In the past three years I have attended over 30 conventions! Some have been small, some large and others…well, I wouldn’t quite call them a “comicon” but they definitely made it as expos. Going to your local comicon, anime expo or nerdy/geeky event sounds simple. You buy a ticket, take the receipt to registration, acquire a badge and blend in with the masses of other attendees. Surprisingly, common sense subjects such as: eating, drinking, resting and sleeping become points of contention for convention goers. There is SO much to see and SO much to do that often people forget they have a body. Bodies require things like food and water; when you don’t provide sustenance a body likes to do this little thing where it GIVES UP. At this point I cannot count on my digits (both hands and feet) the number of times someone has passed out in front of me due to dehydration, malnutrition or heat exhaustion. Some people even become dizzy from the sheer excitement of the crowd!
Now, I am not trying to deter you from attending your local conventions. As a matter of fact, I believe such experiences enrich one’s life and offer a glimpse into a world where creative collaboration has brought people from all walks of life into one glorious avenue of geekery. So what should you know going into a convention? Well, let me help you out there with these simple tips and tricks from an avid convention goer.
Explore The Venue in Advance
This is something VERY few convention goers consider and I believe it’s the most important part of attending a comicon or expo. Exploring the venue does not necessarily require a day trip. As a matter of fact, you can complete this task from the comfort of your own home so long as you own a device that connects to the internet with web browsing capabilities. Using Google maps take a peak at the street views of the event location. Is it a big convention center? If so, chances are that you will have to pay for parking. Are there parking structures nearby? Mark their names and look up the cost of day and/or night time parking.
Say your event is inside a hotel, does it have a restaurant or snack shop? If the answer is no then you will want to look at the local cuisine and determine if it’s within walking distance or if you have to drive. Driving outside of the comicon’s venue may be a costly decision. Why? If you park somewhere that requires payment then you will have to pay a fee each time you leave and return to that structure as few offer re-entry passes. Instead, familiarize yourself with city transportation options OR look to see if that location supports taxis/uber/etc.
Looking at WHERE the convention is being held tells you the following: how much food will be, how much parking will be, an idea of the number of attendees it could boast and whether or not that area caters to your needs. Trust me, this research is WORTH the time spent on it.
Check That Programming!
Most conventions, if not all at this point, have online programming guides. Some are digital grids and others are PDF documents that you can save on your computer and review. Whatever the case make sure you take a look at this before committing to the following: a badge, a hotel and actually ATTENDING the convention. Once you are certain that this convention has programming which interests you then you’re good to go, right? Not really. Conventions are busy places and it is VERY EASY to get distracted from your goals. So HOW do you ensure you attend that AWESOME John Barrowman panel you have stuck in your memory?
Ever heard of google calendar? Yeah, it’s free and it’s incredible. Take that little app and install it on your phone. Now add the panels you want to see into that calendar with 30 minute reminders before they start. Make sure you apply a LOUD ring tone or reminder alert to this event and save that sucker in your calendar! Calendar reminders have saved my butt many times. I like to run panels and being late for your own panel isn’t exactly ok. It especially sucks when you miss seeing someone like Stan Lee who has basically told the world he’s sticking to his own expo and that’s it for the rest of his life (many of us hope he changes his mind, obviously).
Whatever the case these reminders are extremely useful when you get sidelined by a badass group of anime cosplayers or when you accidentally run into Summer Glau while wandering the convention hall.
I AM NOT KIDDING. Conventions will have you running around from 9AM until Midnight on a slow day. With so much variety it’s easy to become enthralled by the majesty of it all. Find a place where you can sit (this is where exploring the venue in advance comes in handy) and let your feet breathe. Take this moment to drink some water, eat a snickers or just people watch. This will also give you the opportunity to take account for your belongings and review your calendar.
If you are a cosplayer then you have likely been to a convention or two and what I am about to recount will not come as a surprise. If you are new then READ CAREFULLY. Conventions ARE photo traps. From novice to advanced there will be SOMEONE in the crowd that wants your picture. Once the photos begin the hordes WILL NOT STOP until their thirst for your notoriety is sated. Ok, attendees are not demons or vampires but they ARE excitable (I’ll admit to joining a photo horde or two). So how do you escape this trap? BRING A FRIEND. Having someone take your arm and say “sorry, we’re off to a panel but you can follow us there” is AMAZING when you think your hip is about to fall out of its socket from all the posing. If you are more confident than I then this is easier for you. Say “No”. Chances are most people will get upset but leave. For those who persist explain that Cosplay is NOT Consent and they can discuss the rules of the event with the coordination staff.
Cosplay is fun so make sure to be respectful and enjoy what you’re wearing OR observing!
Budget Spending Money
There are dozens of artists, vendors and exhibitors at your standard expo. Multiply that by 50 and you have a large convention. I have known many people who walk into a convention with nothing but their credit card and leave wondering how they are going to pay their rent the next month. You can avoid this blunder by doing something I picked up from a Finanacial Advisor: pull the money you have budgeted to spend OUT of your bank, divide it up in envelopes that are marked by day (e.g. Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and take ONLY that day’s envelop with you to the convention. This limits your spending, saves your bank and keeps you from fearing for your home all because you saw a vintage figurine that you HAD to have.
A budget ALSO ensures that you are able to feed yourself as more and more conventions are forbidding outside food and/or drink (the only place where this is illegal is Arizona: attendees are, by law, permitted to carry their own water as it is illegal for someone to deny a person a drink of water in AZ).
Here is a list of just a FEW items I like to bring with me to conventions…
- A Camera
- A Water Bottle
- An empty back pack OR tote for swag
- A charging pack with a cable
- Wallet with Money
- A Note Pad
- My Phone
- Spare clothes (on the off chance you need to crash in a friend’s hotel room)
- Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Mouth Rinse, Deodorant and Brush AKA the travel kit
- A couple sharpies and/or pens for off the cuff autographs
Conventions are TONS of fun and these little tips have kept me safe, alive and comfortable during my attendance at previous cons. Have a tip or trick you use at a convention? Please share it in the comments section below and, as always, remember to: FAN GIRL ON!
Note: This article was suggested to us by the good folks at Eventbrite, whose site serves to help organize and promote local conventions and events.