Conventional Wisdom – General Tips for Surviving Cons
My first real convention was the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), back when there was only one, in 2008. Since then I’ve branched out a bit, attending Kelowna Fan Expo (KFX, which actually may now be Kelowna Fan Experience), Vancouver Fan Expo (VFX) and Gen Con. While I know people with bigger resumes than that, I’ve gone to enough strange cities with plans to hang out in one area the whole time to get some idea of what to do. To that end, I’m going to offer up some important tips in case you yourself ever want to attend a show but aren’t sure what to do. Some of this will no doubt seem obvious, but you can forget the little things and tend to panic when you realize that, which usually diminishes an experience. Being over-prepared might take some of the fun out of things as well, but I’d always recommend being over-prepared rather than under-prepared.
Plan Your Route
A simple but important point to start on. Always research where exactly your hotel is in connection to the show you’re going to and how to reach it. If you’re a kid from a smaller town going to a comparably bigger place the streets can be intimidating, so knowing your exit if you’re driving or where to walk is super important. Google Street View can be your best friend as it can really help you visualize the area, so take some time to use it to familiarize yourself.
If you look this tired, maybe let someone else drive?
Manage Your Hotel
Splitting a hotel bill can be a pain if the hotel isn’t on top of it. Speaking from experience on both sides of the desk, it’s a lot better if the hotel knows at check-in exactly who is paying for what. The annoying thing is that most cons tend to use third-party hotel booking sites, which is great for finding good hotels that offer con-specific discounted rates but can be very lousy for micro-managing stays. Make sure you know who will be paying for what in advance, and if you can, tell the hotel too. The challenge comes in having people who are listed as being in the room (important in case they’re ever locked out) but making sure they’re not paying for part of the bill if they’re not supposed to. Also be sure to factor hotel parking into your travel expenses, as if driving to a big city, odds are the parking will be expensive.
It helps if your hotel is near a major landmark.
Know Where to Eat
This one can be hard to plan ahead (which is why in later sections I’ll offer some tips on that), so always take time to look up restaurants, plus grocery stores if traveling with food on you will be a burden. Typically any place within a one block radius will be swamped, so to avoid crowds you should consider going the extra block. Fast food can also be mobbed at bigger shows, so sometimes a quiet sit-down place can be a better experience than popping into Subway. Food trucks can be a bit less mobbed, but that could be because they don’t come with their own bathrooms, so factor that in.
Sometimes you gotta eat on a budget…
Prepare to Sweat
If the con you’re going to is remotely big, you’re going to sweat. It’s a guarantee. How much will depend on your body-type and such, but you’re going to sweat. Do not skimp out on shirts and underwear in particular, as laundry services probably won’t be reliable. Honestly, sweatbands on your wrists aren’t a bad idea. If you’re cosplaying and it’s a hot cosplay, try to integrate sweat protection into your outfit. Sure, a sweatband on the wrist of your Crono from Chrono Trigger cosplay may look a bit silly, but the guy wore wristbands, so why not use that to your advantage? And speaking of sweating…
This guy was clearly going to sweat buckets, so I joined him in a salute. That’s real commitment.
You need fluid to live. I know, not only is water wet but drinking it is good for you. Hardly statements that will blow your mind. None the less you may find yourself going for long periods of time without convenient access to any form of liquid refreshment, be it water, cola or mango juice (kudos to anyone who gets the reference I just made, it’s a bit obscure). Always try to have a bottle of something to keep you hydrated, and definitely check if the local tap water will be safe to drink. Knowing where the bathrooms are is the natural extension of this too, since while there are probably big signs for them at the con venue (most venues understand the importance of good bathroom placement), you still need to remember where they are in the first place so you’re not wandering in search of them for too long. Speaking of bathrooms…
Thankfully, product placement may just save your life.
Con Flu is a Thing
Con Flu, AKA Con Crud (I like alliteration but I actually hate this term), is inevitable. I attended PAX in 2009 when Swine Flu was going around and I just so happened to catch it. You need to be aware and prepare for this. Don’t rely on hotel soap, bring a type you trust (homemade or a brand, whatever, just bring it). As goofy as hand sanitarian products can be, invest in some, they can help while on the go. Tissues are a good idea as well, so when you sneeze that gunt in your trunk has a place to go. Speaking of trunks (we’re going from an elephant metaphor to a car metaphor), even if you’re not used to toilet seat covers, if a public bathroom you use during a convention has them, use them. A few seconds to protect your backside can go a long way. Finally, since you’ll be going hard every day, it’s a good idea to pack some of your preferred headache medication. This can be especially important, because…
Not sure what version of Con Flu this is, but it feels very 1960s. A retrovirus, perhaps?
Lines are the bane of virtually ever con. Odds are, the con you’re attending will have a line. The only exceptions I can easily name are Gen Con (which does virtual ticketing in advance), and any Sony Playstation Experience-related show (they use an app), and in the case of Gen Con you would still need to line up a little early to get a good seat. To help combat lines, I recommend first of all not being afraid to socialize. People in the line with clearly share at least one interest with you, so why not chat them up? A second suggestion is to bring a way to entertain yourself. If you’re not feeling social, bust out a portable game, be it a 3DS, tablet, Nintendo Switch, PS Vita or even a retro device like a classic Gameboy (though beware battery life). Lastly, if you’re in a line that’s going to take a while (I’ve been in lines that have taken up to two hours), I recommend investing in a camping stool. These small, folding comforts can easily attach to a backpack and help avoid having to sit cross-legged. You’ll still want to stand now and then but twenty minutes on a stool with ten minutes of standing versus a full thirty minutes of standing, there’s no comparison really. I believe I mentioned backpacks a couple of sentences ago…
If you have to cut in line, do it in style!
Get a Good Bag
You need to be able to move quickly but comfortably, as well as squeeze into tight areas. Slim messenger bags and small backpacks can be more fitting than full-sized ones, as they still have room for the essentials but don’t make you accidentally bump into people. I personally use a one strap backpack that has straps on outside for my stool, plus a small pouch for my Vita and toiletries (tissues, medicine, and hand-wash) and a bigger pouch for water and snacks. One other thing that you should also keep track of is…
Only one way to find out if all that will fit into my bag…
Prepare your Passport
I miss the days when Canadians could enter the United States with just a driver’s license, but sadly that’s no longer the case (this actually happened when Obama was President so feel free to bring back the now-dated ‘Thanks, Obama!’). An important thing to remember when traveling is that different countries have different rules for how long your passport needs to be valid for. For Canada and the US, your passport needs to have over six months left until it expires. Also make sure you secure your passport someplace reliable, as while thieves are always a risk, it’s better not to make it too easy for them. If your hotel doesn’t seem questionable and it has a room safe, definitely consider using it (but read the instructions first). Still, you can’t let paranoia control you, because…
Hiring a Dalek to protect your passport may be overkill.
Seek Out All Experiences
While all cons have specific events you can attend and exhibit hall hours and such, always be on the lookout for the less formal events. Pre-con game nights, private parties, and more are all possible. If you’re at a hotel near the con, it’s possible fellow attendees are there, and once again, you have a solid icebreaker since they clearly share at least something of a similar interest with you. While you’ll most likely never see these people again, a chance to meet people in real life and then form an online friendship can still be rewarding, and this is a great chance for that.
Some opportunities may never come again…