I have been attending anime conventions since the last millennium (1990's), and I have been attending other conventions such as Comic Book and Gaming Conventions since the 1980's. Between all of the staff at Dragon's Anime combined we have at least a century's worth of experience, and we are still learning. My first Anime Expo was 2000...Ya, the Disneyland Convention.
First off, before attending any convention, as the Boy Scout motto goes – “be prepared”! Spend some time to do research and prepare for your convention.
Research the convention itself, download a schedule, and get maps. Jump on the internet, research the area around the convention, find out where the hotels, stores, medical centers, and so on are at.
If you take medicine for an illness or disorder, such as Diabetes, make sure you pack and bring your meds. In fact bring three times the meds you need. Put each set of meds in a separate container (if you don't already), and pack them in separate bags. Losing your medication can effectively end your convention...among other things.
While we are on the subject of medication, let's talk about putting together a Convention First Aid kit. By first aid I'm talking about a first aid kit for the common injuries or illnesses one may expect to experience at a convention. Most of the common maladies that ail con goers are headaches, sunburn, blisters of the feet, sore muscles, indigestion, diarrhea, allergies and nasal congestion.
Besides bandages for common boo-boos, you may want to consider bringing items like mole skin and foot powder for blisters, your usual pain relievers, anti diarrhea medication, antacids, nasal decongestants, cough medication, sunblock, and so forth.
Speaking of injuries, do not change your exercise regiment right before a convention! Actually, you should probably take it easy right before a con. The last thing you want is stress fractures, shin splints, and/or blisters on your feet, when you attend a convention. Been there, done that; it's not fun. Even something as simple as blisters on your feet can make your con experience suck.
Another tip to save your feet: New Shoes...Don't Do It. You may be tempted to buy new shoes for a convention; again, don't. Shoes have a break in period, and most people are far less active in their daily life then they are at a con. Wearing new shoes to a convention that have not been properly broken in can lead to blisters and other foot, leg, and even back problems. If you want new shoes for a convention get them no less than two weeks before a convention and wear them a lot. Better yet, make it a month; that way you know for sure your shoes are broken in and fit comfortably before the convention. If you have two pairs of broken in shoes that fit comfortably bring them both. At a summer con, for example, I would bring a pair of sandals to compliment my walking shoes in case something goes wrong with my shoes or feet.
Now that I mention it, if you have critical gear and/or items you can't live without, you may want to bring a spare. One example of this is a belt. I'm a big guy and I like to wear my pants a little loose. However, I don't want to look like a thug with a belt-line down to my knees. I also don't want to moon a bunch of cos-players; therefore, I wear a belt. I know the idea of a belt may be alien to some of you, but just go with me on this. I had one break in the middle of Fanimecon a few years back. No store around the convention center sold belts. I got lucky and Improvised by using a bungee cord in place of a belt and it managed to keep my plumber's crack down to a minimum. Since then, I make it a point to bring two belts with me.
Since I'm writing about things you can't live without, let's talk about your wallet. More specifically, your money. Secure it, and protect it! Speaking from experience, nothing can end your con like getting your wallet stolen or lost. Make sure your wallet is secure! Use a chain if you have to. Do not keep all your cash and cards on you. I break my cash up. I have a trusted friend hold on to half my cash, and I split my remaining cash in half again. I keep a quarter of my money, the credit cards I don't plan on using, and an extra ID card in a secure place like my hotel room vault. The rest I carry on me in my wallet. If you lose your wallet, you generally end up losing your money, your atm and credit cards, as well as all your identification. This, of course, means you can't even go to your bank and draw out cash because you have no identification. Another thing you can do to protect your money is convert a lot of your cash to travelers checks. However, the use of travelers checks has been declining since the 1990's.
Every con guide will tell you the same thing: Take Showers. Really, this isn't a joke. Take a shower or bath at least every other day of a convention! Outside the obvious removal of body funk, showers do something far more important for you … they knock a lot of surface germs off your body. Taking showers reduces your chance of getting a communicable disease like Con Plague. Con plague is basically a cold or flu bug that travels from convention to convention. An example of this is in 2010 several people came down with a nasty cold or flu bug at ACEN, an anime convention in Illinois. Some of the sick went on to attend Fanime in San Jose California a few weeks later spreading the bug from the mid west to the west coast. Others managed to take the bug on to Anime Expo in Los Angeles a month later. Con Plague is real, and Is a problem. Taking showers reduces your risk of acquiring con plague. You should also wash your hands every chance you get and may even want to consider bringing along a small bottle of hand sanitizer. You may also want to make sure you get an annual flu shot if you plan on attending large conventions.
Stay hydrated even if it's cold. More often than not, one of the biggest sources of injury at a convention is dehydration. I've seen people pass out in winter due to dehydration. Drink lots of fluids. Chances are that a convention will make you more active then you usually are through most of the year. Make sure you bring water with you, and make sure you always have away to carry water on you. Which brings me to the next part....
Always make sure you have something to store your crap on your person that's easy to carry. At minimum you should have an ass/butt pack or more preferably a small back pack. Make sure you have a way to keep a refillable water container on you at all times. Even if you have bring along an old canteen, it is really important you stay hydrated at a convention; especially during summer when most conventions take place.
While fees and costs play more into the budget side of a convention, you should still be mindful of hidden fees. Almost every convention has hidden fees...like parking. In the past I have gone to hotels and been slapped with a $25 per night per vehicle fee. It's not fun, so be mindful of hidden fees. So keep that in mind: most hotels and convention centers have a separate fee for parking. Some conventions require paid ticketing for major events like your classic masquerade show; also most concerts. Anime Expo is a perfect an example of this, as most of their major events are pre paid ticketed events that cost an additional fee beyond your badge to attend.
Another important con survival tip is: Know Your Rights, You should know your constitutional rights anyway, but when you attend a convection you will probably have to deal with rovers, con staff, hotel staff, security and/or law enforcement during a convention. Some of these people are complete idiots and/or are out to screw you, so Know Your Rights! Also, try to know something about the law.
At Anime Expo 2004, in Anaheim California, I watched a hotel security guard confiscate a con attendee's recently purchased functional katana. The attendee was taking from the dealer's hall to the trunk of their vehicle. While it is generally illegal go walking around with a functional sword, the law makes provisions for purchasing and transporting such items from the point of purchase to your home. The security officer who has no more power than you do on your own property, had no legal basis for illegally seizing the attendees property. Not only did he not have any legal basis but it is generally unlawful to seize someone's property without probable cause and due process of law. We call it theft or robbery. A real law enforcement officer could not have legally taken the attendees property either, unless the attendee was breaking the law; in which case the law enforcement officer would have had to at least cite and release the attendee to seize the katana. The katana, at this point, would have been seized and held as evidence or contraband pending a hearing. In this attendee's case, he probably would have been better off if he forced the security guard to place him under citizen's arrest and/or called the cops. The attendee would the have a hell of a civil case if he wanted to sue the hotel and/or security agency. The guard would have probably lost his job, at the very least. The attendee would still have his katana. Instead, it is probably hanging on the wall of the security officer's bedroom..which is also his parent's garage or basement. Again, Know Your Rights. No one has the right to take your belongings from you without due process of law. Not your legally purchased katana, not your camera, not your medical marijuana, and, in many cases, not even your con badge. An attempt to forcibly remove items from you may well be an act of assault, battery, theft, and/or robbery under the color of authority. Be mindful; however, as laws change from state to state and even from city to city.
Lastly, for the casual con attendee, I have to strongly recommend that you not only go to a con as a group with friends you trust, but you use the buddy system at a convention. Especially when traveling off site, like from the convention to your hotel room, or parking, and so forth. If you are female, you probably want to have someone you trust watch your food and drinks as well. Actually, this is true for everyone, and not just females, but women should probably take extra precautions. While crimes against con attendees are rare, they do happen. There is nothing fun about being a victim of a crime. Attending a con as group also plays into your con budget; which I will touch on later.
A special note to Cosplayers – Be aware of a convention's costume and prop policies. Even then, expect that they can change on the fly. Always have a backup plan. There is a chance that a part of your Cosplay or Prop will be against the rules or will become against the rules after the fact. I have only cosplayed a couple of times and now I simply do not Cosplay due to a bad experience with Fanime 2011. Hell I don't even celebrate Halloween one of my favorite holidays. My “outfit”, as it really didn't qualify as “Cosplay”, at Fanime 2011 was completely legal, there was nothing in the rules posted on the website that prohibited my outfit. It was legal for me to wear it, I could walk into a police station, post office, school, or court house, wearing it and there would be nothing any one could say or do about it. My outfit was little more than the old Military BDU style uniform in the newer Digital universal Camouflage pattern used in the modern ACU style uniform, No military in the world uses a BDU uniform in the digital ACU universal camouflage pattern. There was nothing on my outfit that showed any affiliation with any military force in the world. Not a US ARMY tape, no Division patches...nothing. However, the leadership of Fanime, in its infinite wisdom, decided that outfits that looked like modern military and police style uniforms would be prohibited. What they didn't do was update the webpage. However, that didn't stop them from laying some smack down on me for my outfit. Even after they discovered their mistake (and wasted half a day apologizing to me) they refused to rescind the rule, and even then didn't enforce it equally. Eventually, after the rule was modified and mostly dropped, I was asked not to wear my outfit. However, I think it was personal at that point. The big joke here is I'm a U.S. army combat veteran and this was Memorial Day. Now, I don't Cosplay. This is how Fanime got dropped as my favorite anime convention. Again, be prepared, have a back up plan, adapt, and overcome as things can and will, occasionally, change.
Now on to the budget side of this article....
For several years I have been trying to keep my con expenses down to a> minimum as I have a house, wife, and kids. Doing press coverage of anime and comic book conventions doesn't really pay the bills. The trick here was to consistently be able to attend a convention that is no more than a day's drive away for under three-hundred bucks. First off, if you fly to a convention you're probably going to pay nearly three-hundred bucks on your traveling expense alone, so this is more for a convention within a day's drive. Secondly, if you attend a convention alone, you probably can't do it for under three-hundred bucks UNLESS it's really close and you have a really cheap place to stay near the convention center. This projected budget also doesn't include optional expenses like souvenirs or shopping in the dealer's hall. Honestly, unless it's a hard to find item, you're probably better off looking on the internet.
That all being said, there are three major expenses you have to deal with when attending the convention (which doesn't include the conventions admission charge as your badge is probably going to be the cheapest con expense you will have to pay for). These three expenses are: Your travel cost to get to and from the convention, your housing, and your food cost while you attend the convention. While these are the major costs, they are also the most controllable, and thus you want to keep as low as you can to keep your overall attendance cost to a minimum.
As stated previously, when it comes to traveling expenses, closer is better. It also helps to go as a group and split the transportation costs. As a group, you need to balance storage and passenger capacity against fuel economy. Fanime, for example, is about eighty-eight miles from my house and Anime Expo is three-hundred and nine miles, and yet AX typically cost me less than Fanime. Fanime I usually drive to alone or with a single friend in my full sized pickup; I eat the gas cost. AX I normally go with a friend that has a four door Honda civic and one or two others and we wind up splitting the fuel costs. However, the truck allows me to bring more stuff. and can actually fit 6 people as it's a full size quad cab with a tool box. However, the 5.9L V8 gets really poor gas mileage. Group up, Take the most economical vehicle you can fit your group (and their gear) into, and split the cost.
Next on your list is Housing. If you have friends or family close to the convention center, and you can stay with them, I would recommend considering staying with your friend or family for free over the cost of a hotel. If that option is not available to you, then, you'll almost certainly want to try and get the most bang for your housing buck and look for hotels that offer free breakfast, parking, and/or internet. One way to do this is to get on the internet and research hotels that are not officially part of the convention or not on the convention's official housing list. Also keep in mind shuttle services you may or may not get from an off list hotel or inn. Don't be afraid to call and check with the hotels to find out what accommodations and services they have and if there are any hidden fees like parking. Some amenities you may want to look for are a microwave, a fridge, and a coffee maker. This will make bringing and storing your own food easier. However, you may still want to bring an ice chest (if you can) just in case as nearly all hotels have ice machines. As with Travel, you'll want to group up and split the hotel charges. Just be careful about that. Some hotels charge you more for a room based on the number of people staying in the room, and most rooms have a max capacity of 4 occupants. So if you over stuff your hotel room be leery of the staff as the hotel could use it as an excuse to charge you more or even toss you out.
Lastly are food expenses; the item you have the most control over. If possible bring your own food and snacks. If you can't bring your own, then find a grocery store close to the convention center or your hotel and buy food there. Point is, the more you “Go out” to eat, the more expensive your food costs will be. Try to limit yourself to no more than one social meal per day at a restaurant which includes roach coaches and taco trucks. However, as a word of warning, avoid the hell out of convention center food. You may well end up spending your con playing the game of thrones … with a porcelain throne! Some items you may want to consider buying are bottled water (it's fairly cheap in a 24 or larger pack at most stores), Milk, Cold Cereal, Lunch Meat, bread (the Flat round sandwich thins are awesome for this as they take up little space and keep really well), cheese, condiments, chips, snacks, and anything else that tickles your tummy. Bring your own alcoholic beverages. When you do eat out, drink water. Water is generally free and healthier then soda.
I hit Fanime 2011, 2013, Anime Expo 2011, 2012, 2013 AND Sac Anime Summer 2013 each for under $300 apiece which included my travel, food, and housing expenses. We also start conventions on Day Zero, so in most cases we spend four nights in a hotel at each con.
This concludes the survival and budget guide. Check back periodically as we may well update it even as we have been doing this for some time now. We're always learning something new.