Beginner’s Guide to Fan Expo

Steve and I (Tara) attended our first Fan Expo this year! It was their 20th anniversary and they had a fantastic lineup! It was also our first convention not in our home province. I have to admit, the size of Fan Expo was a bit of a shock. The convention space took up multiple floors in two buildings and approximately 120,000 people came through over the course of 4 days with the largest attendance being on Saturday.


I said multiple times that I don’t know how people come to these cons and expect to do anything, because even with a full schedule provided before the convention started, and with a lot of stuff on our want to do list, we ran into opportunity paralysis as soon as we walked in the door.


There were MtG events every hour (drafts and pre-constructed); open gaming; video game events; panels on all the things (Lolita, steampunk, horror films, cosplay); signings; Q&A’s and special ticketed events. Every fandom was well represented.


The entire event was mind blowing to the nth degree. There was even a tattoo artist on site who would ink your favorite celebrities signature on you after you got their autograph. Made me wish I already had a Freddy tattoo but, c’est la vie, eh?


Can’t even imagine what San Diego Comic Con would be like (and it’s a few years away for us yet!)


So, in the interest of encouraging everyone to attend an awesome gathering of geeks (be it Fan Expo or other), I hope some notes from a convention newb might help someone out there navigate the awesome world of conventions.


1. Drink lots of water. Yes, they sell water on site and there are vending machines. But if you bring your own you will save yourself the money- they are happy to charge you $3 or more for a water at the food vendors. You will also save yourself the disappointment you feel when you press “vend” on the vending machine and it says out of stock. Yup. We brought a 1L bottle and refilled.


2. Invest in a good pair of shoes. You will spend a lot of time walking. Lots. More importantly you will stand. And if you’re like us, you won’t take the time to sit your butt on a bench to rest cause there is way too much to do to sit down! Your feet will thank you for good shoes.


3. You are allowed to bring in food. And I suggest you take advantage of this, at least a little bit (see my point about water). Bring some snack food. You’ll be waiting in line a lot and wanting to cram in as much as possible and who wants to make time for a meal when you’re waiting to meet your favorite celeb, am I right? I picked up a small bag of dried apricots and a bag of trail mix, but to each his own.


4. Normally, I carry a cross body messenger type bag. And on a normal day it’s not light, but at a con, it was downright heavy. On day one and two, I saw a lot of backpacks, so on day three I borrowed a backpack from my cousin who we were staying with. What a difference! No back pain, no shoulder pain. My only issue is that my back was sweating a bit more than before, but it was worth the trade off.


5. They have a fantastic place at Fan Expo (and a lot of cons) called Artist’s Alley. It is a magical place where I could spend all my time and all my money. I wanted art from fandoms I don’t even exist in. And I googled a lot before we left and found out that people actually bring binders to hold their art in so it doesn’t get destroyed! Smart people! And it works! Except for when you buy odd shaped art. So, when packing things to protect your art, don’t forget about the 11×17’s, or the big pieces you’ll bring home. Luckily, we were able to get gouged on a couple of toploaders for the 11×17’s, but I’m pretty sure that was luck.


6. I don’t want to come down on anyone, cause there are a ton of people who do cons on their own, but I would certainly encourage you to take at least one friend. Why? They can hold your place in line when you need to pee. They can wait in absurdly long lines with you and tell stupid jokes. They can share your memories so everything is not suddenly a “you had to be there moment” where you were the only one there. Also, being there with Steve made the crowd seem much less crowdy sometimes.


7. Learn to love lines. This pretty much dominate the con. Food, celebs, signings, vendors. Lines. They’re a great place to meet new people- cause if you’re in a line for something with other people, odds are you have in common whatever you’re waiting for. Awesome way to break the ice!


8. I discovered that Fan Expo is a great place to take pictures. My phone does not agree. The battery life on a phone after taking many pics is not fantastic, and even my actual camera put up a fuss. My solution was to carry extra batteries. There are charging stations around (maybe), but it’s just another line you may have to wait in and then you have to wait for the charging thing to happen.


9. When they say Saturdays are busy- if you’ve never been, you can’t even imagine. My plan for future cons of this size is to minimize my Saturday schedule or avoid it and do actual touristy stuff or do something to chill cause there is no room to move at the con anyway.


11. When Steve and I were getting ready to go, we were initially only going to bring a duffle bag. We would have been wrong. We neglected the fact that there would be vendors and art to pack. So, bring at least one extra bag to bring home your loot.


12. In the interest of our budget, we decided not to stay in a hotel. We stayed with my cousin who lived about a half hour away on the Go Train from the convention center. We also ran into a friend who had rented a condo for the week for less than the hotel would have cost! My point? Don’t settle for what the convention offers for discounts on hotels- check around and save your $$.


13. Be nice to the volunteers. I don’t think I can stress this enough. If you think you’re tired at the end of the con, think about these people who have worked so hard to set it up, tear it down, act as gophers to your favorite celebs and make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible. Say thank you, smile, be kind.


14. If you can, order tickets in advance for everything- photo ops, any ticketed panels, etc. It may not help with lines, but it will take a load off. You won’t have to worry about sell outs or prices being different on site or having to hunt down a ticket booth.


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