.  I have been the tag-along spouse for some of my husband’s events and I give him that same courtesy to my spouse.  Bringing a significant other to a conference can be a fun time for both you!

[Did you like this and want more? Read the update posted February 22, 2015.]

5 thoughts on “So, you want to take your significant other with you to a conference?

  1. Charles Oppenheim

    Many years ago my then wife, not in the LIS business, insisted on coming to a conference in Oxford with me, saying she would leave me to it and explore Oxford during the conference. When we got there, she insisted on tagging along at the conference instead, and made extremely embarrassing comments to other conference delegates at the coffee and lunch breaks along the lines of “This is just a jolly for you isn’t it”, or “what you do doesn’t require any skills or training, it’s just common sense.” Never again!

  2. My husband started coming to the SLA conferences beginning in Nashville and has been to every one since then (as well as several CIL and NYLA conferences). I agree with everything you’ve said, especially keeping the lines of communication open. One of the things I’ve tried to do is to gather info in advance about what to do in the conference city and give it to him. While this does help me learn the city, what I’m really trying to do is help him not be bored. Thankfully, he has his own conference routine now, which helps us with planning, etc.

    Tom also has his own conference buddies! Yup, he’s gotten to know various people and that is really helpful. Now when he goes to a reception, he can look around for people he knows and talk to them.

    The hard part is knowing that you and your spouse are in the conference city having two different experiences. You both need to be okay with that. (And your spouse needs to be REALLY okay with it, especially if you are in a leadership position which might require you to attend specific activities at night.)

    Finally, depending on what your spouse is going to be doing, you may decide not to get a family pass for him/her. Is the person going to attend any of the conference events (Info-Expo? Keynote? Receptions?) ? Check the family pass and what it includes. It gives the person a taste of the conference, which can be very useful to you. It also makes the person feel legitimate when attending the receptions, etc.

  3. Tracy,

    Thanks from me also for this post. My husband, Chris, has accompanied me to several SLA events (NYC and Baltimore conferences; plus Tampa and Houston leadership summits) over the last few years. The key to success has been open communication and accepting that you’re not on vacation together.
    The one thing I’ve found very helpful was the fact that Chris’s cousin lived in NYC so he could hang out with him while I was at conference. I was a bit envious of the fun they had while I was in sessions! I realise proximity of family isn’t something you can easily magic up, but it does make for an easier experience for the non-conference attendee. I’m working on Chris coming to San Diego next year as his other cousin lives there!

  4. Pingback: An update to my original post, “So, you want to take your significant other with you to a conference?” | Library Sherpa

  5. Tiffany

    My husband goes to conferences all the time and doesn’t even invite me. It’s not even mentioned. I brought it up once when he said that he wasn’t even presenting, etc.; that he would just be sightseeing, and he said, “well, you have work.” But I can easily take personal days at my job. He doesn’t cheat, but I do however feel really left out, especially since we don’t travel on our own at all.

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