When I was a kid, we had a tradition of departing for family trips by car very early in the morning, around 4 or 5 a.m. Though I'm not quite sure of the reasons behind this, I have pleasant memories of this tradition—of sitting in the back seat half-asleep watching the sun rise as we embarked on a trip cross-state or cross-country, with my parents in the front seat.
The last couple of years, I've done the same for my trips to San Diego. Of course, I have more practical reasons for adopting this practice: living in L.A., I know how bad the traffic can be on the 405 Freeway corridor between these two major cities, especially during rush hour in the middle of the week. So I try to get an early start, and often end up in San Diego around 6 am.
I've arrived even before the convention center was open, but this gave me a chance to grab a nice breakfast, and park my car close to where I need access to get into the convention hall. (On the morning of the last day of the show, I also get up early to get a good parking spot so that it's easy to load up my car when I tear down my booth. Then I go back to the hotel to prepare for the show.)
It's actually fun to be at the convention center so early. It's surprising how much work still needs to be done before the show opens for preview night, so there are forklifts all over the place, the carpeting is still being put down, drapes on tables, and people are putting together their booths. I'm usually done by lunch, so I walk around, take in the atmosphere, see friends, then check in to my hotel to wind down before the show begins.
Based on my experience, over the years, I've developed check lists to remind me of things I need to bring down for the show and when I need for vacation. I'm happy to post them for download (click on the file to download): my Convention Checklist (for exhibiting) and my general Travel Checklist.