Geeky conventions are a lot of fun when you're a guest. They're also a lot of work. There's a ton of planning that goes into one, from the things you need to pack to calculating your overall budget. You're spending a lot of money to go, after all, and you want everything to be perfect.
If you want things to run smoothly, however, here are some practical steps.
1. Budget Like Crazy
If you're a guest and not a vendor, you might think that budget planning—and all the minutia that goes with it—doesn't apply to you. The ugly truth about these conventions, however, is that they're expensive no matter which way you slice them. Especially the bigger events.
If you aren't careful and don't plan accordingly, that seemingly reasonable budget of yours will get away from you. There's a good chance you'll end up drowning in bills after your week-long geeky extravaganza. This is especially true if you need to take time off work for the event itself. Less time at work means less money in the bank when you get back from your vacation.
If your convention is local, factor in how much your transportation will cost, plus food and your tickets to the event. If your convention is out of town, also calculate your accommodation costs. See if you can get those costs down by sharing a hotel room with someone.
In both cases, you need to budget how much you'll be spending on merch and events within the convention. This merch and potential events can include posters, t-shirts, artist alley purchases, book signings, and professional photoshoots. At the bigger conventions it's quite normal to spend $300 or more, especially if the convention in question has a good sales floor with a lot of unique items.
2. Hotel Crunch Is a Real Thing
Hotel crunch for conventions is probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I've experienced, right up there with signing up for classes in my senior year of university. When you're at a big convention that's located out of the way of a central city hub—like Anime North, for example—hotels are the only thing for miles around.
Because of this, space is at a premium.
Space at these hotels can fill up pretty fast, sometimes months or even a year in advance. If you need a hotel, keep in mind that you will have to spring for these rooms pretty quick, usually far before the rest of the convention events are announced.
If you don't, you might be left scrambling to find accommodations further away, and as anyone who has been to multiple conventions can tell you, it's better to be within walking distance. That way you don't have to deal with rush-hour traffic to and from the convention.
3. Wear Flat Shoes
Wearing practical shoes is probably one of the most important things you can do when you're going to a convention. Despite being stuck indoors all day, convention spaces are huge. You'll be doing a lot of walking in an area that's covered with a hard cement surface. This will be really difficult on your feet.
There's no way to get around this walking unless you plan to stay in one area of the convention. Because of this, it's strongly recommended that you wear a flat pair of shoes. Not only should the shoes be flat, but they should be well-built with proper arch support and grips. I personally found that buying those little gel pads that you put in the bottom of your shoes to cushion your soles helps too. They can usually be picked up from a local drugstore for cheap.
4. Layer Your Clothes
If you're waiting outside to get into the con, the weather could be scorching hot. When you come indoors, you'll be hit with the building's air conditioning, and by the time you make it down to the main floor it'll be hot again—and all because there's so many bodies around you.
If you're not cosplaying, the best way to deal with these temperature changes is to wear several layers of lighter clothes—a shirt, sweater, and scarf is a good example of this. If you layer up, the outer layers can be shed and reapplied as needed. This will help you feel comfortable and prevent you from melting into a puddle on the floor throughout the duration of the event.
5. Make Yourself a "Con Emergency Kit"
Lastly, whether you're a guest, a cosplayer, or a vendor, it's recommended that you put together a con emergency kit. This kit will contain the supplies that you'll most likely need on an hourly or daily basis.
If you're a guest, your con emergency kit should contain supplies like deodorant, a hair brush, water bottles, a flat pair of shoes, and some over-the-counter medication to stop yourself from getting sick. In my own con kit I used to carry Tylenol for headaches and allergy medication in case I had a reaction to someone's overly strong perfume, or something that someone else was eating.
Have Fun at Your First Convention
If you follow these steps, your first convention is likely to be smooth and enjoyable—you might even be able to get through the entire week without anything going wrong.
Knowing how to prep for a convention is not the only thing you have to keep in mind, however, and once you're there you need to follow some basic advice on how to interact with other people, too. Here's some convention etiquette that you really ought to follow.