I attended my first convention way back in 1998, when I flew from TN to St. Louis for a Hercules/Xena convention. That was also the first time I boarded an airplane, come to think of it!
Since then, I've attended quite a few more conventions. Along the way I've developed a sort of system that works for me, and I thought I'd blog about it in case some of you aren't con vets and need a few handy hints from the trenches.
My list of must-haves:
- CASH! Yes, most venues has an ATM on-site or nearby, but the lines can be worse than the ones for popular panels and autographs. At larger conventions I've witnessed ATMs running out of cash, too. Some vendors will accept plastic, but EVERYONE takes cash.
- A comfortable backpack is a must for conventions. Make sure it's roomy enough to put any purchases, freebies and such that you'll accumulate throughout the day.
- A three-ring-binder is my most important bring-along item! I always have a few sheets of notebook paper, several sheet protectors, a trading card protector sheet, and a zippered pencil pouch. The pouch always has a couple of pens and pencils, a highlighter as well as Sharpies in black and silver (sometimes I'll toss a red and a blue in there, too). If you collect autographs at all, you'll be VERY glad you brought these items. The sheet protectors and trading card protector sheet are perfect for keeping those autographed photos and cards from getting crumpled or smudged. The paper is great for taking notes during panels, doodling when you're bored in line, and such.
- Water and a couple of snacks are things I really can't recommend enough. If food is available for con attendees, I can guarantee they will be marked up like crazy. Not to mention, it's easy to get overheated or have your blood sugar bottom out when you're on the go for hours on end. So be sure you pack some sustenance - trust me on this one.
- Comfortable clothes and shoes, and a spare pair of socks. Yes, you might look stunning when you first arrive, but after several hours of walking around, being jostled by crowds, experiencing the heat that hundreds or thousands of bodies can produce in an enclosed space, the LAST thing you'll care about is how adorable those new high heels look with your outfit. So dress with comfort in mind. (Trust me, though, you can definitely look sexy AND be comfy.)
- A camera is something you may or may not use, but it's a good idea to have one on hand. Don't forget extra batteries for it, too.
- Since there are lots of great posters (many free) available at conventions, bring a poster tube to keep your new posters wrinkle- and fold-line-free.
- over-the-counter pain medicine, such as Tylenol or Advil
- mouthwash, breath mints, or a couple of those little disposable toothbrushes
- (for the ladies) a spare couple of tampons or pads. Even if it's not your special time of the month, it's entirely possible you'll get to play the hero for a panicked, less-prepared person in the ladies room.
- sketch pad - sometimes artists will do a little sketch for you and sign it, which is always cool
- charger for your cell phone - in your down time you may plop down near an outlet. This is especially useful if you're also live Tweeting or blogging from the con.
- your laptop. This one's a fairly individual choice, and depends on whether you mind the extra weight as well as whether you'll actually use it at the con.
- small gifts for your favorite convention guests. Again, this is an individual choice. I like to stock up with candy to pass out, as sometimes the guests don't even have time to grab a bite to eat.
Once I get to the convention, my first order of business after getting through the door (which is, in itself, sometimes quite the ordeal) is to look at the program and use my highlighter to mark the things I most want to do so that I can plan the rest of my day around those "must see" moments. I'm also mindful to try and get to the room for more popular panels WELL in advance of the panel's scheduled start, because I've seen rooms fill up and people who've been waiting in line for ages are turned away. Find out whether the con you're attending clears the room after each panel, or allows people to stay in the room from one panel to the next. Some people have no problem camping out in a spot and staying there through several panels that don't interest them just so they can have a good seat for the one they DO care about.
The second order of business is to find out which booths are having freebie giveaways, locate them on the convention floor map (if provided), and plan out my route so that I can use my time efficiently and have a decent shot at collecting my most-coveted goodies.
Thirdly, I check out the photo-op schedules and highlight the ones I most want to do. Some guests will have a few different photo-op times available, but other guests may be there for a very limited time and have only one photo-op on the schedule.
All in all, conventions can be TONS of fun. My best advice would be to enjoy yourself, relax, and remember that the convention guests are people just like you. Treat them with respect, of course, but don't build them up to some god or goddess type status. If you just treat them like the real people they are, you might even get to hang out at the bar with them or find yourself involved in a really cool conversation with them. If you need a time-out to de-stress, take that time-out rather than push yourself beyond your limits.
Overall, the goal is to have a fun, exciting, enjoyable experience. I hope this will help you achieve that goal.