Gen Con for the First Time: Preparation

Events Gaming

Like many tabletop, RPG, and board gamers, Gen Con has long been a bucket list item for me. In late 2021, we decided that 2022 was going to be The Year, and started saving for the trip. Now that we’re home, I have some thoughts to share. This is Part 1 of a three-part series.

Food and beverages across the street. Photo courtesy Gen Con LLC.

Preparing for Gen Con

Most people think of preparing for Gen Con as a matter of saving up for all the neat things we want to purchase, but I’ve learned that Gen Con prep is really so much more. Gen Con is an entire experience, and one that requires forethought on probably every level. From attending other types of conventions several years ago, I thought I was ready with a lot of things, including Emergen-C every morning, Liquid IV at lunch every day, a script for introducing myself, one of my favorite books for signing, a backpack to carry every day, and full knowledge of my physical limitations. Even with all those preparations, I was still not ready for what Gen Con had in store for me.

What I Did Right

Well beforehand, we started saving. I tried to set aside plenty of money every month, and made our hotel and airfare reservations as early as possible with points and miles. These two things made Gen Con infinitely more affordable for us. Five nights in a hotel and airfare for four people can really add up. Not having those expenses really saved us in the long run.

Coins spilling from a jar that has been used to save money
Saving is hard, but important. Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

I also reserved a hotel nearer the airport, about 15 minutes from the convention center. While the Uber costs probably ate up some of what we saved on hotel points, one major benefit I think is that it made quiet time easier at night. There were definitely plenty of gamers staying at the hotel, as evidenced by evening games in the lobby, but there was little to no raucous hallway gaming at all hours of the night.

I ensured that each family member had both physical and virtual copies of their vaccination card. This came in handy when my teenager’s vaccination card went missing and we were able to just use the version on his phone. It did help that most of us have custom card holders, but I’m also grateful we could leave the physical cards at the hotel every day. Having the sturdy wristbands to show that our vaccination status had been confirmed was also super useful because I would hate to have to show my card every time we entered the convention center.

My daily backpack almost always started out empty with just some gum, a spare mask, hand sanitizer and wipes, and my lunchtime Liquid IV in it. By the end of the day, we were stuffing things wherever they would fit. I was grateful that throughout the day, I had people with me who were willing to take turns carrying it when my shoulders or back got sore. And my shoulders and back got sore.

The daily loadout. Photo by Angela Leach.

I packed an extra bag for each person attending: we each went with our carry ons packed into a full sized checked bag that was otherwise empty or nearly so. If you are considering attending Gen Con for the first time, packing that extra luggage is vital. You cannot attend Gen Con and get out without spending any money on anything fun, and chances are you’ll need to pack it home with you. Extra luggage is crucial.

One area I prepared for Gen Con and then mistakenly didn’t use my preparation was in the realm of sustenance. Because Gen Con 2022 was (rightfully) mask and vaccination mandated, and I was hesitant to pull down my mask at all, I didn’t take advantage of the snacks or my water bottle. This frequently resulted in a dehydrated, hangry Angela who needed to be dragged out of the convention to the food trucks outside. For future Gen Cons, I’ll need to find a better way to handle this, even while masked. Even three days after returning home, I’m still struggling to rehydrate myself.

What I Didn’t Do But Should Have

Nearly everything I normally do involves sitting, from work to my small business to my hobbies and even my cello playing. My upper body is pretty active, but my poor legs? They’re decidedly not. One thing I failed to do properly in preparation for Gen Con was to start walking more. My feet and calves suffered the most on the first two days, after which they either went numb or got used to the abuse. My daily steps were, on average, triple my normal, and seating was at a premium so resting was almost impossible since getting up from the floor for me is harder than teaching a baby giraffe to ride a unicycle.

Sitting on the floor was NOT a good idea. Photo by Angela Leach.

Like many geeks, I have a combination of brain chemicals that doesn’t always lend itself well to interacting with humans on a grand scale. The sheer number of people at Gen Con can be overwhelming and without having a plan for interacting with them I was terrified. Thankfully, I discovered my lack of planning on Wednesday evening when we went to get our proof of vaccination wristbands, and I rectified my mistake that night simply by coming up with some emergency ideas for overwhelm. Gen Con provided a Quiet Room which featured heavily in those plans.

I was not prepared for the size and scope of Gen Con. I scanned the exhibit hall vendors ahead of time and looked up a few that I had never heard of, so I had a pretty decent idea of booths I didn’t want to miss. With that said, the exhibit hall took up almost all of my Gen Con and I missed out on a whole lot of the rest of the con. I never did get to sit down and game, I only made it to Lucas Oil Stadium as we were leaving on Sunday (and only took a photo of the board game library I so badly had wanted to try), and I didn’t set foot in any of the skybridge-connected hotels that also had con events going for all four days. I was wholly awed by the sheer vastness of the con, and in the future I know I need to better plan my days. Knowing that events can quickly sell out, I will be more likely to sign up for them ahead of time in the future. I’ll also prioritize sitting down and gaming for at least one day of the con next time. I was wiped out by dinner time every night, so I missed the evening events. Next time, if there is an evening event I want to attend, I either need to plan to be at the con all day, or just show up after lunch.

We never even got down the stairs. Photo by Angela Leach.

Finally, I wish I had plotted out where to spend my budget. It was so easy to just whip out the credit card and buy con-exclusive stuff that I ended up overspending by quite a bit. In the future, not only do I need to save more for fun spending, but I also need to split my budget into chunks for food, Ubers (an expense I expected but wasn’t fully prepared for), and then daily spending limits for fun stuff. I also need to work harder with the teenager on spending limits and effectively give him his own money so he can budget for his own things. Handing over cash for him to dash off and spend it happened far more than I’d like to admit. I’m grateful we had the funds to handle this thanks to me saving, but in the future it’s going to be a lot more structured.

Overall Takeaway

Attending a huge convention like Gen Con requires a lot of forethought and planning, especially as a normal American without much savings in an average month. The dream of attendance isn’t completely unreasonable, however. It just takes careful planning and scheduling. Thankfully I have a family who is super interested in going again, and that will encourage them to help me scrimp and save for another amazing weekend.

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