Dear Pink Hair Girl,
I haven’t been to a convention in years, and the last one I went to was kind of small. This year, some new friends have invited me to join them at a really big geek-culture con a few hours drive from where we live. I’m really excited because there are supposed to be a bunch of premiers, announcements, artists and writers I love. But already it seems like there’s a conflict in where we want to go and what to do. Everyone is talking about different things they want to see at the con, and I’m kind of overwhelmed by everything. What’s your advice for keeping your head on straight during a really big con?
Obi Won Con-Noobi
Boy, are you in for an experience. You’ve seen cons on a small scale, but be prepared to be blown away by the magnitude of a mega-con. For some, just the sheer volume of other human beings all in one place is enough to cause a panic attack. I’ve been attending cons for over a decade now and it’s changed a lot over the years. Big cons are getting bigger and small cons are popping up everywhere. The kind of people who attend cons are becoming more diverse, and the culture around conventions is evolving. And while each convention has it’s own flavor to it (prescribed by a complex formula involving how much skin is exposed through cosplay, potency of confunk, average dollar amount hotel cafes bump up their prices, etc.) there are some universal elements that make up the Con-Pro’s arsenal of activity.
So here is a list of PRO-TIPS for staying sane, not wasting time, saving money, as well as avoiding conflict, regret, and prosecution for inappropriate actions towards a minor.
PRO TIP #1: Pre-register. Buy your tickets online. Not only is it cheaper, it’s faster–there’s generally a separate, faster-moving line from which pre-registered folks can pick up their badges. The timing of your badge pick-up is important, and there are two strategies: either get on the pre-reg badge lines as early as possible, or–if you’re not nuts about any events happening early the first morning of the con–wait until the afternoon to pick up your badge. With the first strategy, yes, there will appear to be a MASSIVE amount of people just standing and waiting. But as soon as the registration booths open, that line moves fast. I prefer to employ the second strategy and pick up my badge around 1pm on Friday, when the crowds are already inside (this is the one time getting drunk on Thursday and passing out till noon is useful). It takes me just a few minutes to get in this way. Also, check to see if there’s a Thursday pre-reg badge pick-up for this con. It’s not necessarily faster, but there tends to be a unique experience of geeks sitting and waiting with board games, costumes, and other fun activities to kick off your con weekend! SUPER PRO TIP: Before even getting into any line, find someone wearing an official convention staff uniform and ask them which line you belong in. Trust me–you’ll save yourself the anxiety of wondering if you’ve waited an hour in the wrong line when you’re next up for reg.
PRO TIP #2: Don’t coordinate with friends. Do not bother. Just stop. There’s so much happening at these big cons–so many hopes, so many unexpected passing out face down on the floor of a hotel room you share with 12 people–that it becomes impossible to solidify your own schedule, let alone try and make it mesh with someone else’s. Sure, you THINK you’re going to “How to make a Dalek Plushie,” but on your way there you peek into the Arcade Room and no one tells you that it’s actually a time vortex where you spend 2 minutes playing and you walk out three hours later. Even seasoned con veterans cannot account for all the unanticipated waiting in lines for demos, long conversations with a new friend you met at a panel, or spending half an hour following a cute cosplayer as you work up the nerve to ask for a picture with her (in which you will inevitably just fall victim to “hover hand” anyway). The best thing to do is to have each other’s cell phone numbers, text them what you’re up to, and see if they want to join. Choose one or two events that you all agree to be at, or agree to meet at a certain spot at a certain time once in a while so you still feel like you’re experiencing it together. Other than that, go it alone.
PRO TIP #4: Pick your battles. There are some amazing things going on at these big cons, such as exclusive access to new games, limited edition versions of stuff, the opportunity to meet celebrities, etc. But because of how awesome those things sound, thousands of other people will also be there trying to get in. I implore you, do NOT stand in line for more than one thing per con. It takes hours of your time, and even though there may not be any events you’d rather being doing at the time, it does zap your energy and patience like crazy. Sure, if you’re a devoted fan of someone or something, stand in line and get your bragging rights–but seriously, choose carefully what you spend your time waiting on. Almost always with these events, people come out of it saying “Yeah that was pretty cool…but eating a giant cookie would have been just as cool.” SUPER PRO TIP: Bring along giant cookies with you everywhere you go. And some reading material, if you’re gonna stand on line. Consider bringing a munchkin deck and playing with the people in line around you. SUPER SUPER PRO TIP: Skip the Masquerade. Trust me on this one; I’ve preformed in them. They’re usually the biggest event at things like anime cons. That means you wait in line to get in, get bad seats, are crammed into a space with thousands of other people, and only one or two acts are any good. Sorry. It’s true.
PRO TIP #5: Have contingency plans. As I explained in tip #2, the unexpected pops up a lot at cons. So while writing an itinerary in stone is useless, writing up three itineraries is gold. Go through the schedule, and highlight at least two things you would like to be doing at any given moment you are there. Even if you’re not into anything happening in a time slot, highlight SOMETHING, because you’re going to have free time when you least expect it. And doing nothing at a con when you actually have energy and time to spend, feels like crap. There is, of course, the dealer’s room, but money runs out faster than energy; and after 3 times around the floor, you’ve seen it all, so don’t fall back on that. Make sure there’s always something you could be doing.
PRO TIP #6: Spend most your cash on Sunday. A magical thing happens in the dealers room around 1pm on a Sunday. Things magically become cheaper! Because the vendors are magically exhausted and don’t feel like hauling all their magically heavy crap back to their vans. They’ll move pretty much any merch for a lot less, just to save themselves to back ache. So, do go into the dealers room on Friday and if you see something unique or something that might sell out, pick it up quick. But stuff like t-shirts, tote-bags, or anything the vendor has a million of, leave it for Sunday. You’re much more likely to get a deal on it.
A Note on Falling in Love at Big Conventions
Going to local small-scale cons to meet new friends is usually a good plan, because they generally attract people from a smaller radius. But at big cons, people fly in from around the world. Yes, you might hit it off with someone new because there are a lot more people with a lot in common with you at these places–just be wary of the fact that they might live far away, or might just be looking for some weekend fun with you. Guard your heart.
And ask for I.D.
PRO TIP #8: Pack for survival. Pretend you’re about to walk through the desert for three days straight, and pack accordingly. Bring water, chapstick, granola bars, Fruit Roll-Ups, Oreos, bandaids, energy drinks, hand sanitizer, a towel, and some giant cookies. (Note: I am not a survival specialist. This may not be the appropriate list of things to take into a desert.) Some large cons aren’t as well put-together as others, and some venues allow for crowd control better than some. This means that access to restaurants might take hours of waiting in line, water fountains maybe a mile apart, and convenience stores might be inconveniently located across an 8-lane highway with dividers in the middle. Also, vitamin C–prepare your immune system for the onslaught of bacteria and viruses that accompany tens of thousands of people in one place. Con-flu is a thing, so keep your hands clean and your face off of strangers.
I’ve probably missed something here in this list, but y’know what? That’s okay! There’s always something you’re going to miss, because we cannot be as big as these cons. My last PRO TIP would be to remember that you’re human and to treat yourself well at these kinds of events. Get enough sleep, eat enough food, SHOWER PLEASE, and accept that you’re not going to be able to see everything. Allow yourself to learn, grow, and absorb the atmosphere. But don’t absorb it too deeply–again, con-flu is a thing. And with that, I cannot help you. You’re just going to have to keep coming to cons, until you build up a natural immunity to it like the rest of us vets.
Pink Hair Girl