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Convention Survival Guide

At about this time of year, at least in my little section of the world, the season of genre conventions begins in full force. As such, it seems like a good time to go over the basics of surviving a convention without sore feet or making a horse’s bottom of oneself in front of a lot of other people.

Packing Your Survival Bag

NY Comic Con 2013 by Autumn2MaySome conventions are big enough that upon claiming your ticket, you will be handed a bag containing the program guide. After many many years of going to a large convention, I can tell you that most of the time these bags will be okay for things like toting one’s laundry, but not so good for lugging around for several hours. And if you are thinking of taking a backpack to a large convention, don’t. The small children and adults you don’t smack in the face while turning will appreciate it.

The best bags for a large all day conventions are messenger bags as they are big enough to hold things and not pose a danger to passerby. If you expect to be acquiring things over the course of any convention (large or small) too big to be contained by your survival bag, either make sure your vehicle is parked close enough to stow stuff in it, be lodged in the convention hotel (or very nearby), be prepared to carry that stuff around, or see if there’s a coat check area (or two or three). With smaller conventions this is much less of an issue as there are fewer things around to acquire, but you are less likely to be handed a bag along with your badge too, so you might want to have that messenger bag anyway. You can also get away with a smaller bag for smaller conventions or none at all if you are the sort of person who wears clothes with copious usable pockets.

Now for the list of things that should go in the bag regardless of the size of the convention:

Small notebook for seminars
Someone might say something you want to remember and you may be in a smartphone dead spot or have no wifi.

Writing implement(s) you don’t mind losing.
Conventions are not the place to bring things of huge sentimental value.

Keys, wallet, phone.
If I have to explain to you why these need to be included, make sure your parents have those packed in their survival bag.

Small snack.
Most of the smaller conventions I have gone to had this wonderful thing called a “con suite” where wonderfully organized people have arranged to have snacks and beverages available to con goers. Larger ones might not and besides you might not have time to run to the con suite, grab a bite, and run to the next seminar.

Autograph book or book to be signed.
Because you are a fan, this is a theoretical genre convention I’m talking about, and you should have a good fan squee.

Hand sanitizer.
No one likes coming down with con crud.

Things for larger conventions:

A light sweater.
The temperature change between the exhibitor’s floor and the seminar halls at the San Diego Comicon is something like 20°F. Then it could be another 10° difference between inside and outside. And the ventilation is turned up to 11. I get cold really easily. If you are better at thermoregulation you can leave that off.

Super lightweight totes in fun patterns.
For when you have acquired stuff, dropped it in the coat check and don’t want to wait as the staff sort through the 8762 identical freebie convention totes.

A water bottle.
Stay hydrated!

What To Wear

Cowboy Bebop CosplayWhatever you wear to an all day event should be comfortable enough to wear all day. If you are going to be walking around all day in 3 inch heels, make sure they are sturdy and comfortable enough to do so (or pack some flats). It seems stupid to say this, but whatever you wear should also be clean (yes, this can be a problem and I wish I was joking). For most genre conventions jeans, sneakers, and a nice shirt are perfectly fine, but you can go fancy if that’s your thing. If you go fancy at a large convention, make sure you can still carry the basics around on your person in your survival bag or utility belt or specially modified bustle or whatever.

Most genre conventions are fine with people going around in costumes, but most have some kind of weapons check for your props. Make sure you get your swords and ray guns peace knotted. Also remember to have a holster for your gadgets as you might get tired of carrying that thing around. There are some conventions where going in costume is practically required, and for those party poopers who frown on cosplay, there’s always steampunk without all the gadgets.


Most of this falls into the “don’t be a jerk” rules of conduct, but there is always that one person who thinks that doesn’t apply to them. Report the jerks who think that the rules don’t apply to them. If it isn’t possible to report the jerks, then you are at the wrong convention. If you think that following codes of conduct will “ruin your fun” then perhaps some reflection of what exactly constitutes a “fun” time for you should be examined and reconsidered.

Behavior During Seminars

Dynamite Entertainment Panel

If you have to get up and leave, try to stay at the back of the room so you don’t bother as many people by doing so.

Unless it is a spotlight panel focused on one creator, please avoid stories about how they changed your life. Save it for afterwards. It will have a greater chance of being more awesome for all parties then.

If a small child needs to ask a question, let the kid ask the question first. Yours isn’t as important.

Should time be running out and there is a line for questions, ask the person behind you what their question is. It might be more interesting than yours.

PLEASE STAY ON TOPIC. The internet is where your unified theory of the collected works of Neil Gaiman belongs until such time you have a talk with that topic or a dissertation defense.

Behavior Everywhere

Phoenix Wright CosplayKeep your hands to yourself. If this is a problem for you, please remove yourself from large and small crowds until such time as you can restrain yourself.

If you can’t treat the professionals in a professional manner, leave until you have acquired the social acumen to do so. It doesn’t matter if they are there as a writer or a model.

Ask the cosplayers before you take a picture of them. Or with them.

If you feel the need to denigrate someone for their lack of knowledge regarding obscure references in 70-year-old material, please bring a buddy who is willing to smack you upside the head to prevent it. Everyone was a newbie once and those who decide they need to determine nerd cred are clearly the last people in fandom who should be doing so.

Nearly all the conventions I have ever been to allow small children to attend. As such, Shakespearean insults are better than the standard forbidden seven, it is not your job to introduce kids to the biological differences between males and females, and even less your job to tell them where babies come from. If any of this is a problem for you, I suggest you seek professional help.

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Let us know your con survival tips in the comments!


One Comment

  1. Avatar Dan Hanks says:

    As someone debating whether or not to dive into my first fantasy convention in a couple of months – alone – this is pretty helpful in putting my mind at rest. I shall now go forth and have a great time. Thanks!

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