Packing Tips-Make the Most out of Conventions with Less Stuff
Con travel can be anxiety-producing. You’re super excited, but you’re also running around doing things at the last minute. This usually means that something important is going to be left behind.
Your convention experience will be way better if you pay attention to packing. A packing list will make this process easy, as will our complete list of stuff you need to bring (and what you should leave at home).
Stuff you absolutely must bring:
—Cash. A number of vendors only deal in cash. (Word to those vendors: take credit cards. It will do wonders for your sales). We ran into a situation where a celebrity only accepted cash for autographs, and ended up paying extra in ATM fees (not to mention standing in line for the ATM). And what will you do if there’s no ATM available? If you’re the kind of person who has a hard time resisting an impulse purchase, cash can also prevent you from spending too much; when you are out of money, that’s it.
—Photo ID. You won’t get drinks at room parties, you won’t get into any 18-and-up events, and you won’t get your convention badge without it. Don’t leave it at home.
—A credit card. Safer than debit cards, and you’ll need one to check into the hotel (if you’re the one who made the reservation).
—Items for emergency costume repairs. The absolute essentials (which I always have on hand) are a small sewing kit (these are often available at the front desk, but not always), double-sided fashion tape (for the costume that slides off your body, gaps, or shows too much skin), iron-on hem tape (for if your hem falls), and safety pins (use strong ones; the ones from the dollar store won’t hold up, so splurge a little and buy these from a craft or fabric store). Stuff **will** happen to your costume, so be ready.
—A good Convention Bag. This is less of an issue if you don’t plan on shopping, but the right bag can make your day so much better. See this post for details about how to pick the right con bag.
—Shout Wipes or Tide To-Go Pens. These suckers are amazing at getting out small stains (including blood) and are easily carried. Just be advised that they don’t work exactly the same as the commercials, which means that your stain won’t come out immediately and there will be a wet spot left behind. But for small stains, your costume will be wearable within an hour, and for bigger, worse stains, the treatment will keep the stain from setting even if you can’t wash the costume for a few days.
—Snacks. You’ll want to eat, but it’s not always easy to go out for a meal when you are at a convention. You may have a poor location with few options, or maybe you don’t want to go about town in costume and don’t want to go through getting back into character after you eat. Eating exclusively from vending machines is really unhealthy and will make you feel like crap. For those conventions with concessions, you’ll wait in line forever and pay way too much for what amounts to gas station food. Even cons with con suites don’t always have food available, and con suites themselves are becoming more rare. Take your own snacks and then you don’t have to worry about it any more. See this post about convention snacks for my list of favorites.
—Things to have autographed. This is really applicable for merchandise, not so much photographs; any merchandise at the convention itself is going to be outrageously expensive. Bring your own and save money. That said, be selective. You don’t want to have to haul your entire action figure or comic collection around.
—Chargers. You probably want to bring a travel charger, too, especially if you’ll be in a room with a lot of people. Hotel rooms don’t always have a lot of outlets (and neither do convention halls). You can lug around a power strip if you’re really worried about it, but these suck up a ton of luggage space. Travel chargers are great for this. They are a sort of chargeable battery; you can charge it at home before your trip and then use the charger to charge devices while you are away. If all of your devices are compatible, it can really cut down on how many chargers you have to carry and free up valuable socket space. (That said, it's not a terrible idea for one person in your room to bring a power strip if you're unsure about the outlet situation in your hotel.)
—An extra memory card for your camera, just in case. You never know when something might happen, or how many pictures you’ll take.
—Health insurance card. While most of the time nothing goes wrong, you don’t want to find yourself shelling out of pocket for an ER visit when you drink too much or trip over your costume and fall down the stairs. You might also want to have an “in case of emergency” card in your wallet that lists things like medications, blood type, and emergency contacts, as well as an ICE ("in case of emergency") listing in your phone, so people can find your contact if you are unconscious. If you have ongoing medical issues, it’s a good idea to look up which providers (if any) in the convention area accept your insurance so you’ll know where to go in advance.
—Hand sanitizer. Bring it. Use it. Avoid con crud.
—Comfortable shoes, ballet flats, or thin slippers. These are great for walking around your hotel (you don’t want to go in bare socks or barefoot). They’re also great for walking from your hotel to the convention center, or for waiting in line. You can always carry your costume shoes with you and put them on when you get there.
—Folding chair. This isn’t necessary for smaller cons, but for big cons like SDCC or Dragon*Con, there will be long lines and you will be much happier if you can sit through them.
—Ear plugs. Sometimes hotel rooms are noisy during conventions, and sleep is important. Sleeping masks can also be good if you and your roommates aren’t sleeping at the same time, someone is using a bright device, or the window blinds don’t quite shut all the way.
—OTC medications. Something for a headache is a must, as is something for tummy trouble. I recommend Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Immodium, and Midol for the ladies. You can get little travel-sized packets at most drugstores.
—A few spare bandages. Just in case. This takes up very little room, but you will be thrilled you thought of it if you happen to need them. Moleskin for blisters and a little tube of Neosporin are also good ideas.
—Prescription medications. Make sure you have enough. It’s hard to get a prescription filled in a different city on a weekend. Keep them in their original labeled containers, especially if you’re flying.
Do NOT bring:
—Drugs. Seriously. I have yet to attend a convention that did not have the smell of pot coming from cars or room parties. The cops will arrest you. It will suck. At the very least, you could be thrown out of the hotel. Don’t risk it.
—A bulky laptop. You don’t want to have to lug something like that around all the time. If you’re worried about staying connected, or having something to do if you wake up way earlier than your roommates or are stuck waiting in line, a tablet, smartphone, or e-reader will serve the purpose much better.
—Books. Even if you want them for autographs, consider some other piece of memorabilia if you can. Books take up way too much space (Game of Thrones or The Wheel of Time, anyone?). E-books make more sense for actual reading at conventions, or enable a reader app on your phone or table.
—Basic toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap). Nearly every hotel has these for free in the room. Alternatively, bring only travel-sizes so you can dump the empties and make more luggage stuff for swag from the dealer’s room.
—Every last thing in your wallet. This is as much for security reasons as for space. Leave behind loyalty cards, all but one credit card (you only need one, and this will help you stay on budget), photos, student ID cards (you only need your legal photo ID), and debit cards (these are much less safe than credit cards if stolen. You’ll have to report any fraud faster, and your money will be tied up until the dispute is resolved. Seriously, don’t bring a debit card if you can avoid it). You can also leave home bulky key rings. All you need are car and house keys.
—Hairdryers. All hotels have them.
Hopefully, this will save you some space and make your con experience go more smoothly. If you have any more packing tips, let us know in the comments!