So, for those who haven't yet heard the joyous news, I'm a panelist at RadCon 6A this year (my schedule is here, if you're interested.). This is my fourth sci-fi/fantasy convention, and my umpteenth trip, in general (thank you, high school band trips). I wouldn't say for a second that I'm an expert, but I do know some things, at this point, and I'd like to pass on that information to you.
I'll note this now: reading this is probably going to be a bit of a trek. Like, bring a tent. But I'll do my best to keep you entertained. Also contains some PG-13 content.
So, you've found your convention and you're ready to go and all that happy stuff. Now, with most of these conventions, there are some things you want to make sure of, for the sake of your bank account. They tend to suffer the most from excursions like this.
1: If you're going to be staying at a hotel and not with friends/family/gracious strangers with candy, they might very well have a discounted price for the convention (normally, that'll be on the con's website). Now, you get some people working at the hotels that will ask you, when you give them the dates, if it's for the convention. If they don't make sure and point it out that you're here for the con. The savings can be real. For RadCon this year, the discount is something like 40 dollars a night off the usual price.
2: Pre-registration is your friend...kind of. The pre-reg price is usually cheaper, and pre-registering for the convention allows you to stop worrying about whether they'll run out of memberships by the time you get to pay (which does happen). Speaking from personal experience, those are not worries you want to have. But pre-reg does come with a different cost. Unless you're going to a bigger convention (like NorWesCon, WesterCon, OryCon, et cetera), the pre-reg line is going to be enormous, at least in my experience. If you can get there early and be at the front of that line, then that's what you should do. I've missed panels waiting in the pre-reg line, before.
3: If you've ever been to a convention or know someone that has, you've probably heard all about the dreaded con plague. The wonderful combination of 1000+ bodies, poor eating habits, sleep deprivation, tight quarters, and full blast air conditioning to combat the heat of those 1000+ bodies makes conventions the perfect place to catch 18 separate strains of influenza and, if you're particularly unlucky, fourth dimensional Andromedan mega herpes. So, before you even think about stepping over the threshold to that hotel, or even getting in the car, you should be taking Vitamin C. Don't exceed the dosage, obviously, but take it, and take it without shame--you'll be the one walking away from the convention instead of crawling through a puddle of your own vomit.
4: Most conventions put up a programming grid that has all the events for the weekend, the rooms and times they can be found in, and whoever is participating. As soon as you can, put together a preliminary schedule (it's going to change, I can almost guarantee). Then, about a week before the con, remind yourself that you do not, in fact, run by filtering dark matter through your skin. Sleeping and eating are important. So: what can you cut to give yourself a few breaks throughout the day? Find it and cut it, keeping in mind that the schedule can change an hour before an event.
It's now very close, days away. You've made sure you have the days free (You have, haven't you? I shouldn't have to remind you of that, right?), you have the hotel room reserved (and the confirmation number at the ready, just in case), and your ride is arranged. But you now have an empty suitcase and a house full of stuff you suddenly can't live without. I promise, you can.
1: You'll forget something. It's inevitable. It could be something stupid, like your pack of playing cards, or you could be like me and forget your laptop charger. But don't panic--you'll make it through. Hand in hand with that is the fact that you simply can't fit everything you want to, barring the rental of a U-Haul.
2: When you're packing, realize what you can physically fit inside the three dimensional space of your chosen mode of transportation. A good rule is two bags and another smaller container of some sort. You can normally cram that into even the smallest vehicle. This also applies to packing people. If you have so many people in the vehicle that you have to open your doors to buckle yourselves in, that is TOO MANY people. Trust me: riding in those confined spaces can cause some very serious health issues.
3: Now, what is it you actually need to bring, and how can it possibly fit?
- Underwear and shirts for every day (roll them, don't fold them--they take up less space that way.)
- A pair of pants (or a skirt) for every two days, at least (again: roll)
- Camera (you'll be sorry if you don't) and batteries/charger
- Money (make sure it's nothing that would ruin you if it did go missing)
- House keys/car keys
- Things you require for continued living (inhalers, prescriptions, et cetera)
- Supplement pills (I bring ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B Complex, antacids, and St. John's Wort)
- Playing cards (or another small game to pass the time)
- Good shoes (save the heels for absolute necessity moments--you average 17 miles a day at conventions, believe it or not)
- Water (please, please, please drink water. More than you think you need)
- Condoms (yes, they can be used for their traditional purpose (and should be), but they can also be filled with ice and applied to a sprain or something, in a pinch (they stretch better than a zip top bag or something like that)
- Electronics (laptop, MP3 player, CD player, cell phone, et cetera) and all applicable chargers
- Food (save yourself money: bring ready to eat foods, or easy to prep foods. And make sure you ask the hotel if they have refrigerator/microwave in the room, or at least available.)
- Chocolate (I put this separate from food for a reason. Not only will it give you a boost of caffeine, and put some food (if not very good for you food) in your system, it will help with the high stresses of a con.)
- DEODORANT (For the love of all that is holy, use this! Sacrifice something else if you have to, but bring the deodorant. Bring more than one, if you can, in case someone else needs it.)
- Females, you should also bring along the appropriate products. I won't go into more detail than that.
There may be other things you need to bring, depending on what you have to do at your convention. I personally have to bring several copies of books and a piece for reading, as well as a binder full of collectible cards I plan to sell, and paper plates/cups. Yeah. All packed into a Geo.
At the Convention:
You're here! You've got your bags and are ready to go, and you didn't even kill anyone on the trip over. Good for you.
1: Most people I know aim to arrive at a convention around noon. Here's the catch--check in at most hotels is around 3. You can get in early, sometimes, but you may end up having to leave everything but the absolute most essential items in the trunk until you can actually get up to your room.
2: Get in line right away. Like, immediately. As soon as is humanly possible. Obviously, you shouldn't do anything to piss off the people running the convention, but you absolutely must get in that line to get your badge. It's going to take some time, no matter what, so the sooner, the better.
3: Once you're all badged up (make sure it's always visible--the convention guards can get a little miffed if you try to get in without a badge), look over whatever schedule they gave you and compare it to your own schedule. Also go around to the rooms that you'll be jumping between. A lot of the time, your con will focus in one or two hallways, but not always (and those times when they don't can be a bit of a pain if you don't prepare). Also, I would grab a map, if they have one available.
4: You'll see people dressed in provocative costumes. I will almost guarantee that. That is not an invitation to grope them. It's an invitation to look and possibly start up a conversation, but hands should remain to yourself until further notice.
5: Also, please be respectful of the costumes. The people wearing them have put a lot of time and sweat (and sometimes blood and skin flakes) into making them. Even if you think it's atrocious, say nothing. Say good things, or shut up. Seriously.
6: There's a rule that goes around called the 3-2-1 rule. It's your minimum for a convention. Every day, get at least three hours sleep (in a row), 2 meals, and 1 shower (I did say minimum). If you can get more of any, do, but those are your basic survival numbers.
7: All right, now, technically, this is your con to do with as you please. You are fully welcome to pay for your badge, then sit in the hotel room until it's time to leave. But that's really dumb. You're paying anywhere from 30-70 dollars to go to this convention, not counting hotel room or travel. The very least you should do is go to the panels, and probably the dealers' room and art auction (if they have one). I won't say that you should hit the parties, especially if you're under 21 or, for some other reason, can't drink. Most of them revolve around drinking. But if you can drink, I would say to at least try a party. If you don't like it, that's fine.
8: Don't be a dick. it's Wil Wheaton's life advice, but I'm specifically putting it in here. You don't want to be that guy (or gal) that ruins someone's convention, least of all your friends'/roommates' convention. If they're nervous or stressed out or having a panic attack, that is not the time to leave them alone, or tell them to fend for themselves, or belittle what's happening to them. that's the time to try and comfort them, or at least get them away from the situation.
9: The pros and volunteers for a convention, at the most, will probably only be getting a free badge. At the most. Treat them with respect. They came here for you, to try and give you a better convention experience. And there is no training program, really. The volunteers roaming the halls, behind the tables, or guarding the doors to various events have perhaps an hour or two before the convention. And they don't get to do all the fun stuff that you do. The pros are thrown in with zero training, really. Being a panelist is a learn it on the go kind of job. So relax, and tell them that you liked it, if you did--complements are good. But don't be totally creepy about it. Bathrooms are not the place to approach your favorite panelist, I'm afraid.
I'm sure there are a million other things, but, with this, you should at least be able to avoid being disemboweled by a bat'leth. And really, when you put this many socially awkward people in a confined space, 'not disemboweled by a bat'leth' is a pretty good achievement.
Now, go forth and do great things,