Con Survival 101: How To Survive A Science Fiction Convention

Copyright 2012 Peter Maranci

A good science fiction or roleplaying convention can be an incredible experience for a fan. You can pack more fun into three short days than than in weeks of more mundane vacationing. If you’re at all into science fiction, fantasy, or roleplaying and haven’t been to a con, what are you waiting for?

There are a few perils along the way, though. A little careful planning can turn a merely good experience into a great one.

First, pick your convention carefully. There are many different sorts, and not every con is right for every person. Some cons are very traditionalist, focussing (for example) on written science fiction only; others are multifaceted, including other types of media, costuming, dance, art, gaming, and more. Some cons are run for profit, charging all that the market will bear but offering access to big-name stars; others are run by fans for fans, with less flash but often more genuine fun.

If you’re a science fiction, fantasy, or game fan, a genre convention can be a hell of a lot of fun. But there are a few perils along the way that can ruin a great experience. They’re easy to forget once the excitement of the con is over, though, so here’s a quick list of dangers and solutions.


Problem: Dry Air

Possibly the greatest physical stress of a con is dehydration. There’s something about hotel air, particularly in northern climes in winter, that sucks every last bit of moisture from your skin. After a while, even chugging water doesn’t help; it seems to pass straight through your system, leaving your lips, eyes, and throat painfully dry as you jiggle from foot to foot in the line to the bathroon.

Solution: Moisturizers

Bring a large refillable plastic bottle of water with you, and refill as necessary. Drink like a fish. Retain moisture with various topical products; lip balm, non-medicated saline nasal spray, skin lotion, and if necessary even eye drops. Tip: plaster lip balm on your lips before you sleep and you’ll feel a lot better the next day. It’s also not a bad idea to give yourself a steam bath by closing yourself in the bathroom and running the shower on the hottest setting for a few minutes. Then open the door to humidify your hotel room.

Problem: Infection

When a lot of people are packed into a restricted space, the odds are good that some of them are sick — and in tight quarters, colds or the flu can spread quickly, particularly if your throat is dry and vulnerable.

Solution: Vitamins and Protection

Moisturizing will help you to resist infection. Boost your immune system with multivitamins. Suck on zinc or vitamin C lozenges throughout the day. Wash your hands frequently, and try not to touch your face. Bring a small bottle of sanitizer with you — yes, you’ll look like a geek, but at least you won’t get sick. Besides, you're at a con. You're supposed to look like a geek!

Problem: Body Aches

A con often involves a lot of standing, walking, and stair climbing — particularly if the elevators are packed, as they usually are. After a couple of days your feet and legs will probably start to resent you.

Solution: Sneakers & painkillers

There’s not a lot that you can do about this, but a good pair of sneakers or comfortable shoes with some support can at least alleviate the pain a bit. Make sure to bring your favorite analgesic along. If you can get someone to massage afflicted areas, more power to you - it certainly can’t hurt!

Problem: Stench

It’s a sad fact that there are some people who don’t understand that it’s a good idea to keep fairly clean. For some reason, this attitude seems to be more common among fen. Being jammed in a crowded hallway or elevator with a bunch of sweaty fen can be a truly nauseating experience.

Solution: Um, not much

Avoid contributing to the problem: bring deodorants, and don’t skip showering! A possible defense would be to carry a perfume-soaked handkerchief, which would fit right in as part of a decadent 30-century aristocrat costume. Finally, Pepto-Bismol and antacids can be a final defense against a turned stomach.

Wait - that one is worth repeating in Very Large Letters:


Really. I mean it. This means YOU. Way too many people think that no one will notice. We DO. Showering is not optional. This is the 21st century, people!


Packing List

A packing list can be a lifesaver. When you're late and hurrying to get out the door so you don't miss a neat early event, you're practically guaranteed to forget something that you'll miss at the con. Here are some suggestions

The 5-2-1 Rule

One thing you may hear about is the 5-2-1 rule, which I'm told was invented by Bob 'Doc' Passovoy. Or maybe Marty Gear, frequent Arisia Masquerade host. No matter WHO invented it, the 5-2-1 rule means that you need five hours of sleep, two solid meals, and one shower, at a minimum, each day that you're at the con. It's a VERY good idea, particularly the shower.

Another thing I usually recommend is to try to arrange for at least one full day of rest after the con - just for recuperation. Cons can be as exhausting as they are fun!

Secret: Delayed Check-out

If you can possibly afford it, it's a GREAT idea to get a hotel room at the con. Particularly in winter. It's awful to trudge out in the bitter cold and snow every morning and evening. Most cons have events and things to see around the clock, too; events that you're sure to miss if you're off-site, sleeping. Yet another great advantage of having a hotel room is to have a place to keep your stuff.

Most hotels require you to check out at 11 AM or noon. Many cons, however, still have fun stuff going on until late afternoon or early evening. A well-run con will offer a coat-check service, a place to leave your luggage in relative security; still, if you can keep your room for a few extra hours, it can be an incredible convenience.

Most hotels offer delayed check-out; you can stay for a few extra hours for an extra twenty bucks or so. But some also offer free delayed check-out if you ask at the right time. Go to the front desk at midnight on the night before the con ends, for example, and you might get them to give you an extra couple of hours for free. That way you'll not only get to take things a little more slowly on Sunday morning, but you won't be competing with hundreds of other people when you check out. And you almost certainly won't have to spend a long time standing in line, which is all to the good.

A great alternative, if you have money to burn, is to book your room for an additional night.

Good luck, and HAVE FUN!

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Copyright 2012 by Peter Maranci. Revised: September 27, 2012. v.1.0