Ah conventions! Mecca for nerds and geeks everywhere. They come in many sizes and many flavors. No two conventions are alike. Indeed this goes even for the same convention from year to year. There is one thing they all have in common: the cost!
Now I attend several conventions or music festivals every year. The thing about going to conventions is that they can get pretty expensive unless they happen to be in your home town. That means travel and hotel costs for the rest of us. It also means figuring out the logistics of living with often thousands of other people for the weekend.
This article goes over some of the things you can do to help you budget for costs as well as some dos and don’ts of conventioning.
Travel is the first thing you have to consider when attending an event. How are you going to get there? For people on a budget driving often seems to be the obvious choice. You can car pool and take turns driving on long trips. But don’t overlook flying as an option.
First thing to consider is your time. Do you have the extra time off to drive two days across the country and then two days back? And marathon driving sessions wipe you out mentally and physically so you often end up being too tired to enjoy your first day of con.
Personally flying would be my choice to get from, for example, the California Bay Area to Seattle Washington. I would end up spending a total of 3.5 hours traveling, including time to and from the airport, verses a 12.5 hour car ride. Don’t forget to factor in the extra time for meals and rest stops or getting through airport security.
Also when you fly you have to decide how you are going to get around once you get there. Taxi’s from the airport are often expensive. Many hotels offers shuttle services that are cheaper, but if there is more than one or two of you, splitting a cab fare may be more cost effective. In larger cities light rail or bus may be the cheapest route to go. If your hotel is not within walking distance to the convention center you will also want to check your options.
That being said I drive to most conventions because they are less than 3 hours by car away from me. That means budgeting for gas, tolls, and parking.
Once you have picked your travel method you now have to decide what to bring with you. Flying has its own set of packing options. First thing to figure out is whether or not you are going to check a bag. Most airlines charge extra both ways for checked luggage. But you can learn to pack pretty light and only bring a carry on bag. And no don’t try to sneak three carry on bags on to the plane.
One normally sized carry on can hold enough clothes for one person for five days no problem. This include a pair of pants, a couple long sleeved shirts, five t-shirts, five pairs of socks, five pair of underwear, sleep wear, plus a couple dressier shirts for going out to dinner. If it is warmer weather then I through in couple pair of shorts. I often still have room for a sweatshirt as well.
Along with the the carry on you are allowed a laptop bag, messenger bar, or a purse. This has to be able to fit under the seats so it should be small. This bag is where I keep all my electronics, medicines, books, and a spare change of clothes; socks, underwear, and a t-shirt.
Finally, wear comfortable shoes, pants, shirt, and a jacket if it is cold or rainy. That way you have two pair of pants with you on the trip. If your pants get dirty you can swap them and wash them in the hotel sink. They make mini laundry soap packets that you can throw in with your toiletries.
Speaking of toiletries, I have saved that for last. You have a few options while flying. You can buy travel sized versions that meet the TSA rules, buy travel sized containers and fill them yourself, or just wait till you get there and buy what you need. The last option is nice since you don’t have to pull out you toiletries at the airport, but is a bit wasteful as you will have to ditch everything on the return trip.
One last packing issue when you fly, buying things! Some items will fit in to your carry on bags no problem. But what if you buy that big figure or poster? That’s where shipping services come in. If you find something that won’t fit into your suitcase or you just buy to many things, find your nearest shipping store and mail it home. And remember to factor in the cost of shipping when you are shopping.
I did not bring up the challenges of transporting costumes and the assorted bits that go with them. They often require a lot of space. And if your are flying, transporting prop weapons on a plane is a pain if not impossible. The easy route is to mail those bits to the hotel. Just call them ahead of time and make arrangements. Then mail the bits back home on your last day.
Car travel does have the advantage here. You can bring a larger suit case and don’t have to worry about how to pack toiletries. Also you can shop without worrying if you will have enough room for it all. And your cosplay won’t be an issue! The one caveat is that you have to make sure everyone has enough room for their stuff if you are car pooling.