A Conventioneer's Toolkit: The Unconventional Guide to Surviving & Enjoying Conventions
Even if you are a veteran convetioneer, its always fun to know what tips and tricks other people have come up with over the years. Most industry and guests, who can do dozens of conventions each year, have very specific ‘con survival kits’. These include everything from Emergency-C, their favorite geeky water bottle, hand sanitizer, Day and NyQuil, external chargers, lanyards, phones, bandaids, comfy shoes, and more!
As staff, I perfected my own survival kit to include sharpies and pens, sticky notes, Aleve and Excedrin, bandaids, athletic tape, and of course a messenger bag to shove it all into. But what about the things that aren’t usually talked about? There are plenty of guides out there for how to survive your first convention. And tips and tricks for saving money and time when both are at a premium. Some conventions even have guides posted on their websites for newbies! So this is a more unconventional list to help you get through a convention.
1. Come to Con Prepared.
This means have a planned out budget for your convention experience. This may seem like a no brainer, but its an easy thing to forget about. Make sure you know how much you’ll need to pay your hotel and travel expenses. Estimate how much you’ll need to spend on food, either at the convention, or ahead of time if you’re bringing along your own groceries. Make sure you don’t forget phone chargers, shoes, a cosplay emergency repair kit! A packing/pre-con list is highly recommended! Also, make sure you have all of your confirmation numbers, ID, know when your check-in time is, and where to pick up badges. All this will make getting to the con much, much smoother!
2. Realize that most convention staff are unpaid volunteers.
I put this first, because after working for various conventions of different genres over the last decade, I know that the average attendee doesn’t usually think about that fact. People staff conventions because they love working for them. They find it fun and exciting to help put on a show that will leave hundreds of people with great memories of that weekend. It also means that they’re spending their time working to make that happen. Staff can get cranky too. Maybe they got the morning shift and were up at 5am, and haven’t had a chance to get coffee yet. Or maybe its just been so busy that they’re stressed out. My best advice is to just treat your Friendly Local Staffers like people. They want you to have a good time, that’s what they signed up for!
3. Support your industries and creators.
While to most folks this seems obvious, the increase of piracy has had a major impact on the industry. When you pirate an episode, comic, or movie, the company doesn’t get paid. When the company doesn’t get paid, they can’t take on new projects and thus hire actors, creators, or continue going to conventions. We all have bills to pay, and way more geeky things we’d love to purchase, but sometimes you just have to forego buying something. Try borrowing from your local library. Find an anime night in your town. Utilize half priced or discount bookstores. (Powell’s is my local fave, and they ship too!) Or even try what my friends and I did in middle school, share the cost of a series. We’d buy a volume onced we’d saved up money for it. Then we’d each take a turn reading it, before returning it to the person who’d purchased it.
4. Respect the Venue.
The best way for a convention to be able to return to a location is for the venue to be well taken care of and for the staff to be respected. Most conventions will post a set of guidelines given to them by the venue, but in general use your common sense. Many hotels do not allow masks in the lobby, or hair dying in hotel bathrooms. Similarly convention and event centers often do not allow certain types of weapons for security reasons. If you have questions find your convention’s F.A.Q. or email a staff member. More often than not, the staff will be happy to answer your questions about the venue and glad you asked.
5. Be considerate and respectful to others; attendees, staff, guests, and muggles too.
Not everyone will know that a convention is taking place. Or what a convention is. As a staffer I spoke to many ‘muggles’ who were curious about why thousands of people were gathered that weekend. Occasionally there will be passersby that will harass or catcall attendees and staff (especially those in cosplay), the best way to deal with those instances is to get a good description of the person, note the direction they were headed and alert a staff member, or someone attached to the venue. They have the best tools to handle those situations and prevents you and other attendees from getting into trouble.
6. Read the convention policies and rules. Before you go!
Photo Areas & Chill Places
One of the biggest complaints that convention and venue staff have about attendees is that they tend to linger or take photographs in areas they aren’t supposed to. Taking photos, or sitting down in a busy hallway can cause congestion issues and may be against fire code. So if you aren’t sure you can take a break in a certain place, ask a staff member. And look for the official photo booth or photo area in the convention’s program book. Or when in doubt, go outside or back to a hotel room. Remember, you’re sharing the venue with other attendees, and potentially every day folks, making them step over you, or wait until you’ve taken a photo is rude.
Weapons & Cosplay
Most cosplayers are great at being proactive to read a convention’s rules about cosplay and weapons. However, if you are used to going to a certain genre of convention, and then go to a new type you may find their rules very different from what you are accustomed to. A convention’s website, program book, or app are all good places to look to find their rules on cosplay and weapons. However, you should always check before you go. No one wants to go to a convention and find out they can’t wear part of their costume because it violates the con’s rules. So be proactive and find out before you go. Also make sure to adhere to any peace-tying rules. Peace-tying is a way for convention staff to easily identify what weapons and props have been OK-ed by a staff member to be in con space. Usually conventions use a colored zip tie to indicate that something has been checked and OK-ed.
Lines. A big pet peeve of many staffers I know is lines. Namely, attendees not knowing or adhering to the rules the con has about lines. When a convention has a policy that states you cannot line up more than half an hour before an event, it is usually to prevent fire code violations, people camping lines, and space issues. So if a staffer tells you that you cannot line up yet, please respect the policy and understand that they are trying to make it a fair experience for everyone. If you’re unsure when or where a line is going to start, ask a staff member, or find the info booth. They should be able to help you, or at least point you in the direction of someone that can answer your question.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Even if you think it’s a stupid question, ask. At the very least you’ll be directed to an FAQ or portion of the convention’s website where you can find your answer. If you can’t figure out who to email before the con, try messaging a Facebook page, or tweeting to the con’s Twitter account. If you find yourself already at the con with questions, go to the info booth, or find a staff member, or the appropriate staff office.
Your convention guidebook/pocket guide/app is your best friend
My smart phone is my best pal at conventions. Especially the ones that use apps like Guidebook! It keeps all of the con’s maps, schedules, and changes in one easy to access place. You can even select what panels and events you’d like to attend and it will send you reminder alerts! In lieu of a smart phone or app, the convention’s guidebook or program schedule is a must have! Most cons give you these at registration or have them available at an info booth. Some conventions even post what’s happening in a room outside of it, and usually have pretty up to date information on schedule changes. Other great places to check for schedule changes is a convention’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, or their info booth.
7. Its dangerous to go alone! Bring a buddy!
Yes, just like at summer camp, I’m an advocate of the buddy system at conventions. And I don’t mean that friend you’ve never met in person that you talk to online all the time. There have been a slew of stories about harassment at conventions, and while having someone you know with you won’t always prevent an incident, it can give you a familiar face to help. Whether its having your car broken into, harassment, or just not being familiar with the venue, a friend can help give you the support to make it through the weekend. Or help you make the decision to go home early if need be. Its also just more fun to go to conventions with friends or family.
8. Don’t Forget Your Timeturner.
When you’re at a convention it can be easy to lose track of time, don’t forget your watch or phone to prevent yourself from missing panels. I always charge my phone overnight and set alarms or reminders so I won’t miss things. I also always keep a charging cord, with AC adapter and my external battery with me for those long days. A dead phone isn’t very useful for keeping time, or knowing when to meet your friends. Though if someone does invent a timeturner or TARDIS, let me know! There’s never enough time at conventions!
9. Make some ‘Me Time’.
This is especially true I find when you go to a con in a large group. Sometimes you don’t want to go to the same panels, or you just need a break to go look at some cool art or cosplayers. So, don’t forget to find something you want to do, and go. Don’t let your group dictate the whole weekend for you. And don’t be afraid to try out something new. You could easily learn something really cool by going to a panel with a subject you know nothing about.
But I really just wanted a more conventional list! Where can I get that? Well I polled my friends, their friends and the internet in general, and here’s what they came up with!:
“Eat, sleep, shower, and socialize. You will never regret the experience.” - Yorovish
“Budget, budget, budget. And eat! Have your phones charged, and have paper backups for important numbers. Go over the schedule soon as you get it and get an idea of what you want to do when. Bring a repair kit if you cosplay. Don't room with perfect strangers.” - Anon
“Be patient, take extra time to get places, pay attention to any requisites for panels, and when in doubt, ask a staff member.” - Tamy
“Try to attend at least one panel or demo outside of your main interest. Attend a reading, writing or hard-science panel, if you are primarily a cosplayer. You will meet interesting people and learn about all kinds of strange things!” - Elle
“Have fun and be fearless! Don't be afraid to ask questions...Appreciate the uniqueness of everyone attending. Challenge yourself.” - Theresa
“Pace yourself, and remember the three-digit key, 6-2-1: Six hours sleep, two proper meals, and one shower a day.” - Erik
"Be careful with each other and the guests." - Anon
"Always have a map and a plan. Go with a group of friends you can trust and have fun with. Make sure to have fun." - Tsumi
"Make sure you have water and food. Never let yourself get too hungry or dehydrated no matter what the situation is. If you feel ill because you haven't eaten then make sure you take care of that no matter what else you might be doing. Your health is more important than cosplay." - Erin
"Know what you are interested in attending in advance, with directions to the location, etc, and also leave room to just wander. I find I have more fun with the wandering because you see things you might have missed by sticking to a strict schedule." - Moiya
"Eat, drink, sleep, and bathe. Plan ahead. Wear comfortable shoes. And patience is a must. Eat because people get cranky when they're hungry. Drink [water] so you don't get dehydrated and pass out. Sleep to avoid the short tempers and sleep deprivation symptoms. Plus, you don't want to miss out on that panel because you fell asleep in the back row! Bathe. It sounds so cliche with the geek convention lifestyle, but it's true. No one wants to smell con funk. Plus, you'll feel better when you're clean. Plan ahead because conventions are loaded with different events and you're not going to be able to go to them all. You'll have to pick and choose. Wear comfortable shoes, or bring spares if you're in cosplay because you're going to be on your feet for a very long time. And patience because everyone's going to be tired, sore, and stressed, even staff. As staff, we try our hardest to make sure the attendees have a great time, but mistakes happen. We're just as tired and upset about the mistake as you are, and we want to make this a good memory for you. We just ask for a little bit of patience in our favor, and a little bit of patience to your fellow attendees. It'll make the whole convention go a lot smoother." - Anon
"Appreciate the staff that volunteer countless hours both before, during and after the convention. Eat sleep and bathe. Never underestimate the usefulness of a con hotel room." - Sam
Cool links to check out!
Originally published on 3/24/2015 at conventioning.wordpress.com