Last year I wrote up a list of helpful tips on how to survive Comic-Con. With a few tweaks, I have updated my list of survival tips on how to plan for and survive Comic-Con, the annual sci-fi/fantasy convention in San Diego.
This year, Comic-Con takes place over a five-day period: Wednesday, July 21st through Sunday, July 25th – that is if you managed to buy a 4-day pass, which includes Preview Night.
Held once again at the massive San Diego Convention Center, which is located right next to the glorious San Diego Harbor, the convention center spans nearly 3 football fields in length and offers up a treasure trove of activities, all of which must be carefully and meticulously planned.
First, by now, any attendee should have purchased either the 4-day pass or their single-day tickets. If you were thinking you could still get tickets to attend Comic-Con, you are out of luck as this year’s convention sold out in early November – well over 8 months before the event. Organizers will place some returned badges up for auction on eBay over the next few weeks, but they go quickly, so keep an eye out! (If you missed out this year, I recommend that you get your tickets when they first go on sale – which should be in mid-September – so you do not find yourself in the same predicament for Comic-Con 2011.)
Second, by now you should have your hotel reservation. There are still a few hotel rooms available, but those are at hotels over 5 miles from the convention center and may not be on the free shuttle routes. Thus, if you have your tickets (aka: day passes) and still need to secure lodging, do so immediately and be prepared to get up early so that you can drive to the convention center or one of the nearby parking lots so you do not get stuck in the daily gridlock which begins at 8:00 a.m. each day. (Go to the Comic-Con website and click on the “Hotel” link to make reservations.)
So, if you have tickets and accommodations, then it is only a matter of counting down the days to Comic-Con — and with that thought in mind, the following is a list of tips on how to prepare for such a monumental event:
TRAVEL TIME TO SAN DIEGO
Whether by plane, train or automobile, be sure to give yourself plenty of travel time to travel to San Diego. With well over 125,000 people making the annual trek each day, you are sure to run into a few en route — and you will need to be prepared for the unexpected. Having encountered everything from a train fatality, traffic accidents and fog delays at airports, I can testify that you need to budget into your travel schedule extra travel time so that you do not miss the one panel or event that you are dying to see.
GETTING TO CONVENTION CENTER
The same is true of each day you plan to attend the convention. You must allow for extra time to arrive at the convention center because even taking the free shuttles, taxis and trains is not a guarantee that you will not hit traffic and get stuck anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours just trying to traverse the final 5-6 blocks to the convention center. If you are staying at a hotel within walking distance, walking is highly recommended in order to avoid the grid-lock – so pack your comfy walking shoes!
CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES
Speaking of shoes and other apparel, what one wears can be vitally important. Given the amount of walking (whether to and from the convention center, or just within the convention center itself), wearing your comfortable tennis shoes or walking shoes is a must. This is not a time to be concerned about vanity. Along the same lines, temperatures can vary widely both inside and outside the convention center. It is recommended that you dress in layers to accommodate the extreme weather fluctuations as you can be hit by a sudden summer rain drizzle, pea-soup fog, or even arctic air-conditioning inside the convention center — or even worse yet, it could be clear, sunny and 105 degrees outside and you forgot a hat and sunscreen — and within 5 minutes you will find yourself with a lobster-red sunburn and on the verge of heat-stroke. So make sure to think about your wardrobe and what you plan to wear carefully. Also, it may seem silly to grab a light jacket each day before heading to the ‘con, but if you have ever been stuck in Hall H or any of the ballrooms for over 3-4 hours at a stretch, you know how insanely cold those rooms can get. So tennis shoes, light jacket, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and other appropriate clothing are strongly suggested.
CARRYING BAG & ESSENTIALS
Another key essential is a large carrying bag. Each day you will not only need the appropriate clothing and weather accessories, but you will also need a few survival essentials, such as: bottled water, snacks, cell phone, camera, extra camera batteries/memory cards, and medical aids (see our list below). Also in this bag will go the necessary maps and paperwork to navigate through the crowds to find the panels or vendor booths that you are seeking and any goodies that you find in the convention hall. (Cautionary note: do not succumb to the lure of picking up every “freebie” you can get your hands on as it will only weigh you down and will make it hard to find the items in your bag that you really need in a pinch – you will want to keep your camera ready at all times as you never know who you might run across.)
Besides being aware of crowds, traffic, time-delays, unpredictable weather and temperatures, the most important thing to keep in mind is strategic scheduling. Comic-Con offers over 300 different panels and activities over the five days and it can be both hair-raising and mind-boggling to figure out how to navigate it all. So, when the final Comic-Con schedule gets posted online sometime after the 4th of July, you will want to print-out each day and then start highlighting everything you are interested in attending or checking-out. Then you will have to distill down into a cheat sheet the panels you want to attend. It is only once you have compiled a cheat sheet that you will begin to see if there are any time conflicts or over-lapping panels. There is a fine art to creating a cheat sheet into a manageable timeline of activities. I do not recommend that you automatically cross-off or remove any conflicting panels, as it is always a good idea to have a back-up plan in case one or more of the panels you had planned to attend ends up being booked to capacity and you cannot get into the room and/or panel. So it is wise to have an A-Plan, a B-Plan and even a C-Plan so that you do not freak-out if a panel or guest gets canceled, or 10,000 people show up for a 1,000 seat room and you are stuck outside praying someone will leave so you can get in the room of your choice. I also suggest that you allow extra time between panels so that you can navigate through the crowds from one panel to another and have time to (a) grab food, (b) use the restroom, or (c) wait in line to get in the room and find seats. If you do not allow built-in time in your schedule, you will be very agitated and frustrated to find that you are missing out on something you were dying to see. Time management is absolutely essential. So develop a flexible plan and keep an eye on it. Better yet, keep a printed copy of your cheat sheet (aka: itinerary) with you at all times.
Last, but not least, be sure to plan your budget accordingly regarding the costs of attending Comic-Con. Frequently and unexpectedly, it costs more than you might anticipate. It is a good idea to budget an extra $100-$200 for unanticipated costs, such as: parking fees, cab fare, munchies, memorabilia or other odds and ends.
With less than 4 weeks to Comic-Con, now is the time to really think about what you may need to bring with you. There are always some oddities that are hard to remember so I thought I would share a few things that I find essential:
- back-up battery for cellphone (texting and Twittering deplete batteries sooner)
- back-up camera batteries
- extra camera memory cards (you will take an average of 300 pictures per panel)
- cellphone/blue tooth rechargers
- camera battery rechargers
- power cords or wall plugs (so that you can recharge all your batteries each night)
- back-up laptop computer battery (if you are bringing your laptop)
- plastic baggies for carrying snacks/water bottles
- band-aids, extra socks
- Advil, Tylenol, stomach antacids, allergy medication
- sheet protectors (if you buy 8×10 pictures or get autographs)
- cash (in small bills – $1’s, $5’s, and $10’s – at least $100 in small bills)
- earplugs/eye cover (Comic-Con hotels tend to be noisy)
- lightweight jacket (the panel rooms are FREEZING)
- snacks (trail-mix, crackers, fruit bars, candy, gum)/papertowels/napkins
- shoulder bag big enough to carry everything you’ll need each day
- list of cellphone #’s of everyone you’ll be trying to meet up with
Those are the oddities. Of course, there are the golden rule items like TENNIS SHOES. Do not even think about wearing cute shoes – you will regret it. You are going to be on your feet standing in long lines, walking long distances rapidly, and in extremely crowded areas where you’ll get stepped on.
Same goes with cute, small purses — skip those too. You are going to need a bigger shoulder bag to hold everything, preferably one that zips so that someone does not steal your camera/wallet, etc. Plus, you will be carrying food items and speaking from experience, even a plastic bag does stop all food/water from spilling if you’re getting jostled in a crowd or someone kicks your purse/bag.
Snacks are really important each day as the food vendor lines are frequently 200 people long and you don’t have time to wait in those lines. You only have 15 minutes between panels and it will take you that long to run to the room you want to get it and find a seat. And if you’re packing snacks, bring plastic baggies for trash, loose food items, need handiwipes and napkins so that your fingers are not too sticky to use your camera.
So print this list and use it as a guide as you pack for Comic-Con. If you need to order back-up cellphone/camera batteries, etc., do it now. It can take 12-14 days for shipping.
With these few tips, I hope that you will feel a bit more enlightened and prepared for how to approach Comic-Con and not be caught off-guard by the time constraints, weather, and other unpleasant surprises. Comic-Con can be a glorious, heady time of non-stop fun events with a little forethought — then you can sit back and enjoy the ride!