"Hey! Con virgins! Want a ribbon?" a woman in a booth yelled at me and my childhood best friend, Kyra.
We were embarrassed for being singled out, but even more embarrassed that she could see what we were so desperately trying to hide: This was our first con. Were we giving off a new-con smell? We slunk over to her. She welcomed us to San Diego Comic-Con and handed us two neon-pink ribbons that read "CON VIRGIN" in big black letters. We tucked them discreetly in our bags.
We quickly realized how magical—and exhausting—cons are. You're among thousands of people who share the same unbridled enthusiasm you do. It's crazy! But we crashed and burned in several different arenas—like naively waiting three hours in a miles-long line for the coveted Game of Thrones panel—and vowed to be better prepared next year.
I've been to numerous cons since then, big and small, and while I still haven't learned how to con right, I've learned how to con better. Here are some tips.
1. Plan ahead and be realistic
I hate planning. I still haven't figured out Google Calendar and I'm straddling the millennial/Gen Z generational line! But when you're headed to a con, especially a bigger con, it pays to prep. You want to go to Star Wars Origami but that Buffy cast reunion you've been dying to see starts 10 minutes later, and it's across the convention center? You're going to have to prioritize. The con schedule is usually posted online weeks before the actual event. Find it, save it, and filter out your must-sees from your sure-why-nots. Also, check your con's social- media pages religiously; there will likely be key updates posted there during the event.
It's impossible to see everything. There will be heartbreak, giveaways you'll miss, long lines that best you. Understand this now and be okay with it: You cannot do it all.
2. Give yourself time to wander
Take some time to explore the con floor—that's where you can buy your figurines and your comics, where you can try out new video games or duke it out in a Magic: The Gathering competition or stroll through artist alley and get some prints for your mom since you don't have the wall space anymore.
3. Bring some essentials
You're going to be on your feet all day, and your only options for food will be whatever crap they sell on the convention floor or the Cheesecake Factory across the street. Nuts, dried fruit, power bars—bring stuff that stays in your system and keeps you from biting your friend's head off when she won't shut up about that one celebrity she's dying to see.
This is a given. I've seen people faint at cons. There are lots of bodies and lots of excitement. Lube up your system!
You'll quickly discover many of your fellow con attendees are not habitually hygienic. Don't be that guy. Roll on some Speed Stick before you go, and reapply throughout the con as needed.
Ditch your card if you can and bring a fixed amount of cash. It's too easy to spend when all you have to do is swipe, especially when there are photo-ops and autographs and you know that just one more will guarantee you'll hit it off with that actor, did you see how he smiled at you last time???
A back-up battery!
...and a fat data plan. Vying for service is tough in a crowded place. Plus, you'll need to check social media and your con schedule regularly. You don't want your phone to die. (Pro tip: If you're planning on waiting in long lines, consider bringing a power strip to share with your line mates.)
4. Choose supportive shoes
I about shredded my heels wearing Converse high tops to my first con. If you're cosplaying and can't walk long distances in your costume shoes, consider bringing backups.
This is very much Con 101, and like anything else, you'll learn best by doing. And there are plenty of cons coming up where you can practice—so have at it!