I go to a lot of conventions each year, usually half a dozen between February and late October. Some conventions are an every-year occurrence, some conventions are a “once every two or three year” thing. Over the years, I’ve come up with some guidelines for what needs to get packed and how to avoid the worst of shows. These also apply to anyone doing trade shows other than SF conventions.
The first item is depressingly mundane: Pack a pill bottle with enough of your meds to last through a convention plus two days. Also pack a parallel bottle with cough drops, anti-histimines, anti-heartburn meds and your OTC painkiller of choice. I’ve had too many friends have to make sudden trips to the pharmacy to pick up something for a chronic ailment.
I’ve got a couple of nice badge holders that I’ve used for years; I carry business cards in the back of them, put my badge in the front of them, and they’re usually nicer than what the convention staff is handing out for badges. I’ll also put a sticker over my badge name and write it in something larger. As someone who’s visually impaired, I like large print on badge names. I really don’t want to have to stick my face close enough to smell someone’s armpit to read their badge name.
Next on the list – comfortable footwear. At a convention (at least for me) I’m standing up in a booth and doing sales. Or I’m standing at a demo table demoing miniatures games. I’ve got a pair of comfortable boots, with good aftermarket insoles. They’re a lifesaver, or, at least, a way to avoid sore feet and calves like cordwood after the end of the day.
I also pack two small bottles of hand sanitizer. One goes in my pocket and one gets clipped to my badge holder; the best way to avoid con crud is to use hand sanitizer any time after you’ve shaken someone’s hands. Conventions are basically pre-schools for adults, and you’ll be exposed to everyone else’s flu or cold or whatnot, as they touch their noses, and shake your hand (and vice versa).
I also pack a water bottle (cheaper than buying bottled water, and remaining hydrated is important) and a ziploc baggie of small things I can eat. I usually don’t get the luxury of going to the food court – I’m usually behind a booth table or cleaning up for the next demo.
I also pack a small notebook – I use this to take down people’s contact information, and a short note about why I took it down. After a four day convention, my ability to remember why I took someone’s business card is often minimal – assuming the business card didn’t get dumped into the “I’ll sort it out later…” pile. Theoretically I could do this with a phone app, but I find that the notebook works better for me.
I take a small envelope that lives in my badge holder – any receipts for food or drink or “work related” purchases go into it. This makes post-convention accounting much simpler!
When I go to a convention to do demos, I have a large Pullman suitcase with a demo kit – which is probably more than you need to go to a convention with. It’s got a small laser printer (HP LaserJet 1006), all the cables needed to make it run, a tackle box with box miniatures in it, expanding folders with what I need to set out for each game I plan to run, and a flat long-box with painted minis for full on demos, along with some blank typing paper. For a more typical convention attendee, the usual thing is the rolling cart with game books.
For me, conventions are work as much as they are play. I remember what it was like to go to my first conventions and be wandering around with my jaw hanging open, and I try to make sure that when I see a convention newbie, I try to instill that same feeling for them.
In the “stuff that says in the room,” I always make sure to pack the basic toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, deoderant (get the “athletic variety”), and a bit of Gold Bond Foot Powder to put into my socks. (I’ve done conventions with athlete’s foot plus blisters. I don’t recommend it.)
Some basics behaviors that (in theory) everyone learned when they were ten:
4 hours of sleep, 3 meals per day, 2 passes with deodorant, 1 shower per day. You’re going to be sweating and on your feet; bring a travel size deodorant to touch up. When you get older, you appreciate more time to sleep…
Look, but do not touch, cosplayers. Yes, I know, they look like your favorite anime character and/or they’re pretty. They’re performing, they’re on the ‘job’ and while they enjoy the job, respect personal boundaries.
Always ask before taking a photo. They’ll appreciate being asked.
If you see someone harassing a cosplayer, be firm, be polite, and interpose. At larger cons, the pool of attendees is large enough that you’re guaranteed to run into jackasses. Your mission isn’t to rescue – it’s to make sure the cosplayer has time and space to break off and get to a different part of the convention. This applies to any other attendee, not just cosplayers, but cosplayers tend to attract the worst of it.
If you’d like to talk to a cosplayer, the usual technique that works for me (though I’m fairly outgoing for a geek) is to say “Wow, that’s a great costume. You must have put a lot of work into it. If you’ve got the time, can I ask you some questions about what it’s made of, and how you put it together?”
Don’t try to show that you know more about the character being portrayed than they do. Don’t try to make them “prove their geek cred.” Don’t try to hit on them or flirt with them. Show that you respect the work they put into the outfit. You know, like you’d show respect for the work someone put into painting a really kick-ass set of miniatures.