If you know me personally, you already know that I’m a complete and utter geek (or nerd; your preference). I’m a fan of everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayerand Teen Wolf to Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. I love comics and games, have been playing D&D and Battletech since I could talk, and robots make me want to squeal! Really, if it’s geeky, I probably like it or am, at the very least, familiar with it. Which is why I think geek conventions are the coolest thing ever! There’s so much geek/nerd going on, it’s difficult to know where to start. It’s also difficult to know how to get ready. Whether you’ve been to a con before or just signed up for your very first one, there’s a lot that goes into preparing for a geek convention. I know, I’ve been to several and, as a result, I’ve learned bunches about what to do and what not to do.
With Dragon Con just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about convention prep a lot lately. How to plan my days, what to bring, what to wear, the best ways to maximize my experience without destroying my budget…that’s all super important stuff and all of it should be carefully considered before the day you’re supposed to leave.
I get it, I really do; geeks are notorious procrastinators. I’m a one myself. In fact, it’s rare that I start packing for a trip more than half an hour before I’m supposed to be walking out the door. (Dear family and friends I’m always late to see, just pretend you didn’t read that part.)
Unfortunately, this just isn’t possible when preparing for a geek convention. There’s too much to consider and, frankly, too much at stake! Failing to prep the right way leads to being uncomfortable all day or, worse, missing out on something awesome. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to waste a second of my con experience.
So, despite my procrastination tendencies – I force myself to start preparing for a geek convention ahead of time and you should too. To help, I’ve put together this series of “Ultimate Guide” blog posts full of awesome con prep tips and advice. It’s so thorough, I had to divide it into three blog posts!
What are you waiting for? Get reading!
Planning Your Con
Know Where You’re Going
First thing’s first – know where the heck you’re going! This is an absolutely vital element of preparing for a geek convention. Be as familiar with the city where your con will be held as possible. This means checking out maps of the convention center, host hotels, nearby restaurants, public transportation information, and other nearby recreational activities. Knowing this stuff can help you plan your trip, as well as keep stress-levels down once you arrive. There’s nothing worse than rushing around in circles when you’re already late for a panel you are dying to catch.
This also means finding out what other events will be taking place at the same time – XCon World in Myrtle Beach, for example, happens to fall smack dab in the middle of Biker Week. Yikes! Traffic in Myrtle Beach is bad enough without scores of motorcycles on the road. Being aware of big city events can help you plan your arrival time, departure time, and dictate whether venturing outside the convention is worth it.
Book Your Hotel Early
For some conventions, this means making your reservation as soon as the hotel allows. Dragon Con host hotels fill up almost immediately, as do most high-profile events. Making a reservation should be one of the first things you do when you start preparing for a geek convention.
Where do you find the best hotel rates?
Most local hotels will partner with conventions and give attendees a lower room price, especially host hotels. Check your con’s website for more details on this, but don’t feel obligated to stay on site either. There are plenty of nearby hotel options out there. It’s always worth checking Expedia to see if you can get a good rate on something a block or two away.
Keep in mind that many hotels give preference to current guests, often allowing them to reserve their rooms year after year. While it isn’t impossible to break into the cycle, you really do have to move fast. Don’t wait to make your reservation.
Check Convention Rules
Bah! Who needs rules, anyway?
Well, unfortunately, us convention folk do. Case in point – my brother’s first year at Dragon Con, guests kept overloading the hotel elevators until it was so badly damaged no one could use on of them for the rest of the weekend. No beuno.
So yeah, knowing the rules will help with preparing for a geek convention. Find out if outside food is allowed, are there restrictions on cosplay weapons, and can you take candid photos of the guests without paying? Every convention is different and knowing the rules and regulations ahead of time will keep you from unknowingly doing something that could get your membership ticket revoked.
Planning out what you’re going to do about meals ahead of time is a great idea. My husband and I like to bring a large cooler full of food from home and them try to limit ourselves to one purchased meal a day. We’ll grab cereal bars for breakfast, make sandwiches for lunch, and then pay for dinner. This can save you bunches. Unfortunately, not every convention will let you bring your own food in, but you can always head back to your hotel room to eat if needed – they can’t tell you what to do there!
Another reason planning out meals is an important part of preparing for a geek convention is because it can save you time. We look up restaurants and food options in the area ahead of time, decide when we’re eating where, and don’t have to waste time discussing it when we’re at the convention.
Download the Con App
Not every convention will have an app, but most larger-scale ones do. Check your upcoming con’s website and download it before you arrive if there is one. Most of these apps offer easy access to the schedule (which you absolutely need when preparing for a geek convention), as well as instant updates regarding changes and cool announcements.
Many of the apps also allow schedule sharing, so you and your friends can keep track of the different panels you’re all attending. Additionally, maps of the convention facilities are usually available for download and that will come in SUPER handy if you get turned around somehow.
Download a “Find Your Friends” App
You may be thinking, “I’ll totally be able to keep up with my pals; no problem!” but there’s a distinct possibility that you’re wrong. Small cons, sure. Bigger events like Comic-Con San Diego and Dragon Con? No way. You’re going to get separated at some point, it’ll be too loud to hear phones ringing, and you’ll absolutely wish you had an easy way to track them down.
Well, if you download an app, like Find My Friends, for example, you’ll have one. Putting an app like this on your phone should definitely be part of preparing for a geek convention. Doing it ahead of time will save you the hassle and frustration when you’re at the con.
Download a “Find Your Phone” App
Even more important than finding your friends is keeping track of your phone! Okay, so maybe not more important (unless your friends are jerks), but it’s certainly part of preparing for a geek convention. Like Find My Friends, there are apps to help you find your phone as well. Find My iPhone, which is already pre-installed in iPhones, is a great option, but you can use Google’s phone locating as well.
There are lots of phone-finding solutions out there. It doesn’t really matter which one you prefer, as long as you have one ready in case you leave your phone in a panel or it gets swiped by some mean con-goer – there’s generally more nice geeks than not, but it’s important to account for the outliers too.
Set Up Group Messaging
So, assuming your friends aren’t jerks and that you opted to download a “find my friends” app on your phone, you’ll also want to create a group message while preparing for a geek convention. This is a minor detail and it generally takes just a few seconds to set up, but it can be really convenient once the con starts. Being able to give updates about your whereabouts, plans, and exciting stuff you just happened to walk into – like Peter Mayhew chillin in the Sheraton lobby! – isn’t only convenient, it’s considerate. Share those amazing, once-in-a-lifetime finds with your buds without having to copy and paste the text ten times.
Sign Up for Any Con Extras Early
Almost every con I’ve ever attended has had some sort of extra event or add-on available for purchase. Sometimes it’s an opening night party or a special guest viewing, other times it’s a concert or other relevant event. Even guest photo ops can usually be purchased ahead of time.
My favorite one? James Marsters had a social with appetizers where he sat down at every table and just chatted with attendees. Then he pulled out a guitar and sang random songs for an hour. It was oh-so-glorious!
When preparing for a geek convention, don’t just assume there will still be open spots at events like that the day of. Things fill up quickly, especially if space is limited. If you’re dying to participate in the Labyrinth Ball or get your photo taken with David Tennant, sign up as soon as you possibly can to ensure you don’t miss out.
Think Through Cosplay Transportation
So I love cosplaying. I think it’s super fun and a great way to showcase the geeky things you like most. If you weren’t planning on cosplaying, you should seriously reconsider. Even doing something small and easy with a group of friends can be a lot of fun.
That said, transporting cosplay costumes can be particularly difficult, especially if they’re large and cumbersome. Keep this in mind when you’re preparing for a geek convention. If you’re flying, you may have to use oddly shaped bags or divide your costume among several different ones. If you’re not careful, you can end up paying more to transport your cosplay costume than you are to attend the convention! It’s easier if you’re driving, but it should still be a consideration when making con plans.
Find Out About Parking
So parking at conventions tends to piss me off. If you’re lucky, parking will be included in your hotel stay. If you’re not lucky (which will be most of the time), your hotel is going to charge a daily fee or you’re going to have to park in a nearby charge-by-the-day lot. I repeat, parking at conventions sucks.
In fact, to avoid paid parking at Dragon Con this year, my husband and I are going to leave our car at one of the nearby subway lots (which is free for up to 24 hours). We’re planning to alternate taking the 10-minute ride each day to leave and then re-enter the lot to reset the clock. Otherwise, we’d be paying $30 a day to park at our hotel.
Granted, this isn’t always the case for smaller venues. Still, when preparing for a geek convention, always ask your hotel about parking ahead of time so you aren’t blindsided by some outrageous fee when you arrive. Most con website will provide at least some information about nearby available parking, so just do your research.
Plan Your Schedule
Planning your schedule is one of the most important aspects of preparing for a geek convention. Most cons will release their panel and event schedule several days early. You can use the con app to view it or print a version off from the website (although this sometimes requires a lot of paper). I prefer apps when they are available.
You’re going to want to go through everything. In some instances, that may take hours – but I promise you, it’s worth it! There’s nothing worse than realizing there was a panel on something else you would have loved but you missed it because you didn’t fully read through the con schedule.
That said, most larger conventions (where that’s more likely to happen), break everything into categories or tracks. The Whedon Track at Dragon Con, for instance, is one of my favorites. I always read through those panels and events multiple times to ensure I didn’t overlook something.
With so much going on, though, how do you narrow it down? That’s a great question and the answer will be different for everyone. Personally, I flag everything I think I may be interested in. And I mean everything. Then I go back through and see where my conflicts are, look to see if some panels are offered more than once, and slowly (but surely) wittle my list down to something manageable. Don’t delete the castoffs from you schedule completely, though, because your first-choice panel may be full. I always have a backup ready, just in case.
Check the Weather
Another part of preparing for a geek convention is checking the weather. In the initial stages, this means researching your destination’s average temperatures during the season your con takes place. As the con dates get closer, however, you should take a peek at the weekly forecast too. Adjust your packed attire as needed.
Make a Budget
Oh, the loathsome budget! I know, I know; talking money is never fun, but when preparing for a geek convention it really is necessary. Now that you’ve spent some time figuring out travel, meal, con extras, parking, and accommodations, it’s time to set a budget for your tip – and stick to it.
Aside from the items mentioned above, remember to keep in mind what you are going to allow yourself to spend on autographs, photo ops, and in the vendor rooms.
Setting a budget sucks (trust me, I know), but it’s really important to be responsible as you’re preparing for a geek convention. Spending every last cent you possess knowing that you’ll be returning home to a stack of bills as thick as a hardcover copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 and an empty fridge just isn’t responsible. There will be more conventions to attend down the road – it’s okay to cut something out so you can eat after it’s all over.
Speaking of packing, that’s a pretty essential part of preparing for a geek convention. Cons are generally host to all the things you love, so it may be tempting to bring every collectible, comic, DVD, book, and game you own – you know, just in case someone you meet wants to talk about it or take a look…
Well don’t. Just don’t.
I’m guilty of this. I get so stoked about being in a place with people who share my interests that I start thinking “Oh, I should bring this, and this, and this, and this and – ah! I absolutely need this!” I’m here to tell you, you really don’t need much (if any) of that stuff at all.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring thing with you. Not at all. If you are reading this incredible graphic novel or watching a new show on your iPad, totally bring those things. I’m just encouraging selectivity. Don’t bring everything. The truth of the matter is, you’re going to get so caught up in what’s going on around you, you’re really not going to have time for much else.
So how do you pick what to bring?
I start with my clothes, planning out an outfit (or two, depending) for each day. Then I get my toiletries, accessories, and electronics. Next, I think about my schedule and the extra events I’ve signed up for (like photo ops) and what I’ll need for those. I grab anything I know I want autographed and then I allow myself one or two neat extras – a game to play while waiting in line, a novel, or some other equally geeky nick-nack to show off.
FIND OUT MORE IN WHAT TO BRING TO A CON: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PREPARING FOR A GEEK CONVENTION PART 2
My best advice to first-time and seasoned con-goers is this: start preparing for your geek convention right now. Don’t wait, don’t put thing off, and absolutely don’t tell yourself that you still have plenty of time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over years, it’s that cons sneak up on you. Seriously – I start paying attention to Dragon Con’s countdown with at least 100 days to go, but I still feel blindsided when Labor Day weekend finally rolls around.
Have questions about attending or preparing for your first geek convention? Do you have something to add to my preparation tips? Leave a comment below or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you!
Click here to keep reading What to Bring to a Con: The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for a Geek Convention Part 2. There’s lots of great tips still ahead!