Mega Cons: Tips for a Great Time!
This weekend LA will be hosting Anime Expo, with San Diego Comic Con following the week after. Apart from being two of the largest conventions in North America, they are on many Conventioneer’s bucket lists. So how do you ensure that you have the best experience possible at one of these ‘mega-cons’? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Especially if you’re travelling from a few states away to a larger convention be sure you plan ahead by pre-registering for a badge, and booking your hotel and travel early.
Many large conventions give a discount for pre-registering your badge. This can add up to huge savings in your convention budget. And guarantees your badge. Some large conventions like SDCC and PAX sell out within a few hours of badges being posted, making onsite registration impossible. Just make sure you watch the convention’s website and social media for updates on pricing tiers, when badge sales will go live, and other restrictions.
Hotels are similar, often a convention has hotel blocks which have cheaper rates. But these rooms can go fast. Talk to any other members of your group and figure out what dates you’ll need for your reservation. Also make sure you read the fine print, as some hotels will require a deposit at the time of your reservation. It can be good to add that extra day to your reservation, even if you’re not sure you’ll need end up needing it. Be sure to check with the hotel for their cancellation policy first, but it’s harder to add days at the last minute. If you end up not needing your full reservation, be sure to respect the hotel’s policies and cancel early enough.
Travel, whether its by plane, train, bus, or car is cheaper during certain times. Plane tickets can be cheaper two months before your trip than six. Train tickets prices (at least on the west coast) are fairly stable, but can get pricey the closer to your trip date. If you’re lucky to have the Bolt Bus in your area, check it out! They have cheap fares, and free wifi! If you’re driving, check online for parking options. Even if you do drive, big conventions that use various hotels to serve their attendees, will often have a free shuttle from the hotels to the convention venue. These are fantastic, use them! Just be sure to check the shuttle schedules so you don’t end up stranded. For other tips on getting to and from the convention check the convention’s website, social media or even fan groups on Facebook. Other attendees will often share their experiences and great options for new Conventioneers!
In the era of technology, conventions have been helping drive social media trends. Industry companies, personalities, guests and the conventions themselves take to social media to make announcements, updates, and more! If you haven’t checked out the convention’s social media, please do. Its the best way to know about special events, guest updates, the schedule, etc. A lot of conventions also use a scheduling app like Guidebook or Sched. Once the convention announces that their schedule is up, make sure you take a look at it and decide which panels and events you can’t miss. Having a game plan ahead of time can cut down on time wasted after you’ve picked up your badge.
Make sure you check the convention's website before leaving for your trip for information about badge pick-up, line and autograph rules, and any changes they may have made. This is especially important if the convention has changed venues or have experienced a large increase in attendance over the last few years. If you can't find information you need, don't fret! Double check to see if the convention has an FAQ posted, or an information email. Another good way to get some clarification on a rule or policy at the convention is to find their info booth. The info booth should be able to help you out with most questions including information on disability services, nearby food locations, maps and more!
Expect some lines.
All of us hate lines. And conventions can be notorious for having long lines for everything from Registration and badge pick-up to panels and even the bathroom! So what should you do? Check the convention's line up and room clearing* policies. If you know that registration lines will be outside in the summer heat, bring water, put on sunscreen and do whatever you need to take care of yourself. If you're feeling unwell, get the attention of the staff so they can help you.
Don't be afraid to bring a book to read, or sketchbook, or a handheld gaming console. These all help pass the time. Even road games or puzzle books are a great, cheap idea for entertainment. Even if you're attending with friends or family, having some entertainment in case you go off on your own is still a great idea. You can also just chat with other folks in line. Ask about their cosplay, or where they traveled from. Bond over the panel topic, or all the street passes you've gotten on your DS!
One thing to keep in mind is to always listen to the staff if they ask the line to move. Try not to block hallway traffic or doorways. And if you're asked to stand rather than sit, please comply. Line staff are trained on the convention and venue policies and are trusted to enforce them. So just do your best to be respectful of their requests and remember that they are there to make sure everyone has a great time!
Daily packing list!
These are the things I always make sure I have on me at large conventions. They're essentials for me and many people in the industry.
Water Bottle - A good sized water bottle with a clip to hook onto a bag.
Snacks - Granola bars or fruit are my personal fave.
Secondary/Portable Battery & Charging Cords - Outlets are few and far between at large venues and many times you are not allowed to camp next to one to charge your phone. Check some reviews before you invest in one so you know you're getting the best value. It's also a great idea to bring a power strip with you when you travel as some hotel rooms never seem to have enough outlets for everyone!)
Writing Materials - Even with digital devices taking over, I still carry a pen or sharpie with me so I can write down numbers or lend it to someone who needs it.
Messenger Bag or Tote Bag - I prefer messenger bags at cons because they have pockets for all my devices, cords and other needs. I love my Timbuk2 bags which are waterproof, durable, and come with a lifetime warranty. Whatever bag you bring with you, make sure you’re comfortable hauling it around with you all day. Some conventions do have a bag check, but don’t count on one. A last note, is the reason I prefer a larger bag is so I can stuff a jacket in it in case I need it. During summer conventions you may not think you need one, but some venues have wonderful AC, and I usually end up freezing even if it’s 90+ degrees outside.
First Aid and Medication - If you get migraines or need to take medications every few hours keep a supply of your meds on your person. I usually bring enough for the length of my trip plus a few extra in case I give an Advil to a friend. Recently I started putting all the normal pills I take on trips into one of those weekly pill organizers. It keeps them all together and makes it easy to find in my bag. I also carry a simple first aid kit for cuts and blisters which additionally has Vitamin- C powder and hand sanitizer. If you’re going to a lot of conventions you’re more likely to get ‘con-plague’, so using preventative measures can decrease the chances of getting sick.
Convention Book or Program Guide - Even if I have their schedule app on my phone I like having hard copies of schedules. They almost always include a map of the venue and work even if your phone dies. At some conventions the program book is the one item that all guests will sign for free, so all in all, it's worth the space in your bag.
Lanyard - I always bring along my own lanyard, I keep an empty badge holder on it to hold my ID or room key, or in case the convention is running low on badge holders. It also has part of my button collection which acts as a great conversation starter. Bringing my own lanyard ensures that even if the con only uses pin on badges I don't have to risk ruining a nice shirt or jacket to pin it on. It also makes sure my badge is always above my waist which is required by some cons for security and identification reasons. Be aware that some cons do require you wear their lanyard to prevent badge forging and ghosting. So if a staffer asks you to switch it comply.
Wallet - This may seem silly but I put it here because having everything in a wallet ensures that you won't lose your cash or I'd by having it fall out of a bag or pocket while looking for something else. Even if you're cosplaying there are ways to discreetly hide a wallet. Check into getting a travel wallet for going over seas and modifying it if you need to. They are designed to fit under clothing to prevent the theft of passports and money. Or get creative and add a pocket in a piece of clothing or a hiding place in a prop.
Follow the Rules & Be Courteous
Convention rules are in place to make sure everyone has a good time. They make sure no one gets hurt and that the venue and staff stay happy. One of the biggest pet peeves of convention staff is cosplay photos in crowded areas. Make sure you are careful not to block traffic or doorways with photos. A lot of conventions have areas specifically for photos, so check the website or program book to see if the one you’re attending has a specific area. Standing in the aisles of the vendor hall is usually a huge no-no. Posing in the vendor hall can lead to congestion in the aisle, block sales for the booths near by, and can create fire code issues. Convention staff understands that everyone wants to appreciate great cosplay, but if you’re a cosplayer, ask the photographer to move with you to an out of the way area, or arrange to meet in the photo area later. And don’t forget, always ask permission! A simple ‘Can I take your photo please?’ goes a long way.
Another, usually unspoken, rule is to silence your devices before going into a panel. Just like at the movies, disruptions are annoying and rude to the panelist. Panelists, whether they are just fans, or if they are industry or guests, work hard on the material they are presenting. Having cell phones and email notifs going off constantly is a distraction and takes away from the experience of others. If you’re in a panel taking photos or video, be respectful of the panelist’s requests for when it's okay. When it comes to industry panels or screenings, taking video and photos can violate copyright laws. Industry representatives will announce if it's not okay to record a segment of a panel. Additionally, keep in mind that flash photography can be very distracting to panelists.
Room Clearing - Room Clearing is a policy used by some conventions to prevent room camping. Bigger conventions tend to draw bigger guests and that sometimes means more fans showing up than a panel room can fit. If a convention 'room clears' that means that after each panel every person in the room has to leave and return to the end of the line or go to another panel room. This ensures that more people cycle through the room and that people do not show up for a 6pm panel at Noon. Some conventions specifically state that this is only done in certain panel rooms, or after certain panels. So just be sure to double check the convention's website or ask a staff member if you're unsure of the policy.
Fun & Useful Links!
Bolt Bus - https://www.boltbus.com/
Guidebook - https://guidebook.com/
Sched - https://sched.org/
Originally published on 7/1/2015 at conventioning.wordpress.com