Whether it’s your first con or your fiftieth, it’s always handy to remind yourself of the bare necessities. Cons are fantastic fun, but they also mean action-packed days of scheduling and running around. It certainly took me a few tries to figure out exactly what I needed to survive a weekend at con.
Now it’s time to pass that knowledge on to you.
Most conventions put up a schedule on their website before the con begins. It’s a good idea to sit down with your family (or your friends) before the con begins and figure out what everyone wants to do. There will no doubt be conflicting interests, and it’s best to work them out before someone throws a tantrum in the middle of the con floor.
Compromise. If your kids want to do one thing and you or your spouse wants something different, try to work out compromises (i.e., if you take the kids to their panel while I go to mine, I’ll give you an hour of free time on the gaming floor).
Make backup plans. Some panels will fill up, and some won’t be what you expected. Have a few different priorities for how to spend your time, and you won’t feel so overwhelmed by all there is to do.
Stick to the plan. Try not to let family members (especially kids) get their hopes way up about a certain activity, only to forgo it because you changed your mind.
Find the kid-friendly stuff. Some conventions have workshops or special panels for kids at certain times. If you manage to hit those, your kids will have a better time and feel more included in the convention atmosphere. It’s true that most con-goers are adults (though teens have a great time). Younger kids will appreciate being given the option to choose activities they’ll enjoy.
Schedule your downtime. This one is super important. No one wants to be on the go all day long. Make sure everyone knows there will be time for wandering, time for sitting, and time for looking at cosplay and exploring the attractions the convention has to offer.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget about this. If you have little kids, you’re probably used to stashing food on your person, but let this stand as a reminder. Do bring snacks to conventions! (If any teens or college-aged people are reading this—I know you forget this stuff, and I’m judging you).
Don’t fall for the assumption that there will be food at the convention. Usually there is—and it’s hideously expensive and unsubstantial, and you’ll wait an hour in line to get it. You’ll thank yourself if you bring something to kill those hunger pangs.
Be ready in the morning. If you’re going to a convention every day, having an easy breakfast can really help. I like to buy a big pack of croissants and some fresh fruit or yogurt to eat on the go before heading out to the convention.
Something sweet, something savory. Good snacks are light and won’t get crushed in a bag. Fruit leathers, nuts, energy bars or granola bars, satsuma oranges—all are great convention foods.
Hydrate! Everyone gets a water bottle! Bring a refillable bottle and keep it handy. When you’re running around all day it’s easy to think that coffee will get you through, but water is where it’s at.
This is where you run the risk of a convention getting pricey. Getting a hotel room can be worth it. I’ve gone in for hotels when I knew I was attending all three or four days of con, or if I was cosplaying and didn’t want to have to drive or take a bus in costume.
There’s nothing quite like staying in a hotel to really get you in the con-going spirit. However, if you have young kids, you should know that con hotels can be kind of noisy. For a lot of people con weekend is a non-stop party, and once the con closes for the night, that party inevitably moves back to the rooms. That being said, I’ve never personally had a bad hotel experience at a con.
If you do go for a hotel, there’s a sweet spot of distance from the convention location. Too far from the convention? You’ll be dreading dragging your kids there and back every day. Too close to the convention, and it will be full of happy (read: loud) con-goers. There’s a happy medium there. Also check with the hotel and see if they have shuttles that run to the convention. You could save yourself a trek if you end up further away.
The most important factor that should go into this decision is convenience. Can you rely on being able to find affordable parking for every day you’re going to con? If you drive or take the bus, will your time spent in transit stress you out or become a burden? Are you spending enough time at con to justify needing to stay close? If you do get a hotel, make sure to book early! Rooms go fast when a convention is in town.
Here’s my number one convention rule: Flat shoes.
And not just any flat shoes. Wear your cushiest sneakers. You won’t regret it. Cosplayers, I know you’re going to ignore this rule and that’s okay (though I advise you to bring a spare pair of shoes anyway). But if you’re attending a convention in street clothes you have no excuse to not wear your comfiest shoes, and loose, comfortable clothes.
Convention centers (and hotels, if that’s where your convention is being held) use a lot of air conditioning. Bring an extra layer in case it gets chilly. Also, please remember deodorant. You’ll be walking around in a public space crammed with people—if you smell, everyone in your vicinity will know it, and you don’t want to be known as a bearer of con-stench.
The second-nicest thing you can do for yourself, after comfy shoes, is to bring a backpack. I’m not talking a giant camping backpack (it’s important to be able to move easily through crowds, and big packs can get in the way), but any kind of medium-sized double-strapped bag that you can wear on your back is a life-saver. Whatever shoulder you usually hang your purse or messenger bag on will thank you.
Backpacks should contain aforementioned food, clothing layers, water, and an extra cloth bag in case you end up with more merch than you can carry at the end of the day. Bring some wet wipes or hand sanitizer too—think of how many thousands of hands are touching everything at a con. On second thought, don’t. Just bring the sanitizer.
It’s a good idea to talk to kids beforehand about what you’re bringing—figure out what they’ll need to sit still and quiet through at least a couple of panels. It’s not a bad idea to bring a handheld gaming device or a book for them. Or consider giving up your phone (on silent of course) if they get bored.
Geeky families all over have found great ways to participate in con culture. There’s a whole Tumblr devoted to kids with awesome cosplay. I’ve seen families dress up together as characters from the same show, and others decorate their kid’s stroller as a certain famous spaceship. Check out our recommendations for geeky family cosplay too!
Most of all, go out there looking to have fun, whether that means cosplaying or just walking around and gawking at geek stuff! Going to a convention is a wonderful way to spend a weekend—and a wonderful way to spend time with your family. So get out there, soldiers! And have fun!