Con Survival Guide, 2017 Edition
by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
It's summer time! What does that mean for Otaku all over the world? It's Convention Time! Yes indeed, cool cats and kittens, it's a time to descend on hotels, convention centers and college campuses and assemble to cosplay, hang out, wait in line for those all-important panels and shows, haunt the video rooms, and spend altogether too much money in the exhibit hall!
There are a thousand and one ways of experiencing Con Fail. We don't have to go into them all. But I'm going to give you a few tips on how to avoid Con Fail, how to get maximum enjoyment, and experience minimum pain. I've gone to these events for years and years and years (how many I'd rather not go into detail) but suffice it to say I've learned a fair amount of things that can be helpful.
1.) Pack a Con Survival Kit. Pare down your usual backpack load to the bare minimum, then make sure you carry items like these with you in the space you've cleared out. Refillable water bottles, two granola bars (or single-serve packets of nuts, or single-serve packets of jerky) for every day of con, reusable shopping bags, (protip: the reusable shopping bags you can get at a grocery store for about a dime a piece work a treat, and roll up small) and bandanas (con exhibit halls can get sweaty) are the basics. If you take medicine on a daily basis, bring a ziplock bag for each one and bring enough to cover your needs for the con plus a few more for each. Bring your inhalers if you need them. Extra batteries for your phone if your phone has replaceable batteries, or a nice stout recharger battery is not just optional but MANDATORY. A small sewing kit is useful to do field cosplay repair, as is duct tape and fabric glue. Breath mints or gum is useful for not having funky breath.
2.) Consider filling up a prepaid debit card to stay on budget. This one you have to plan ahead for, because you will need to get a personalized version of the prepaid debit card for it to be useful for any but online uses. Make sure that it is associated with one of the Big Three: VISA, MasterCard, or American Express. I have found that AMEX's Serve.Com card is one of the best, and has the least fees for adding more money. It also has a very simple and very usable app for monitoring your balance. Don't use it to pay for your hotel, though, because the hotel might charge it as much as one whole day the minute you sign for your keys. Someone stealing this card will hurt, but it won't hurt as much as having your main plastic stolen or lost. And with the attendant app, you can at least prevent unauthorized charges that have not yet been made. Keep some cash on hand, but don't just carry cash. If that's taken, you will never get it back. The old standby of traveler's cheques is kind of falling by the wayside, but you might want to consider bringing enough of them to pay your room for the whole stay and just prepaying your room. One less thing to worry about, and some banks still will give you them for no service fee if you are buying them out of your bank account. However, not every establishment will honor them. Call ahead if you are thinking of doing this.
3.) If your con provides a shuttle service, definitely take advantage of it. Chances are, if you made your reservations for your hotel as part of the con block, if your con has a shuttle service you can use it to get to your hotel. If you are in a really good transit city (Tokyo, NYC, LA, San Diego, San Francisco) you can also use public transit as an adjunct, or consider using public transit as your mainstay way to get around. Taxis are a rip off, period. Uber does not treat its drivers very well. If you are going to use a ride hailing service, Lyft is the one that I have personally found is the friendliest and most trustworthy one. However, Lyft does add up, and you will likely have to deal with demand pricing if you are going to a really big con.
4.) Pack extra clothes, especially extra underwear and socks. If you are cosplaying, bring along a set of street clothes to change into should you decide you've had enough of wearing your cosplay. This should include socks and sensible shoes. If you are stuck wearing stiletto heels or big clunky platforms, you will regret not doing that.
5.) Read your con's Code of Conduct and Peace Bonding policy carefully. Then TAKE IT TO HEART. Remember Wheaton's Law: DON'T BE A DICK. Considering liability and other legal considerations, that Code of Conduct has been drawn up to prevent you and the con from getting into SERIOUS LEGAL TROUBLE should the code be breached. Cosplay is not consent. Ask permission for pictures and selfies, always. Don't make indecent proposals or catcall. Again, DON'T BE A DICK. Peace Bonding is likely to be much tighter now than it has been in the past because of an incident this year involving a jilted boyfriend who went to a con packing major heat. You might not be able to bring your weapons, even painted, wooden, non-firing ones or impossible sci-fi ones, this year. When in doubt, DON'T. Honestly, it's no fun having stuff confiscated.
6.) Schedule, but be prepared to miss, panels and events. Get your tickets for ticketed events in advance. Use the app version of the con program instead of relying on the printed or Web version, because it will be updated more regularly than the other versions. AX has its own app, San Diego Comic Con International/WonderCon has its own, and many other cons use Guidebook. If your con uses Guidebook, to get the info Guidebook needs for your con you need to open up Guidebook and search for your con in its listings. Nobody can attend every event at a given con, unless it's a really small con.
7.) Remember the 6/2/1 rule. It is time-honored among old-timer geeks because it works. Six hours of sleep a night, at least two meals a day, and ONE SHOWER. Do not skimp on any of these, especially not the shower. You will likely be so keyed up you won't be able to sleep more than six hours. You might miss a meal, especially in cities that are overly crowded because of con. But no amount of deodorant, anti-perspirant, towelettes, Febreeze, and especially NOT Axe, will replace that shower. You don't want to be offending your fellow con-goers with your funk.
8.) Avoiding con crud: conventions are petri dishes for colds, flu, gastroenteritis and other gross diseases. However, you can cut your chances of coming home with unwanted hitchhikers (think the end of the Haunted Mansion ride) if you follow these rules. Keep hydrated. Don't miss that 6 hours of sleep. Wash your hands often, and use hand sanitizer if you can't get to a bathroom. Some people swear by Airborne, some people (like me) swear by Emergen-C, but there is no scientific evidence for either beyond the anecdotal.
Here are a few good videos that have even more valuable information, check 'em out!