Surviving convention season: Part 1
With convention season in full swing, and having seen a number of comments about certain difficulties and annoyances about attending a crowded, days-long convention lately, I felt that now might be a good time to provide my own contribution to the body of knowledge (and yes, there is one) regarding con survival. I intend this to be a multi-part series, with this part being mostly an overview of some of the things I’ll talk about in more detail in later parts.
Being of somewhat limited means, I don’t attend many conventions, but the ones that I do attend are fast-paced, crowded, tons of fun, and when I go, I go balls to the wall, if you’ll excuse the expression. I make it a point to attend at least two conventions in the Atlanta area every year: Dragon*Con, which is held downtown in the Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton hotels over Labor Day weekend; and MomoCon, which is held on Georgia Tech‘s campus in March, the weekend before the beginning of the school’s spring break. I have attended both conventions since 2005, which was MomoCon’s inaugural year. I have worked on staff at MomoCon for the last two years, and this year will be my first year working on staff at Dragon*Con. MomoCon is the largest free anime and gaming convention in North America, with an estimated 7,000 attendees in 2009. Dragon*Con is significantly larger and significantly more expensive–membership costs have ballooned in the five years I’ve attended to a whopping $100 for a 4-day pass purchased at the door–and it makes MomoCon look like a small family gathering. Estimates of attendence range from 30,000 to 50,000 for the four-day weekend.
I suppose this brings me to my first piece of advice: if memberships are limited to a certain number (as is the case for many conventions, particularly trade shows) or increase in price the closer you get to the con (like Dragon*Con does), buy your membership early, especially if you know for a fact that neither wild horses nor a natural disaster could possibly keep you away. Even if you wind up not being to make it, most conventions will let you transfer your membership to another person, usually for a small fee, which you can often make up by getting your transferee to pay the cost. (If it’s close to the convention, odds are they’ll still be getting a better deal from you anyway.) Joining the staff of the convention (the process of which differs from con to con, but it usually involves attending a number of meetings and signing up to work for a portion of the convention) can also be a good way to go to cons on the cheap and/or give you access to some extra benefits and amenities that will make your life a lot easier. Check out the convention’s website and look for information about staff meetings or contact information for volunteer coordinators. If you can get in touch with someone about volunteering, the coordinators and directors are most likely more than happy to have you, even if (and especially if) it’s a large convention and/or you have special skills. A/V operators, technical support, licensed EMTs and off-duty law-enforcement are often in great demand, but even if you’re not among these groups, it’s very likely that there’s still a place for you. So ask! Many cons will discount or comp your membership if you agree to work a certain number of hours.
Another good tip is to make and bring a con box. A con box is a portable, carryable, durable box that holds your convention survival necessities. Consluts.com has a wonderful series about con boxes, but I will devote a part of my series to these vital apperatuses, as well. I honestly don’t know how I survived without one. It is also an insanely good idea to bring a cooler and your own food. I will devote another part solely to the best kinds of foods to bring to a convention. Let’s face it: it’s really hard to eat well and eat cheaply at a convention, especially if you have special dietary requirements. Vegitarians probably have it the worst, as most of the quick, convenient food vendors do not have a lot of vegetarian options. One particular guest at Dragon*Con told me that if he never saw a cheese pizza again, he wouldn’t much feel its loss. Though I suppose that might be an extreme example. Having a con box and/or a cooler and your own food is somewhat dependent on your having a place to store them, so this advice assumes that you have a hotel room, car or some other place near to the convention premeses to keep them. Much of my advice will be tailored to those staying in a hotel during the convention, but as I have also done the con thing without a hotel (as I live very close to both of the conventions that I attend, and MomoCon isn’t even held in a hotel), I will have advice to provide to those staying off-premesis or living out of their car, as well.
Speaking of hotels, sharing is caring. Unless you’ve got a lot of money to throw around (and face it, who does these days), you’ll probably want to split the cost of a room with friends. Staying in a convention hotel can get expensive, but if you split the cost with four to six friends, you may be able to get by spending under $100 for lodging for the entire convention. I’ll probably write up a short entry about that at some point as well. But what you should probably know right now is that, as with your convention membership, you should act early. Convention hotels fill up obscenely fast for big shows.
In addition to the above, I may touch on a few other things that come to mind, including costuming, scheduling and money management. If you have any questions, advice you would like to provide or ideas for topics in this series, leave a comment, drop me an email or get in touch with me on Twitter (@lamenta3).