The summer convention season may be almost over, but the nerd season is year-round. The fall and winter hold some of the most underrated (and unexplored) anime, comic, and video game conventions. Many universities hold fan conventions during their holiday breaks, and late winter conventions, like Washington, D.C.’s Katsucon, can be some of the best for full-scale, heavy-layers cosplay. (Check out this list to find an upcoming convention near you!)
Whether you just got back from FlameCon or you’re planning your first convention journey, this quick guide offers plenty of go-to tips for convention survival.
WHAT TO PACK
Prepping for a convention has all the fun of packing for vacation with the added adventure of your favorite fandoms. If you’ll be cosplaying, there are a few extra items to consider bringing. Luckily, if your convention only lasts one day or you’ll be staying at home overnight, you can just focus on the items you’ll be bringing into the convention hall and carrying on your person.
What to bring every day of the convention:
- A big ol’ bag. At conventions, between freebies, advertising cards, and souvenirs, you end up carrying a lot more than you ever thought possible. Some conventions have cracked down on their bag rules -- enforcing specific sizes or materials, for example -- so be sure to check online before the big day. Cargo pants with lots of pockets work too! (Plus, they’ll top off a kick-butt Kim Possible cosplay.)
- Good quality shoes. Spoiler alert: you’re going to do a lot of walking. No matter how cute those Doc Martens or Converse may be, it’s a better idea to wear sneakers or athletic shoes with sole support. If you’re cosplaying -- or if you absolutely must wear your Triforce-emblazoned Vans -- it’s a good idea to invest in orthopedic insoles. You can get these inserts at most pharmacies and superstores. Your feet will thank you!
- Chapstick and/or a travel size hand lotion. Because of the constantly-blasting AC, convention halls can get DRY! If you plan on spending a lot of time in cavernous vendor rooms (and who doesn’t?), Chapstick will be your best friend. Dry, cracked lips and skin are a major nuisance you don’t want to deal with all weekend long.
- Extra layers. Even the hottest summer day can feel like the dead of winter inside a convention hall.
- Multiple forms of payment. Many vendors and artists can only accept cash, or have fees associated with credit card payments. It’s a good idea to set up an additional payment method, like Venmo or PayPal, just in case someone’s register system goes down. (We’ve all been cursed by Square at some point in our lives.)
If you’ll be cosplaying, you might want to bring:
- Baby powder. This is a secret weapon for any cosplayer, especially if you wear the same outfit to multiple shows. Baby powder is a natural deodorant, and keeps sweaty or tight-fitting clothing comfortable.
- Dry shampoo and deodorant. Trust me--you don’t want to be the stinky one on the show floor. Dry shampoo is perfect for wigs in addition to real hair, and spray-on deodorant (paired with your magical baby powder) can be a quick fix for a cosplay outfit that’s seen a few too many days in use.
- Mini sewing kit. You don’t need to bring your entire craft closet, but a needle and a few spools of thread might save your convention. (You’ll probably need to leave this in your car or hotel room, though.)
If you’re attending a multi-day convention or staying in a hotel, you can stock an “emergency kit” to keep at your hotel. Fill this with:
- Vitamin powders or pills. These days, I never board an airplane without a stock of Emergen-C in my carry-on. With the tight-packed crowds come tighter-packed bacteria, and between the excessive walking, late-night events, and lack of sleep, “the itis” is never far behind. A punch of vitamins to the face can mark the difference between a healthy, fun con and catching “the convention crud” by Thursday afternoon.
- Painkillers and cold medicine. Migraines. Achy feet. Allergies. It’s dangerous to go alone, so take these.
- Bandaids and blister treatment. Remember what we said about achy feet? Neosporin and Bandaids will be your new best friends.
- An extra change of clothes. My first year at Gen Con, it rained chocobos and xenomorphs, and I had to work the convention floor in soaked clothes. Don’t be me. Always pack a spare change of clothes, left in your car, hotel, or that big ol’ bag you brought with you.
HOW TO SURVIVE
Plan your potions and power-ups wisely. I could probably survive year-round on Pocky and Mountain Dew, but it’s not the best idea at a convention. Eating right will give your body the power and nutrients it needs to make it through a whole weekend of awesome. This means fruits and veggies, but it also means proteins and carbs. A balanced breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- with a couple of deliciously bad-for-you snacks along the way -- will fuel your adventures all weekend long.
Plan your quest in advance. Most conventions offer printable or interactive online schedules. These are your game guides for the weekend. Before you get started, it’s important to come to terms with just a little bit of reality -- you’re probably not going to make it to every single event on your list, and that’s okay! Pick your top five or ten (or twenty, or hundred) events, track down where they’ll be held on the event map ahead of time, and set alarms on your phone to remind you to head over when you’re distracted by the giant stuffed tribbles in the vendors’ hall. If your favorite events require paid tickets, buy those as early as possible. It’s very likely that the most popular events will sell out, so don’t leave those ticket purchases to the last minute!
Make sure you put time in your schedule to just wander. Whether you tend to plan every convention hour down to the last footstep, or you’d rather fly by the seat of your pants, there’s going to be a time (usually Thursday morning) where you’re completely overwhelmed by all the awesomeness around you. Give yourself time to walk the con, get familiar with the major locations, and mingle with fellow fans. If you plan on buying souvenirs, plan a time to visit the vendor hall and artists’ alley early in the weekend. Many vendors sell out of their most popular items halfway through the weekend, and both halls tend to close early on the last day of the con so sellers can start breaking down their displays. Plan accordingly!
Most importantly, have fun. When it comes down to it, you can plan every inch of your convention experience only to throw that plan out the window the second you arrive. Some of the most fun I’ve had at conventions is wandering where my feet want to take me, playtesting random games in a dusty room on the sixth floor, or posing for pictures with random cosplayers I met on my way from one event to another. Be prepared, stay calm, and trust in the Force -- you’re going to have a blast.