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Dragon Con on the Cheap

Updated on January 11, 2015

Conventions can be expensive destinations, and for some of us, this is a concern. There are ways you can get around this. My most familiar convention destination is Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia. Here are some tips I've come up with to help save money during my ten years attending this popular con.

Memberships

Preorder. If you preorder your membership, you can save a lot of money. There's an element of risk, which is that if something happens you may not make it and then you've wasted your money. But it is, in my opinion, a sound investment in your vacation. The earlier you preorder, the more money you save, but even if you just save a little bit by preordering a few months early, it'll take some of the financial burden off your shoulders.

If you're not going to preorder, consider a one day pass. I do not recommend this. It's impossible to see it all in one day. It's impossible to see it all in four days. But, if you decide to attend only Friday or only Sunday, you could still attend the parade for free and you would still be eligible for Saturday's low aquarium rate. Be aware that two one day passes could cost around as much as one four day pass. Monday is a short day, I really wouldn't recommend going just Monday unless you have no other path to attending the con. Monday, incidentally, would be the ideal day to bring kids, since it's a short day and there are smaller crowds. It's much easier to navigate the con on Monday, because a large number of people go home early.


Peachtree Center Marta Station

A markerPeachtree Center Station -
Peachtree Center Station, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
get directions

Food

Do not buy food from the hotels. The food isn't special or fancy, it's just expensive. I bought the smallest slice of pizza I've ever seen last year. I don't remember where I got it or how much I paid, but my sense of regret flared up instantly. It was in a deceptively large single slice box, which unfortunately contained very little pizza.

Bring food in from home if you like. At the very least, you should bring your own water bottle and a granola bar. The water bottle can be refilled for free at many water coolers, which are conveniently located around the con.

Alternately you can go to the mall next door for fast food. This is what I usually do. Some of the mall options include Moe's, Chick-Fil-A, and Dairy Queen. There are some reasonable restaurants in the area, don't waste your money on over priced hotel food. I've seen pizza guys selling full size pizzas for reasonable prices on the street outside of the con before.

I've also heard of this magical place called the con suite, where there is free food for anyone brave enough to look for it. I've never had time to go on this mythical quest, but perhaps you, adventurer, are braver than I.


Hotels

Hotels are going to be costly. Split a room as many ways as you can, have the other guests help pay upfront.

It is extremely difficult to get a room in the host hotels, from what I've seen. Consider staying off site somewhere on the Marta line. You'll have to go to bed a little earlier than other guests, and you'll have to pay for Marta transportation, but you might be able to get free parking out of the deal.

Or, stay with someone you know who lives in the area.

Don't try to sleep in the lobby, you will be asked to go to your hotel room or leave.


Parking

Be aware that parking in downtown Atlanta is expensive. Do your research before you come into town and have some backup plans. This is another good reason to stay offsite.


Transportation

Believe it or not, it might be cheaper and safer to take a bus to Atlanta than to drive. Check Greyhound and Megabus fares to find out how much it'll cost to get to Dragon Con from your area.

Activities

Cosplay can be really expensive. Unless it's something you get a lot of joy from, you could choose not to buy or build a costume and save money that way. Cosplay is not a required con expense, although more and more people are cosplaying these days. Those little pieces and supplies really rack up cost. If you do cosplay, try to be thrifty in purchasing your materials and tools to help keep your overall con expenses down.

The special aquarium night is optional, and if you choose not to do it, you're saving yourself some cash. There's plenty to do at the con. I've heard it's worth it to go see the narwhals, but I haven't been.

Avoid the vendor rooms and the art show if money is a big concern, because if you go in there, you will spend money. That's absolutely true. No matter how much I tell myself I'm going to be thrifty, I end up buying a bunch of stuff from dealers or artists or both. If money is an object, skip it and do free stuff.

Autographs and photo ops are both expensive, although a few celebrities (like authors and certain voice actors) sign for free, especially if you already have a copy of their book or DVD with you. Find out before the con how much your celebrity charges and consider that part of your budget if that's what you're into.

The awards banquet costs money. I've never met anyone who goes to that.

Here are some things at the convention that are included in your membership: Concerts, celebrity panels, entertainment events like the Buffy Horror Picture Show, the Masquerade, the parade, fan panels, robot battles, film festivals, and cosplay photography.


In Conclusion

Even as much as con memberships are going for now a days, it's more bang for your buck than you'll get at any major theme park or festival I've ever heard of. It's a high value experience at a fairly low cost.

Set a budget for yourself before the con, and bring what you believe you'll need with a little extra for an emergency. Don't carry it all with you at once, in case something happens. Remind yourself not to give in to expensive impulse purchases.

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