It’s summer, a time when sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, and comic book fans turn to the convention circuit. You may be attending a large convention like Fan Expo or Wizard World. Or you could be checking out a small local event for your favorite genre in a downtown hotel. You might even travel to the big daddy of them all—San Diego Comic-Con International. But no matter what kind of show you attend, knowing a few tips and tricks can help make your convention experience more enjoyable.
As their popularity grows, large shows are harder to navigate without some insider information. Even experienced ubergeeks look for new technology and apps to help them celebrate their fandom. However, a few basic guidelines continue to be true year after year.
- Plan ahead. Attending a large convention, especially if you’re traveling, requires weeks or months of planning. VIP tickets, autograph and photo sessions, and special events all sell out early.
- Be comfortable. You’ll walk for miles on concrete floors. Depending on the season, presentation halls may be too hot or too cold. Make sure you have comfortable shoes and adaptable clothing.
- Fight “convention flu.” Thousands of people in an enclosed space means enough germs to scare a dystopian science fiction writer. Keep yourself healthy with a few common-sense practices.
- Every day you’re at the convention, follow the 6-2-1 rule: Get at least 6 hours of sleep, eat at least 2 healthy meals, and take 1 shower.
- Drink lots of water and take a multivitamin. If possible, carry your own refillable water bottle.
- Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer.
- Carry a bag. It can be a backpack, messenger bag, or one of the big commemorative carry-alls some conventions give you. These shows give out a lot of great swag and convention exclusives and you’ll need a place to put them. You may also want to carry:
- Sharpie pens for autographs
- Small snacks and your water bottle
- Chargers and extra batteries (more on this later)
Expect a bag check from security when you enter the convention each day. Be sure to check and see items you aren’t allowed to bring in.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Huge conventions like San Diego or New York have outdoor lines. Bring sunscreen, a small umbrella, and sunglasses if you plan to spend all afternoon waiting in line for the Game of Thrones
- Bring cash. Although most exhibitors take debit and credit cards, they can’t always guarantee a stable internet connection to process them. Most conventions have ATM machines, but the lines are long, and they often run out of money. Make sure you stash your cash in an inner pocket or a money belt, since large crowds can draw pickpockets.
The tech upgrades
Once you have the necessities for basic Con survival, gather the devices and apps that will make your life easier during your nerdventure. Large convention venues are confusing for experienced attendees, let alone first-timers. Events are set up in multiple rooms and sometimes across multiple floors. So, at the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, make sure you take your cell phone. Whether you’re texting your friends, reading tweets from your favorite celebrities, or posting cosplay photos, your phone is your main convention lifeline. Unfortunately, with so much activity, you’ll go through a charged battery faster than Hogwarts goes through Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers. Take these steps to help yourself always stay connected.
- Make sure you start the day with a full charge.
- If your phone has a removable battery, bring a couple of charged-up spares.
- Take a fully charged power pack so you can recharge on the go.
- Carry your cords, wall chargers, and adapters in your bag.
- If you’re traveling, bring your own power strip.
In addition to your cell phone, make sure you have chargers and batteries for your other electronics. Your cameras, handheld game consoles, and electric cosplay props may need them, too. Speaking of which—if you’re wondering about taking your camera, check out my article Smartphone vs. Digital Camera. Your phone may take great pictures, but it probably can’t zoom into a perfect close-up of Zoe Saldana from the back of an exhibit hall.
If you’re planning to blog or make YouTube broadcasts from the convention, your laptop may need a reliable internet connection. Even if the convention hall has free Wi-Fi®, it’s going to be jammed and the service may be spotty. See if you can turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot or purchase a prepaid mobile hotspot so you can tell your followers about all the exclusive movie trailers you see.
Every season, conventions add more tech bonuses to help make your experience more enjoyable. Before attending your event, see if they provide some or all of these nerd niceties.
- Most large conventions have an official event app for your smartphone. You can download it for free to get the latest schedule updates, guest lists, and convention exclusives. Some apps even provide interactive maps and help you schedule panels.
- Find dedicated social media feeds (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) for the event. Following tweets or posts is a great way to find out what’s happening on the convention floor in real time.
- Make a Twitter list. Twitter lets you to create public or private lists, so you can create a feed where you only see specific users. Before the convention, make a list with all your favorite actors, directors, studios, etc. who are attending the convention. Many of them tweet about surprise events or signings.
- If you take a lot of pictures or videos, get an extra memory card to use in your smartphone or camera. There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect photo op and being out of storage space!
- Wear your smartwatch. It can be hard to hear your phone ring in a loud exhibit hall. Or feel it vibrate when it’s in your backpack or pocket. Your smartwatch alerts you to calls, texts, and alarms you might miss. Plus, most shows don’t have clocks on the walls and it’s easier to look at your watch than your phone.
Check the rules
Before you attend Comic-Con or other popular conventions, be sure you check the rules about what you’re not allowed to bring into the convention centers or exhibit halls. These lists vary from show to show, but some common no-no’s are:
- Selfie sticks: They get in the way and can accidentally (or on purpose) cause blunt force injuries.
- Flying objects: No drones, balloons, or controlled helium blimps.
- Personal transportation: Although they’d cut down on the walking, no bikes, scooters, skateboards, or hoverboards.
- Wearable recording devices: Many panels show exclusive previews or movie trailers that the studios don’t want recorded or live streamed. You’ll have to leave the Google Glasses at home.
Zen and the art of conventions
At the end of the day, enjoying your convention experience is a matter of learning to embrace it all. Learning to love the crazy, annoying, and spontaneous magic happening at large and small shows all over the world.
- Learn how things work. Every convention does things a little differently. Some shows use wristbands to save places in big lines, while others require you to be there in person. Some shows let you jump into any open autograph line, and some want you to make a reservation. When you know how things are done, you’re less likely to be disappointed.
- Embrace the lines. Use the time to charge your phone, play a new video game, or meet other wonderful geeks who love the same fandoms you do.
- Don’t try to do everything. Unless you’re going to a small show, it’s impossible. Just pick the experiences that really mean a lot to you.
- Respect other fandoms. Even if you think you’ll never be a fan yourself, talking to fans of different genres can be a great way to find new, entertaining pastimes. Wil Wheaton, geek extraordinaire, likes to say, “Being a nerd isn’t about what you love, it’s about how you love it.”
- Don’t confuse cosplay with consent. Just because someone is in costume, doesn’t mean they’re public property. Be sure you treat cosplayers with respect by:
- asking permission before you take a picture.
- keeping your hands off their props.
- respecting their personal space.
Remember, sometimes the best convention moments don’t happen in the big halls. They happen when Nathan Fillion shows up at a small gaming panel because he voiced one of the characters. Or chatting with a wheelchair-bound cosplayer about his amazing Kuato from Total Recall. Or watching Tom Kenny teach your son how to laugh just like SpongeBob. No matter how many photo ops or autographs you get, it’s these amazing memories that make it a great time to be a geek!
This article was written by an AT&T employee. The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of AT&T.