Okay, this post is going to be lengthy, so please bear with me. I want to talk about preparing to attend a convention, how to pack sensibly, and what NOT to do at a hotel. I’ve been attending cons for nearly a decade now and aside from that I have traveled often and widely with my family. I have also worked as hotel cleaning staff, and I know exactly how much someone will hate you for leaving the bathroom looking like a bomb of wig hair, eyeshadow, and toothpaste went off in it. (Hint: a lot.)
HERE WE GO
More important than ANYTHING else is your budget. Before you decide to go to a convention, figure out how much money you can spend and if you’ll be able to cover everything. Attending a convention is expensive. You’ll need transportation to and from the con, a place to stay for the duration of the con, food, some emergency funds, money for con registration, and maybe a bit of cash to blow in the dealers room/artist’s alley. So if you’re not sure if you can afford it, straight up: don’t go.
- Is the con local? How local? If it’s not, are you going to drive there? Are you going to fly? (If you’re local, skip this!)
- If you’re within driving distance, make sure your car can handle the journey. Don’t drive alone, plan a route (or two) ahead of time, and have the information for AAA on hand in case of auto emergencies. If you have a group of people driving with you, work out who is paying for gas and when before you depart, and hold them to it.
- If you’re NOT within driving distance, look for airfare early. Buy your tickets at least a month in advance. The closer you get to the date of departure, the more heinous the prices wil be. Remember to check airline policies before you buy a ticket so you can avoid surprise fees at the gate.
- If you do plan to fly into the convention locale, research public transit beforehand, and don’t blow your phone batteries on the flight playing Angry Birds and Bejeweled. Save the batteries for when you land—you never know if you’ll need your phone for something important.
GETTING A HOTEL ROOM
- Research!!! Find out how much a hotel room is, if you’re going to need one, and find out at least 3 months in advance. Don’t limit yourself to the host hotel (if there is one); look at other hotels in the area. Usually there are two or three. If you can, find a hotel that serves a complimentary breakfast.
- If you can’t cover the cost of a hotel by yourself (which is really common since they are hella pricey), find a group of reliable friends who also want to attend. If you do this, DO plan for the worst case scenario. Even reliable friends have problems with money sometimes. Get people to pay you up front for the room and don’t be afraid to be a hardass about it. Even I am guilty of last minute crashing on the floor of someone else’s hotel room at a con, and skipping out on payment.
- For the love of Our Lady Madoka, do not tell the hotel you have 5 people in the room. Do not tell them you have 3, or 4, or 20. Especially upscale hotels like the Hilton—because they will charge you out the butthole for every additional living being. But what they don’t know won’t hurt you and your friends’ bank accounts.
- Find out about the hotel WiFi in advance. Is it free? If not, can you afford it? (If not, can you go without it for 3 days?)
- Find out how much parking will cost beforehand and plan for it in your budget. My cosplay family and I recently lost about $70 to parking at a con when we could’ve avoided it. If there’s public transit that you can feasibly take with your luggage, or if a friend or family member willing to drop you off, take advantage!!
- If the con is local, price out the parking and gas against a hotel room. Decide if you want to bother with the hotel. There are definite pros and cons of staying at a home and commuting to the con. Figure out what works for you! I had never stayed at a con overnight until last year, and I was 22 then.
- If you’re under 18 and you plan on attending with people your age or younger, you can probably skip the hotel room (unless you’re not local). Go with a parent/guardian or find older, trustworthy friends to room with.
THE CONVENTION ITSELF
- PRE-REGISTER!! None of us are made of money and pre-registering will save you the $$$. The sooner you get your registration the cheaper it’s gonna be. Once you know you’re going, nab that shit.
- Plan for the panels you want to attend. Even if you completely disregard it once you’re at the con, draw up some sort of schedule.
- Figure out if costumes fit into your budget (if you’re into that). If they do, figure out which costumes you’re going to bring.
- Bring bananas and apples and oranges. Bring ramen and instant soup and a case of water. Bring protein bars and granola bars and crackers and beef jerky and trail mix. Buying food at a convention is ridiculously expensive, and you can make instant noodles and instant soup using the hotel room coffee machine for dinner if you need to. Keep snacks on hand for in between meals—conventions are tiring—and make sure you stay hydrated.
- I REPEAT: BRING WATER!! CARRY WATER!!! KEEP WATER ON YOUR PERSON AT ALL TIMES!! Cons (especially summer cons) are exhausting and it’s really easy to forget to drink or just drink soda or w/e, but water is your friend. It is often free. Stay hydrated, even if it means getting really familiar with the location’s bathrooms.
- The eve of the convention is nigh and you have one (1) suitcase, three (3) costumes, a crate of makeup, a couple of small costume props and a large prop rifle that barely fits in a Hummer. Here is my advice to you:
- Write a checklist. Make sure you have any costumes you need, make sure you have all the parts of any costumes you need, right down to the invisible panty line underwear and Dr. Scholls for those ridiculously uncomfortable platform boots. Make sure you have street clothes, an extra change in case something happens (like spilling your box of lo mein down your front 10 minutes after you’ve arrived). Bring your own shampoo, especially if you’re going to be sharing the hotel room with others. (Those tiny bottles of toiletries go fast.) If your costume involves facepaint or body paint that is not PURE ASS WHITE (HOMESTUCK FANDOM I AM LOOKING AT YOU VERY MEANINGFULLY), bring your own towels. Go to a thrift store and buy some old grody towels if you don’t have your own. Bring your own washcloth or loofah. Remember any meds you need, remember a toothbrush and toothpaste. Remember shoes and socks! Remember your wigs! If you get a period ever, pack pads or tampons just in case.
- PACK DEODORANT. WEAR DEODORANT. I don’t care if you think your sweat smells like spun sugar. Wear deodorant.
- Put your toiletries in a plastic bag. This is required if you’re flying (iirc) and a good idea anyways. In the case that your toothpaste or makeup remover or shampoo opens during transit, this way it only gets all over the rest of the stuff that you can probably throw in the sink and rinse down, as opposed to all of your clothing and wigs. Pack extra ziplocks too, just in case something does spill.
- Fold your clothes!!! Fold them nicely and stack them nicely in your suitcase. Roll your underwear and put them alongside your shirts or something. Fold your costumes (if possible) and separate them into plastic bags so all the clothing for one cosplay is together. Check off pieces of your costume to a reference photo as you pack to make sure you’ve got everything.
- Don’t bring a suitcase you can’t carry. Same goes for cosplay props.
- Invest in a nice crate or two for wigs, makeup, accessories, hairspray, hair stuff, makeup sponges, small props, etc.
- If it could be mistaken for someone else’s and you’re sharing a room with others, put your name on it.
- Remember to pack your phone charger!
- If you’re cosplaying, bring some supplies for emergency repairs: needle and thread, scissors, a hot glue gun, safety pins, etc.
- If you plan on buying stuff at the con, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ROOM IN YOUR SUITCASE TO TAKE IT HOME.
HOW TO HOTEL
- Keep your room clean. Yes, room service exists for a reason; that reason is not “to be your mom.” Pick up your stuff and don’t let it spread out too much. Try to keep all your things in, on, or around your suitcase, or in your crate(s).
- Keep the bathroom clean and dry. Most hotels will give you a smaller towel that resembles a very thin bathmat. That is because this is a bathmat. Put it down outside your shower/tub and dry off IN THE SHOWER so you get minimal dripping on the tile. This way whoever goes in after you to piss doesn’t risk breaking their neck slipping in your puddles.
- Bring extra plastic bags for your dirty laundry and keep your trash together. Hotel room trash cans are small, so bringing a bag with you to use for trash is a good idea.
- Do not scream and create a ruckus just for the fun of it, especially not in the hallways.
- If you absolutely need to drink in your room, do it responsibly and probably don’t advertise it, especially if anyone under 21 will be present.
- Remember to check under beds and in drawers before you leave!
- Be aware of the check-out time and don’t miss it.
- If you get claustrophobic, find out where the stairs are, or (discreetly) the service elevator.
- TREAT THE HOTEL AND ITS STAFF WITH RESPECT! Hotels do not have to host conventions and they can and will refuse to host a con they’ve had bad experiences with.
I HOPE THIS IS HELPFUL! A lot of this (the vast majority) is common sense, but I wouldn’t mention a thing if I hadn’t experienced it or known it to be a common mistake. I’ll be following up in a few days with Convention Etiquette and Advice, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested.
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