My first conference - first as both attendee and presenter - happens to be in the nearby major city. I won't be flying, or staying in a hotel, or doing any of those (I imagine) typical "conference" chores. I will be commuting by the free (with student ID) hourly bus.
At first this seemed pathetically anti-climactic. How am I supposed to feel accomplished if this conference is just a bus-ride away? Sure, it's better than the mini-conferences I've attended on campus, where it's less a conference and more a slight change of venue for the school day. But it hardly feels like an important step in the academic career. I'm sure this will change when I get there, and see how unbelievably huge the entire thing is as I man my posters in 2 of the 15 poster sessions. My advisor has promoted this conference to us as a chance to have the advantage of her "pointing people to our posters", since she no longer travels for conferences (and I'd better still not be her grad student by the time her kids are older enough for her to travel again).
The benefits of not having to travel only became apparent as I flew back from my winter vacation last night. The delay on the first leg of the trip didn't phase me; I had a 2-hour layover. The delay on the second phase was not pleasant, because I only had an hour and half to catch the shuttle away from the airport in the middle of nowhere. And after they got us on the plane a mere 45 minutes late, they left us sitting there for another 45 minutes while they sorted our luggage. This is a good reason never to fly through Atlanta, ever again. I cannot afford many $80 taxi rides home from the airport. It was only merest chance (and my moonlighting for my father's office over break) that I could afford one.
So when I think about my first conference being a local one, I will think less of the exotic travel I'm missing and more of the chaotic travel I'm missing. Nothing like a positive mood to start the new semester.