(A continuing series of hints, tips, and observations based
on stuff that worked for me. Your mileage may vary.)
Okay, now that we've got that minor little detail of airfare and finding a hotel room out of the way, it's time to talk about the Con itself. If it's your first visit, believe everything you've heard about it. It's huge, it's amazing, it's sprawling. In other words, it's a place with arguably too much going on and definitely too many people walking around, which can be more than a little tiring...especially if you're not...(wait for it)..."Dressed for (Comic Con) Success!"
Though we're not exactly gearing up to storm the beaches of Normandy, you are going to be in for some very long days, covering alot of ground, and on your feet for most of it. Having attended a couple of Comic Cons, plus a number of smaller ones (not to mention being a veteran of both Disney World and Universal Studios), here's a few things to keep in mind to make those long days a lot less uncomfortable:
1. This is a biggie: wear comfortable shoes, preferrably walking shoes with good support. Sandals aren't going to cut it, especially with thousands of people potentially stepping on your toes in the crowded Exhibit Hall and hallways. You might also want to bring along some band-aids or blister pads just in case. I can't emphasize enough how much you're going to be on your feet on any given day.
2. Although San Diego's climate is surprisingly moderate, it can get nasty hot very quickly, so pack shorts and light shirts in case it does. However, at the 2005 Con, they had the air conditioning cranked up so high that many attendees complained they were "freezing" the entire weekend. Being from Minnesota, it didn't bother me in the least, but if you're easily chilled, bring long pants and a warmer shirt (or heavy jacket if you're really air-conditioning averse).
3. Another must: A large backpack or over-the-shoulder bag with lots of pockets and storage areas...preferably with zippers for added security. Not to get too melodramatic, but in a way, your backpack or bag is essentially your "base of operations" while you're at the Con, so it's important that you chose one that's versatile and easy to lug around. Also keep in mind that the Convention Center forbids all "handcarts, trolleys, oversized strollers, rolling luggage and wheeled backpacks" from the Exhibit Hall floor, which means you'll be carrying your stuff around the entire day.
4. Wear your badge at all times. When you check in, you'll get an official attendee badge you can either clip to a shirt pocket or wear around your neck. They're needed to attend all Convention functions, including the Exhibit Hall, so just keep it handy.
5. The Con does not do personal paging over the P.A. system, so if you're attending with someone else, bring cell phones or two-way radio set to stay in touch...because WHEN you're separated (not IF), you can easily contact your pal to arrange a meeting. Just be sure to turn the dang-blasted things off during a panel or presentation.
6. Since the prices for on-site food and beverages are laughably high, be sure to pack bottled water and some snacks to munch during the day. Remember, you didn't come here to buy $3 bottles of water and $5 soft pretzels...you came here to buy cool stuff....and, as you learned in part II:
There are drinking fountains on site, but due to the crowds, they're tough to spot and tricky to use with hundreds of people passing by. Of course, it can also get a little tricky carrying liquids in the same bag you're also carrying Near Mint collector comics, but most people can figure out a way to keep 'em separated. If you bring the multi-sectioned bag I was recommending, this won't be a problem. For food, I brought a number of high-energy packaged snacks like protein bars or trail mix, as well as fruits like apples or raisins. Waiting for a panel to start is a great time to grab a quick bite. While looking through a dealer's comics isn't a great time to grab a quick bite.
7. The food info reminds me to remind you to bring a small bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer. With thousands of people touching everything you're likely to touch (many of whom apparently don't believe in washing their hands), it's a good idea to either wash your hands or use hand sanitizer whenever you get a chance. I've read many accounts of people getting sidelined by stomach flu and other yucky maladies during major conventions, and keeping your hands reasonably clean will certainly help keep you healthy.
8. It's a must for you to bring a camera. There are so many interesting, hilarious and downright bizarre sights at the Con, you've gotta record some of them for posterity. They can become a sort of "visual diary" of your busy days at the Con, helping you to remember those small, passing moments the enormity of the event might easily steamroll from your memory banks. If you bring a conventional camera, bring plenty of film. If you're bringing a digital camera, bring an extra memory card (or two) to ensure you'll be able to take as many pictures as you'd like.
9. If you want stuff signed by pros or visitng celebrities, try to bring a modest stack of stuff. Limiting the number of items to sign not only takes up less room in your bag, but it's also a heck of a lot more considerate of fellow fans and the pro/celebrity if you're not bringing towering stacks of crap for them to sign. Some pros/celebrities have a posted limit on what or how much they'll sign, but even if they don't, be reasonable. Also, be prepared for some visiting celebrities having a policy of only signing the photos they're selling. I blew off Margot Kidder and Jack O'Halloran (Non from Superman II) because they were charging $20 per signed photo. No thanks.
10. Take a page from Santa Claus and make a list of all the stuff you're looking for, like the issues you need to fill in your comic book collection. Some people use computer spread sheets, while others use only a handwritten list on line paper...whatever you use, it's a handy reference as you're shopping the nearly endless number of dealer tables.
11. While we're on the topic of lists, something that worked great for me was creating a schedule for each day I was there. Sure, some people prefer a more spontaneous, less structured style of touring the Con...and that's fine...but in my case, it worked well to have some major goals and destinations for each day. I used a simple grid system I whipped up on the computer, breaking each day down into hours and blocking in the things I wanted to do and how much time those activities would take. Of course, the plan can always be modified when you're at the Con...whether a panel doesn't seem as interesting as it did in the listings...or you'd like to spend more time looking through back issues or just people watching, but it's still a good idea to have something you can glance at to see what's ahead. This is especially true if you have a bunch of programming you'd like to see. The grid (or schedule) makes it easy to remember what you've got coming up...not only for that day, but the days ahead as well. However you design it or plot it out, make a daily schedule a priority. You'll be glad you did.
While you're at it, print out a map of the Convention Center to help you find your programming rooms while simultaneously giving you some idea of how huge this place is.
12. Bring some business cards or address labels to give to dealers or new friends. Even if you're not a pro or someone trying to make business contacts, they're still nice to have on hand...especially when you meet so many of your fellow fans from all over the country. Striking up new friendships is one of the great experiences of the Con.
13. Okay, the topic everyone wants to know about, but nobody wants to talk about: Money. The amount you bring is entirely up to you, but a combination of cash plus a credit card is probably the way you'd want to go. For major purchases, the credit card will eliminate the need to carry wads of cash on your person. Heck, even minor purchases are nice to put on a card with dealers who accept them. Be sure to get cash before you get to the Con. There is an ATM or two available, but they've always got long, long lines most of the day (which should come as no surprise). Regardless of how or where you get the cash, something else I try to do is carry the wallet in a front or zippered side pocket. Pickpocketing isn't a major problem at the Con, but it happens.
14. Last, but certainly not least, wear a fun shirt. In addition to all of the great costumes you see at the Con, there are some fantastic, fun shirts I saw during my visit that really add to the celebratory feel of the event. I'm sure if you take a spin around the internet, you're sure to find a shop or two that sells that kind of thing.
Now that you're all properly geared up, how are you going to get to the Convention Center? Well, I'll give you a few ideas the next time with Surviving San Diego part IV: Getting Around.