Whether you’re going to a convention for your job or for fun, the experience can be as grueling as it is rewarding. As we go to conventions we all learn tricks that allow us to get the most out of a specific con (or cons in general). Here are a few tips and tricks that we here at GeekDad have compiled. If you have more advice for the con-goer, please post it in the comments.
Things to do
Have a plan: Do your best to find out as much about the convention before you go as you can. What games can be played? Do you need to sign up for events ahead of time? Make a plan, but stay flexible; sometimes you won’t be able to get into something you wanted to do, or you’ll run into something you decide to do instead.
Check the convention rules: Is outside food allowed? What are the rules regarding cosplay weapons? What can’t and what can you bring in? What are the rules on photography? Every convention is a little different.
Leave free time: While you should have a plan for what you want to do, definitely leave some free time. Use this time to take a breather between events, or to look into what other events to do. Be sure to spend some time on the expo floor. It’s a great way to meet the creators of the things you love and to discover new things.
Try new things: While you may be going to the convention to play your favorite game or to do the same events you loved from a prior year, try something new. Some of my favorite games are games that I found through the luck of the draw at a convention.
Pick the event that isn’t recorded: Many sessions and events are streamed and recorded for later viewing. If there are multiple events you want to attend at the same time, see if one is being recorded. Pick the one that isn’t. If it looks like there’s a long line for an event, find out if it’s recorded. Maybe you can skip the line. I love the Acquisitions Incorporated live D&D game at PAX, but, while I enjoy being there in person, I no longer suffer through the long wait. The recording I watch later is more than adequate, and my time is better spent.
Go where there aren’t lines: I avoid most of the lines. At PAX you may wait a couple of hours to try the hot new game. I’d rather spend my time at conventions doing things than waiting to do things. Find the games and events with no lines. This allows you to do more and is a great way to find something you may never have otherwise discovered.
Plan for rest: Have a plan for where and when you will rest. Check the convention’s flopping rules. Some cons will let you lie about wherever there is room, others have designated areas, and others will not allow any sleeping or flopping.
Stay Safe: Have a buddy and a plan. Don’t accept an open drink. Speak up and call out poor behavior if you can do so without jeopardizing your own safety, in any case, report it to convention staff. The convention should be a fun, enjoyable, and safe place for everyone.
Things to bring
Your plane ticket, convention badge/ticket, secure lanyard, passport, ID: Of course remember everything you need to get TO and IN the convention. Everything else is moot if you’re not there. I have a stockpile of lanyards from past conventions, pick a comfortable yet secure one, something that will best hold your badge without it coming off and be comfortable for multiple days of use. Anticipate potential theft of your badge, and remember, if you lose it you’re likely to be out of luck.
Standard travel needs: Phone, chargers, enough clothes, toiletries, medications (especially anything difficult to obtain). This post is more about the convention specific needs, but, while it’s important to remember all the accessories for this year’s cosplay, it’s also good to have enough pairs of underwear!
Extra chargers/cables: I am usually traveling with my family, so our chargers and cables serve as backups for each other in case we lose one. But since charged devices are so critical for so many, it’s a good idea to have a second means to charge your tech.
Comfortable backpack: Have something to hold whatever you bring from this list. Plan to have enough room to hold swag or anything you may buy throughout a day. I use this rugged Maxpedition Kodiak Gearslinger sling pack. It holds plenty, and I can swing it around to my front without removing it. This allows for easy access while in a crowd, or if I want more control of what it’s smashing into when in a mass of people or store full of breakables. There’s a pocket for a tablet, it will hold my 15″ laptop, has PALS webbing where I attached an extra pocket, a pocket for a water-bottle. I love the pack. I use it for work, conventions, and travel. Maxpedition also makes a smaller version.
An extra bag: You can leave this in the hotel, but if you plan to bring things back on a plane, have a bag to carry it all in. You can also FedEx your loot back home, but plan ahead or leave the convention area to do it. By the end of the convention the lines at the shipping stores can get horrendous.
Comfortable shoes: You’ll likely be on your feet all day.
Two-outlet splitter: My experience at cons is that available power outlets are already taken by other con-goers’ energy-starved devices. It’s handy to have a two outlet splitter, so, with permission, you can unplug someone, then plug them and you back in. I say two-outlet versus more because if you plug in a three or more outlet splitter, others will then also plug in, and when you leave you’ll have to leave them all high-and-dry. Consider the footprint of your splitter. You want something you can plug in under most circumstances. The adjoining outlet may have a huge wall-wart plugged in, or there may not be much space around it. The splitter is also useful in hotel rooms that still typically do not have outlet configurations for the modern traveler. This two outlet splitter from Amazon is a good choice, but you may prefer something with surge protection. A six foot extension cord can also be helpful, especially in the hotel room.
Backup phone battery: Expect that you won’t be able to find an outlet to use your trusty splitter, or you’ll be gaming at a table too far from an outlet. Your phone may be your only camera, and your only way to hitch up with your friends or family, so you’ll need a charge. An external backup battery for your phone is sometimes a life-saver.
Camera: For most a phone will do, but keep it charged (see above). If you’re a camera person, you know what you need. Make a list and don’t forget it: extra batteries, charger, sim-cards, bag, transfer cable, mono/tri-pod? Be courteous. Don’t block walkways, and do ask to take photos. Bringing a selfie-stick? Check the con rules, as many have banned them. A new addition to my kit are the PhotoJojo Iris lenses that attach to my iPhone 6+. They provide me wide, fish-eye, and macro capabilities. Now I feel better about not lugging around my Nikon d90.
Snacks: Have snacks with you. It’s quite unfortunate to be playing games or standing in lines for hours, or having to go to back-to-back events while in food crisis. Most food options near the convention will have long lines, so you cannot count on being able to quickly grab food. Have plenty of snacks for you and your family. Prepare for the worse case scenario. (I know; woe-is-you, right?)
Water: Have water and stay hydrated. Get a refillable bottle; save the planet.
Caffeine: Coffee addict? Expect that you can’t get to a barista where or when you want. Have your coffee before you leave your room, or find a coffee shop between where you’re staying and the convention, someplace that won’t have horrible lines. Also, plan for the situation where you won’t be able to get to coffee at all throughout the day. Have some canned or bottled coffee with you. Coffee not your thing? Bring your thing.
Protection from the elements: Prepare for the weather, as well as the convention venue temperatures. You could be faced with cool AC inside and sweltering heat outside, and many locations are known for rain. Layer, and plan to be standing in the sun and heat, or rain or snow. Think ahead and bring what you need: sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, poncho, umbrella, warm coat? You won’t need them all, but you should research the weather at the convention-site and know what to expect. Plan to spend hours inside as well as outside.
Cardboard tubes/sleeves: You may be buying posters, comics, or other items that will need to be kept from being smashed. Cardboard sleeves for comics, and perhaps even a cardboard tube for posters if you expect to be obtaining those. Vendors often don’t have them at all or run out of tubes early in the convention. When I drive to a convention, I just bring some that I got at prior conventions. Alternatively, try to get a tube early in the convention or, Amazon has a wealth of more spendy, but quality options.
Folding stool: Most conventions involve queuing up at some point. If standing in lines for hours isn’t your thing, bring a light, folding stool like this Travechair on Amazon.
Entertainment: You’ll be waiting for hours–in lines, for the bus, or for a session to start. Bring entertainment: a book, mobile games for your phone or 3DS, something to keep you and your family entertained. Consider a “line-game” such as Zombie Dice. It’s a great way to stay entertained while meeting like-minded people. If you’re really ambitious, try a huge game of Werewolf.
Hand sanitizer: After you’ve been sharing your dice with… everyone, it’s good to at least use some hand sanitizer until you can do a thorough washing. Con-crud is no one’s friend.
Business cards: If you have the need.
Sharpies (black and silver): For when you have an opportunity to get something signed. Be courteous, though; only ask for signatures when it’s appropriate. Well known celebrities can’t walk across a convention floor because of such requests. Let them enjoy the con too. Use tact and be smart. Silver? Sometimes there’s no light spot on the merchandise to sign so black won’t show up.
Cash: For tipping, quick transactions, or vendors that can’t take other means of payment (do those exist?). This may be a good way to keep yourself within a budget as well.
A good attitude: It’s all fun and games, people. Take it easy. If you aren’t able to get the limited-release action figure, take a picture of the crowd fighting for it and get the memory instead. Be friendly to everyone, take the high-road, and keep it cool.
If you brought everything on this list you’d need a henchman to carry it all. The idea of this list is to provide you items to think about. Bring just what you need. Traveling light is also desirable.
Again, if you have more advice for cons in general, or for a specific con, please post in the comments below. We’d love to hear your ideas.
Updated: April 6, 2016
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