In this day and age, holding the mantle of geek or nerd is worn with a badge of pride; this subsect of pop culture is also rising in prominence. “The geek shall inherit the Earth,” and people are finally starting to realize that. We are a force to be reckoned with. One of the most notorious and amazing things to come from geekdom is the convention. While cons have been around for a long time, their popularity is at an all-time high and the number of organized cons is growing with each year.
Found year -round, there are comic conventions held annually in most states, there are traveling ones organized by well-known event planning companies, and there are fan conventions for specific shows. The choices are numerous and the appeal of attending one is huge, especially if there is an actor or actress you’d really love to see or you’re looking to connect with other fans and geeks. But if you’ve never been or don’t know anyone who has, it can be a daunting decision to make. It can be scary not knowing what to expect when you finally get there.
I’ve been there and I know what that is like. So, if you’re interested, I’d like to help.
I’m no expert in this subject. But as someone who went to their first con alone with no idea what to expect, I know what’s it like being completely green. I’m going to go the whole nine yards here, people. Are you ready?
If you’ve already been to a con, this post really isn’t for you. Sorry. You know what it’s like to attend and what’s involved. If you have anything to add though, something that I’ve missed, please add them in the comments, I’d love to hear your advice or about your experience.
TO ATTEND, OR NOT TO ATTEND
I know, I know, duh, of course this is where you start. But it can also be the most critical part of your experience as it decides more than just your going to the con. One of the first things to consider is what do you want to attend for. Do you want to see a specific actor? Do you want to cosplay and interact with other people? Are you going for goodies and collectibles? Or do you want the whole experience? The reason this is crucial is because it will go a long way in determining how much you will need to spend to attend.
Another thing to consider is where the con is located. If you have to travel, make sure you will comfortable traveling to and around the location, regardless of it’s a city you’ve been to a hundred times or if it’s your first time there. I passed up a con earlier this year just because I wasn’t 100% sure about the location (both the city itself and the location within the city of the convention center), meaning that I wouldn’t have felt safe walking around by myself. Keep in mind that Chicago is like a third home to me, so I know how to navigate and take care of myself in a big city and I’ve never not felt safe there. I know that everyone has different comfort levels but this is an easy aspect to overlook. This is a bigger issue if you travel alone, but the same principle applies if you go in a group as well. Safety first, kids.
GET OUT THOSE DOLLAR BILLS
Attending a con can be expensive for two main reasons: ticket level and travel costs.
If you’re like me, travel and lodging are huge factors as I have to drive or fly to go to any cons, so unless I’m just going for the day (which is highly unlikely) I have to book a hotel for the duration. Obviously if you room with friends or know someone you can stay with in the area that is going to help you cut costs. If you do book a room, make sure to book it through the con site (if available); many conventions have partnerships with the surrounding hotels where you can get a discounted rate. Every penny helps!
The other reason is deciding what ticket to go with, if there is more than one option. Some cons only have general admission; others general admission and VIP, and then a few have tiered ticket levels. General admission will get you in for relatively cheap; if your main goal is to cosplay, shop, or just be in the mix of things, this is probably the best and cheapest way to go. You can also catch panels with these tickets, but keep in mind that with GA you will have to wait in line (especially for popular panels) and seating is not guaranteed.
VIP tickets often get you some swag, early access, and depending on the con, it can get you some perks. Those perks can range from guaranteed seating panels or even autographs and photo ops. Every con is different so be sure read get the details. Never assume that something is included but always be sure of what is. The couple sitting next to my sister and I didn’t realize that certain autographs were included in the gold tickets at the Salute to Supernatural convention we were at; they missed out on a few from the previous day and had to scramble to get something to have signed once we told them they were missing out. But you also don’t want to buy a VIP ticket and realize at the con that autographs or ops are separate and not included; depending on the event or person they are with, they could be sold out by the time of the con.
In preparing for the con, you also want to make sure to bring money to cover other expenses such as parking, food, and vendors. Something I tend to do once I buy my ticket and book my hotel is estimate how much I’ll need to cover everything else. I then divide that by how much time is between then and con. I set aside that amount in cash and that is what I take with me to the con. It helps me from overspending and it is also never certain if a vendor will take credit. I always have a backup card that is available to use for that ‘can’t do without’ big ticket item that I inevitably find.
Of course the goal of attending a con is to get the best experience possible, but as hard as it can be to do, remember to be responsible about it. Don’t push your finances to the limit and put yourself in a cash strapped situation once you return to the normal world. I struggle with this myself; I want to go to every con within a 300 mile radius but unfortunately my bank account begs to differ.
PLAN, DOUBLE CHECK, PLAN SOME MORE
I love to make lists and I love to plan things out to the last detail. And planning for a con takes it to a whole new level, and I love it! It starts out basic at first and as you get closer to the weekend of the con, schedules will be released and more details can be hashed out. How I do it is by no means the only or best way. It’s all about finding a method that works best for you. Regardless of what or how that is, make sure you are prepared.
One of the first things you can do is get to know your surroundings. Know where the convention center is at and try to get to know the layout of the con itself. Know where the parking or your hotel is in relation and how to get from one to the other. Are there any restaurants in close proximity that you can go to for lunch or dinner? If you’re a coffee addict like me, find out where you can get your java fix.
As it gets closer to the big weekend, start thinking about what to take. If you are having photo ops, think about what you want to wear. If you cosplay, make sure you have everything for your outfit and anything you might need for emergency fixes. If you have an extra battery or mobile charger, take it! Outlets and charging stations are always in high demand and hard to get to. Make sure you have a bag that is comfortable to carry all day and easy to access and take off; you’ll need it to stash the stuff you’ll need throughout the day and anything you may buy (unless you have time to take it back to your car or hotel room). Take what you think you’ll need for the day but don’t make it too heavy. Nothing is worse than lugging around what feels like a bag of bricks.
One of the things I cannot stress enough is making sure you have enough to eat and drink over the course of the con. This is one of the pieces of advice you will see repeated time and again in posts of a similar nature; that is how important it is. Everyone has their own dietary needs and habits, so I will generalize as much as I can. Having snacks to eat between panels or events, taking a brown bag lunch with you if you’re going to be there all day, and drinking plenty of water is essential. Food vendors or restaurants, if they’re even available on-site, tend to be wildly expensive and leaving to go eat somewhere by not always be feasible. I make sure to have food enough to sustain me otherwise and what I don’t eat I take back home. This can also be a big money saver. I promise, you won’t regret having thought this out.
Get out your highlighter and prepare for some fun. The week before the con is when the daily schedule is normally released, and while much of this will depend on what you’re doing at the con, it’s important to know what, when, and where everything is happening . If you have autographs or photo ops, the first thing you’ll want to do is find them and highlight the hell out of them. You don’t want to miss those! Mark the panels you want to see and give yourself time to queue beforehand. Even if you have a guaranteed seating it would be a good idea to queue, the earlier you’re there the better seat you can get. The only time this wouldn’t be necessary is if you are at a con with a designated seat; this aren’t wholly common but you will find that option at Creation Entertainment conventions. Also give yourself time to walk the vendor floor and artist alley. Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, there are always some pretty cool things to look and people to interact with. You’ll also see a lot of the cosplayers on the vendor floor.
For your travel to the con and depending on when things would start for you, give yourself enough time to register and get your badge. You don’t want to be in long line waiting to get your badge and miss the first panel if things start early for you.
Take a deep breath and prepare yourself. This is likely to be the most stressful moment of the whole experience. But it will soon give way to an extraordinary experience.
Learn the layout of the land. Know where to go for panels, autos, and ops; most importantly, scope out a quiet place that you can sit and take a breather. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, having a spot to go to that is away from the crowds for a few minutes, an hour, or however long you need, is extremely helpful. That’s advice I received while chatting with a vendor my first time at a con and it has stayed with me ever since.
Be sure to stay hydrated and don’t be embarrassed to pull those snacks or a sandwich from your bag when you’re getting hungry; I do this and it honestly makes a world of difference. I typically live off of PB&J, granola, and fruit snacks over the weekend. Depending on the con I’m at, I’m lucky to get one “normal” meal a day; that could be ordering pizza to the hotel or leaving with my sister or a friend if there’s time for lunch or dinner offsite. There is nothing worse than waking up on the second or third day of the con sick to your stomach and feeling like death because you are starved or dehydrated, so however you do it, make sure you get some proper nutrition.
Take care of yourself. It’s so easy to get caught of the rush and excitement, but remembering to breathe, eat, and drink will truly make your experience that much better and more memorable.
Take pictures! Talk to people!! Have fun!!!
I hope this helps and gives you a headstart in planning to attend your first con. They are extraordinary events that I hope everyone who’s interested gets a chance to experience. Happy con going!!