Over the past 50 years, San Diego Comic Con has gone from a relatively small niche event to one of the most popular and important showcases in all of entertainment. Think of it as the pop-culture Super Bowl but with less concussions. Every July, San Diego is overrun with over 150,000 nerds who will be spending, I shit you not, more than $82,000,000 over the course of one long weekend.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re headed to a con at some point. Whether you’re headed to San Diego, New York, Chicago, or PRETTY MUCH ANY OTHER CITY IN AMERICA, I will bestow upon you some pretty simple, but oftentimes forgotten or overlooked advice to help you maximize your con-going experience and hopefully save a few bucks here and there.
First Off, Do Your Research And Have A Plan
I know this sounds overly simplistic, but you’d be surprised how many people go to conventions wholly unprepared for what is about to happen. A trip to a con starts once you order those tickets, so take a moment to prepare.
Who’s going to be there? What are you going to bring? What’s the weather going to be like? What’s your budget? Are there any panels that you simply have to see?
You can save a lot of time, trouble, and money just by taking an hour and organizing your plans. My first “big” convention (Wizard World Philadelphia 2004) involved me buying a ticket and winging it. I ended up dropping way more than I expected because I didn’t think to plan out anything.
So I ended up buying pretty much everything. I bought comics I already owned to get signed. I bought prints without the wall space to hang them. I grabbed exclusives that I didn’t even care about because I got swept up in the frenzy of being there.
And, ultimately, I missed out on some things I would have preferred. I read through the program after the fact and realized I missed some really rad shit because I was too busy not knowing what the hell I was doing the whole time (e.g. my career now).
I’m pretty sure every con on the planet has a website that lists guests and panels well in advance in order for you to map out your weekend more efficiently. San Diego Comic Con, for example, has hundreds of guests from all over the geek spectrum and hundreds of panels covering hundreds of different topics. How the hell are you going to be able to figure out what you want to do when faced with all of those options at once?
On top of that, there are often satellite events organized around the convention all weekend long. For example, local comedy clubs might book comedians that coincide with fandom. There might be a Star Wars burlesque show or nerdy bar trivia nearby, so don’t be afraid to dig deep and check out what the entire convention scene has to offer before you cross through the doors.
So What Should You Bring With You To the Con?
There’s a lot to consider about what you should and shouldn’t bring with you to a convention. Come underprepared, and you could miss out or spend too much on shit you could’ve just brought with you. Come over prepared and you’ll throw your damn back walking around like a pack mule carrying a bunch of useless crap that’s just taking up space for all the useless crap you came here to get in the first place. So let’s be Goldilocks and find that third bowl of porridge for your con experience.
I can’t stress this enough: with the amount of walking, waiting, and standing you’re about to be doing, not wearing comfortable shoes with nice soft insoles is a huge no-no. This is your #1 priority.
And on top of that, wearing anything open-toed is a recipe for disaster. There are thousands of people crammed into several relatively narrow aisles.I have seen someone accidentally get a toenail kicked off their idiot foot.
Drink water. A lot of it. Conventions are often aggressively hot and stuffy, and Dr. Pepper isn’t exactly doing you any favors.
You’re about to spend upwards of 4 days walking. You’ll be walking all around the con floor. You’ll be walking back and forth from your hotel. You’ll be walking up and down stairs. You’ll be simply walking into Mordor.
More often than not it will be Summertime. Heat. Humidity. Crowds. Costumes. It’s simple math, my friends. You’re going to sweat. A lot. If I may make a suggestion…
Bring water (or a refillable water bottle, you eco-friendly son of a bitch). Bring lots of water. Keep water in your bag/hotel/car trunk/body. Like, in real life, in a non-con situation, you should be drinking ass-loads of water every day (Editor’s note: Ass-loads by volume, not ass-loads by receptacle).
Add in a few thousand extra steps, less moments to rest, various amounts of baggage, and many other variables, and you have the makings for a rough weekend if you don’t take care of yourself..
This one seems obvious, but holy smokes, so many people forget about/pack the wrong bag. Backpacks are useful, but can be cumbersome. If you’re used to carrying a heavier load, a backpack can be your best friend. I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about how men over a certain age (like, I don’t know, 17?) shouldn’t wear backpacks. Those authors can shit in their fist. I’m at a convention celebrating cartoon characters. The day I give a god damn what a GQ editorial thinks about my backpack is the day I decide to trade in my action figures for a pair of sensible slacks and a Blu Ray collection of shitty John Wayne movies that everyone pretends “real men” enjoy. A good backpack (I’d suggest a 2-strap to not destroy your shoulder) can truly help you.
Now, if you’re a fan of purses, you’re not gonna want to hear this, but purses are your enemy at a convention. They can be easily stolen, easily forgotten, and after a full day, can easily injure your shoulders. Lucky for you we’re in the Fanny Pack Renaissance (™)
Many have already ditched their purses for fanny packs and swear they’re never going back (until 18 months from now when the fad recedes).
The internet has been flooded with fanny packs of all kinds. From stylish to tactical to nostalgic and everywhere in-between, we are blessed to be in the very unique pocket of time where fanny packs, a punchline for over 2 decades, are back for you to bring all of your necessities along with you in a nice, convenient, generally unisex pouch.
Deodorant/Gum/Floss/Spare Shirt/General Hygienic Goods
You smell absolutely terrible. If you don’t think you do, that’s probably just because someone near you probably smells worse. Don’t be part of the problem. Trust me, you smell like Pittsburgh in August. Your mouth is a cesspool and you’re sweatier than Mark Wahlberg at a Personality Contest.
Lucky for you, we were smart enough to prepare for this inevitable situation. Take a moment to retreat to a restroom and compose yourself. You brought floss and gum to combat whatever’s going on in your mouth. Now grab some paper towels and wipe that sweat off, add a nice fresh layer of deodorant, toss on that spare shirt, and baby, you got a stew goin’.
Con food is, for lack of a better term, a massive heap of expensive garbage. Imagine paying a 7-Eleven employee $14 to deep-fry whatever they have at the bottom of their shoe. It’s just like that, but worse.
While packing for a convention, it’s a pretty solid idea to grab some snacks that’ll save you some serious buyer’s remorse once you’re on the floor. Dropping a couple bucks on some trail mix, beef jerky, or granola bars beforehand will keep you from spending drastically on the finest sweaty hotdogs, wilted salads, or overly-dry/moist sandwiches that the convention center has to offer.
I know it sounds silly, but a few snacks will take you far. Simply stopping at a convenience store on the way will save you a ton of money and headaches later on. You can use that saved money to buy some more very useful, very necessary items at the con or you can buy an actually decent meal later on.
As an added bonus, if your overall health and well-being is something on your mind, bringing your own snacks grants you a ridiculous amount of much healthier options. But even if that’s not the case, if my illustrious career in math has taught me anything, a $1 Snickers bar is a lot better than a $5 Snickers bar, probably.
Wanna stay within your budget? Avoid buying anything with credit/debit cards. Have a set amount you’re willing to spend and don’t budge. You’ve already researched and planned, so you have a GENERAL idea of what you want and what you can afford.
One of the cornerstones of a convention is artwork. Artists are the building blocks of comics culture, and they have a lot of great items for you to grab, which you can read about in this article I wrote about not being a dick. Once you’ve got your desired piece of artwork, you’re gonna want to protect it, and that’s where these babies come into play. Art tubes are fantastic to carry multiple pieces without risking any of the collateral damage that might come with being at a con.
Art tubes travel well and keep your memories safe and sound for as long as you need them protected. Once you’re home, you can easily unroll and flatten your artwork with nary a mustard stain in sight!
For a deeply personal experience, many fans keep sketchbooks filled with original art. Sketches are a unique and cool way to appreciate and collect art of your favorite characters by some of your favorite artists. If this sounds like something you’d be into, please don’t just stroll into the nearest CVS and pick up a cheap, $7 sketchbook. Don’t make the same mistake that I made.
If you’re going to start collecting original artwork in a sketchbook, do yourself a favor and splurge for a nice sketchbook. Something with a nice hard cover. Something you can take home to mom.
Trust me on this one. Filling a $7 book with hundreds of dollars worth of art is a recipe for disaster.
- Hand Sanitizer. Avoid Con Crud at all costs.
- Bathing suit. If there’s a pool where you’re staying. Trust me. It’s gonna feel real good after a long day
- Don’t bother bringing workout clothes. You’re getting your steps in. Don’t make this weird
- Condoms. Hey, you never know.
But Most Importantly, Bring A Good Attitude
I know I know, this is some “the real treasure was the friends we made along the way” kind of bullshit, but it really is true.
All the preparation in the world isn’t going to prevent a snag or two. You’re probably not going to get to do everything you want. You might have people in your group that are holding you up, or the panel you wanted to see was full, or that bodybuilder you idolized turned out to be a dick. How you deal with that is 100% up to you.
We’re all here because we’re a bunch of dorks that want to have a good time.
In the immortal words of Bill & Ted
Check out Jeff’s previous article How To Be A Good Comics Fan
Jeff May is a comedian and podcaster who runs Mint on Card, a monthly standup show at Blast from the Past in Burbank, CA. You should catch his podcasts Sideshow’s Side Show and Tom & Jeff Watch Batman.