Convention Survival Guide

Posted by Andrew E. on

Convention Survival Guide

You’ve saved the date, bought your tickets, and waited patiently for the con of a lifetime. There’s two ways this can go. Either you’re going to have an amazing time and leave the experience with new memories and friends, or you’re going to crawl home sick and need time off to recover. Conventions come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a few common pitfalls that you can be sure to avoid just by following a few of these simple tips.

SLEEP!

Conventions can seem like weekend-long parties and depending on how you normally treat parties this can really destroy you over the course of a weekend. I’ve seen people attend con events for the day and most of the evening, party all night, then try to attend the con events the next day and just crash. 

4 hours a night, that’s the minimum. It’s not great, but definitely don’t go below that. It can be tempting to just cram as much into a weekend as possible, but trust me, you need at least 4 hours. No matter how fun that morning event seems, you won’t get to enjoy anything while completely fried to the bone. GET SOME SLEEP! 

Clean Yourself!

Again, this I think is a problem largely caused by the “weekend-long party” way of approaching conventions. It can be tempting to roll right from your party upstairs onto the convention floor, but wow, the collective stink that can rise off thousands of people not cleaning themselves could be used to strip paint.

Shower at least once during the convention, probably at about the half-way point if that’s the only one you’re managing. Brush your teeth, put on deodorant, and generally take care of yourself just like you normally would (if you wouldn’t normally do these things, the problem is too far gone).

Even if you keep yourself clean, that doesn’t mean everybody else will, and that collective stink I mentioned can really wear you down. I recommend taking along one of those small travel-sized deodorant sprays. If you encounter somebody particularly pungent, politely and discreetly pull them aside and offer them a little spritz, they likely aren’t aware that their smell is offending.   

Know When to Party

This may or may not be relevant advice, depending on your convention. I’ve been to conventions that were dignified affairs, lots of polite conversation and maybe a quick drink at the hotel bar. I’ve also been to conventions where everybody gets completely sloshed, stoned, smashed, zonked, plastered, and perhaps even a bit tipsy. If a raucous weekend is all you want out of a convention, then just enjoy! However, it burns deep when you miss a guest speaker, or a signing, or any other convention event you were looking forward to because you were hungover in your hotel room.

For every hour you spend partying, assume it will take an extra hour the next morning to sleep or get ready. Just try to keep that little metric going and excuse yourself from any debauchery if that counter starts ticking past something you really want to do the next day  

Go to Panels and Events

This can be more or less important depending on the con, but if there’s stuff you want to do and see, don’t forget about them while you’re having fun. Try to keep track of your time and make sure you get to events in time to participate, especially if it’s a large con where open spots might be limited.

There is a flip side to this though, if you’d have to wait 3 hours to make sure you got a spot in an event, make sure it’s one worth waiting for. Don’t spend your whole trip waiting in line, prioritize the stuff you really want and feel free to let the rest slide. 


Autographs aren’t an Investment

This is something I wish I’d learned years ago. Those celebrity signatures probably aren’t going to be worth much. Yes, there’s always those situations where a rare signature ends up being extremely valuable, but the odds are against you. 

When a celebrity sells autographs at a convention, they do it in bulk, and they often go to signings at multiple conventions and events. The valuable signatures are almost always full groups, or autographs from celebrities that don’t often give them. I have quite a few signatures that I got for $30-$50 at conventions, and now years later they’re worth... $30-$50. 

I’m not saying don’t get autographs, they’re a chance to talk with some of the people responsible for your favorite things! You end up with a personal memento of meeting someone who’s close to a show or game that’s important to you. Just try not to think of them as an investment. I once watched a guy pay for 20 identical signings because he was so sure they’d be worth a fortune down the line, they weren’t. Get autographs for your personal collection, or from people you’ve always wanted to meet, don’t make a nest egg out of them.


Respect the Venue

Wherever your convention takes place, you absolutely don’t have permission to wreck the place. If you’re convention is in a hotel with other non-convention guests (most smaller cons will be) then respect them, and don’t make a spectacle of yourself. You as convention-goers represent whatever fandom or group you’re meeting with. If you trash the hotel rooms, get loudly drunk in the halls or generally mistreat the venue, it looks awful for your community, and will likely make sure there isn’t a con next year. 


Respect Cosplayers

There’s a lot of levels of cosplay, from simple outfits to intricate masterpieces of engineering and costuming. They’re performing in a sense, but I’ve seen some people get the wrong idea and really ruin the experience. I’ve got just 2 rules that will keep you right:

Look, Don’t Touch. Just because somebody is in costume does not give you permission to touch somebody. Stop that. 

Ask Before Taking Pictures. If somebody walked up and snapped a photo of you out of nowhere, that’d be weird right? Even if their cosplay is spectacular and you just need to get a pic, take a minute to ask if it’s alright. 


Stave Off the Dreaded Con Crud

It’s very likely that once you return home from a convention, you’ll get mildly sick. This strange medical phenomenon is called “Con Crud” and it’s very real. Basically, when you press a few thousand people from different corners of the world into close proximity for a weekend, there’s an excellent chance they’ll expose each other to cold viruses they haven’t encountered before. Couple this together with a general lack of sleep and hygiene, add in a couple parties worth of alcohol, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for getting sick. But fear not! You can stave off the dreaded con crud with a few precautions.


Purell

This is especially true at gaming conventions where you’re playing demos and touching controllers or playing pieces. Bring a little travel-sized bottle of purell or other hand sanitizer with you on your next convention and just give your hands a dash of it a couple times a day. You might look like a germaphobe but your chances of contracting the crud goes down each time you lather up.


Eat Something!

This might not be a problem for you, but I’ve seen some convention-goers completely omit multiple meals or have liquid lunches (booze ain’t food). Your body is likely already stressed, there’s no reason to starve it at the same time. Even if the convention food is overpriced, you need to eat. If you don’t want to buy con food, make some other plans ahead of time. Don’t just go without eating or else your body will get revenge later as you succumb to the dreaded con crud.

Hydration

Booze isn’t food, it also isn’t water and a lot of drinking can lull you into thinking you’re not thirsty. You’re going to be walking up and down the convention floor, you’re going to end up doing a lot of exercise and you need to drink water like you’re exercising. Bring a water bottle, super simple, but you’ll be thankful you brought one.  

Listen to your Body

I’m essentially just summing up previous advice here, but just try not to push yourself too hard. Your body is already very good at telling you what it needs, so just listen. Drink some water when you’re thirsty, eat when you’re hungry, and sleep when you’re exhausted. There’s a lot of temptation to push yourself so that you won’t miss out on the next event, but you’ll end up missing the whole thing if you’re stuck in your hotel room sick.


Pack a Crud Kit

If you do succumb to the crud and wind up sick at a convention, you’re not going to want to hunt down sick supplies and it helps to have a bit on hand. Hand sanitizer can be a life saver. You don’t need to go full crazy prepared, but a couple simple things stowed away goes a long way. I recommend packing a bottle of aspirin, a bottle of nyquil/dayquil, and some pepto-bismol or tums. If you’re flying to your con and the whole “liquid bottle” thing becomes an issue, go with the tums and some antihistamines instead of the nyquil. Even if you don’t end up catching the crud, one of your friends might, and these items take very little packing space and can mean a world of difference.  

 

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