Fan Conventions 101B: Staying Happy and Healthy at a Con
So You've Made It!
So here you are: you've checked into your hotel, you've packed away all your stuff, you've changed into your cosplay, and you're ready to hit up the registration table -- it's convention time!
Conventions can be an absolute blast, but for the first-time con goers, especially at one of the bigger cons, it can also be intimidating -- between the throngs of costume-decked strangers, the wealth of programming, and the abundance of merch to buy, first-timers may find themselves stretched too thin, missing out on panels, and neglecting their most basic needs.
Once again, while not comprehensive, here are some basic, general guidelines to navigating a convention in a happy, healthy, and stress-minimal manner.
Choosing What to Attend: How to Create a Schedule that Won't Drive You Crazy
If the convention you’re attending makes it available, print out the schedule/program ahead of time and set aside sometime to make a tentative plan for yourself. Schedules are usually offered in grid format, so you have an easy visual cue as to what programming run concurrently, which programs overlap, etc. Everyone has their own method of how they go through the schedule (some plan meticulously and set their schedule in stone weeks in advance; some go back and forth, flip-flopping on their itenerary; some people just wing it entirely), but I use a four-step method.
Creating Your Schedule: Four Steps
Step One: All On the Table
Making the first sweep through the schedule, I use a highlighterto highlight absolutely everything that picques my interest. Doesn’t matter what it is, when it runs, or what it overlaps — if it sounds appealing, I highlight it.
Step Two: Prioritizing My Priorities
During my second sweep, I consider what I want to get out of this convention — do I want to pick up a new fandom? Do I want to really delve into discussion of my currents fandoms and hear new perspectives on i? Am I more interested in “doing,” and engaging in more workshops and hands-on activities? Do I want to meet and mingle with new people?
Usually, it’s a combination of things, but one or wo things are always in the fore front of my mind — personally, I love hearing new perspectives on my media of choice, and I love watching live performances, so panels about my fandoms and live shows/concerts will almost always beat out anything else running in the same timeframe.
So, these things — the programming the caters to my one or two top priorities — become my “cannot miss” programming. I go through and cross out any programming the conflicts with these “cannot miss” events, further narrowing the field.
Step Three: The Culling of the Fold
On my third pass, I check my remaining “of interest” panels (the ones highlighted in Step One) to see if they conflict with one another in terms of run-times and scheduling. If they overlap by fifteen minutes of less (assuming an hour-long-plus panel), I may opt to attend both (and judging by how the panel is going, opt to leave the first one early or arrive at the second one late); if they overlap by any more than that (or run concurrently), I have to make a decision.
I then consider my schedule holistically — am I already indulging in an activity similar to X elsewhere during the con? Is it likely that conversation or debate than will occur at X panel will be covered by another panel I am attending? Is my schedule especially skewed to X-related programming? If so, I will often opt to attend Y programming, purely to maintain balance.
Once I have found a conflict free (or conflict minimal) schedule, it’s on to Step Four.
Step Four: Pruning for Practical Concerns
Looking through my schedule again, it’s time to consider: when do I eat? When will I take a break to grab a coffee, or step outside for some fresh air? Some people, particularly those who have been attending cons for a while, may thrive on having a jam-packed schedule, and that’s fine — so long as they make time to eat, sleep, and shower — but for other people, breaks where they can step out, have some refreshments, or just sit with other fans (or by themselves) and decompress are important and should be planned for.
Looking through my schedule, often there will be a stretch of time perfectly suited to get a meal or to hang out browsing the dealer’s room(a decompression activity for me, personally, but not for everyone) or to stop, grab a coffee, and call a friend (or my husband, who’s… less into the fandom lifestyle than I am).
When there isn’t, however, it’s time to cut more programming. Is there a movie I’ve already seen that I just thought “it might be cool” to see at the con? Gone, to make room for dinner. A panel that sounds interesting, but isn’t essential? I’ll sit in the back and cut out ten minutes early to grab a coffee. You may not necessarily have to miss an event in order to make room for a meal break (depending on your schedule), but it’s good to have an idea what events you wouldn’t mind cut out early on (or showing up late for) in order to ensure you get at least one good meal in you.
Reminder and Note
Remember, this is only my method for sussing out a schedule; I personally like to have a fairly solid idea of what I’ll be doing prior to attending the convention, so for me, having a plan in place prior to arrival helps alleviate a lot of stress and indecision.
A Few Con Essentials: Looking Your Best
Staying Happy and Healthy at the Con
Mainstream media’s portrayal of fans isn’t always flattering; pasty skinned, usually unkept, and subsisting on a diet of junk food and soda. While I probably don’t need to tell you why this description is completely unfair and mostly untrue, I will tell you that I have had some run-ins with fans at conventions who are definitely falling into that trap.
And, believe me, to an extent, it’s perfectly understandable, especially among younger fans. Most of us don’t get to indulge in our fannish interests quite so thoroughly as you do at a con, and between the wealth of programming, the abundance of new friends to talk to and hang out with, and the general sense of excitement, forgetting that there are certain needs that need to be attended to happens to many, many fans, to some extent or another. I’ve left more than one convention with a migraine and a stomach ache because somewhere along the way, I forgot to get more then two hours of sleep a night, or I lived off of the free pretzels in the con suite and forgot to buy dinner. But while it does happen, it doesn’t have to — go in with a plan and an awareness of these pitfalls, and you can avoid these rookie mistakes.
And — trust me — you will have a happier con experience for it.
The 5-2-1 rule (formerly “3-2-1,” alternately “6-2-1″) is found on many con websites — Zenkaikon, DragonCon, and LunaCon all have blogs or pages outlining it as a general rule — and is considered the bare minimum standard to live up to with regards to well-being at the con. 5-2-1 translates to:
5: At LEAST 5 hours of sleep a night
2: At LEAST 2 meals a day
1: At LEAST 1 shower each day
As you can see, this is not quite the “Eight hours of sleep a night, three square meals a day” rule that most of us are used to, but it’s understood that certain rules will be bent in favor of squeezing in more con programming and more time with friends. 5-2-1 is a guideline that outline the LEAST you should be doing to ensure a healthy stay at a convention.
Beyond 5-2-1: Personal Tips for Enjoing Yourself in a Happy, Healthy Manner
We’re all different with regards to how much sleep we need; depending on the schedule you keep outside the con, you may be like me — perfectly happy on five to six hours — or like my husband, who needs a solid eight to nine to not be a zombie in the morning. With that being said, I am trusting that you know your own body, and you know how best you function, and I would reccomend that while you may opt to change your schedule around, you probably want to set aside roughly the same number of hours for sleep as you do outside the con. For instance, if you run well on six hours of sleep, feel free to turn in at 3 am, but don’t plan on any activity prior to 9am the next morning.
Knowing that doing that may be difficult for some people (the sheer excitement! All the things to do!), I have two other options, both of which I’ve done at various cons:
1. Choose one night where you allow yourself to skimp on sleep — but make it count. If there’s a night that there’s a big event or dance and you know you’ll be out late, so long as you can keep a reasonable schedule for the remaining days of the con, that’s fine. One night running on four hours of sleep won’t make impact you too much if you stay hydrated and fed and get a good seven or eight hours the remaining two/three/etc. nights of the convention.
2. When planning your schedule and factoring in breaks, set aside a half-hour block for a power nap. This has been my go-to plan for one of the smaller cons I attend, that has a dinner hour (everyone for themselves, but all programming stops for an hour) — I use a half-hour to grab some food, and spend the next half hour napping. It’s been a lifesaver, especially because the gap heralds in the change over from panels to social events — the video show, happy hour, and the dance. Getting in a quick nap prior to the dance has been a wonderful way to refresh and stay happy. Keep in mind,if you aren’t staying in the host hotel, this is going to be harder to do, so plan accordingly.
Two meals a day is a good general rule, but keep in mind, this means two MEALS a day, not EATING twice in one day. Keeping a supply of quick, portable, and healthy snacks on you at all times is essential — it is going to be your first line of defense against grumpiness, sleepiness, headaches, and (if you’re soinclined) fainting (low blood sugar will do that to you). My reccommendation is to keep with you at all times a supply of food like granola bars, cereal bars, easily transported fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, grapes), cheesesticks, pretzels, popcorn, and water — lots and lots of water. I’ve noticed that even in my day-to-day life, it’s really easy to forget that I need to drink — even if I don’t necessarily feel super thirsty. There are days when I’m at home that I’m getting ready for bed and I realize I’ve literally had nothing to drink that day since my morning coffee. At a con — especially when you are packed into overheated and stuffy conference rooms, or doing a lot of dancing — staying hydrated is essential. If you are at a con party with an open bar,this becomes mandatory — don’t get a drink without following it up with a glass of water, especially if you are being particularly physically active, and especially if you’ve broken a sweat. Post-con (or even worse, at-con) hangovers are absolutely awful. Keep them at bay by staying hydrated.
This one is non-negotiable,and there are really no “alternate tips or tricks” to delve into here.SHOWER. There is no substitute. While I encourage you to be extra liberal with deodorant as well (especially as it can get very warm and humid in tighter con spaces),extra deodorant is NOT A REPLACEMENT for a shower. Shower, use soap, and slather on the deodorant. As a personal preference, I would recommend against colognes and perfumes for the duration of the con — they can be overwhelming, and some con-goers have real sensitivities to perfumes, so (in my mind) leaving them at home is the best option. You can forego drown yourself in Axe for the duration of the con, guys. Most people will thank you for it, honestly.
Lack of time is no excuse to skip a shower — set your alarm ten minutes earlier than you would otherwise, and shower first thing. It will help wake you up, and it will be the least likely to cut into your con routine — a lot of cons don’t get into full swing until later in the morning anyway. If you are someone who normally showers at night (as I am), this change might feel a little odd at first, but it’s worth it — tearing yourself away from awesome after-hours programming or parties is a lot more jarring and disappointing than jumping in the shower before breakfast.
Convention Ettiquette: Common Sense and Then Some
When it comes to ettiquette, the same basic, common sense manners and courtesy apply as apply in any other social situation:
1. “Excuse me,” “please,” and “thank you” go a long way.
2. If you are in line for an event or a merchant, don’t cut in front of anyone. Defer to young children if possible.
3. When sitting in close proximity during a panel, show, or workshop, be aware of the space you are occupying. Do not take up more space than you need, and be aware of the personal comfort and boundaries of those around you.
4. Don’t stare.
5. When dining at a restaurant in or near the hosting hotel, be prepared to leave a generous tip — they have likely been extra busy this weekend, including being swarmed by people who may be dressed in a potentially… confusing manner.
Outside of the obvious, there are some more convention-specific rules of ettiquette that are useful to keep in mind:
- 1. Don't be a fandom gatekeeper: Fandom gatekeeping is the act of fen (usually older) "Screening" other fans to suss out whether or not they are "real" fans. This is the source of alot of the "fake geek girl" controversy lately -- fans making accusations that other con-goers are not "real" fans, based on their age, their knowledge of canon, their appearance, etc. This is presumptuous, elitist, and comepletely rude and uncalled for. Every fan enjoys their fandom in their own way, approaching it from their own angle, and interacting with it in their own way. You do not have a right to place a value judgement on their fandom or their level of fannish involvement. Accept that different fans will approach fandom in different ways, enjoy the con, and allow everyone else to enjoy it in their own way.
- 2. "Cosplay is not consent"/don't assume a relationship: Seeing someone in a revealing costume is not permission to approach them with overtly sexual compliments of propositions, make assumptions or accusations of their sexual identity or behavior, or touch them in anyway. Unless you are explicitly told that the advances are welcome, be respectful, maintain deference, and be aware both of what the other person is saying to you, and of the other person's body language.
- 3. Be aware that you are part of a community: raise your hand before you speak or ask a question on a panel; don't monopolize said conversation; allow children, pregnant women, aged con-goers, and those less mobile than you preferential seating; do not touch probs, wigs, or costumes unless invited to do so; be respectful of the time at signings and meet and greets, as other people would also like a chance to greet their favorite celebrity, etc.
- 4. Respect people's identities/pronouns: This actually isn't a fandom-specific rule, but I've learned through personal experience that for a surprising number of people outside the queer community or the regular con circuit, conventions are often the first exposure many people have to large numbers of people with openly non-binary/trans identities. Some conventions that play the ribbon game will offer gendered ribbons -- he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/their, ze/zir/zirs, etc., in which case your job is simply to obey the ribbons and use the pronouns listed. In those situations where identity is not explicitly stated and you are unsure, ask.
- 6. Don't take photos in the dealer's room: The dealer's room is full of people walking through aisles, often pausing and stopping for periods to examine merchandise, often wearing elaborate or bulky costumes, etc. The last thing needed are people stepping into the walkway to set up a photo. Avoid photos in the dealer's room, and the naturally resulting slow down in traffic.
- 7. Don't photograph the dealer's merchandise without express consent: This is a faux pas, in that you are (potentially)m exploiting artwork that is for sale with actually paying for it, and also, didn't we just tell you no to take pictures in the dealer's room? Some -- some -- artists may allow you to take a pic of a particularly impressive piece, but always get permission first (and if you absolute HAVE to get that pic, stay as close to the dealer's table as you can, taking up no more space than you would if you were completing a purchase).
- 7. Don't take photos of people's cosplay with permission: If you see a really impressive cosplayer, of course you'll want to snap a pic, but if they are sitting in the food court shovelling pad thai in their face -- that may not be the best time to decide a candid is in order. Cosplayers put a lot of time and effort into their ensembles, and want, naturally, the best photos taken to show off their handiwork. Try to avoid interrupting them when they are taking care of basic needs (don't interrupt them while they are eating, or in line for the bathroom), but if they are hanging out in the halls or the con suite, wait until you can politely catch their attention and ask them for a photo.
- 8. When possible, ask cosplayers if there is a tag or handle they'd like to be credited as: If the cosplayer is hooked up on social media, they may have a handle or name that they use as their "cosplay" name; to credit them is to give them exposure, so if possible, try to find out if they have a preference or would like to be tagged as such.
- 9. Be respectful of each cosplayer's differences: Never comment or criticize a cosplayer for not being able to "pull off" said costume -- cosplay is an act of devotion and enthusiasm, and it requires a great deal of bravery and dedication to put oneself out there. People of any race, gender, sex, weight, or body type may portray any character they wish too, regardless of that character's race, gender, etc.
Next Time: After the Con (What to Do When It's All Over)
Next time: Dealing with post-con funk, maintaining new friendships, writing con reviews and recaps, practical concerns, and dealing with curious non-fans.
I welcome your input and experience! This is just advice through my perspective; feel free to throw in what has worked best for you!