It's that time of year where it seems like there's at least one big fan convention going on every weekend somewhere in the country. Whether you're planning to head to New Jersey for the Steampunk World's Fair later this month or counting down for San Diego Comic-Con in July, there are a few essentials you'll need to bring with you.
On Tuesday, I asked my fellow con-goers on Twitter and Facebook what's the one thing they have to bring to a convention. The responses were varied. Some people pointed to a few good checklists available online, like this one that goes back to 2000 as well as one from Fanboy Comics. Parenting Geekly has a great list for those intending on bring kids to the con. Also, if you're going to SDCC, I suggest picking up a copy of Doug Kline's book, The Unauthorized San Diego Comic-Con Survival Guide, which covers everything from parking to the line at Hall H.
Our respondents' answers ranged from personal hygiene necessities to personal technology musts. Check out the list below and add your own must-have items in the comment section.
My Twitter bio reads "gets sunburn at comic book conventions." To be more accurate, I've also acquired a few nasty burns at anime and video game conventions. My problem isn't forgetting sunscreen -- I apply it every morning. Instead, it's a matter of forgetting to reapply sunscreen. I'll often think, "It's just a short walk from 7th & Fig to the Convention Center" or "I won't need to trek 20 blocks back to the hotel before sunset." I learned the painful, peeling way -- always carry sunscreen in your bag.
L.A. Weekly writer Nicole Campos agrees on bringing sunscreen. You don't know, she tweets, when you "might end up standing in a parking lot for two hours waiting for Hugh Jackman to show up."
Several people mentioned that they don't venture into a con without a camera. "You don't have to be a professional photographer to capture great moments during conventions," says Dianne Garcia, co-host of the podcast Defective Geeks and an L.A. Weekly writer. "You never know who you will run into, whether it be a favorite artist, writer or, if you're at San Diego Comic-Con, a celebrity."
If you haven't been to a convention before, you may not realize that a Sharpie is one of the most important things you can have in your kit. A couple people mentioned the thick, inky marker by name.
"A Sharpie is essential because you never know when you can spot a celebrity who is willing to give you an autograph on the spot," says Paula Angeles, director of marketing and community outreach for L.A. convention Pacific Media Expo. "Also, it's great to write random notes or numbers on your program guide, especially when the guide is glossy and a pen just won't do." If you're like Paula and you work at a convention, you'll want to have the Sharpie for all those last-minute signs, too.
11. Food and drinks
If there's one truth about conventions, it's that the food inside the convention center or hotel will be expensive. I usually carry a small bottle of my preferred soft drink in my bag. Smarter people also carry food, the most popular item being the almighty protein bar.
"I have to always carry a protein bar at a con because I'm so distracted by the awesome, I forget to eat," says actor Yuri Lowenthal. "But I need energy to experience the awesome!"
If you're staying at a convention, bring some goodies with you. Find out beforehand if your room has a fridge and shop accordingly. A few people also mentioned bringing your own alcohol, which can help save money that you would otherwise blow at the bar.
10. Anti-stench tools
It might come as a shock to some people that more than one person mentioned deodorant as a convention essential. Shouldn't that be a given? However, if you've ever been inside a packed exhibit hall on the last day of the convention, then you know the smell can be pungent. This isn't something that's exclusive to the geek scene -- in fact, music festivals and summer subway rides can be worse. It's hot and you're sharing a space that's overflowing with people. It's going to smell funky.
But conventions pose a special issue. As writer Steve Marmel said on Twitter, "Remember that the dude in the Obi Wan costume on Day 4 hasn't washed it since day 1."
Maybe Febreze can help. I'm not a cosplayer, so I can't say for certain. Anyone have advice?
While we're on the subject of odor control, don't forget the breath mints or gum. Tod Nagel has gone to conventions as a fan and a vendor and says that breath mints are crucial. "While working a booth, your mouth gets dry and not so fresh, especially after eating what they call food from the commissary at some conventions," he says.
9. Sewing kit
If you're a cosplayer, there's one item that will certainly be in your suitcase. "A sewing kit is No. 1 for me," says Ginger Burton of GNB Cosplay and Chocolate Covered Cosplay. "I haven't had many wardrobe malfunctions where I've had to use it, but just in case something goes wrong, at least I know I have a needle and thread to make a quick touch-up if needed!"
Even if you aren't going to the convention in costume, it might be a good idea to stick a small sewing kit in your luggage. When you're dealing with crowds and surrounding large objects, there's always a chance that you might rip something and need a quick fix. Make like a Girl Scout and be prepared.
8. Cellphone and charging devices
Never head to a convention without your phone. Whether you're going for work or just for fun, you will need it. Many of the people who responded to this question have a preference for smartphones. Photographer Ejen Chuang, who documented the national convention scene in his book Cosplay in America, needs his phone to update the audience at home. "I tweet, Facebook cosplay photos every hour (roughly) live from the con," he says.
But cellphone batteries die quickly when you're updating from the convention hall. Some people suggest bringing back-up batteries. At the very least, have your charger on hand. Publicist Melanie Marquez says she's always on the lookout for outlets inside the convention centers. "Constant calls, emails, tweets, photos, etc., drain my battery life like nobody's business!"
On a somewhat related note, if you're bringing a laptop, try to get a wireless Internet card. Even if the convention center has free wi-fi (which is rare), it's going to be clogged. And if you're presenting on a panel, take the advice of Brad Bell, co-creator of the webseries Husbands, and bring your own gear to hook up your laptop to the screen. It's always good to have backup equipment on hand.
7. Your badge/lanyard
Sometimes I get so stressed out before San Diego Comic-Con that I have dreams that I show up at the convention without my badge. It's kind of the nerd version of the no-pants dream. Maybe I'm not alone, as several people mentioned not to forget the badge before heading to the show floor.
"It's the one item that I most often find myself trudging back to the hotel room to find," says writer Jane Espenson, who has penned episodes of con favorites Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. "It's not part of one's normal dressing routine; it's not part of one's last-second checklist (keys, phone, cash...). It's easily forgotten and totally essential. Hands on your lanyards, people!"
6. A big bag
You're going to come home from the con with more stuff than you brought. Loquaciousmuse, editor of All Things Fangirl and co-writer of Real Girl's Guide to Comic-Con, brings her own bag even when she can pick one up at the convention.
"Bringing your own saves time and energy during that preview-night dealers room rush, it's environmentally sound, and it can act as a great conversation starter," she explains. "I can't describe how many times fellow geeks have stopped me to ask where I got my favorite tote, leading to new friendships, new discoveries and new business for the awesome folks who made my totes in the first place!"
Loquaciousmuse also advises con-goers to bring rubber bands and poster tubes. This is especially helpful at SDCC, when companies are handing out posters at nearly every turn.
5. Comfortable shoes
Jessica Rivas has spent more than eight years as an events manager, which means she goes to a lot of conventions. She says comfortable shoes are a must. "The cement floors of convention centers are not kind," she adds. "If you worked the convention, you more than likely were standing all day. However, if you're an attendee, you walked all day." Either way, your feet are going to hurt. Ease the pain with decent shoes.
A couple bloggers mentioned that they prefer Crocs for cons. I go with either my oldest, most well-worn Docs or Chuck Taylors. Go with what works best for you, but leave the heels and pointy toes at home unless they're necessary for your costume.
Only two people mentioned bringing cash to the con, but this is one of the most important things you can have on you. While many vendors take credit cards, you will run into a few who don't and those people just might be selling wares you want, or offering the parking spot you need.
Make sure you make a cash withdrawal prior to the convention. Your own bank may not have an ATM in the vicinity of the con and convention center, and hotel cash machines charge high service fees. If you're really stuck, see if you can run to a chain drugstore and get cash back on a purchase of, say, breath mints.
3. A good attitude
Sometimes attitude is everything and many convention pros say a good one will help you get through a weekend trapped in a sea of tens of thousands of people. Actor Tara Platt says no two cons are alike, but one thing will always remain the same. "You can pretty much guess that things will never quite go according to plan," she says.
Derek Tatum has been programming Dragon*Con's Horror & Dark Fantasy track for eight years now. He's used to dealing with very large crowds over Labor Day weekend. "Cons can sometimes get crowded and stressful, but keep in mind that everyone is there to have a good time," he says. "So long as you don't infringe on anyone else, think of cons as big parties full of people with shared interests!"
Amber Benson, the actor-director-writer whose role as Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer has taken her to many conventions, advises people to keep their sense of humor. "When you're stuck in a 25-person women's bathroom line with two slave Princess Leias, a Klingon and three Sailor Moons and you have to pee like a race horse, well, a sense of humor can really come in handy."
Tied for the other most common response in our totally informal and unscientific survey is water. Bring it with you. Conventions aren't that different from music events. You're going to pay a stupid amount of money for a bottle of water on site.
Water is good. It keeps you hydrated when you're stuck in a sweaty mass of people trying to get past the Lucasfilm booth at Comic-Con. It keeps you cool when you spend all day in line, outside, for that one panel you have to see. Drink it.
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1. Germ killers
There were two responses that tied for the top spot in this list. One is hand sanitizer. "I'm going on six different cons with NO FLU since I started obsessing about hand sanitizer," tweets blogger/comic book creator/baker of epic nerdy cupcakes Just Jenn. Nicole Campos adds Emergen-C to the mix, calling the two the "best most magical combo." Blogger Geek Girl Diva adds that it's important to keep your hands off your face.
This is all crucial advice. Con flu is no joke. I've had it multiple times. In fact, I've come down with it at Anime Expo and recovered only to relapse after San Diego Comic-Con. I'm starting to think about getting one of those J-rock sick masks.