A new year means a new ramp up towards convention season. Across the country you’ll find nerds, geeks, and everyone in between coming out of the woodwork to enjoy conventions, aka the culmination of nerd culture. Your state probably has a few you’ve heard and some that are brand new, but nowadays it seems like there is a con for everything!
Aside from my most recent excursion to New York for BookCon, most of the cons I attend are local. If you’re traveling out of state there will be a whole other list of things to research (hotels, food, travel etc). I won’t be going into those things here, but just start making plans as early as possible just in case.
Attending your first con can be a stressful experience. When you start to do research, you’ll have a bunch of different sites giving different advice. As a survivor of several different cons over the last few years, I’ve learned quite a few tips and tricks to surviving (and enjoying) the full experience.
Whether you’re gearing up for Comic Con, Emerald City, PAX, Comikaze, Gallifrey One, Geek Girl Con, or any of the hundreds of others, it can be overwhelming. Most of my advice isn’t just applicable to “geek” conventions. This “survival guide” is not for someone who is doing cosplay or an exhibitor (both of which I have done), but primarily geared toward show goers. If you’re heading to a trade show, a music festival, tech convention, or any other type of event where tens of thousands of people attend, you can follow a lot of these same strategies. Here are a few survival tips that can help minimize the anxiety and maximize the fun!
Tips for Success:
MAKE A SCHEDULE
I’m starting with this because in my opinion it is the most important. Cons are always full of so many things to see and not enough hours to see it all in. Plan what panels you’d like to attend ahead of time. Look into any autographing sessions you’re interested in (see if tickets need to be purchased in advance). Another thing you should do with your schedule is prioritize events by popularity. If your number one priority is hitting up the Marvel panel, you’ll be competing for seats with potentially 7,000+ people. Weigh your events by popularity and budget your time accordingly. Some cons will attempt to break up crowds that line up too early, but unofficial lines can still form (with varying degrees of success). It’s impossible to know for sure exactly when to show up because no two lines are the same.
I cannot stress this enough, you will be walking and standing for hours on end. Comfy shoes will be your best friend. Do not decide that a convention is the best time to break in new shoes (I’ve seen it happen multiple times). If you tend to sweat a lot, bring a second set of socks each day just in case. Be sure to wear loose-fitting pants, a shirt that fits comfortably, and moisture wicking socks. You also never know what the temperature is going to be like so I always bring a cardigan or light jacket.
The hardest part of attending conventions is having patience! Everywhere you look there will be a line for something. There’s a psychology to waiting in lines but at the end of the day be prepared to wait, and then wait some more. Prepare to wait for an exclusive product to drop, an autograph from your favorite celebrity, or just to buy some lunch. Keep yourself entertained with reading material, charge your phone, chat with your line buddies, and take the time to breathe and relax.
Being in a confined space with tens of thousands of people isn’t the best situation for a group meetup. Time to make the most of your smartphones and creepily stalk your loved ones so you don’t have to be a detective and go hunting. There are few options at a phone owners disposal, just choose what you think will work best. A group message chat is a quick and easy way for everyone to be in the loop. Unfortunately, there isn’t always the best signal, they might not hear it or be able to respond to a text message. Before you head out, make sure that everyone you need to keep up with has shared their location with each other. If you have an iPhone then you can use the Find My Friends feature built into the iOS. I believe Google+ also has a location sharing feature.
Remember to walk, not run. I have seen some close calls and know people who’ve been trampled at cons before. Also, keep in mind that not everyone is as able-bodied as you, so they may not be able to move as fast as you. There are also people who may have sensory processing complications or handicaps you cannot see. Do not assume everyone is on your same physical level. Avoid blocking the walkways; be mindful the flow of traffic, and try to go with the flow. Be on the lookout for people trying to take cosplay photos so you don’t get in the way. Don’t text/take calls when you’re in the middle of making purchases. Be respectful of the cosplayers art, not their body. It’s okay to tell them that you like their work, not how sexy you think they are. Remember NO MEANS NO.
Things To Bring:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! You’re going to be walking, talking, and sometimes running across the convention floor. I know standing in line for the bathroom isn’t ideal, it’s preferable to crashing due to dehydration.
Most of the restaurants inside convention centers are insanely overpriced. While you can sometimes find reasonably priced food outside the convention hall, you’ll likely get peckish at a con. If you want to avoid high snack prices inside, then I recommend you pack yourself a few simple, non-greasy snacks. Also, please don’t be the guy who packs a smelly tuna sandwich for a snack. Stick to food that won’t piss off the people waiting in line with you haha.
Convention centers are notorious for having poor phone signal. Unfortunately, this means your phone has to work harder to do anything with a signal. Your battery will drain quick doing basic tasks. Trying to track down a wall port to plug your phone into isn’t ideal so I always recommend a portable charger and cable. Between snapping photos, trying to meet up with friends, using con apps, or live-tweeting your experience, you will lose a ton of battery life.
This may seem strange but it’s really hard to go to a con and not walk away with at least a few pieces of swag. Most vendors will give you a bag but they aren’t always the most comfortable things to carry. Make sure you’re prepared with a way to carry it around that’s doesn’t hurt your body. I always bring a solid backpack from home but I’ll occasionally pick up a tote from a booth I like and use that.
Nowadays cash can seem cumbersome and even though most vendors accept cards, that can come with an assortment of problems. I’ve seen signals drop causing payment to fail or guests to get double charged. You also sometimes have to pay sales tax when using a card or service fees if you pull out cash through a convention center ATM.
FIRST AID KIT
Okay, I know I am someone who likes to be over-prepared but you never know! I always try to carry band-aids, Neosporin, Advil/Tylenol, and superglue. These tools can help you and potentially other con goers!
Last but not least, please don’t forget to bring along your manners.
At the end of the day we are all attending because we are passionate about the same things. The weekend can be exhausting, frustrating, and worth every single second. Trust me when I say that time will fly by so experience every second of the con, meet new people, and embrace the beautiful escape that comes from the world of convention life.