(Updated for 2023)
Being prepared for any broad spectrum / pop culture convention can be easy. With shows taking place anytime and anywhere, I’m sure what I’ve learned over the decades in attending still applies. After checking out many shows ranging from Anime Expo to Emerald City Comicon up and down the West Coast and experimenting, I want to make the most of the show without having a massive backpack on me. Even if I’m just there for two days out of the three (or four as some have expanded to), nobody wants to carry Fort Knox on their back.
Checklists are beautiful but not everyone will make one when considering anything can be found in the exhibit hall. Walking in here is like wandering into a shopping centre. People will find stuff they either want to buy, get autographs from or a photo with. Comic collectors will find those tables seek out those titles to finish their collections with and toy enthusiasts will have a fun time trying to load up on.
No matter what the approach, I find a few key items are a must. The essentials always boil down to a notepad and pen, but in this digital age, everything can be done with a smartphone and the right carry-all accessory. All the items I recommend can be bought on Amazon (highlighted as a link). Perhaps the most important is a passport holder that you can wear around your body/neck. They’re better than the typical badge/lanyard combo, as most brands have room for a pen, tucking business cards into and pocketing your smartphone for quick access.
Further customising my Rothco Classic Messenger Bag helped me big time. This military grade carry-all survived more than a dozen conventions since acquiring it three years ago! I velcroed onto the strap additional straps so I can sling additional items, and added more pockets to separate out my devices further. Like some artists I saw, they had pens along the strap of their art bags, and I thought I’d borrow on that idea.
In the essential congoer’s toolkit, the following items are recommended:
A 2 in 1 USB to Lightning / Android connector (like EasySMX’s) for that favourite power bank (I like Anker’s Astro E1 5200mAh Candy bar-Sized Ultra Compact Portable Charger) to recharge one’s cell phone / phablet / tablet. If that mobile has a removable battery, carrying a spare makes more sense than finding an outlet to charge with. If this cable looks outdated, then I recommend Rolling Square’s InCharge which makes short work of getting your devices powered up no matter what device needs a quick boost.
Note: I find a fully charged mobile has better service than one at half charge, but mileage will vary depending on the cell phone. Having an external antenna may help in problem areas but ultimately the problem lies with which service towers are nearby and the increased number of people trying to access it at the same time.
A stylus / pen combo like WizGear’s, Teviwin® or iDream365 come in handy for those electronic transactions. With some vendors having electronic payment options and don’t often have a soft stylus to use, sometimes it’s better for me to be prepared. I find finger autographs awkward. Before a show, I make sure I have one in both my pant pocket and messenger bag.
An 8.5×11″ art portfolio like Itoya to store sketches or put autographed photos in is important! I’ve seen some con-goers carry either Strathmore Series 400 or Masterclass series sketchbooks to get drawings from their favourite artists. Either type will do since items like comics, cards and cards can be sleeved within the sturdy binding to prevent accidental bends. While HotFlips.com come in handy for those not prepared for what they buy at the show and take home safe, sometimes having the right container at hand before arriving at the con can save some dollars. I find transporting my comics in this is better than lugging a comic book “stor-folio” by BCW (which occupies a larger space in a bag) around.
Note: Should you accidentally leave the sketchbook/portfolio on a chair or vendor’s table, keep a page reserved with your contact information. Sticking a few sheets of paper in here is handy for quick notes for contact information exchange.
A telescoping poster tube like INSTABER is definitely needed for those poster hounds (I recommend an expansion size up to 32″ in width) for those prints you don’t want to get damaged on the plane trip home. Small-sized tubes, measuring 16″ can be found for $15 or less, but for expandable options, I recommend this company over others.
A water bottle and your choice of snacks in a zip-lock bag are always needed (especially if some of the chocolates start to melt)! Some bottles are designed better than others and the worse thing that can happen is spilling liquid all over a floor. Accidents happen but it’s embarrassing. I recommend an auto-seal kind like Contigo’s
Any brand of travel-sized hand sanitizer will do along of a mask like Cambridge Mask. Conventions are notorious as a breeding ground for germs. As any health conscious attendee will warn, if someone near is going to sneeze or cough and is not doing so hygienically, shaking that hand is going to be gross.
I’ve done all of the above depending on my needs. In this updated article, we’re still concerned about the spreading of new viruses that haven’t gone wild. So far, all the conventions I’ve been to are still operating with some health protocols in place. But as for items to make the experience better, I’m no longer fumbling for things. I still want a means to have my coat in its own container when the event doesn’t have coat check. But as for losing items, if folks like Apple’s airtags, then that’s a new essential so nothing is ever lost.