As convention season kicks into high gear, there’s no time like the present to learn a few helpful convention tips and tricks.

With each passing year, more and more people are discovering the magic and amazing experience that is a comic book or pop culture convention. You can easily tell that the number of convention-goers is on the rise just from the sheer size of some of the most popular conventions as well as how many new conventions are beginning to pop up.

Personally, I love conventions. They’re what I look forward to most during the year because of how they make me feel (in addition to how much awesome swag I can buy, obviously). But I wasn’t always a convention-goer. Compared to others, I’m still a bit of a newbie.

I’ve only been attending them for about two years or so and please let me be the first to tell you that there’s quite a learning curve when it comes to conventions. What to bring, which days to attend, what to do… It can definitely be overwhelming for some people. I don’t know what I would’ve done without all of my friends’ helpful convention tips for my first event.

Going to these events isn’t rocket science, but there are still a few things to know. Even pros or veterans could use a few convention tips every now and then. So, I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of all of the best tips and tricks for attending conventions. Whether you’re about to attend your first or 101st convention, be sure to peruse this list of convention tips before you step foot on the show floor.

Star Wars merchandise

Be strategic with your arrival time

You’re not the only one itching to see your favorite stars or hit the show floor. People come in droves for conventions because… well… they’re awesome! But, when people come in droves, that usually means there’s pretty bad traffic. In my experience, I’ve found that getting to the convention center pretty early is the way to go, especially if you’re driving in. Otherwise, in order to beat the morning rush, perhaps plan to arrive after noon or so once the traffic has calmed a bit.

Bring cash

This is one of the most important beginner convention tips that I’ve learned. Credit card readers and the like are becoming more and more common, but not all vendors or merchants use them. Skip the long line for the ATM and just bring cash with you. Not only will it help you budget your money, it will just make all of your transactions easier. (And the merchants really appreciate it!)

Do as much beforehand as possible

Convention days are a breeze if you take care of all of the details and such before you even step foot in the convention center. If at all possible, buy your pass(es) online, as well as any photo ops or autographs. The lines for those things (if they aren’t sold out by the time you even reach the convention) can be obnoxiously long and take time away from what really matters!

Also, if you’re at all able to (and you’re driving to the con), pay for parking as soon as you park. Flat rate lots let you pay anytime during your visit, so just pay as soon as you park so that you can skip the long lines of people at the machines at the end of the day (not to mention get a jump on all of the people leaving the lot or parking garage)!

Wizard World Chicago Stephen Amell

Prioritize your time at the con

In keeping with doing things ahead of time, be sure to look at the schedule before you head out and figure out what panels or events are of high priority to you. Most convention schedules (for panels, photo ops, and autographing sessions) are posted about two weeks before the actual event so that you’ll have time to decide what you NEED to do and what you might want to do. You can always change your mind when you’re actually at the con, but it helps to have some ideas going in.

Pack yourself a snack

Convention days are long days and you’re going to need some sort of sustenance to get you through it. You don’t necessarily have to stop for a full-blown lunch, but at least bring yourself some sort of snack that will tide you over until you can grab some dinner. You’ll be so jazzed and pumped up that, even though you’ll be doing a lot of walking, you won’t want something big. I suggest bringing along Goldfish (or, my go-to, Walgreens’ amazing generic brand, Whales), fruit snacks, or granola bars.

Good news on the water front: There should always be free water around the convention for you to drink (usually near the panel rooms). One of the best convention tips I can give you is to drink water whenever you can. You’re going to need it.

Head over to panels early

Depending on the size of the panel (which you’ll be able to tell by what room it’s in and what guests are scheduled), you’ll want to get over to your panel room (at least) 30 minutes to one hour early. Panels with TV and movie stars fill up quickly so if these kinds of panels are on your to-do list, you’re going to want to give yourself ample time.

One thing to keep in mind is that some conventions clear their rooms before every panel while others don’t. Find out what your convention’s panel rules are and plan accordingly (meaning that if they don’t clear the rooms, you’ll probably want to show up for the panel even earlier and potentially sit through others).

Infinity Gauntlet cosplay

Double-check panel times throughout the day

Sometimes, last-minute cancellations or schedule changes happen due to other panels, space issues, guest needs, etc. So, be sure to check in on panel schedules every once in a while (especially if there’s one you’ll die if you miss). The event organizers are constantly updating the physical panel schedules outside of the rooms as well as shooting panel updates out on social media. So, walk past the panel rooms and be sure to turn notifications on for your event’s social media.

Don’t be afraid to wear a costume or your geekiest shirt

In addition to bringing you the best in pop culture, conventions exist to help people embrace their geeky selves and be comfortable with their interests. If you feel like going all out and wearing your favorite fandoms from head to toe (shirt, socks, jewelry, etc.), go for it! You’ll be in good company.

And, if you’d like to take it a step further, try cosplaying! Your costume doesn’t have to be perfect or 100% accurate. If it makes you feel good, do it. I was nervous when I first started cosplaying, but now it’s one of my favorite hobbies! Oh, and hey, if you’re cosplaying, be sure to frequent the lobby and other public areas to find other cosplayers to take pictures with!

Wear comfortable shoes

This is probably one of the most self-explanatory convention tips, but you’re going to be walking a lot. More than you think you will. Doing laps around the show floor and the panel rooms. So, while you might want to wear and show off your most stylish kicks, don’t sacrifice your comfort for style. It’s not worth it. Comfortable boots, gym shoes, and flats are the way to go. Flip slips and heels are things you should leave at home (or, if you’re coming in from out of town, in your hotel room).

Hayley Atwell photo op

Bring a large bag with you

A lot of times, conventions provide reusable bags or plastic bags filled with special offers, but you’ll definitely want to bring your own bag of you’re planning on making a lot of purchases (or think that there’s a chance that you might). You’d be surprised how much you’ll pick up at a convention and how much better it is to have a bag rather than trying to cram things in your pockets or hold onto small plastic shopping bags.

Pack a portable charger if you have one

There are few things worse than having your phone battery die in the middle of a convention, especially if you’re there with a group of friends. Yes, conventions now have charging stations (and the center will definitely have outlets on the walls), but you never know if all of the ports will be occupied. Plus, you don’t want to have to stay in one spot for a while to wait for your phone to charge. Portable chargers are life-savers.

When it comes to your camera, instead of an additional charger, just bring an extra battery. And maybe even an extra memory card. Better over-prepared than under-prepared!

Don’t forget the deodorant and chewing gum

Newsflash: People can start to smell less daisy-like as the day goes on, especially in a crowded place like a convention. Be courteous to others and consider bringing some deodorant so that you can reapply as needed. Chewing gum or mints is also a good idea to help cut down on any unpleasant (or embarrassing) smelly-ness. This isn’t one of those “must do” convention tips, but it’s a nice courtesy.

Convention merch

Make time for breaks

You’re going to be surrounded by crowds people all day long whether you’re sitting in a panel or browsing the show floor. Make sure to give yourself time to breathe and relax. Go out into the lobby or an open area every once in a while. You won’t know how much you want space until you have a chance to take a breather.

Set a budget

I know how impossible it is not to want to buy all the things. I really do. But, you also don’t want to go broke after just one convention. So, set yourself a budget. If you have a maximum spending amount in mind, you’ll be more careful about what you buy and there’s less of a chance that you’ll have a form of buyer’s remorse after the convention ends. (Plus, you’ll have more money to spend for your next convention!)

Take at least one lap around the show floor before buying anything

In addition to helping you keep to your budget, taking a lap will help you find all of the best deals (especially when it comes to Funkos and movie posters) and figure out exactly which items that have caught your eye are “can’t live without it” must-buys. (This is one of the few convention tips I wish I had heard for my first con just because of the sheer amount of things I wanted to buy.)

Star Wars lightsabers convention floor

Don’t be afraid to go it alone

If it comes down to having to attend a convention solo or missing the convention altogether, go by yourself! Obviously, conventions are social events that are so much more fun when you attend them with friends (not to mention the fact that they’re cheaper when you split transportation and, if it applies, hotel costs). But conventions are fun events that bring people from all walks of life together. Everyone is so friendly that you’ll never truly feel like you’re alone.

Follow the convention on social media

Social media is SO important for conventions (and not just in terms of Instagramming or Tweeting out photos of celebs or all of the cool merch that you’re buying). Conventions send out really helpful updates and fun things on their social mediums throughout the convention. I’d definitely recommend following your event on Twitter (and turning on notifications for them) because that’s where you’ll get the most updates.

Also, if your event has an app (like C2E2 in Chicago does), make sure to download it. A lot of times, events will send out and post events through their app as well. (And they might give you cool location-based updates too!)

Cosplay is not consent

“Cosplay is not consent” is a huge and extremely important movement that’s sweeping conventions (and for good reason). Cosplayers don their costumes for themselves, not the enjoyment or eye candy of others. Always, always, always ask before taking a cosplayer’s picture and be respectful. Don’t be afraid to go up to cosplayers and ask them for a photo, but make sure you do so. For more information about “Cosplay is Not Consent,” check out the movement’s Facebook page.

Convention veterans: What convention tips and tricks do you have for con newbies?

Related: Wizard World Chicago 2015: Large convention, local feel

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