We nerds may have an intrinsic tendency to refuse certain trappings socially associated with adulthood, but few things elicit wide-eyed, little kid excitement quite like a convention. For a precious few days, we get to shuck any and all pretenses of run-of-the-mill responsibility and frolick in a precious microcosm of games, costumes, and fellow nerds. No deadlines, no meetings, no commute, just dice, dealer halls, and the kind of freedom normally limited to college campuses. <deep happy sigh>
The premise alone induces 5-year-old-on-Christmas-Eve levels of anticipation, so it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the THIS IS HAPPENING FOR REALZ sentiment and ignore the less grin-inducing, but still important prep work that can ensure an excellent con-going experience. It might seem strange, but I actually love going through the process of preparing for a convention, akin to the way I enjoy decorating the house for the holidays each December. Not only does it accelerate the momentum that may have been building since the doors closed at last year's convention, but puts to rest any logistical concerns and allows my brain to be that much more at ease so I can get my game on.
The following is a compendium of tips and tricks to assist in your convention-attending preparations. These tidbits are divided into two sections: one for all con-bound nerds and one for cosplayers. The first section assumes that you're about 1-7 days away from actually walking the dealer hall, so you won't find advice on how to get cheap flights or bargain pricing on hotel rooms (since those differ heavily depending on what con you're headed to). This is more of a reference guide of stuff we tend to overlook or forget when faced with the prospect of a few days of unrestricted geeking out. Thus, without further ado…
Convention Ahoy! (So You're Headed to a Convention…)
- Basic easy safeguard: a few days out, make physical hard copies of all itineraries, driving routes, tickets, addresses of critical locales, and confirmation numbers. Keep a set of these copies for yourself and give another set to your parents/significant other/emergency contact not attending the convention. It seems semi-Luddite, but having this information on hand can be enormously helpful in the event of just about anything electronic going ka-put.
- Make copies (electronic or hard) or have a backup document that lists your badge information and any ticket data for events occurring during the con. Keep these separate from your actual badge/tickets. Nothing would suck more than travelling for umpteen hours only to realize you left your badge on your desk at home or to spill coffee on your event tickets on your way to the convention. Not all conventions will replace a lost or ruined badge/tickets, but having copies on hand can facilitate the process if you're at an event where a replacement is an option.
- Pack layers. Though you'll almost assuredly be corralled into a convention center with thousands of your nerdy brethren, these structures tend rival small countries in the quantity of square footage covered and the climate inside tends to overcompensate for the amount of thermal output we’re capable of. Having a hoodie or similar layer-able article readily available can spare you from breaking down and buying a grossly overpriced sweatshirt after shivering through the first few hours of the con. Or you can just pretend to be a hoodie ninja!
- Grab/download a map of the convention center and an event catalog ASAP. As mentioned above, these shindigs tend to be held in some seriously sizable buildings. Chances are you're going to have an event in a specific locale and it'd probably be nice to know how to get there and approximately how long it's going to take you to do so. This brings us to our next point...
- A little planning goes a long way. Even if the building hosting the convention is the most straightforward, logically configured structure (which is frequently not the case) the sheer quantity of your fellow attendees is going to skew your walk times considerably. After you've wandered the dealer hall for a bit, take a moment to figure out approximately how long it takes you to get from one end of the hall to the other with peak crowds. Similarly, you may want to guesstimate your walk time between the entrance to the dealer hall and the entrance to the convention center itself. Keeping this in mind can help prevent being late to or outright missing an event, which is usually akin to setting money aflame since most event tickets are purchased in advance.
- Hydrate and Refuel. It seems super remedial, but anyone who's been to a convention before will tell you that taking in the long-awaited spectacle does funky things to the space-time continuum. You'll think you've been demo-ing a game for 15 minutes when a quick glance to your watch or phone reveals that 2.5 hours have passed since you sat down. If permitted, bring a water bottle with you (water; not coffee, not soda) and maybe a few easily stored snacks. Not only will doing so help prevent fatigue and crankiness, but it'll likely save you money as convention centers food prices tend to reflect just how captive their audience is.
- Carry only what you need. Once you get into the convention, you're probably not going to want to leave for several hours. Given that, it may be tempting to try and cram every imaginable thing into a backpack or messenger bag just in case. More often than not, doing so will result in a sore, curmudgeonly con-goer who leaves a froth of peeved geeks in his or her wake. The dealer hall is rarely not crowded and your overstuffed backpack is a viable hazard/annoyance device for everyone around you, not to mention a very literal burden on yourself. Unless you're participating in an event that calls for special items, all you really need is your badge, camera, water bottle, small snack, event tickets, phone, and hotel key (and even some of these can be dispensed with if necessary). Stick to just these basics if you can. Your fellow attendees and your back will thank you.
- Be prepared to wait. It may not be true of all conventions, but the vast majority of such events involve a certain amount of waiting in line. This could be something as simple as passing time until the dealer hall opens or as grinding as navigating a series of lines to obtain someone's autograph or playtest a game. Though most cons provide attendees with "swag bags" of free loot that can help kill an hour or two, it's a good idea to gauge just how long you're going to spend waiting before heading out to the convention center and prepare accordingly. In conjunction with the above point, you'll want to bring something light and highly portable to provide distractions. A DS, eReader/iPad, or small book are all great options here.
Cosplay Ahead! (So You're Headed to a Convention AND You're Going to Cosplay...)
- Prepare as though Murphy's Law is on in full force. We've talked before about how this seems to be the case for cosplayers, grant writers, and those composing term papers, but the best possible way to combat this is to be more prepared than is likely necessary. This translates into having tools and materials on hand to make spot repairs on the fly, having work-arounds in mind in case something breaks, and knowing if there are stores in the vicinity of the convention center that carry items that may prove useful if things take a turn for the worst. Ideally, you want to walk a balance between keeping the constraints of your mode of travel in mind and having essentials at your ready disposal. My version of this compromise is a shoebox-sized plastic container. It's waterproof and reinforced to withstand a fair amount of stress. When flying, I limit myself to only as many tools and materials that can fit in this box. It's proven to be not only tough, but sufficient to tote everything I've needed regardless of the costume I'm wearing.
- Finish your stress tests at least 2 weeks out from the convention. In a perfect world, we'd stress test each piece of a costume immediately upon completion (do this if at all possible) but, of course, we often can't go to such lengths. At a minimum, you want to do at least one full run-through of your costume, minus any one-shot items, two or more weeks prior to the convention. Two weeks is usually enough time to make adjustments, conduct repairs, or track down a replacement for non-critical components. This is also the time to do your spot tests and time trials for any makeup, paint, or adhesive that you'll be using at the convention. It's not the most glamorous or fun parts of cosplaying, but these steps will prevent a lot of heartache at the convention itself.
- Designate a Cosplay Lieutenant if at all possible. You may have the most simple, uninvolved costume imaginable, but having a friend on hand to act as your Cosplay Lieutenant can drastically improve your cosplay experience. The Lieutenant can help keep you on schedule if you've got a regimented day, can act as an extra set of hands for any props or bags, or just assist with crowd control. Having a friendly face there beside you can help break up any awkwardness or share in any hilarity you may encounter.
Above all, respect your fellow con-goers, let your imagination run free, and HAVE FUN!!