fan convention
These essentials will guarantee you live your best (nerdy) life at your first fan convention. (Image via SanMar U)

If I’m a betting woman (and I totally am), I’d wager that you are a member of a fandom. No, no. Don’t cringe at the label. I know your first thought upon hearing “fandom” is crazed internet users tearing each other’s virtual hair out over shipping wars. Those individuals exist, sure, but they aren’t representative of the whole. In fact, if you enjoy books, films, video games or comics, congratulations! Welcome to the fandom, friend.

Having (hopefully) embraced your newfound identity, it’s time to find others who enjoy the same thing. There is no better place for you to commence your search than a fan convention. You’ve probably heard of some of the bigger names such as Comic-Con and Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Aside from those, conventions come in all varieties of sizes. If a fan base exists, so does its respective event.

Before you spring forth to purchase your first entry badge, it’s imperative to consider your packing list. Lugging around the wrong set of items can lay siege to all of your plans. Bring the right necessities, however, and you will have an absolute blast. Specifically, these 10 things are must-haves to thrive during your first venture into convention culture.

1. Comfortable Shoes

The concrete floors of convention centers aren’t the most comfy surface to stand or walk on for hours at a time. If your preferred fan convention is hosted in a hotel, the thin carpeting is a slight improvement, but nothing to rave about. A pair of cushy casual shoes should be at the top of your packing list.

I know it’s tempting to prioritize fashion over function in public spaces but, unless you’re a cosplayer, a set of worn sneakers with foam inserts is your best bet. Moreover, Crocs have come a long way since the days of the lone rainbow clog style. From sandals to sneakers, they have several affordable options that incorporate the same plush rubber material into a more trendy appearance. They’ve evolved from fashion faux pas to first-rate convention gear.

Should you still hope to achieve maximum nerd status with your outfit, feel free to break out the Sharpies and paint brushes. There is no rule against decorating your shoes to represent your favorite fandom. Just promise me that you’ll leave the heels and clunky footwear at home.

 2. Cash

Regardless of which event(s) you’re attending this convention season, I can guarantee every inch of space will be littered with vendors. Between collectibles, passes and food, there is a myriad of obligatory purchases in your future. In order to ensure you can cover all of these costs, budget accordingly and withdraw some cash before arriving. A majority of vendors will accept cards, but you’ll be prepared in the off-chance that they don’t.

On a different note, limiting yourself to the cash in your wallet will keep your inescapable shopping addiction in check. Fan conventions are a vacuum of quirky ecstasy while you’re present, but tend to result in a bag bursting with new stuff and twice the amount of regret resting on your shoulders when you leave. Stay vigilant and you won’t end up in that position.

 3. Water Bottle

There is no shortage of food and drink options at any fan convention. Still, don’t expect vendors to be merciful with prices. They know the game. Your schedule will be jam packed with activities, so you won’t want to step away from the location to fit in a meal or run to a grocery store for a snack refill. Sneaking a bite or sip at the convention center is the quickest route for satiation and, as such, the costs will be ramped up.

Providing your own water bottle eliminates the choice between sticking it out in line and quenching your thirst. Add in the bonus of not having to drink directly from a water fountain that hundreds of others have already used that day, and you have a winner. An empty bottle from a previous drink works just as well as the fancy bottles, so take your pick.

4. Power Strip

At a particularly crowded fan convention, finding an open outlet is akin to searching for a neutral colored needle in the world’s biggest haystack. Oh, and you’re racing at least 20 other people to snag that one spot. While standing in line for hours is hardly exciting, doing it with a dead phone is worse. A portable power strip can be the hero you need and deserve.

Easily collapsible into a backpack pocket or mesh cup holder, a compact cube power strip can transform one blocked wall plug into a charging hub for several eager con-goers. However, it does come with one major caveat: instantly becoming the best friend of every human being within a half-mile radius.

Depending on your introvert vs. extrovert status, this can be a positive or a colossal negative. It could be an easy way to strike up a conversation about all types of fandom goodness. On the flip side, you may want to opt for a portable power pack if the concept of large crowds rushing to surround you elicits a shudder.

5. Extra Bag/Suitcase

While fan conventions put on the clever façade of a getaway for meeting strangers and commiserating over a mutual passion of fandom media, I’m not fooled. They’re totally a money sink and you can’t convince me otherwise.

Between the hand-drawn prints of scenes in Artists’ Alley and adorable character plushes lining the walls of the marketplace, I can’t leave without acquiring a new item for my collection. A 2016 survey reveals that most attendees are in the same boat, spending $100-$500 at a single convention.

After being suckered into buying merchandise, you’ll need somewhere to store it for the ride home. Instead of forgoing important items in the interest of conserving space, you would be better off bringing an additional source of storage. With no further reason to exercise self-control, you can shop to your heart’s content. Your wallet won’t appreciate it, but the creators and sellers surely will.

 6. Deodorant

This is a no-brainer, don’t you think? See, I was once an expectant, green attendee with the same thought. I had to learn the hard way. I’ll give smelly people the benefit of the doubt here. They probably forgot their deodorant, right? Let’s go with that.

Luckily, now having read this, you won’t do the same. You’re welcome. Actually, I should be thanking you — as should all of the potential buddies you’ll accumulate while waiting for events to begin. A travel size of your favorite scent will serve you well. Beyond that, packing one to wear and a second to share might be the best piece of advice I have to offer.

Spending an entire day submerged in the radiating heat of hundreds of other bodies is a surefire way to trigger a sweating fit. Multiply that by about five if you’re considering sporting an intricate cosplay. Besides a shower (also a requirement by my rules), deodorant is the best combatant for all the awkward and unpleasant smells that go along with perspiration.

7. Immune System Gummies

If the overall lack of decent hygiene at fan conventions doesn’t spell disaster for you, it certainly should. There’s a reason “Con Flu” earned its own Urban Dictionary entry. Shuffling through lines with herds of potentially infectious (and dubiously clean) people lurking less than six inches away results in a breeding ground for illness. The infamous sickness might even have the audacity to trail you all the way home. Tread with caution and enter with an attack strategy.

I might not be a proponent of antibacterial hand sanitizer, but I certainly won’t knock you for letting a pocket-sized one tag along. For anyone on the same team as me, immune system gummies are a strong rival and definitely more flavorful. They’ll prime your body’s innate defenses as you live your best (nerdy) life for a few days.

Throw them inside your small backpack companion or a favorite hoodie for quick access between signings and panels. Alternatively, pop a couple before leaving your hotel room if you can’t sacrifice the space. After all, another figure or tiny plush could fit in there. As a shameless hoarder of fandom merchandise, I totally understand.

8. Any Safety Mobile App

Whether you attend with your squad or not, odds are you’ll end up traveling alone at some point throughout the con’s duration. When that happens, safety is the ultimate priority. Fan conventions as a whole have a reputation for seedy behavior from patrons. Those individuals might not realize they’re overstepping boundaries or they could be intentionally prowling for vulnerable newbies. It’s problematic either way — and you should have a defense.

 Now that mobile devices are commonplace, apps are the perfect medium to facilitate protection. bSafe is a personal favorite, as it allows you to link loved ones back home with your convention party (if applicable) in one site of communication. From there, your “safety network” can trace your location in real-time, set timed check-ins and receive an immediate emergency alert if you press the SOS button. It’s free to use and available for both iPhone and Android devices, so what’s not to like?

9. Sewing Kit and/or Fashion Tape

This one is mostly for any potential cosplayers fixing to take their designs on the road. Crap happens and costumes are prone to tearing and breaking at inopportune moments. With a sewing kit or fashion tape in your arsenal, you can pause a photo opportunity and put your repair skills to the test. No sweat. The fruit of your hard work and resolve doesn’t merit a permanent residence in the hotel closet — especially when a simple solution exists for less than $10.

On the other hand, you don’t have to wear a costume to warrant carrying either product. Maybe you’re a compassionate soul looking out for your fellow con-goers or you’re itching to segue into chatting up your favorite cosplayers. The recipients of your thoughtful offer will be grateful regardless. Not all superheroes wear capes, you know.

10. Handheld Gaming System

The standard definition, as well as any mobile device, qualifies for this one. You’ll crave ways to kill time in line on your first day, so come equipped with a favorite game of yours. I’m sure a fair number of other attendees will flock to your side to exchange joint enthusiasm … or maybe they just want to backseat game. The former is great and the latter absolutely sucks, but both will pry your mind away from the slog of moving two inches every five minutes.

Likewise, many con-goers will bring their own games to attain the same goal. This is when the party starts. If someone launches a multiplayer round of “Mario Party,” I mean this quite literally. Loads of multiplayer games will pop up around the entire fan convention and, assuming you listened and brought your system, you can integrate into any seamlessly.

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