Con Tips From A Con Junkie

Hanging out with Joss Whedon at 3am outside Comic Con. As you do.

Summer is con time, and as longtime readers of this blog know, I am a conference and convention junkie. I go to about five a year, and this year I'll be attending my 6th Comic Con and my 4th SCBWI LA. I've also attended BEA, ALA, WonderCon, SCBWI NY, and many smaller conventions, conferences, and events.

With Comic Con and RWA this week and SCBWI LA in a few weeks I know a lot of my friends will be experiencing "con fever" for the first time. Here are my tips for having the best time possible:

1) Prepare your survival bag.

-A purse is not going to cut it for a larger con. You need a backpack or a messenger bag that is comfortable to carry for long periods and can hold a ton of stuff.

-Pack granola bars or energy bars. Seriously. I cannot overstate this enough. Cons get crazy, and you might not have a chance to sit down and eat for hours. Or you might need a snack now and then to keep your energy up. I find that peanut butter granola bars work the best for me, because of the protein.

-Pack a water bottle. You don't need a huge one because you can always refill it inside. But you definitely need one.

-Pack pills such as ibuprofen, aspirin, Tums, Pepto, whatever you might think you need. Headaches and stomach aches are VERY common at cons due to lack of food and sleep, and bad con food. You don't want to feel sick and have your entire day ruined.

-Pack a sweater. It might be 90 degrees outside, but cons always blast the AC and tend to be freezing inside.

-Pack business cards or bookmarks, or some way to keep in touch with people you meet.

-Pack a backup charger. Your phone is going to be used A LOT, and with so many people around your battery will be draining fast - and that's when a backup charger comes in handy. I recommend New Trent chargers - I have an older version and it's lasted for years. This thing has become my #1 favorite device for conventions and travel, especially because it can charge things other than your phone too.

-Print out your schedule and include it in your survival bag. Internet coverage is universally terrible at cons, and you don't want to be scrambling to figure out where your next event is. Plus, this way you won't have to carry around the heavy schedule books that cons always give you when you check in.

2) Figure out your schedule in advance.

-Comb through the schedule and make a plan before the con. Make sure you include off-site events, signings, parties or dinners, or other things not listed in the official schedule.

-Don't try to do everything. There will always be way too many awesome things at a con for one person to do. Prioritize around your "must see" things and consider everything else a bonus.

-Make a backup plan - especially for busy events, you always want to have a second option in case you can't get into the first panel, signing, or workshop.

-Make sure you allow yourself some time to go to the exhibit hall! If the exhibit hall is big (like at Comic Con or BEA) you might need A LOT of time.

-Give yourself extra time for things like traffic and parking (always bad at cons), huge lines for food/coffee, getting to different events all the way across the convention hall, etc.

-If you con has an app (which most do), get it and use it - but remember how spotty internet coverage can be and print out your schedule too.

-Follow as many related Twitter accounts as possible (and make a Twitter list to quickly access them). Also check relevant hashtags. For example, at BEA publishers often tweet when they are giving away certain books. Or at Comic Con you can check hashtags like #hallh or #sdcclines to get info on how bad the lines are.

3) Survive the con!

-Get to every event early. This is especially true for Comic Con and BEA, but I've also found it to be true for things like SCBWI LA too. A workshop by someone like Laurie Halse Anderson can fill up FAST and if you want a seat you need to get there early.

-Be prepared to wait. I've waited in line at Comic Con for 7 hours before! That's a bit extreme, but waiting is an inevitable part of all cons. If you get easily bored (like me), pack a book or something else to do. And you never know who you might meet while waiting (like Joss Whedon!), or what panel you'll sit through and end up enjoying.

-Take care of your body. Give yourself breaks to rest. Get as much sleep as you can. Take a shower every day. Lay off the alcohol. Try to eat at least one good meal a day. Wear comfortable shoes. I also suggest taking extra vitamins like Emergen-C both before, during, and after a con. (Note: I pretty much always get sick after a con no matter what I do, but you might be luckier.)

-Be friendly and open to meeting people. If you're with a group of friends, be nice to the loners or the newbies (especially at writing conferences!). Remember: these are your people! Ask them what they write, or what they're really excited to see at the con. I've met many of my closest friends at cons.

-Put your Twitter name on your badge! This helps people recognize you, and allows you to stay in touch with new friends.

-Mostly importantly - enjoy yourself! All cons can be overwhelming and exhausting, but they are also tons of fun.

Any other tips you can think of? Any questions? Or, if you have questions about a specific convention or conference, I will try to answer them too. And if you're going to be at Comic Con or SCBWI LA, please say hello!