My Gen Con Bag of Essentials

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Convention Bag
My convention bag. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I’ve been attending some gaming conventions in the past few years, and I’ve been refining the set of things I carry around with me during the day. There are still a few tweaks I’d probably make for next time, but while it’s fresh in my mind I thought I’d share some of the essentials I had at Gen Con this year (mostly so I can come check this list next year).

Here’s what’s in the bag:

  1. Notebook
  2. Pill case
  3. Business cards
  4. Purell
  5. Snacks
  6. Lanyard
  7. Selfie Stick
  8. Lens wipes
  9. HTC Re Camera
  10. Cough drops
  11. Pens
  12. Charging cables
  13. Water bottle
  14. Moleskine backpack
  15. Name tags
  16. Tissues
  17. Battery pack

I like having a paper notebook (1) with me–jotting things down during an interview, making notes about games I want to check out or people I want to track down, and just being able to scribble some thoughts down when they come to me. Last year I was using a full-sized notebook (I’ve had it a while so I can’t remember the name of it or where I got it) but this year I was using one of the Architect Says notebooks from Chronicle Books. It’s a nice pocket-sized book with gridded pages–it came in a pack of three (a sample sent to me for review) and was just about perfect. Each notebook has a quote on the cover from a famous architect–I used the Buckminster Fuller notebook this year. I wrote down my schedule in the book ahead of time–sure, I have a calendar on my phone, but the time difference always makes entering things into my calendar unreliable and I wanted to be able to get to my list of events even if my batteries died.

To go along with the notebook, I’ve been using a Seven Year Pen (11), a simple twist-to-open ballpoint pen. I bought it at the bookstore and have been using it since March 2013, so I can’t vouch that it’ll last seven years, but it’s lasted at least two and a half so far with fairly regular use.

I keep the pill case (2) handy in case I get a headache or have allergies–some Tylenol and Excedrin, plus some allergy meds. It’s also nice to have some extras in case somebody else has a headache. Unfortunately, it got buried in my backpack and one day when I actually needed one, I couldn’t find it. I’ll keep it in a different pocket next time.

My business cards (3) are from I love the little mini cards, and particularly the fact that you can have different backs to them. I’ve updated the front to the new GeekDad logo but I still have my grammar tips on the backs, with a few new additions. I actually didn’t use nearly as many business cards this year–a lot of people I met with already know my email address so it’s more of a formality sometimes. Or, you know, you can just Google me.

Con Crud Fluxx
Fortunately, the only Con Crud I caught this year was from Looney Labs. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I highly recommend having some hand sanitizer during a con to avoid Con Crud, especially if you’re shaking hands with people or passing game components around all weekend like I am. My personal solution is the travel-sized Purell (4) with the rubber strap. It fits nicely through the ring on the side of my backpack so it’s always ready without having to dig through my bag.

I know that I have trouble remembering to leave the exhibit hall to eat meals during a convention, so I take along some snacks (5) in case I get hungry and need something to tide me over. Protein bars aren’t always the tastiest, but they’re filling, portable, and can be eaten while I’m walking through a crowded aisle. Along with that, a water bottle (13) is also great to have. You won’t always be near a water fountain, and it’s important to stay hydrated. I used one that clips to the carabiner on the side of my bag, though I think next year I may swap out for a smaller plastic bottle. This one tended to bang into things a lot, and I almost took out a toddler on Sunday.

I know, lanyards are provided when you go to a convention, but a lot of times they’re thin ribbons that cut into your neck. That’s why I’ve appropriated this nice lanyard (6) from one of my wife’s medical conferences. It’s downright cushy, and even though most people at the gaming convention had no idea what TransforMED was, my neck was comfortable.

Opening Crowds
The hallways are starting to fill up before the exhibit halls open on the first day of Gen Con. Shot with the RE Camera. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Okay, so I brought a selfie stick (7). Part of one. It’s actually something I was sent as part of the Netflix Stream Team, but I realized I could take off the camera-holding portion and be left with a standard tripod thread, perfect for the RE Camera (9). I usually use my Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX9V (a 16-megapixel point-and-shoot) for photos, but my family had some friends visiting back at home while I was gone and needed the camera. So I figured I’d try making do with my iPhone and the RE, which is tiny and portable. The wide angle of the RE also gave me an idea: I attached it to the selfie stick, extended it straight up, and got some great over-the-head crowd shots inside and outside the exhibit hall. Yeah, I got some strange looks, but I also got some great shots I couldn’t have otherwise. (For the record, it’s an Mpow iSnap, which has Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone so you can push the button to snap a picture.) I only used the selfie stick on the first day, and then left it back in my room the rest of the time. As far as I know, Gen Con doesn’t have a policy against them, but I know some places have banned them, so check first.

Speaking of the RE Camera, it worked well for the big establishing shots and I used it to shoot a few videos, but connecting it to my phone requires both wifi and Bluetooth, so that can drain the battery pretty quickly. It also needs to be pretty still or the photos blur, so I used it mostly for the crowd shots or big scenes, and used my iPhone for everything else. And I still ended up with lots of photos and a few videos of the inside of my bag when the button got pushed–not really sure how to avoid that.

I wear glasses, so having a few lens wipes (8) is handy–plus they can also be used to clean off a camera lens or phone screen.

Talking to people all weekend is hard on your throat, especially in a noisy convention. Fortunately tabletop games aren’t nearly as loud as videogames, so I find the noise volume at Gen Con a little more bearable than, say, PAX. But either way, it’s a good idea to suck on cough drops (10) throughout the convention–this year I didn’t lose my voice until Sunday morning.

Selinker pen
Mike Selinker autographed my pen. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Most people signing autographs have their own pens, but it never hurts to have your own just in case. As I learned this weekend, though, probably best to have extras, and get some new ones. I brought two fine-point Sharpies (11) that were fairly new, but by Sunday after all those Emperor’s New Clothes cards they were starting to go. Next year: buy new Sharpies and bring more of them.

This probably goes without saying, but bring your charging cables (12). If you forget to turn off your wifi, your phone will be dead in a few hours as it searches hopelessly for a signal. I also use a portable battery pack (17) to top off my phone as needed, and having a longer charging cable means I can keep the pack in my pocket and still use my phone if I need to. The battery I’ve been using is the Adventurer from No Outlet No Problem’s Kickstarter project, which I backed in 2013, but there are plenty of options out there. It’s not the smallest one available, but I can charge up my phone several times without needing to recharge the battery, so I like it.

Tissues (16). I didn’t need them this year, but you never know. And then use some Purell (see above). We don’t want your con crud.

Name Tags
How do you get 20 games signed? Like this. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Years ago when I went to Comic-Con, I realized that I really didn’t want to haul a big stack of books around with me to get signed, but I’d have a chance to meet a lot of people I’d love autographs from. My solution: name tag stickers. Since then, I always carry a pack of stickers (I like the classic “Hello My Name Is” type) and I can get any game or book in my library signed, without having to schlep it around a crowded exhibit hall. I didn’t get quite as many autographs this year for my games since I was collecting those Emperor’s New Clothes cards instead, but I did get several.

Finally, everything goes into my Moleskine backpack (14). I reviewed it last year after Gen Con, and I used it again this year. Other than my difficulty finding the pill case in one of the interior pouches, it worked perfectly (in backpack mode) and I imagine it’ll continue to be my convention bag until I wear it out.

There were a few things I didn’t carry with me this year: I’m done hauling around my iPad at the convention just in case I want to sit down and type out something on a bigger keyboard. You know what? I never have time for that, and it can generally wait until I get back to my room… or home from the con. I found I much preferred just having the notebook to write things down, and my phone was enough for the emails I was actually going to respond to during the convention.

I also didn’t carry my games with me during the day, like I did last year. Yeah, it’s a long walk to the hotel and then back to the convention hall for gaming, but it’s worth it not to carry an extra five pounds of cardboard for several hours. Plus, if I’ve picked up some more games during the day, chances are I want to drop at least some of them off in the room.

So, what do you keep in your convention bag? Anything I should add to my toolbox?

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