Conventions, anime and other nerd conventions, are some of the most fun events I have ever experienced. With more than a decade’s worth of con-going experience under my belt, I can tell you that both of my home conventions, Otakon and Katsucon, have given me some of the biggest joys in my short 30 years of living on this earth. Nerds can be the absolute worst, but more times than not, coming together to celebrate similar interests has made my heart feel fuller than any Tom Hanks movie ever could. Thousands of con-goers venture into whatever venue to cosplay, debate, compete, and spend an offensively large amount of money in the Artist’s Alley. However, the wise man always plans ahead for debauchery. In this case, convention circuits need to be thoughtfully planned out in order to avoid being in the red the next time you receive a credit card statement.
Before we get to the actual, physical convention, you need to plan. A lot of nerds make the mistake of under-preparing which can lead to a boatload of problems including dehydration, getting into debt, having to sleep on the floor of a gross hotel room, and being stranded at a derelict bus stop. We’ve all heard rooming horror stories, from trashed hotel rooms to 20 people to a twin bed, so let’s break down how we can AVOID that.
How do you prepare for a convention weekend? These can vary between three-day weekends, one-day affairs, to occupying your entire work week. What you begin with, however, is to be honest with yourself.
- Does this convention take practical priority in your life?
- Can you financially afford it?
- Will this con weekend cause undue stress that will impact you negatively?
You have to be able to reflect on previous experiences coupled with what is currently going on in your life to determine if even going at all is the mature decision. Because as we all know, nerds have great impulse control and are able to thoughtfully and artfully dissect their thought processes before making any rash decisions. j/k
Each convention requires a registration for a weekend or day pass. This badge typically comes with a unique ID code. Most conventions only sell badges for the full weekend. The badge is typically a non-refundable, non-transferable pass to the convention. If you lose the physical copy, you might have to purchase a brand new one. Depending on the convention, you may be able to skate by without buying another badge by the grace and mercy of the convention staff.
Some conventions allow you to buy one-day only passes. Badges can be purchased online before the event, and in some cases, are given “Early Bird” treatment with a percentage off. Depending on your schedule, it might make financial and emotional sense to go for one-day only passes. No need to worry about shelter and long-term dining options when you go this route.
There is also the infamous method of “Lobby Conning” into a convention. What this typically means that if a convention is hosted in a large hotel or convention center, you can hang out in the larger spaces, hallways, atriums, etc without a badge, because you’re not trying to access the more exclusive content. Be aware that this method is controversial, with many thinking this is a way of stealing from the convention. Use your own discernment.
Unofficial schedule of most conventions:
Day 0 (typically used to pick-up badges)
Day 1 (technically the first day)
Day 2 (arguably the biggest and busiest day for any weekend convention)
Day 3 (typically the closing ceremonies finish off the convention weekend in the mid-afternoon)
Badges allow you access into panels, the Dealer’s Room, the Artist’s Alley, autograph lines, masquerades, fashion shows, raves, etc, so you MUST have it on you at all times. Some conventions may issue you another one in the event you lose it, but other cons may make you purchase a new membership/badge or charge you a fee if you lose your initial one, so be mindful. I also caution folks from sharing badges. This is a sure-fire way to increase your chances of catching a ban from the convention in its entirety.
Whether you’re crashing at a friend’s place, booking an Airbnb, or checking into a hotel, shelter is probably the biggest thing you need to figure out pre-convention. This is your home base: where you’ll sleep, shower, eat, keep your hauls safe, props and costumes, costume changes, etc. You should have a place to stay for the entirety of the convention mapped out and booked at least 3-6 months before the actual convention.
Popular conventions, like Magfest, hold lotteries for hotel rooms because of how quickly these blocks get booked. Don’t be the fool who waited and planned last minute, because you’ll end up budgeting for Ubers in addition to a hotel that’s 15-30 minutes away from the actual convention.
Remember to clean up after yourselves. It’s a HUGE dick move to leave an intentionally gross room behind. We’re not talking about leaving a bar of soap behind; I’m talking about grey body paint in the bathroom (IYKYK), trash on the floor, and unmentionables being left behind. Behave like mature adults. Clean up after yourselves, recycle, and take out huge piles of trash. Don’t forget to tip custodial staff.
This one varies heavily. Are you traveling internationally? Is your shelter located off the main convention circuit/hotel place? You need to budget bus tickets, train tickets, plane tickets (round-trip), time on shuttles, gas/Lyft/Uber money, etc. If you’re planning on pulling a clown car move (tight squeeze in a small vehicle), you’ll need to consider dividing up labor and giving the appropriate amount of gas money to your fellow friends. All of this requires constant communication and making sure you don’t screw over your pals. Like with everything else in the article, DO NOT WAIT LAST MINUTE TO FIGURE OUT TRANSPORTATION. It may seem a bit more clear-cut initially, but it can get tricky figuring out costs, especially if you have to use ride-shares while at the actual convention.
If you are traveling overseas, make sure you have an up-to-date passport, copies of said passport, itinerary, and a whole separate budget on spending cash in another country. There are also “travel hacks” to look into, such as global fast pass and airport clubs. These are meant to make the whole traveling experience more tolerable. Remember to rethink choices on cosplay props and overall wardrobe; there are horror stories about props being broken or going missing when being checked in for a flight. For me, it sounds like a huge nightmare figuring out how to travel internationally in general, so math-ing the math on cosplay accessories would do me in. Bon voyage to fellow nerds for those who journey across and beyond for their hobbies!
Cosplay Lineups: This means anything to do with creating/buying/putting together cosplays, which any seasoned cosplayer can tell you, can get EXPENSIVE.
I wanted to get the perspective of a West Coast convention attendee. My experiences are shaped exclusively by the East Coast. Cosplayer Rhadmus graciously lent me some insight:
Oona: How long have you been attending west coast conventions? Which ones are your staples? What are some of the average costs for one or two of these conventions? Ballpark numbers?
Rhadamus: “I’ve attended cons on the West Coast for about 6 years, starting in 2014 or so–skipping 2 years or so since I haven’t gone to one since the pandemic started. GaymerX and KrakenCon have been two of my regular ones, since they’re very close by. These are usually cheaper for me, since I can usually get by on just the weekend pass cost of $60-$70. Neither have happened in a while though. I’ll also occasionally go to Fanime or Crunchyroll Expo. When I get a hotel, I’ll probably spend around $600-$800 for the Fri-Sun stay, plus the weekend pass cost.”
Concise and Condensed “What to Anticipate” List for Conventions:
- CROWDS. DragonCon has an average of about 80,000+ people and SDCC has about 130,000+ in attendance according to Kantor (2021).
- LOTS OF COSPLAYERS
- ARTIST’S ALLEY & DEALER’S ROOM GOODIES GALORE
- UNLESS SPECIFIED OTHERWISE, FAMILIES/PARENTS WITH KIDS
- MORE SHIT TO DO THAN YOU HAVE TIME FOR
- LONG LINES
- FAMOUS VOICE ACTORS, YOUTUBERS, TWITCH STREAMERS, ETC.
- A BLEEDING WALLET
Don’t be an idiot. Plan ahead. Godspeed, nerds.
Kantor, Jonathan H. “The Best Geek Conventions All Nerds MUST Attend.” Ranker, Ranker, 30 Sept. 2021, https://www.ranker.com/list/best-nerd-conventions/jonathan-kantor.
Cover image via The New York Times