Survival Tips for Big Conventions
Acen 2013 was an anime convention in Rosemont, Illinois, which is close to the O'Hare airport near Chicago. It was one of the largest anime conventions I'd ever been to. There were long lines not only for the high-demand panels, but even for things as simple as getting into the vendor's hall. Large conventions can be fun, but also overwhelming. Luckily, Acen was fairly well organized. Here's some tips for what to expect when attending a large convention.
1. Get as much information about the con as possible.
Many conventions include a map of the convention center and an events schedule on their website. Acen, however, did not include an events schedule online, meaning I had to just "wing it" when I got to the con. Things to know in advance include:
- Where the convention is located, and get a map of the area, as well as the inside of the convention center if possible.
- When and where your favorite events will be held.
- When the artist's alley and dealer's hall will open and close.
- If there are any events you might be interested in that require that you buy an additional ticket. Buying tickets for these things online in advance might save you some money, and the hassle of standing in another long line at the convention.
I would plan on checking the convention's website several times during the months leading up to it, as they will have new updates on the website regularly.
2. Go with friends to save money, but use the buddy system.
Going with a friend to Acen was a smart thing to do. For one thing, he paid for half of the hotel room, cutting my cost in two. It also turned out to be good for me to have use of his cell phone when mine's battery died. It's good to have a friend that you stick with at the con. Just make sure that if you and your friends get separated, you each know exactly where the other person is going to be and when and where you intend to meet back with them again. It can be nice to take a breather between panels to sit with friends and eat and talk about what you did. It can be easy to lose your friends in a crowd of thousands, though, so try to agree to meet up with each other at certain times and places throughout the day.
3. Plan on crowds, walking, and big lines.
Cosplay-wise, I would say don't wear a costume that you wouldn't run a marathon in. I usually stay at cons from 8-9am until 1-2am. So, you do not want to be spending all that time in a costume that's too tight, too heavy, or that has uncomfortable shoes. I like that Kontata Izumi's costume involves brown loafers, because I could not have done spike heels for that long. But there were a few problems with my costume and wearing it all day, so I only wore the costume on the first day. For instance, the socks had to be held onto my knees with double-sided tape. I wore panty hose that got ripped up over the course of my first day at the con, and my wig was heavy (wig fiber is heavier than real hair, and Kontata's wig was butt-length, the longest wig I've ever done). Cosplaying is fun. But at a big convention, an elaborate costume might be too cumbersome. At a large con, you will need to move quickly to get to the events you want to get to in time. You'll also be doing a ton of walking and standing. Keep that in mind when selecting or making a costume.
There's also the issues associated with any large crowds. Noise, getting jostled, maybe even getting trampled. And remember what I said about having to hurry to make events on time? Good luck getting from one end of the convention center to the other in any sort of hurry. You'll need to leave well in advance to make it far away in time. Which leads to my next tip.
4. Effective time management is key at large conventions.
Having gone in the past mainly to smaller conventions, I found it to be a bit of a shock that showing up on time wasn't usually enough to get me in the door to the panels I wanted to go to. Usually, this con involved long lines piling up outside of the doors. And Lord help you if you are in one panel in a room and want to go to the next panel in the same room, they did not let me stay in the room I was in and a line had formed that was roughly twice the capacity of the room! Long lines form quickly at big conventions. I would advise trying to be at a panel 30 minutes in advance, especially on the bigger days for attendance, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday morning, everyone is pretty hung over, so attendance at events is lower and you can actually get into panels and have a little elbow room. On Saturday, they cram so people into the rooms that the term "fire hazard" gets tossed around. Obviously, if you want to attend something big that will draw a lot of people, plan to get in line for it in advance, even if that means you have to get up and leave the panel you're at a little early.
5. Save money by bringing your own food
Money at conventions can be tight. You want to save as much as you can in advance for emergency situations (like seeing a good deal on an alpaca plushie). In addition to saving money by sharing a hotel room with friends, you can also save money on food by preparing your own sandwiches or bringing your own Ramen. In addition, I recommend bringing bottled water. You will be, as I said before, doing a lot of walking and staying cool and hydrated is important.
Make sure, however, that you know the rules beforehand about bringing outside food and drinks into the convention center. Mercifully, the convention I went to didn't appear to have a rule against it. I would try to bring whatever you can, because conventions tend to be in ritzy hotels with expensive restaurants. And big cities have big city food prices. Even the concession stand in the dealer's hall was fairly expensive. Bringing ramen and eating it back at your hotel room is another option, as most hotels have microwaves available.
Conventions can be a fun, exciting weekend, and they exist for a wide variety of fandoms. Just remember to stay together, stay safe, and be courteous at all times. Also, especially at the conventions that come up in hotter months, remember personal hygiene. Deodorant is your friend!
Hope your next convention experience is fabulous!