Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Convention Tips

As we near the middle of January, it is quite clear that conventions will soon be fast approaching. Whether they are comic conventions, or conventions of any other type, they're coming. If you're planning on attending a convention, there's a few things you should remember:

1. SHOWER. I cannot stress this enough. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people crammed into a small space. You'll get hot, you'll get sweaty. Please, please make sure you're clean first. We don't need anybody smelling up the place. If you've been to conventions before, I'm sure you've experienced it... the one person who walks past you in a cloud of funk, making you simultaneously gag and hold your breath while your eyes water. Don't be that person.

2. USE DEODORANT. Do I really need to explain this one? If so, re-read number one. Showers are great, but you're gonna need that deodorant too. Unless you carry ice packs around with you to stuff up your shirt and down your pants, you're gonna get hot. You're gonna get sweaty. Use the deodorant. If you really wanna be prepared, carry some with you too. You never know what could happen.

3. GO EASY ON THE BODY SPRAY. I know we want to try to kill the funk, but please, whether it's cologne or perfume, don't use too much. We don't want clouds of funk, and we definitely don't want clouds of suffocating cologne.

4. PLAN AHEAD. For just about any convention, you can find schedules of events online. Most of the time, you can buy tickets online for the convention, and to meet people. It may be time consuming, but it's worth it to take the time to look at the schedule of events for the days you will be there and write out everything you want to do. Then, go back through and organize your 'must-do' list. You should have back-up plans too. Especially for conventions that have panels and screenings. Unless you get VIP tickets, or something of the likes, there is always a chance you won't get into the panels and screenings you want to see. A back-up plan will help you avoid that "oh shit, now what do I do?" feeling when you can't get access to an event.

5. MAKE A BUDGET. Listen, conventions are expensive. There's no way around that. If you want to go to a convention, you're going to spend money. This is where planning ahead really helps. Make a list of your expenses.
-Travel: If you have to travel for a convention, do your research. Sure, you have a car. But what about parking? What if a train is cheaper? Or a bus? Look into all of your options. Maybe the cheapest isn't the best option. But what you can do is find the happy point between cheap and ideal. It may not be perfect, but you could save some money.
-Lodging: If you're going to a convention near where you live, you're lucky. If not, start searching for hotels early. They're expensive. Booking online can sometimes get you a discounted rate. Always, ALWAYS, search for promo codes online. I have saved so much money on hotels because of this. If your convention is in a big city where prices are much higher, check in nearby towns for a cheaper hotel and a bus ride into the city. Again - I've saved money doing this. It's a bit of a hassle, but to me, it's worth it to save some money.
-Souvenirs: Most people go to conventions expecting to buy some sort of souvenir. Do yourself a favor... over budget for this one. By that, I mean give yourself more to spend than you expect to. There's all kinds of cool stuff to buy at conventions and I can guarantee that unless you don't have any money on you, you're probably going to spend some. But if you still want to save money, there's one thing that works in some places: bartering. If you're at a convention where artists are selling their stuff, normally on the last day of the convention you can do some bartering if you want something. Don't be rude about it, and don't be offended if they say no, but most of them are understanding if you try, and sometimes will be willing to work with you.
-Food: This one's easy to forget about. You don't think about food because food is everywhere you go. Well, at most conventions, it also costs a fortune. Unless it is explicitly stated that no outside foods and beverages are allowed, take water and take snacks. Protein bars and beef jerky are my two favorite convention snacks. It doesn't go bad, getting smashed isn't a big deal, and it helps keep you energized. It's easy to forget, but so worth remembering. It's probably easier to plan on buying as little food as possible at a convention, but leave room in your budget for at least one overpriced meal each day, because you're gonna get hungry.
-Cash: Since we're talking about money, this is a good place to put this. I have yet to go to a convention where the lines for the ATM's were not a mile long. A lot of people don't think about carrying cash because just about everyone takes credit cards now. Well, at conventions, more often than not cash is the way to go. Now, you may be thinking "what about those card scanners for mobile devices?" Yeah, these are great... until you get to the convention center and realize you get little to no reception, like everyone else in the building - including the vendors. Do yourself a favor, carry some cash on you. You'll be glad for it.

6. WEAR COMFY SHOES. Just about anyone who has been to a convention knows you need to wear comfortable shoes. You're going to be doing a lot of walking, and as much as places try to provide seating, there is NEVER enough. It just doesn't happen. So wear comfortable shoes. Walking and running shoes are always great. Now, if you're crazy like me and prefer to wear five inch heels for your cosplays, I suggest you still bring comfortable shoes. Also, cushioned insoles are great too. At some point in time, you're going to want to take your shoes off and give your feet a break. Food breaks and panels are great places to do this. Just don't do it if you have stinky feet because then everyone around you will be miserable too.

7. BRING A BAG. Girls may be thinking this is obvious, that's why most of us carry a purse. (Fun fact: I don't use a purse unless absolutely necessary. I mean, I have pockets for a reason!) But, your purse may not be big enough. Think about it: on top of all the crap that's always in there, add a big wad of cash, some water and food, and you're probably out of room. Then what happens when you buy souvenirs? All of a sudden, you've got an over filled purse, and more bags to carry. So why not go the easy unisex route? This solution works for guys and girls. Get a messenger bag or a small backpack. All of your stuff will be securely wrapped around you. You've got plenty of room to store stuff without being uncomfortable, or dealing with overflow.

8. FIRST AID KITS! This one is so easily over-looked that I'm sure most people don't have them when they go to conventions. But what are you going to do when you get a headache? What about if you get blisters from being on your feet all day? You don't want to spend your day suffering. So take some drugs, bandage up your oozing skin, and get back to the fun! Seriously though, even if you don't use it, it's nice to have the stuff just in case.

9. PHONES. Phones are great. They help you stay in touch with friends. Let you post to social media sites throughout the day. And let you deal with frustration when they die. I mean, that's at least what will happen if you have an iPhone. My Android has never died on me when I needed it. But some tips for making that phone battery last:
-WiFi: don't use it. Plain and simple. You're probably not going to get a great signal, and leaving it on will just suck up your battery even faster. If you do have to use it, wait til you need it to turn it on, do what you have to do, then turn the wifi off again.
-Screen Brightness: turn it down, all the way! Or as low as possible with still being able to see the screen. Seriously, you don't need it up all the way. It may be easier, but if you can get by with a dimmer screen, do it.
-Calls: keep 'em short! Don't make calls unless you have to, and when you do, say what needs to be said then hang up.
-Texting: if you're at a convention, don't be texting your mom about what's for dinner. Don't be texting your friends (who obviously aren't that cool if they're not there with you) about what you're doing next weekend. Keeping your texts relevant to the situation and enjoy your time at the convention. Seriously, why did you pay to go there if your face is going to be in your phone the entire time. Which brings me to my next point... DON'T TEXT WHILE WALKING. Seriously. You're just going to cause problems for everybody.
-Airplane Mode: if you're not waiting for contact from somebody, put your phone on airplane mode. This will help preserve the battery even more. Just take it off airplane mode when you need it. This is a better alternative to turning your phone on and off because that will actually use more battery than just keeping it on airplane mode which essentially turns your phone off. But it still gives you the option to whip it out and snap a quick pic if you need to.

10. DON'T GET SICK. This one really should be up near the top, but quite frankly, I don't feel like re-numbering everything. If you've been to a convention before, you've probably heard of 'con crud' or 'nerd flu'. These are big phrases because they're true. Conventions=germs. Germs=sickness. You get the picture. There's several things you can do to make sure you don't get sick.
-Sleep: you really need to get enough rest. Give your body everything it needs to fight that crap off. Get enough rest. You may think it sounds silly, but you'll be grateful for it. Try to have a semi-normal sleep schedule for the few days before and after the convention. Get enough rest every night before hand, and afterwards to let your body recover.
-Hand Sanitizer: You're touching stuff. You're touching people. You're shaking hands. Then you go to eat. Let me guess, you didn't wash your hands did you? They are completely gloved in germs. Take a little bottle of hand sanitizer and wash off some of those germs. You may think it's easier to just go to the bathroom. Yeah, maybe, but there's the lines. And having to touch more dirty stuff after you exit the bathroom while getting your food. With hand sanitizer, you can get your food, sit down, wash up, then eat right away. Less gunk for the gullet!
-Vitamins: This one's majorly looked over. But you should probably be taking vitamins several days before the convention, and for several days after. Give your immune system an extra boost to fight off the germs. Another thing you can do is use Airborne. Personally, I'm a fan of the Berry flavor tablets dissolved into Sprite. WARNING: if you break the tablet to make it fit into a small bottle of Sprite, you will be dealing with a sticky explosion. Drink some Sprite first, or mix it in a glass.
-Eat Right: This one is so easily overlooked. But you really ought to make sure you're putting the right stuff in your body. Again, several days before and after. Make sure you're getting the right nutrients. We all know that feeling of death inside our stomachs when we eat too much junk. Well, put that on top of a weakened immune system from all the germs and you're just asking for trouble. You can't keep the germs away completely, but you can be smart about what you do to keep your immune system strong.

11. TALK TO PEOPLE! Conventions are a great way to meet new people, or to finally meet those people you only know from the internet. Think about it. You're at a convention, surrounded by thousands of people. Odds are most of them have something in common with you. Even if you don't become best friends with that person, give it a shot! Hell, I went to an after party at a bar after a convention one time and met a Jedi Knight who bought everyone drinks, and I met an awesome Australian guy who was on vacation and in Philly specifically to attend the convention. I'm shy. I have terrible social anxiety. But I'm telling you, it's worth it!

12. MEET CELEBRITIES. A lot of the time, meeting celebrities is expensive. Sometimes you stand in line for over an hour just for them to cut it off two people in front of you. But I'm telling you it's worth the opportunity. I mean, I'm probably one of few people who can honestly say I verbally harassed Lemony Snicket. And it was a freakin' blast! Don't worry - he thought it was funny too. The cool celebrities will take time for you. I met William Shatner once, just to get his autograph for a family member. He was still really nice, and taking time for everybody. I met Jason David Frank once. He is absolutely awesome! He's a great celebrity and is just as much a fan of his fans as his fans are a fan of him. He's great. John Morton, from Star Wars, spent a good 25 minutes talking with me, because we have the same last name. And then he started calling me Cousin Jenn. Seriously though, meet celebrities. I wouldn't necessarily advise paying hundreds of dollars for an autograph, but if you can meet people without going broke over it, do it.

13. TAKE PICTURES. If you have a real camera, good for you. If you don't, your phone will suffice. But you're going to want to take pictures. You're going to want to talk about your experiences in the future. If you don't have pictures, it may be hard to remember some of the little stuff. And then of course, if you meet celebrities and start to brag about it, there will be the people who say "pics or it didn't happen." So, ya know, keep those pics handy!

14. LINES. You're going to stand in lines all freaking day. Lines to get in. Lines for food. Lines for the bathroom. Lines for the ATM. Lines to make purchases on your souvenirs. Lines for panels. Lines for celebrities. The only way to avoid the lines... don't go. I mean, lots of conventions offer rather pricy VIP passes which help you bypass a decent portion of the lines, but you're not going to avoid 100% of them. If you're not a patient person and you don't like standing in lines... well, you're kinda screwed. For the lines, pack your patience, talk to people around you, and wait it out. You'll get to where you're going. If the lines piss you off, then what you're waiting for might not be as awesome as you think. Sometimes it's worth the wait. If it's not, then it's also not worth the money you're spending on it. When it comes to celebrities, the bigger celebrities have bigger lines. That's just the way it is. Obviously, the names that anybody will know are going to have the biggest lines. They generally tend to go down from there, aside from the ones that not everybody knows but that have big fan bases. So, you can probably guess the length of the line you're going to be in well before going to the convention. Big name/fan base= big line. Smaller name=smaller line. Also, there's the good chance you'll spend an hour standing in line to meet somebody, and they'll cut the line so you never can. It sucks. There's other times where you'll stand in a non-moving line for an hour to meet Jason David Frank, consider leaving the line cuz nothing's happening, then see him walking the length of the line apologizing for being late and promising to get to everybody. Some celebrities are cool like that. Others (or their handlers) not so much. Shit happens. It probably won't go perfectly the way you imagine. Get over it, and just have fun! Don't let a few mishaps in your perfect plan be reason for all of your money to go to waste.

15. KNOW YOUR LOCATION. This one is super, super important. You need to know where everything is relative to, well, everything else. Take the time to look at the maps. If you've never been in a building before that is housing a convention, you're liable to get lost. Hell, you might get lost even if you've been there before. But this is more of a general safety thing than just to not get lost. Anything could happen at a convention, and while I don't wish for bad things to happen, it's possible. Know where exits are. Know where security staff are. If shit goes down, you don't wanna get trampled by thousands of frantic people. Also, knowing where everything is helps when you have to meet up with people. Finding a common place, where everyone knows where it is will do a great deal of good to be able to meet up with people without going nuts trying to find them. This also applies to things like, oh I don't know, the bathroom! I mean, you're gonna have to pee. If you're standing in line for a celeb and you gotta go, well, you've got two choices: either leave the line, or wait it out. So you wait it out, meet your celeb, and now you're risking creating a hazardous situation for everyone because you've got a veritable volcano ready to exit your pants. Know where the toilets are before that happens. You'll save everyone the hassle, and you'll probably avoid some embarrassment too.

I'm sure I'm probably missing something, but I think this is a pretty good start! Keep all this stuff in mind when planning for your next convention. No matter what you do, enjoy your conventions. If you have anything you want to add, there's a comments section for that very reason!

Here's my convention schedule for 2014:
Jan 30- Feb 2: Philadelphia Tattoo Convention
June 19-22: Wizard World Philly
July 10-13: ConnectiCon
July 31-Aug 3: Star Trek Convention - Vegas (tentative)
Oct 9-12: New York Comic Con
 *The dates listed are for the convention as a whole, and do not depict the dates I will actually be there.

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