If you’ve been to any pop culture-related convention then you probably already know what to expect at these kinds of events (big crowds, long lines, hours of walking, etc.) but no matter what you plan on expecting, each con (even the same con within each year) can give you new experiences. You can plan weeks in advance and, in the end, you will never know who you’re going to meet, which panels you’ll actually get into, and what you will see walking the halls of the convention until it happens.
As someone who has attended over 8 Comic Cons in San Diego, I felt it was time to branch out of my hometown and attend Anime Expo in LA so I booked a room, packed my bags and drove off into the sunset (no really, I did and I got sunburned while driving so I guess, technically, my first lesson is to wear sunscreen on the road). On this little adventure, I learned a few things about cons that I hadn’t really experienced before, partially because I was on my own in LA and partially because it was about anime rather than comics. Here are the 3 most important lessons I learned this year:
First: Ask anyone and everyone
This is something that may be intuitive for some people but not everyone is ready to ask a stranger for help and I’m here to tell you that, when it comes to conventions, you should ask anyone whatever’s on your mind about the con. Do you know anything about how long the badge pick up line is? What’s the best place to eat around here? Are they letting people line up for that panel yet? Where do you get dropped off on your shuttle? This is important because your informational pamphlet may say one thing but the experience may be different.
You must definitely try to seek out staff members and information booths but they may have one side of the answer while attendees have another. Staff members may know what’s supposed to happen while attendees may know what’s actually happening. The truth is, things change in the Con from one minute to the next and it’s better to have as much info as you can. Also, asking these types of questions can save you time and money. Other attendees may now the best time to line up for badges or the best/cheapest places to park…They may not have all of the answers but you’ll never know unless you ask. (There’s also a great step-by-step guide on the AX website you can reference for information).
Second: You’ll need more money
Yes, you’ll want to buy all the figurines and exclusive merch but most importantly, you’ll have to pay for that $30 parking spot before even entering the con or have enough for that $10 sandwich for lunch. What’s that? You forgot to pack enough socks? Yea, well buy the $8 cat paw socks in the exhibit hall (they’re cute and you need them anyway). Also, don’t forget your brother Joe, Sister Jane, and cousins Al, Fred, and Charlie who are all expecting souvenirs…And if you are traveling, the spending starts weeks before the con: booking the hotel (which is best done at least a month or two in advance), stocking up on toiletries, and anything else you might need. No matter how frugal you may be, there are always unexpected costs or things that cost unexpectedly high when you attend these kinds of events. Luckily, the AX website has a cool spreadsheet you can use to budget your expenses.
Third: Friendships are the best ships
The final and most important lesson I learned is that you can’t predict the kind of friendships you will develop with your fellow attendees. That shuttle ride to the convention on Day 1 can leave you with 4 friends ready to walk with you to the badge pick up line. Day 2 can give you a friend who will stroll the exhibit hall and take cosplay pictures with you for hours and Day 3 can give you a friend who will wait in line with you to your favorite panel. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I was more open to speaking with strangers or if it was because I was surrounded by friendly anime lovers but this con has given me more friends/friendly acquaintances than any other.
Why is it important to open up and talk to strangers at the con (especially when you’re attending alone)? Well, if the thought of having someone to talk about things you both love doesn’t appeal to you, how about for your safety? On Day 1, I already had an emergency contact attending the con when before I had none. Sure, I may not trust them with my life but now you have someone on your side attending the same event as you and that’s safer than not having anyone who knows you there.
In The End
Was it worth it? Definitely, Yes! I don’t mind big crowds or long lines, I love touring a new city on free shuttles and am flexible with my schedule so if I don’t get into big panels then I at least have a second choice (I prefer smaller workshop panels anway). It’s fun to get lost in the exhibit hall and walk for hours seeing new things and meeting new people. It’s cool watching amazing cosplayers being silly and free in their element. It’s all an experience to learn from and cherish and I can’t wait to do it again next year!