Find out who else is going to that conference on social media and make an effort to connect with them beforehand. Many conferences (20 Books to 50K, SMMW etc) have Facebook or LinkedIn groups for communicating with other delegates before the conference begins.
If there is an event hashtag, use an app like Tweetdeck (on a desktop) or Echofon (on phones) to monitor the hashtag before the event and get to know people. It’s a lot easier to go up to someone if you can say “we communicated on twitter about xyz” than if they don’t know you from Adam.
If there is a conference app, then it usually makes sense to download it. Useful things like messaging other delegates, conference schedules and maps are usually included.
Arrange times to meet particular people during lunch/breakfasts/break-times at conferences and in the times before and after.
If at all possible, leave some time before and after the conference in the conference location – for many conferences the real fun networking happens in the bar before or after the conference (especially afterwards).
If possible always try and travel with hand luggage only. For US domestic travel make sure you are at the front of the queue if you are in the last boarding group to make sure they don’t force you to check your bag. This obviously means not transporting books – I order these to pick up at the location I am going to instead (I’ll come back to this).
If you don’t already use them, get some packing cubes – these make packing/unpacking so much easier as you in effect pack these rather than the whole case. It takes a while, and some idea about how you pack to work out the best way to use them though.
In most situations you want to be in a hotel within an easy walking distance of the conference. The cheapest option in 90% of situations for US conferences where you also need a flight is to book a flight/hotel package at a company like Expedia.com and get cashback by using a cashback company like quidco.com to book the package (they currently pay between 5-12% cashback if you book through them).
For only booking a hotel, often you will get a cheaper rate through the hotel chain directly (though you may need to sign up to their membership scheme) than even through Expedia with cashback. In the UK you can get cashback from Travelodge through Quidco as well, which is often the cheapest way to book.
Book hotels, conference tickets and train tickets generally as far in advance as you can; flight prices wildly oscillate, so generally you are looking at booking these only a few months before travel.
Keep in mind that “budget” flights on airlines such as Jet Blue, Southwest, Ryanair and Easyjet aren’t shown on sites like Expedia, and might present options combined with an independently booked hotel than a flight-hotel package.
Return flights/return train tickets are ALWAYS cheaper than single flights on most airlines (except budget airlines). Usually if you want to plan a more complicated trip, combining a return for the international/longest leg with individual single flights is cheaper than booking all single tickets.
At the conference
Make a note of the event hashtag (if there is one) and use that with all social media posting.
Take a portable power-back for charging phones (unless you have a laptop, in which case you can use that to charge your phones).
Take a notebook or use an electronic device for notes: if you take notes on lose paper you will never look at them again. A well indexed notebook is more likely to be reviewed.
If there is a live-stream or virtual ticket option, then don’t worry so much about attending sessions as you can watch them after the conference if you have important networking opportunities.
Talk to the person next to you if they seem responsive; not as good as networking events but often great for connections.
Business cards – not as much as use as they used to be. If possible add people on social media (LinkedIn; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram depending on how much you like the person and who they are) rather than taking a business card. I’d concentrate on creating a few memorable cards rather than a large volume of cheaper cards
Books – this time I ordered my books off Amazon and got them delivered to an Amazon Locker in San Diego. Obviously it might be cheaper to order direct from Createspace/Ingram Spark etc, but it sure beats transporting books and you can pick them up. Ordering to the hotel is also possible, though always tend to end up fraught with difficulties in my experience. I took out a 30-day Amazon.com trial and used that during my US travels. The advantage of something like this is that you can order other things you lose/run out of, like clothes and chargers.