Con Season Survival Guide
Con season is already underway for many of us, and while surviving a con may not be as stressful as surviving a zombie apocalypse, they’re pretty damn close. So, I polled our amazing staff and contributors, who are seasoned con pros, mind you, to share their tips for surviving con season.
1. Cardio (or maintain your energy)
Maintaining optimum energy levels is a must at cons. Laura B. says you should “eat a large breakfast before you hit the con floor to fuel you throughout the day.” Angel recommends granola bars and water for midday cravings, or in some cases, when you end up missing lunch altogether because you couldn’t miss an awesome panel. Claire recommends bringing not just your own water, but also your own mini-cartons of juice or soy milk (she prefers chocolate). Snacks not only keep you fueled, but also save you from spending your money on overpriced con food – save your money for buying totally rad swag to bring home.
Also, give yourself breaks. Stacey suggests making plans that will take you off the convention floor for about an hour. Giving yourself a break can be a great refresher and help you maintain your energy for the rest of the day.
And everyone agrees, STAY HYDRATED! Drink lots of water.
2. Double Tap (or know your rights)
It’s unfortunate that it has to be said, but as Ivy put it “familiarize yourself with your con’s harassment policy and know where to go to report harassment.”
3. Beware of Bathrooms (or beat the con crud)
The con crud is legit. Anytime you go to the bathroom, wash your hands and dry them thoroughly. Jo notes that “since bacteria and viruses tend to survive better on wet surfaces…even washing your hands with soap isn’t as effective as making sure they’re TOTALLY dry before touching any surfaces.” Annie recommends bringing your own hand sanitizer especially if you plan on spending a lot of time rummaging through boxes of back issues at a retailer’s table:
“I recommend cleaning your hands after that. Some of them are fine, but you never know whether the books/sleeves have been exposed to mildew. Also, other people have spent a lot of time touching them with their grubby hands.”
Everyone agreed that there also needs to be some immunity build-up prior to the con. Take Vitamin C before and during the con. Claire guarantees these defence boost snacks: “They’re kind of expensive, and I am probably a rube. But they’re tasty and have a fun texture, and take up barely any room individually. They do work for energy.”
Also: sleep. Sleep helps your body recover which is crucial for maintaining your immunity to the con crud so don’t skimp on it.
4. Buckle Up (or play it safe)
Sharon says: “If you’re able to pick up your badge/pass the night before, do it. It saves you a lot of time the next day, plus it gives you an idea of where the entrance is.”
5. Travel Light (or pack smart)
Since you won’t be running from zombies, traveling light isn’t so much a concern, but you do, however, want to pack smart. Fortunately, our con pros have been doing this long enough to take packing smart to the next level. First, let’s talk clothing. Cons involve a lot of walking and standing. Comfy clothes and shoes are a must if you don’t want to be in pain the whole time. Ardo’s favorite outfit is her Batman tee and her nice grey sweats. But if you are cosplaying, which is rarely ever comfortable, Ivy recommends investing “in those gelly-shoe-insert-things.” Jamie checks the weather before she leaves and packs accordingly.
Bring an extra bag for all your con swag! Ardo recommends a light backpack. Brenda also recommends bringing a backpack, not only for your swag, but also for your snacks (see rule #1).
“Your everyday purse might not be big enough, but also think about how heavy it [your bag] might get. Consider wearing a backpack style bag so you can better distribute the weight. Also, consider a bag with more pockets for easier access to things like your phone. Think of your con bag like a survival go-bag. I go to a bunch of cons, so I keep a dedicated bag. My bag includes things like cough drops/mints, band aids, pads/tampons, a pen (for autographs/notes), a small notebook, a couple emergency snack dollars (kept separate from the rest of your con money), and ibupofen/excedrin.”
Sharon also brings a poster tube to protect any prints she picks up, as well as a few bags and boards for comics.
Al recommends throwing in a tiny sewing kit for costume emergencies for you or others. She even goes so far as to wear an under-clothing money holder. Told you we take it to the next level.
Now, let’s talk electronics. You will probably be using your phone a lot to take pictures, but this means a lot of battery life and outlets can sometimes be hard to come by. Sharon recommends printing anything you can ahead of time and taking notes by hand so you can save your phone battery for pictures, selfies, and social media. You obviously want to bring your device chargers, but Wendy and Ardo recommend portable chargers. Ardo found this one on a list of ten great portable devices. If you can’t find a portable charger, make sure you charge on the breaks you have planned into your schedule (see Rule #1). Wendy also recommends “a charger that handles all devices or has USB input so you can plug your own cord in.”
And finally, per Al, “a list of EVERYTHING that you brought with you that can you add to as you buy stuff, so you don’ forget anything.”
6. Don’t Be a Hero (or be a hero)
If you’ve ever had to present at a con, it can be thrilling and nerve-wracking especially during the Q&A at the end. Ardo likes to think of at least one general question for every panel for those dead moments during the Q&A. As a person who has presented at several conferences, getting questions by people is exciting because it means they were paying attention (probably). But, hey if you are shy or scared of public speaking, don’t feel pressured to speak up. You do you which is very heroic.
7. Limber Up (or maintain peak physical condition)
Drink, drink, drink water. Lots of it. You may have to pee all the time, but you will be less likely to get headach-y, overheated, sick, etc. See Rule #1 and #2.
8. When in Doubt, Always Know Your Way Out (or know how to navigate the location)
“One of my biggest survival tips is my most basic: research. Don’t rely on the guide book on your phone (I’ve lost/had batteries die/had no reception). Have a list of all the booths/panels/artists/people you want to see. Printed. Do it in advance and keep those papers with you. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but life is easier if you have it as a reference. And if nothing else, your research gets you a feel of the con floor.” – Stacey
This is especially important if you want guest signatures. Ardo recommends checking the time slots early and lining up in advance, but double check the guest list the day before for any last minute cancellations. It also helps to make friends in the lines because you may have to help one another out by holding your places while the other goes to the bathroom (this is very important per Rule #7).
Laura B. is a little less formal in her planning. She prefers to use her moleskin because again, electronics die. But, most importantly, if you do miss something because you were engrossed in a conversation about whether or not the final season of Buffy was as sucky as everyone claims it is (which it wasn’t), don’t fret. Enjoy yourself.
And remember cons are crowded! Angel says “don’t stop in the middle of a pathway to look at stuff. Keep to the sides if you want to take your time and look at each booth. (It seems like common sense, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve been hit in the face by someone’s backpack when they stop suddenly.)” Be aware of the other people who are there to enjoy the con experience.
9. The Buddy System (or be social)
We’ve already mentioned several ways you can make friends by having some emergency hand sanitizer or needle and thread on hand. Annie once become a cosplayer’s hero for life because she had an extra tampon in her purse. But the nice thing about cons, is that you are almost guaranteed to find someone as crazy as you about a particular geek thing. I find it so much easier to talk to people at cons because you don’t have to begin with awkward small talk. You can just dive right in: “oh my gosh, I love your knitted Carol Danvers hat!” So as Megan B. put it:
“Don’t be afraid to go alone! It can be hard to navigate conventions (especially the large ones) with a group or even a partner. Even if you share the same interests, not everyone will agree on what to do or where to go next. Take the time to explore on your own, and meet-up at your convenience after everyone has done the things they want to do.”
A handy tip from Claire, especially if you are going alone: “Selfies daily [with con hashtag] for the two weeks preceding. If people know you, you don’t have to introduce yourself. Much less stressful.”
If you do go with a group of friends, Ardo recommends selecting “one place to meet up throughout the con. That way you’re not constantly missing one another.” If you are sharing a hotel room with friends, Laura H. recommends requesting a mini-fridge when you book: “once you arrive, go to the grocery store. Fill that fridge up with deli meats, veggies, snack packs, juices — whatever you all decide you want (we send around a Google doc so people can “order” exactly what they want a few weeks beforehand and also to avoid any allergens). Then, everyone splits the grocery bill, which usually comes to about $20-$30 per person, and we all have food for the whole weekend without having to deal with con lines or prices.”
For us introverts, quiet time is crucial though so make sure you give yourself some time away to recharge. Jo recommends staking out “an actual quiet place because a breather in the bathroom won’t be enough to charge social batteries.” I am always so much happier when I end up missing a panel or two to hide out alone in my hotel room for a bit. It’s worth it if it means staving off anxiety attacks.
10. Check the Back Seat (or don’t fall for all the shiny crap you can buy)
Cons have so much cool stuff, just calling out to your wallet. But before you buy, Claire recommends doing “a speedy scouting circuit of each hall before you do a second slower one and start spending money!” Al plans a budget beforehand so she won’t drain her bank account. Sharon also has an excellent tip for trying on t-shirts: “wear a tank top as a base layer so you can easily switch out tops.”
11. Enjoy the Little Things (or enjoy the little things)
Cons, especially the big ones, can be quite overwhelming. While you want to plan ahead of time to make your trip more purposeful, over planning can also bring the whole thing down. KM recommends “half-planning.” She decides beforehand on a few things she absolutely must do (panels, signings, etc.), but still leaves enough space for down time, surprises, and/or change of plans:
“The first time I went to GMX in Nashville I tried planning back to back stuff to fill all three days, and it fell apart and left me exhausted. Then at SPX, I didn’t plan enough, was immediately overwhelmed, and ended up missing an opportunity to get merchandise directly from some of my favorite creators. I’ve found that striking a balance between the two, while certainly harder than it sounds, works best.”
Bringing kids along? Wendy B has a great post on bringing your kids to cons.
What about you? Got anything to add? Put it in the comments!