Itinerary: Planning for and attending a convention

***This was riginally posted on ComicsCrux.com for my JIMAA column and then I expanded upon it for Uncanny Pop and have altered it a bit for this entry.***

My fellow travelers, the convention season is now upon us. Many of you have attended some type of convention while others have never attended one. I’ve been to a few now and I’ve taken a long break from attending them. As I start back up this year going back to conventions, I wanted to share with you some tips of my own and via the world wide web that will help you be prepared and enjoy yourself. Let us proceed.

What You Should Do Months In Advance

Do Your Research: Find out what conventions you want to attend.

There are many conventions and it might be overwhelming to pick one that you would like to go attend. If you’ve never been to a convention, you might want to start with the local ones in your area and then fan out from there. You can make a list of cons that you would like to go to and then start with the first one.

To help you with your search there are a few websites which list almost every anime convention in the world by region, country, and state. Sites such as animecons.com and http://www.geekcal.com/ are excellent resources.

Do you want to attend a huge con, or would you rather start out with something smaller? Keep in mind that the larger the convention the bigger the fan turnout (Large cons can have anywhere between 15 and 40 thousand people attending), so if you have social phobia like I do you might want to start with a smaller convention.

Create a Budget

Once you’ve decided on the con you want to attend, the next thing is to create a budget.

This is important as you’ll need money to cover the following:

Travel/Hotel:

If the con you’re attending is nearby you’ll need gas money. If you have friends who are going with you you could car pool. You’ll also need money for parking. If a convention is at a hotel you won’t have to worry about that as parking is free.

Now if you’re attending a convention that’s farther away, make sure:

  • That your con takes place at a time when you will be able to vacation for 3 – 5 days.
  • Decide how you’re going to get there.  Are you going to fly? If you’re planning on a road trip, will you rent a car? Who will drive it? How much will gas cost?
  • Make sure you have more than one person who can drive, and that the car you’ve chosen is reliable and has enough room in it for the passengers and luggage.
  • Figure out who are you going to take with you, if anyone. Make sure you settle on who’s going to pay for what or how much each person’s going to chip in. Do this before you go! This has cost a lot of friendships.

Registration:

The majority of conventions you can’t get into free (unless you’re press) so you’ll have to pay a fee to enter and the price varies from con to con. Smaller cons usually cost less than the bigger ones so that’s also another reason to start with a small con.

Register early.  I can’t stress that to you enough. If you know for sure which convention you’ll attending then register early. The longer you wait to pay to more you’ll have to. Many conventions have early bird specials which are way cheaper than paying the day of.

There’s usually a difference of $15-$20 between the early price and the at-con price. If you pre-register, all you have to do is pick up your badge whatever day you arrive. At-con registration is expensive, stressful, and usually involves getting up at 5:30 am to avoid standing in a long line of other people who also forgot to pre-register. Usually registration for a con opens up about three months before it occurs, so be ready.

Bring enough spending money.

Remember to bring spending money too! You can easily spend more than $200 dollars at con on clothing, posters, DVDs, books, and other merchandise. One year I spent $150 (all on comics sadly) in one day. You will be very sad if you get to the con with your $25 and want to buy some souvenirs, but don’t have enough money.

So come prepared! Books and DVDs are often discounted, so there’s incentive to buy them there. Make sure that you know what you want to buy so that you’re not wasting your money. Also make sure what artists you would like to get a commission from. Commissions are usually more expensive than prints so just be aware of that.

Know if you are you going to cosplay.

If so, plan in advance. Buy or start making your costume at least two months in advance. That way you know for sure that’ll be shipped on time if you’re ordering it, or you’ll have plenty of time to make it.

Also when you’re packing, take cosplay into consideration. Think of how much space your costume and accessories need, and make sure you have that space. Are any of your travel mates doing large, bulky cosplays? Find out! Make sure you do the following:

    • Bring a sewing kit, duct tape, permanent markers, and/or whatever else you need to make emergency costume repairs. If your costume tears or breaks you’ll be very sad if you can’t fix it!
    • If you’re cosplaying, practice poses in costume beforehand. That way you’ll be ready to strut your stuff when people ask to photograph you – and they will if your cosplay is halfway decent!
    • Make sure your costume is appropriate for a potentially crowded con. Try to avoid long trailing pieces of clothing that could easily be stepped on or large accessories on your back that could hit people as you turn around. Your costume should allow you to move around easily and see reasonably well. If your costume does limit your vision, recruit a friend to escort you around the con or just try to stay in one place while you’re wearing it.

What to do a few days before the con:

Alright so now you know what you need to do in advance. Now here’s what you need to do a few days before you go:

Driving Preparations:

If you live a couple hours away from where the con is, give yourself plenty of time to get there in order to arrive at a decent time. Make sure you have time to settle into your hotel room and get a good night’s sleep the night before. You’re gonna need your energy!

Get Snacks!

You’re probably going to be at the con for most of the day, so you’re definitely going to need snacks. Here’s a list of some items that you should get. These food items are things that will help you keep your energy up, most are healthy and they travel well:

Granola Bars

Water

Trail mix

Power bars

Breakfast bars

Raisins

Candy

Gum

Dried fruit

Sandwiches

Peanut butter

Pocky

Snack sized fruit cups

Chips

Crackers

Spray cheese

Fresh fruit

Other Items to Bring:

  • Fresh clothing for each day
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.)
  • Prescription medication
  • Photo ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.)
  • Money, credit card, ATM card
  • Cell phone (and charger)
  • iPod (with headphones and charger)
  • Camera and video camera (and charger)
  • Directions to hotel
  • Printed hotel confirmation
  • Printed airline/train/bus itinerary
  • Printed receipt of pre-registration
  • Printed convention schedule (to be discarded when updated version is available upon arrival)
  • Costume (and all costume pieces)
  • Business cards with contact info for new friends
  • Read the Guide:Read the guide to con before you go. You can do this by looking at the convention’s website and printing off a copy of the guide or take a few notes. This is a good way to decide what events you want to attend as well as where to locate where the artists are and what booths you want to buy from.  Don’t worry about planning every minute, just find out what interests you beforehand and make your decisions as you go. Do not try to attend everything that interests you! It isn’t possible, and rushing around all day to catch five minutes of everything will just make you feel tired and dissatisfied.What To Do At the Con:

    It’s the day of the con. You’ve done everything stated above and now you ready to set out and have fun. Here’s what to do.

    Wear Comfortable shoes and clothing:

    If you’re not cosplaying, this is a must as you will be doing a lot of walking and standing.

    Arrive Early:

    Parking fills up fast -especially on Saturday. Saturday is the busiest day of any convention so make sure you get there early if possible to find a parking space and just be aware there’s going to be a lot of people. This will also give you time to check out the schedule to see what you would want to do for the day.

    Look over the guide again:

    At registration, you’re given the guide which contains the con’s rules, as well as a detailed schedule of events. Take a couple minutes to look it over again and see if there’s anything else that you would like to attend as well as go over the things that you already wanted to attend. This way you won’t miss any of your favorite anime screenings, autograph sessions, or band performances.

    Get to popular events & panels early!

    Line up early for big-name events. For band performances, cosplay and AMV contests, and awards ceremonies, make sure you get there early. Lines can grow to epic proportions, and although chatting with fellow attendees in line can be fun, waiting 45 minutes is not. For example: When I attended MegaCon a few years ago, I arrived at one of the Star Trek panels a little late and it was already packed-standing room only-and then they stopped letting folks in!

    Do not be afraid to split up.

    It’s okay to split up. If you’re at con with friends, you might have a panel that you want to go to but some of your friends want to attend a different panel. Set up a designated time and place to meet, then go off to explore on your own or in pair if you’re part of a large group. Con has something for everyone, and no matter how much you and your friends have in common, you won’t all want to do the same thing all of the time!

    Remember to eat, sleep,drink water,shower,and brush your teeth.

    Don’t get so caught up in the excitement of attending the convention that you forget to take care of yourself. Eat lunch, even if it’s just grabbing a quick bite. Staying till midnight to catch a late night anime showing can be fun, but don’t stay into the wee hours every night. You’ll wake up feeling groggy and exhausted in the morning.

    And last but not least, please don’t forget to shower and brush your teeth because nobody likes a smelly convention go-er with bad breath. I can’t stress how much this is important. Nobody wants to stand in line next to, talk to, or bump into a stinky con attendee. I really don’t want to smell your funkiness so please make sure that every day at the con you’re so fresh and so clean, clean!

    Don’t spend the entire time at con doing the same thing.

    Don’t stay in the game room, or the dealer’s room all day, you’ll regret it later. Get out and try things that you don’t know anything about! You may find some new anime, manga, or friends in the process!

    Socializing is a tricky business especially if you’re anti-social like I am. But just get out and try and be yourself. Sometimes at a con, friendships are made and broken, and love can sometimes be found. Just take the time to get to know somebody before you give out personal information, if at all.

    A few more things:

    • If any attendees are harassing you, make sure to tell convention security. Check out this Facebook page.
    • If you’re attending all three days, wait till Sunday to buy things from the dealer’s room, that’s when the merchandise is cheapest. If you’re not attending all three days buy things on Friday as on Saturday you might not be able to find the stuff you’re looking for as other fans wipe out the merchandise. This doesn’t always happens.
    • Never buy food from the convention itself-there are always restaurants and food chains around the convention itself that are cheaper.
    • Make sure you give yourself enough time to leave and get home.You may be tempted to stay until later than you had planned on the last day of the con, but if you have school or work tomorrow, you may want to reconsider. Sundays are pretty short so, the important events are usually over, so don’t feel bad about skipping out on the last half-day if you have to get home.

    Finally, try to remember, conventions are supposed to be a fun experience, so try not to get overwhelmed or stressed out by the number of people and events and the limited amount of time. And that is how to plan to attend a convention. With this knowledge, your convention experience should be fun and exciting! Now go forth and attend a convention!

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