This week’s topic is not solely related to cosplay, but it ties in. This was an interesting topic that a friend of mine suggested I cover here (thanks, Janice!). It’s a topic that would have helped me the first time I ventured outside of my “home convention”. When you are preparing to attend a new convention for the first time, it’s hard not to have expectations based on what you know. But those expectations can often lead to disappointment if you are not prepared.
For many people, your first con experience is a small local con. 2000 people, perhaps. Maybe not even that many people. For a lot of these people, the idea of attending a large con like DragonCon or Comic Con sounds like a daunting foreign affair. You have heard things, but nothing can really prepare you for the reality.
On the flip side, for some of us, the aforementioned large conventions are our first convention experience.
So what can you expect when you decide to start branching out of your “first convention safety net”? I’m going to split this topic into two posts, and today we’ll be looking at what to expect when attending your first large convention. If you love crowds and are high-energy, this may not be helpful, because lot of this is focused on self-care. I feel like that is the biggest stumbling block that kills people’s enjoyment of large cons, so hopefully some of these tips will help.
- Plan Ahead, Stay on Site, and Prepare for Crowds
I live only 20 minutes from the host hotels at DragonCon. I also book my room a full year ahead and stay downtown for 5 nights every year. With a large convention, remember that you will be dealing with large crowds. Besides the obvious reasons to book a room at the host(s), like avoiding traffic and parking, a lot of us need a place of retreat. Your room is your retreat. Your escape from the crowds.
If you are planning to cosplay, this is also really important. Take it from someone who has done it all, staying on site will completely change your con experience. You won’t need to worry about stowing costume parts in your car (and hoping it doesn’t get broken into…), trying to make costume adjustments in public restrooms, and you are free to change costumes as many times a day as you like. You can go with the moment rather than rigidly stick to a schedule.
Also, your room is your temporary kitchen. Eating out adds up and can also tend to make you feel gross after a while (and is almost impossible if you have dietary restrictions), so bring plenty of healthy snacks and little meals you can prepare using hot water. If you know you will have a mini-fridge in your room, use that and plan accordingly.
- Don’t try to do it all.
I really can’t repeat this enough. Remember that your con experience is yours and only yours. Yes, you paid $50-$100 upwards for a full weekend pass plus hotel rooms and costumes, so you want to get your money’s worth. But lines for panels and parties are often long, sometimes hours. Also remember that the larger the convention center, the more time you will spend on your feet.
This will sound redundant to seasoned con-goers, but for newbies, this is important. Look at your schedule and choose 2-3 things each day that you absolutely must not miss (that includes panels, parties and other events, too). These are your priority events. Try to balance and spread things out over your weekend. My very first DragonCon was overwhelming because I had to do it all. I did not cosplay my first time, either, so literally all I did was run from panel to panel to panel. It was fun, but I was also completely shattered by 6pm in the evening of the first day. The next year, I pared down my schedule and despite changing costumes twice a day and staying off-site, the entire weekend flowed much better and in many ways felt fuller and more gratifying.
- You do you.
This kind of goes back to the part about your con experience being yours and only yours. I love seeing my friends and acquaintances, but at the end of the day, don’t depend on them. That’s not to sound callous, because we love our friends dearly and obviously want to spend time with them (especially the ones who live out of town and we only see at cons), but the con environment is so crazy and everyone is struggling with balancing seeing all the people and doing all the things. Accept that larger cons are a time when it’s okay to fly solo at times. Enjoy running into friends, socializing in the moment, and spur-of-the-moment gatherings/meetups, but try to just go with the flow and don’t get your feelings hurt if things don’t work out the way you planned with your friends. I know so many of us have been in that situation, and it helps a lot to shift your mindset and understand that it’s not personal. If you find yourself solo, take the moment and enjoy the experience of just being there. Go get a fancy coffee and people watch. Stroll through the Walk of Fame/Celebrity signings area (and if you’re brave, go chat with one who doesn’t have anyone at their table). Go to the artist’s alley and really take the time to appreciate the artists’ work. Go to that obscure panel that you know your friends wouldn’t get into. Do things that you don’t have time to do when you’re hanging out with friends.
- Plan for self-care.
Continuing in that vein, self-care is super important. Like, make-or-break your con important. I have severe social anxiety, but despite the crowds at large conventions, I usually do okay (in some ways, I do better with large conventions than small conventions). Part of this is because I factor “introvert time” into my day. (again, I cannot stress enough: not overscheduling and having a hotel room onsite or nearby is very, very important if this is an issue for you) Even if you don’t have a room to retreat to, find a place to sit and have “time-out” before you feel overwhelmed. That way, when that overwhelmed feeling hits you, you know exactly where to go. This is a good thing to scope out early on at the convention before it gets too crowded, like Friday morning. A lot of large convention centers have quiet seating areas tucked away, sometimes on upper levels. I read recently that C2E2 created a “quiet room” solely for this reason, and perhaps other cons will start following suit. DragonCon is a little trickier, since pretty much any and all seating within the host hotels is removed during the cons (one year they had a cos-pitality suite on the Marriott 10th floor that was also kind of a “quiet zone”, but sadly they only did that for one year). However, you usually can go to any of the upper levels within the host hotels and find a quiet corner to sit on the floor or just hang by the balcony for some quiet time.
It goes without saying that your self-care time is also a time to take your costume pieces off and rest your body as well as your mind. Cosplay is physically taxing, you need to take breaks. I don’t care if the only place to sit is a visible seat in the middle of a convention center, you need to respect what your body/mind is telling you and take a break. If you are only halfway in costume and someone asks for a photo, it is okay to politely decline (often it’s helpful to say something like “I’m taking a break at the moment, but I will be in the ____ place in about half an hour, so look for me there!” More often than not, most people are very understanding and will actually remember and find you for a photo later on!)
- Be in the moment
A lot of people could save themselves disappointment and social anxiety meltdowns by simply approaching the convention with realistic expectations, and appreciating just being in the moment. This is part of the con experience. Don’t put too many expectations on the convention. At the end of the day, it’s just a convention, and it’s up to you to make the most of it. This isn’t to say you should have low expectations. Rather, simplify your expectations.
I hope I haven’t made large conventions sound like big, scary, lonely things. They are anything but. Large cons are an entity unto themselves. It’s like nerd Christmas. You will meet amazing people, you will be inspired, and you will never forget it. But I do firmly believe that it’s important to go into them with realistic expectations.
Stay tuned, next week I will be sharing what to expect with small cons!