Happy convention season!
Conventions are one of my favorite things in the world :) I've been attending them for 20+ years and I usually hit at least 5 or 6 a year, sometimes 7 or 8 or 9! I'm in a lot of convention discussion groups, and I see a lot of people talking about how to best prepare for, experience, and recover from a con. These questions have been asked and answered a million times by a million different people, but I thought I'd share my process and my tips.
Before the con
1. Make a packing list
Good preparation is key! I always start by making a packing list. Usually WAY in advance of the actual event! I find that when I'm really excited about an upcoming event, making a list will calm me down, center my thoughts, help me focus on what I need to do, and also act as a little but of fantasy planning. "The con is coming! What am I gonna wear? What am I gonna bring? What am I gonna drink?" Be productive; write your answers down!
I like Packing Pro for iOS for list-making. (sorry Android users, I'm not sure what to recommend for you.) Packing Pro will import a .csv, so I always start with a spreadsheet that I can more easily edit, and then import it when I'm done. The beauty of this system is that I can copy my old spreadsheets into a new list, and have a good starting point for my next trip. I don't have to remember my entire (VERY LONG) list of toiletries for every single trip. And I know if I'm going on an airplane trip, or a quick 2-day road trip, or whatever, I can find a similar trip in my recent history and build off of that. It's such an easy system!
2. Pre-trip to-do list
This is part of the packing list but is important enough to warrant its own entry. I maintain a list of all the things I need to do to get ready to go to the con. Oil change? Get some cash? Buy some rum? It goes on the list. Like the packing list, I add to it as thoughts pop into my head. The list is alive and ever-evolving!
3. Check the schedule
Con schedules are typically released anywhere from a few days to a month ahead of the event. Check the schedule. Note every single thing you want to do! Double-note the can't-miss things! Most cons should have an app for their schedule where you can mark the events you're interested in and view a customized schedule of just those events. However, I go to a few cons that don't have this option, or rely on a really unreliable web service which you can't access when you're in the hotel/convention center because the internet is terrible. In that case I'll screenshot the schedule and annotate the panels I'm interested in. Sometimes I'll crop the panel descriptions and mosaic the images into a new list. Or, if all else fails, print out the schedule, highlight it, and carry it around. There's no shame in that :) The point is, know where you want/need to be. It's easier to do this a few days ahead of time than it is the morning of the event!
But remember, schedules can change. Don't try to make your schedule too far in advance because a lot of cons will shuffle things around even the day of the event. I'll usually try to lock in my schedule 2-3 days before the con. And when you're at the con, be on the lookout for schedule changes! The do sometimes happen last-minute!
4. Research the unofficial events
Your con will have meetups, photo shoots, parties, shows, and all sorts of other events that are not on the official schedule. Find a Facebook group or an RPF thread or a subreddit or some other forum about your convention. Read it. Follow it. Talk to people. This is where you make friends and learn about the fun stuff!
My packing list is huge, but I will give you an overview of my essentials:
Event tickets - THESE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!!! DON'T FORGET THESE!!! Also bring a lanyard or a clip or a pin or something to secure your badge to your body. The con will probably give you a free lanyard, but it will clash with your outfit.
Cash. I hate cash but you need it to tip the valet, the bag check, the maids, the room party bartenders, and maybe to buy stuff if the vendor's internet is being wonky.
Toiletries. Yes you can buy toothpaste at the hotel gift shop, but it's stupid expensive. Yes the hotel gives you shampoo, but your shampoo is probably better. Bring your own stuff. Don't forget band-aids, Advil, and condoms. Even if you don't think you'll need them, it's best to be prepared!
Electronics AND CHARGERS! Remember your phone. Remember a portable charger and cable. Remember your laptop, tablet, watch, camera, etc. if that stuff is important to you. Remember wall chargers and cables for all of these things! If you think you might have people gathered around your phone or ipad watching videos, being a speaker. I guarantee you your phone is not loud enough. Trust me, it's happened to me!
Clothes and costumes. How many days will you be there? Double that number for your underwear count. Maybe even triple it if you're going to wear heavy sweaty costumes in the middle of summer. Bring good socks and at least one set of comfy casual clothes. Remember all your jewelry, wigs, hair clips, makeup, and other little costume bits.
Shoes and foot care. Bring at least one pair of comfortable shoes. Bring your best moisture-wicking socks. Bring extra band-aids and moleskins, and scissors to cut them up with. I'm also a huge fan of Body Glide Foot Anti Blister Balm. It's a stick (like deodorant) that you apply to the bottom of your feet that creates a barrier between your skin and your sock and helps prevent blisters. This stuff works like magic! Nothing will ruin your convention faster than foot/shoe pain; take every step you can possibly take to keep your feet comfy but still looking hot in your cosplay shoes!
Medications. The stuff you take on a regular basis as well as the stuff you take as-needed. Bring your inhaler, pain killers, allergy stuff, stomach stuff, Better to have it and not need it than the other way around!
Not essential, but I also usually bring a fan, Sharpie, sewing kit, Swiss Army knife, garment steamer, door hook, snacks, drinks, a little tote bag, a swimsuit, a poster tube, a sturdy folder, binoculars, extra ziplock bags, and a flask. I don't always use every item, but they're good for just in case.
At the con
1. Remember where your hotel room is!
As soon as you check in, take a picture of your room number. Create an album called "room number" and put that picture - and only that picture - in that album. That way you only have to scroll through your albums to find your room number. I've forgotten my room number a few times, and I've seen it happen to others. As long as you remember the photo exists, you can find your way home!
If your hotel is not the main convention site, or if you plan on going offsite at any point, also note your hotel's address so you can find it again later. Again, a solution based on true stories!
2. Have fun!
Go to the panels! Meet the celebrities! Talk to strangers! Each con has its own customs and culture and there are too many to mention here, but keep up with the con's official and unofficial social media and you'll find plenty to do :) Obviously be responsible, know your limits, be safe. But cons are typically friendly and accepting and filled with people waiting to be your new best friend!
3. Look out for each other
Cons are like a club. We're all there for the same reasons, we all have this amazing thing in common, and we're all trying to have a fun weekend. If you see somebody who looks like they're in trouble, or crying, or had a few too many, help out of you can. I've had strangers take care of me at cons more times than I can count, and I've taken care of strangers. Cons are a community and this is what communities do.
4. Take care of yourself
Remember the 3-2-1 rule - 3 hours sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower per day. Adjust these numbers as needed. I've also heard this referred to as the 5-2-1 rule, but I think 3-2-1 has a better ring to it :) The point of the rule is, prioritize sleep, meals, and showers each day!
Beyond 3-2-1, drink lots of water. Have a good meal before you start drinking. Wash your hands. Maintain your feet. Some people swear by vitamins and Emergen-C. I've never bothered with them, but if they work for you, do it!
5. Have fun!
I know I already said it, but it bears repeating. This should be your con goal!
After the con
1. Go home and take another shower
You have con filth all over you. Clean it off before you do anything else! This is step one in preventing con crud.
You are probably super sleep-deprived. If you can, skip work the day after the con and spend the day sleeping.
3. Eat some vegetables
You probably didn't eat nearly enough of them at con
4. Find a home for all your mementos
I always come home with at least one celebrity photo-op photo, maybe an autograph, maybe some other important little pieces of paper I want to keep forever. I have a con binder (a beautiful leather binder embossed with an anti-possession symbol that I picked up at a Supernatural con a few years ago) filled with sheet protectors that I put all the photos and paper into. I'm going to buy a larger multi-page portfolio at some point for all the art I always buy but, for now, they're mostly all shamefully still rolled and piled on a shelf, save for the few I've actually framed and hung on the wall. There are more on the shelf than on the wall :(
5. Sort your photos
Pull them off your phone and into Dropbox or wherever now. If you're into editing, do it now while the event is still fresh in your mind and you still remember why you took that pic of that thing. Post the good ones to Instagram or Facebook. Manage them now so you can keep them forever!
6.. Prep for next time
How was your packing list? What did you forget? What did you not need? Tweak your list now so it'll be ready for the next event!
7. Ride that con high!
What inspired you at the con? Do you want to build a new costume? Write a comic? Join a club? Make a film? GO DO THAT THING!!! Cons are the best for sparking ideas. Now is the time to follow through! Don't wait. If you do you'll just get bogged down with work and life and blah. Commit to the things that inspired you, and find a way to make them happen!
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This list is, obviously, not an all-encompassing exhaustive list of everything, but I hope it helps to make your con experience just a little bit better. If you're a first timer or if you've been going your whole life, there's always something new and fun and inspiring to experience at cons, and ways to carry those experiences into your real life. Have fun!
And if you see me at any Pacific Northwest cons or DragonCon, stop me and say hi!
What are your best convention tips?