(Widge's Note: Just as the summer movie season is started to break down as more and more films get crammed in anywhere they'll fit on the schedule (with most of them showing up on Blu-Ray six weeks later anyway), so the convention season sprawls lazily over the entire year. Hell, in the Atlanta metro area I swear there's an anime con somewhere just about every damn weekend. Thespia is the most prepared executive producer one could ask for. If she doesn't have it, you probably don't need it. She gave some thought to convention preparedness--having been a source of con sanity for myself for years--and here's what she came up with. If you're a seasoned veteran of a thousand psychic wars, there's probably nothing new here--but conventions suck in newcomers all the time. Can you be too prepared? Enjoy.)
Cons can (and should) be a blast, but a lot of things can definitely dampen your mood: a dead cell phone, a torn costume, a bad headache, a lost badge...and the list goes on. Over the years, I've developed my own "preparedness kit" based on some hard-learned lessons. (One of the most important of these is that everything you choose to include has three costs: money, space, and weight.) The following is a list of what I have found to be the most economical in all three areas while still covering the essentials. It may look like a lot on paper, but if you pack it right, it should fit into a small bag (about the size of a lunchbox).
I like both but prefer wipes if possible because they actually wipe away dirt, food grease, sweat, mystery sticky stuff from taxis, etc. If you choose to go this route, you can buy a travel pack of them, but it's likely cheaper to get a regular pack and put some of them in a (well-sealed) Ziploc bag for the con (if you do, though, make sure some of the antibacterial "juice" goes in with them so they don't dry out.) (Amazon link.)
Extra makeup / hair stuff / sewing kit or safety pins:
If you spent six months and hundreds of dollars creating the perfect costume, you want it to look great as long as possible. Remember that once you're in the hustle and bustle of the con, things tend to get ripped and smeared, plus you get sweaty and you'll probably need to eat or drink at some point. Bring just enough supplies to be able to fix stuff so you don't feel bummed if something gets messed up (again, take weight and space into consideration on this one.)
Kleenex / roll of toilet paper:
I prefer toilet paper. You may get some weird looks, but hey, you're at a con and weird stuff is going on everywhere. I like toilet paper because not only is it cheaper and easier to dispense quickly, but also if you visit the restroom at some point and the huge traffic volume from the con has exhausted their toilet paper supplies, you're still set (this has happened to me more than once--I'm sure I'm not the only one).
Wall or portable charger for phone:
You're probably going to use your phone a lot...calling, texting, looking up things on Google to settle arguments, checking e-mail and voicemail, jotting down notes from panels, taking loads of pictures...it's quite a drain on the battery. Having your wall charger is a good idea, but do remember that it's often difficult to find an outlet (when you do find one, I suggest charging even if the battery isn't almost dead--it may be the last one you see until your hotel room). There are also portable phone chargers like this, which can be extremely useful in a pinch (and if you're in a Machiavellian mood can also be "rented" out to others in exchange for food and other supplies, using the barter system that always springs up at cons)... (Amazon link.)
You're probably going to use your phone for writing down almost everything, but there are occasions where having an actual pen can be really handy (making a note on someone's flyer or business card, marking something on a hard copy map the concierge gives you with directions, getting an autograph from your favorite celebrity who just rounded the corner, etc.). In fact, have more than one, since the moment you need one is certainly the moment one decides to give out on you.
Snacks and water:
A deck of cards:
Chances are at some point you'll be waiting in some big line or another. Playing cards not only helps to pass the time, but can also open the possibility of making some new friends (or enemies if you're playing poker). They're also lighter and smaller than your iPad or Kindle, and if you lose them, you probably won't cry.
Not that kind. We're talking the basic stuff you need to keep yourself from hurting / getting sick due to the all the craziness you'll be putting your body through...when you have almost no sleep and you're subsisting on con pizza and hot dogs, things tend to not feel so spiffy after a while.
For headache relief: They sell travel packets of things like Advil and Tylenol, but really you're better off $-wise just grabbing some out of your bottle at home and sticking them in a Ziploc bag.
For stomach relief: I like TUMS Freshers (helps with heartburn and it's a mint as a bonus, but don't chew them or they'll taste like chalk). I also prefer Pepto Bismol tablets over liquid because they're lighter and much smaller--remember, weight and space. (Just throw them in a Ziploc bag with the headache stuff.)
For fatigue: I like FOOSH caffeinated mints from Vroom Foods...there are also generic caffeine tablets you can get at any grocery store (you guessed it, toss a few in the Ziploc). (Amazon link for caffeine.)
Please note the caffeine content of any of these options and use them accordingly...concentrated caffeine is our friend, but you do want to use it safely and wisely.
For immune support: Because inevitably, you're going to come in contact with someone carrying this year's Con Crud. I like Airborne (which you can get at most grocery and drug stores)...it comes in tablet form (chewable and effervescent) and gummies! (Amazon link.)
Not a whole box, just a few. If you get a cut or scrape, you don't want to worry about bleeding on your costume, nor do you want to be the person walking around with toilet paper wrapped around their finger. Band-aids are also great if your costume is causing any blisters after the first day or two. Even if there's a gift shop or something in the hotel where you can buy some, they'll be overpriced (and you don't want to have to take time away from your con experience to go hunt them down), so just throw a few in your bag and call it good. (Amazon link for Muppet band-aids. Because Muppets.)
A lot of vendors and food places take cards, but it's always good to be covered in case you're in a situation where someone doesn't (some vendors even give a discount if you pay with cash because that means they don't have to pay a card processing fee). It's also useful if you're ever at a restaurant table where there are fifteen people and the waiter says they can't split checks...you do NOT want to be the person who says "Hey, we can just put it on my card and everyone can give me cash for their portion." Trust me, it's a mess, and often you get stuck with more of the bill than you'd planned. All that being said, don't keep more cash on you than you can afford to lose, because that really, really sucks.
Badge holder / lanyard:
Every con is different when it comes to badges (some have lanyards, some have pins, some have rings, etc). Regardless, you want to make sure that you either have a lanyard or that you safety pin the heck out of that sucker. Most cons will charge you a fee to replace a lost badge, plus you have to spend precious con time to go through the hassle of getting a new one issued.
And last but not least, one of my favorite travel tips for cons:
If you're staying in a hotel with a microwave, consider packing a disposable Gladware container or two (available at most grocery stores and also available on Amazon. Why, you ask? Even if you were smart and brought snacks, you'll probably be eating out a fair amount, which will likely produce some leftovers (packed in a Styrofoam take-away box) that you bring back to the hotel and store in the mini-fridge. Not only will transferring the leftovers to the Gladware keep them good for longer, but you also have the option of microwaving your food later without melting Styrofoam all over it. (If you're low on suitcase space, just pack your (clean) socks inside the Gladware on the way down and throw it away before the trip home.)
If you choose to create your own kit (which I definitely suggest), it will of course be different according to your needs and situation, but my hope is that this basic list will help you have less stress, more energy, and more fun in general. Enjoy building your own kit and have a great time at your next con!
And if you have any tried and true tips for con preparedness, throw them in the comments for the good of all mankind.