By Jenna Johnson
At the time of this posting, it is only 52 days until Dragon Con, the biggest Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention in the South, and tens of thousands of people are preparing for the biggest event of their year.
Many will be finishing – or sometimes beginning – the costume process (either making, or searching for one to purchase). They may be creating a packing list of what will be needed for four non-stop days of panels, parties, and play. Or coming up with a game plan of how to best utilize what time you have by squeezing in as many convention events as possible. Some, like myself, are losing weight to look better in costume (or feel better walking around Atlanta in my own case). And some are even resting up in preparation of the sleepless nights as they follow that party schedule.
However, it has been a popular question on many forums for new con-goers to ask the age old question of “How do I prepare for a convention?”
Well, in itself, it’s a fairly loaded question. Do you plan on cosplaying? Are you planning to meet any celebrity guests? How far away is your hotel from the convention sites? Do you like to shop?
All of these questions are viable in planning what you need in order to be fully prepared for a convention. However, to fully be prepared, you may want to follow the suggestions from veteran con-goers in the Official Dragon Con Facebook Group.
1) Buy your ticket early!
You can really buy your ticket anytime between the time the convention ended the previous year up until the convention itself; however, the later you wait to buy your ticket, the more the price is. Dragon Con 2014 prices began at $65 if you purchased at the 2013 Con, or up until December 2013. Every two months afterwards, the price was raised about $20. Currently a 4 day pass is $115 until July 18, and after the 18th, the price increases to $130. Patience is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to purchasing your memberships. (Day memberships will be available to purchase online closer to the convention, and at the door. Prices are TBD.)
2) Book your hotel ASAP!
As soon as you get your plans confirmed for a convention, make sure you get a reservation at the hotel where the convention is located or at a nearby hotel as soon as possible.
Personally, I recommend getting a host hotel, or a hotel within walking distance from the convention hotels. It’s easier to get to, you don’t have to worry about transportation to and from events, and you don’t have to miss out on primo convention time because of traffic or the Parade. (The host hotels for Dragon Con are usually: the Hilton Atlanta, the Hyatt Atlanta, the Marriot Marquis, the Sheraton Atlanta, and the Westin Peachtree Plaza.)
There are also many other hotels in the vicinity, and many more even farther out that you may be able to book for your convention stay. But watch out, transportation can be tough to work with, especially if you plan to stay until the wee hours of the morning.
Dragon Con isn’t the only event that happens during Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff games will occur on August 28 (Ole Miss v. Boise State) and August 30 (Alabama v. West Virginia University), and many fans come to the ATL to cheer on their team. Many concerts occur during the same weekend, and a quick look at the Atlanta Braves website shows the city team has four home games that weekend.
Hotel rooms book fast, are a hot commodity, and can cost you up in the thousands depending on your length of stay and type of room you book. If you are planning on attending a convention, check their website for info on the host hotel and overflow hotels. Many do offer discounts, but they book very quickly. For example, when I booked the Hilton for myself and my friends, the entire hotel was booked after 5 minutes of reservations being opened.
Trying to find a room at a hotel that has been booked 10 months prior to the convention is rough, but doable if you know where to look. Go to the convention’s Facebook page and ask around and odds are you may be able to find a room someone has to give up, or you may be able to buddy up with someone and split the cost of the rental.
3) Plan your costumes!
(Yes, I know that this is a picture of the cast from The Guild… But come on, who wouldn’t want to dress up as them!)
I am not going to lie to you; conventions take their costuming pretty seriously. There are a TON of people who dress in costume, and the temptation to join in is overwhelming!
If you are new to conventions, you may not want to cosplay because of the sheer intimidation factor, but if you are not easily intimidated, feel free to join in on the fun. However, there are some things you need to consider before you go crazy on costumes:
Think about the weather. August/September temperatures in Atlanta can reach the upper 90s. January temperatures for an Anime Convention in Chicago can plummet into the negatives. Dress accordingly; you may even want to have alternatives based on the weather.
Don’t plan on wearing a costume all day, every day. Unless that’s just your thing, and what you’re at the convention to do. Take normal clothes, and don’t feel bad if you want to tear off your costume and change into something more comfortable.
Plan on stopping to have your photo taken! This may not happen too frequently, but people want to take pictures of the costumes they see. So schedule enough wiggle room if you are on your way to a panel in costume. Also, if you are dressed as a kid friendly character, act like a kid friendly character! Children also attend conventions, and love to speak to their favorites. So be nice to kids.
Think about time constraints! Unless you are a professional costumer, it’s not always the brightest idea to try to make a super in-depth costume a week before the convention. That’s costume suicide. Always remember Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Have fun with it! No explanation necessary.
4) Save up some money!
I hate to state the obvious, but conventions can be super expensive if you aren’t careful with your money. You’ve already bought your pass, and you’ve already reserved your hotel, but being prepared money wise will save you a lot of hassle, heartache, and embarrassment. Start saving a bit money for some of the things you know you’re going to buy, or some of the places you know you want to eat at.
Every thing at a convention costs: food, celebrity autographs, celebrity photos, souvenirs, etc., and the best way to make sure you can pay for the things you want is have the bank to cover the prices. Celebrity autographs can range anywhere between $20 to $100, and photos with celebs can range between $20 and $200 (depending on the actor/group). How much you spend on souvenirs should depend on how much it will cost you to survive the rest of the weekend.
Spend wisely else or you may find yourself panhandling on the sidewalk for lunch money.
5) Download the convention app!
For real. We’re in the midst of the technology age, and most everyone has a smartphone that has the capabilities to download applications.
Be sure to search for the convention in question a few weeks to a month before the event, and see if they have an app. Most of the time, there will be a tentative schedule so you can start planning on where you want to be at what time. It will really save you some trouble during the convention.
6) Decide what you’re going to pack!
Packing for a convention can be key to your survival. After asking some veteran convention goers what they felt was a necessity to bring, I have compiled a list – with reasons – as to why you need that particular item.
Backpack (or messenger bag) – You really need something to put your stuff in. From the stuff you take out on the Con floor, to the stuff that you buy from celebrities and vendor booths.
Small First Aid Kit – You definitely need some kind of small first aid kit, just in case something happens. It’s not guaranteed that you will need it, but better safe than sorry. (You can pick up a small Johnson and Johnson kit at Walmart for $1 in the Travel Toiletries aisle.)
Clothes – This should be a “duh” item on this list, but there are a select few who do not shower, change clothes, or even wear deodorant during the entire length of the convention. Not only is it disrespectful to those around you, it’s giving people the impression that you don’t care about your hygiene, and they will avoid you. Like the plague.
Comfortable Shoes – This is a must no matter what convention you go to. There will undoubtedly be a lot of walking and standing, so you want to be sure to take care of your feet, else you may become miserable for the rest of the convention. If you are cosplaying, do try to find a pair of comfortable shoes that go with your costume if you have to be super authentic. Honestly, no one will fault you for wearing a pair of flats instead of six inch stilettos if they’re more comfortable.
Deodorant – This kind of goes along with the clothes category. It’s sweltering in Atlanta during Labor Day weekend. There will be some sort of physical activity involved. There will be close contact with other humans. Please wear deodorant. (And shower… you’d think we’d not have to beg this, but we do.)
Refillable Water Bottle – Buying a bottle of water from a vending machine, or one of the hotel cafes can easily swipe all your pocket change you were saving for that stuffed dragon you want. Go to Dollar Tree and grab one of the twist top refillable water bottles for $1. The host hotels sponsor water stations in many locations. As long as you have your bottle handy, you’ll never have to pay for a high priced bottle the entire weekend.
TRAVEL GERM-X – Yes, that entire phrase was capitalized on purpose. I cannot stress it enough, protect yourself from all the rampant germs that call conventions their home. There is such a thing as Con Crud, and unless you wash your hands regularly, or use Germ-X in between those times, the sickness is a very real possibility for you. Even those with iron immune systems fall prey to the Crud; don’t be one of them.*
Pain Reliever – Grab a cheap bottle of Ibuprofen (Advil) or Acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve those aches and pains that are attributed to walking, standing, loud speaker systems, loud drinkers, and – sometimes – crying children. It can very easily become your best friend during a convention.
Snacks – If you’re on a tight budget for the convention – heck, sometimes you may not be on a budget – and get hungry between panels and not have time to run to the food court, always try to have a small snack on hand. Lance crackers, trail mix, some Doritos, these things can help you go a long way between meals. Pack it in your backpack or messenger bag, and you’re set.
Emergency Contact List – Although it seems a bit morbid to have this as a list of necessary convention items, it’s always handy to have a list of Emergency Contact numbers of people in your group, or your family, just in case an emergency comes up. This can be something as simple as a small piece of paper with numbers on it, or it can be a detailed book with contact info for your entire party, including allergies for each just in case something happens during the weekend.
Marker and/or Pen, and a Small Notebook – Celebrities may spend a lot of time in panels, or on the Walk of Fame, but there are also times where you may – literally – run into them when going into the restroom. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’d mind signing your notebook. Although, if they’re in the bathroom when you run into them, I’d not ask until they’re done and wash their hands. The worst they can say is “no,” but you still have a cool story to tell your friends.
With as many conventions that happen nationwide, there are many more veterans out there who are willing to impart some wisdom about preparing for a convention. Many of the things on this list may seem a bit daunting at first; just know you’re still there to have fun no matter what.
So, in the immortal words of Wayne and Garth, “Party On!” And as for me, I’ll see you at the next Con.