Conquering Cons: Survival Mode

I just got back from PAX East 2013, and boy are my arms tired – but that’s only because every bit of me is tired.  This is the year I’ll be turning 30, and somewhat fittingly, it’s a year in which I’ve made a few realizations about what I can and can’t do anymore.  I know I sounded like Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon this weekend, wandering around saying “I’m getting too old for this!”

Now, does that mean I’m too old for cons in general?  Absolutely not, as evidenced by the hordes of people I saw this weekend who were older, more energetic, and sometimes even managing equally exuberant children.  But it does mean I’m getting too old to do cons the way I do them, with very little planning and no recuperation time.  If I’m not prepared or on the right sleep schedule, even watching a midnight movie can knock me out nowadays, so I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise.

The tips I’m going to share are super basic, and yet I managed to forget almost every one of them this time around.  Again, maybe this shouldn’t surprise me – I’m the girl who never wore sunscreen growing up in Florida, and who managed to pack several contingency outfits for the weather this weekend and forgot to pack a hairbrush.  So perhaps those tips that “go without saying” need to be said, occasionally, for some of us, just as a reminder.

Travel will knock you out, even if you’re sitting most of the time

The big issue this year was travel and recuperation time.  I thought I could zip in Friday morning, zip out Sunday afternoon, and be good to go on Monday morning. That pretty much didn’t happen all the way around.  I was exhausted most of the weekend, and by Monday I was practically useless.  My night owl nature meant that even when I finally made it back to the hotel, I couldn’t fall asleep for a few hours, and getting up the next morning was all the more difficult.  On Sunday I literally slept through an alarm.

And then there’s the other problem with such a tight travel schedule: stuff happens that will throw a wrench in the works.  On Sunday, an issue with travel meant that I didn’t get home until about three in the morning.  Next time, I’ll try to arrive at least the day before so I have time to lay around, and plan to take the following Monday off altogether.

When it comes to food, have a plan

Convention food is pretty universally not worth the prices they charge.  Sure, it’s a necessity and you just want a hot meal every now and then, but carrying snacks on your person can save you from desperate decisions (and help out friends who are crashing from all that free Five-Hour Energy).  One year I made a batch of cookies and banana bread to share with my friends.  I didn’t do that this year, and I felt the difference.

You might think that one night you’ll have dinner off-property, at one of the restaurants within walking distance.  Guess what?  Everyone else had that idea, and now every place is jam-packed.  Do your research and find a place that’s some distance away – maybe even make a reservation.  Even if you have to pay for a cab, chances are you’ll be happier in the long run.

It doesn’t hurt to think of it as a marathon

This is actually the one area in which I’ve improved!  After I spent year’s PAX miserable due to seasonal allergies, dehydration and general out-of-shapeness, I vowed that this year my health would be better.  Now I exercise multiple times a week, and for the last several months I’ve actually remembered to take vitamins every day.  I can’t control seasonal allergies, so I was a bit stuffy, plus I was exhausted – but physically, I actually held up better than previous years.

I also washed my hands and hit up the Purell when I could, and of course I’ve had my flu shot.  Conventions are always known to be a hotbed of germs, and at PAX you’re handling game pieces and gripping controllers (by the way, the console room was constantly disinfecting things – good job, people!).  It might be too soon to tell, but thus far I appear to have avoided any con crud.

When packing, hygiene is first on the list

Once again: I didn’t forget my eyeliner.  I did forget a hairbrush.  Luckily, I have a pixie cut and somewhat curly/wavy hair, so just combing it with my fingers while it was wet managed to make it look semi-decent, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that it was a ridiculous oversight.  Next time, I’m going to have a “dummy” list of the sort of stuff you really don’t want to leave behind, like a toothbrush, deodorant and, yes, a hairbrush, and I’ll pack that stuff first.  The brush got left behind because I still, yknow, needed to use it before I left for PAX – so next time that stuff will be literal duplicates, thus avoiding this issue in the future.

Dress in layers

This is another matter in which I didn’t do too badly.  Not only was Boston a bit frosty for late March – there was snow just days before – but the interior of the convention center fluctuated over the weekend.  Friday I was a bit uncomfortably warm in my sweater and jacket; Saturday I was almost a bit chilly in a similar outfit.  However, by holding on to the jacket (not checking it) and keeping a hat, scarf and gloves in my bag, all climates were doable, even walking around outside at night.  For cons in warmer locales (like Florida) you still have to deal with capricious air conditioning, so I’d probably go with something like a tanktop and a hoodie.  And never forget the comfortable footwear!  That’s key, especially for something massive like PAX.

So there you have it – the most basic tips for surviving a con.  And trust me, even if you feel you’re at a “higher level,” forget one of these and you’re kicking yourself for the rest of the weekend.  I know I’ll be bookmarking my own post for my next con, just to make sure I don’t repeat my mistakes.

What about you?  What are your favorite basic tips for cons?  Did you check out any of the cons that have already taken place, like PAX East or MegaCon?  Are there any you’re looking forward to?  Share your thoughts below!


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