So you want to survive Dragon Con? Four days in a strange city with over 80,000 people packed into five hotels may feel a bit overwhelming (Atlanta’s even strange and overwhelming to its locals), but it is worth it and, with a little help from your friends, you can make it through! Without further ado, we present “How to Survive Dragon Con (and Have the Time of Your Life).”
1. Don’t Overbook
Don’t overbook. By this we don’t mean you can’t flag two (or twelve) things you want to do at the same time on your schedule; in fact it’s smart to have a backup plan if, say, a panel is full or – heaven forbid – cancelled (sometimes celebrity flights are delayed or they “do Dragon Con” a little too hard, too, and get hungover/oversleep).
But what we are saying is this: prioritize. It is highly unlikely that you will make back-to-back panels, unless they’re in the same room – and even then, they often clear the room so the people who just stood in line for an hour while you peed yourself laughing along with John Barrowman’s many antics, for example, have first dibs – so make sure you decide what would make it so you simply. could not. go on. if you missed, and commit to (read: stand in line for) that one… Use the next timeslot to grab some food to keep your energy up. You’ll need it.
2. You Gotta Eat (and Drink)
Everyone has to eat to keep their energy up – celebity guests, convention staff, cosplayers, and even superheroes. It’s a smart idea to keep some “travel size” snacks in your bag because, as we already mentioned, it’s impossible to do everything you want in one long weekend, but you will need more than snack cakes and alcohol to survive it. You have a few different ways to go here…
Options are aplenty at the Peachtree Center; it’s your run-of-the-mill mall food court, but depending on the mall you’re used to, you may be surprised at just how much you have to choose from.
Food trucks and kiosks set up shop over the course of the con. Most notably, Papa John’s pizza by-the-slice (in cheese and pepperoni) are usually available. You’ll also find hot dogs, pretzels, and other concession-style edibles.
The Con Suite. Thought to be a myth by the majority of congoers (we’ve been going since 2010 and have never found it), the con suite will make your wallet love you again. You just spent ~$150 on a weekend membership – not to mention flights and hotel – and you deserve a break. Take a second and soak this in: FOR. FREE.*, you can eat all weekend around the clock. Obviously don’t expect gourmet meals – it might not even be something you like, and it’s probably not healthy – although you may luck out depending on when you show up – but it is free. You will find sodas, sandwiches, chips, etc., and sometimes even donuts! *con suite eats/drinks are included in the cost of your Dragon Con membership.
If you have a hotel room, you can save time and money by keeping your mini-fridge stocked with “the basics” (PB&J for breakfast, anyone?); fruit, bread, and sandwich meat is good in a crunch – standing in line for food anywhere else wastes precious time that you could be spending waiting in line for panels, photo ops, or autographs.
And please stay hydrated (this means drinking more than just alcohol and Redbull).
If you’ve been attending Dragon Con for more than a couple of years, you may remember when there wasn’t an app for that… We relied on an online spreadsheet schedule of sorts or “pocket programs.” Now we still recommend grabbing a pocket program in case the app crashes or your phone’s battery is exhausted, but enough cannot be said about the Dragon Con App! What can’t it do? The app allows you to search by track (genre), by guest name, by keyword (i.e. try typing “Buffy” and see what happens), or by day, and star panels (and more) to add them to your personal schedule… which you can share with your friends (and keep up with theirs) by trading friend codes. And because plans, and schedules, change, there is much value in having a “living schedule” that the con staff updates as soon as they can to keep you as up-to-date as possible.
4. Murphy’s Law
“If something can go wrong, it will go wrong,” isn’t super optimistic, and it’s not exactly true for most people – but what we can and should take from it is this: accidents happen, mistakes happen, and life happens. Your costume could come undone, so bring a hot glue gun or a needle and thread. Your bank could have a panic and freeze your account because it looks like someone jacked your card when you’ve been “responsible” with your money all year and suddenly – in the course of a couple hours – spend several hundred dollars on pictures, autographs, food, and souvenirs… so either bring cash or call your bank ahead of time to give them a heads up. Set two alarms. Enable your phone’s tracker and/or set your lock screen to include information on how to get it back to you when you inevitably leave it on the ground charging or on the toilet paper dispenser…
5. Freaking Keep Your Phone Charged
At the risk of sounding too “millennial”, our cellphones are our lifeline. If your phone’s battery runs out, the “app for that” is no more; you can’t reach your friends you only get to see this one weekend a year; you can’t video document all the fun you’re having or get that pic with your favorite actor; and if you forget your hotel key and can’t call anyone, you’re SOL… Not to mention, what happens after con? Do you know how to get home? Do you want to drop $200 on the deductible to replace your phone? How will you repopulate your phone/address book? HOW WILL YOU REPLACE YOUR PICTURES? All those memories…
Bring your regular cellphone charger – there are a few outlets you can recharge at; but they’re usually taken by other congoers, so bring a portable charger/power bank, too – bring three if you’ve got them! Screen grab the maps and your schedule for the day. Put your phone in airplane mode so it doesn’t try to connect to every tower every time you mosey to a new panel line. Set your homescreen to black and eliminate as many icons as possible (each color drains even more battery)…
6. Get Comfy
We all want to look our best at Dragon Con – whether it’s by way of cosplay, club clothes, or a wardrobe meant to let your geek flag fly high and proud. But if you have to take your sexy heels or combat boots off because your feet have had enough, your costume is missing that piece now and your feet will hate you all weekend. If you can’t sit down because your corset or PVC, etc., is too tight, or your armor is too bulky or breakable, you’ll be standing for 14+ hours. And the list goes on… Bare in mind that you’ll also be walking, outside in the summer Georgia heat between five hotels several times a day, so if your costume’s too hot or your shoes are uncomfortable… well, let’s just say I’m not holding them for you.
7. Safety First
Know your limits. Don’t get blackout drunk (it can be very dangerous), and – not to sound grim, or like your mother, but – don’t go somewhere no one can hear you scream by yourself or with someone you just met; not everyone is who they seem, especially under the added guise of cosplay. Remember the Buddy System? Use it. It will help keep you safe when you’ve had too much to drink or are walking from the exciting Dragon Con nightlife to your car or hotel that’s several blocks away at 4am… It will also be more fun to do Dragon Con with a friend, so it’s win-win!
Respect the con staff and volunteers. Many of them are planning year round for you to enjoy this one weekend… and they aren’t having as much fun as you are – they can’t because they’re here for your enjoyment and your safety. They are working all weekend, and they aren’t getting paid. So go easy on them. Give them a break if they don’t sound delighted to tell you you can’t enter the panel because the line has been full since 9am, because they have probably told a hundred other people the same thing in the last ten minutes. And please listen to them and respect what they tell you. It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s usually out of their hands; they want you to have fun, so con rules, hotel protocols, or fire codes are usually to blame.
Respect the Guests. Dragon Con hosts hundreds of (y)our favorite actors from movies and television, and (y)our favorite writers and artists, but it hosts THOUSANDS more convention goers like you (over 80,000 this year), so the guests, too, may have to tell you, “No.” They cannot feasibly take a selfie with everyone who asks in the hotel lobby or by the elevators, because of they did they’d never make it to their panels you’re standing in line all day for. They are there because they love their fans, but it’s a business for them, too, so you can’t expect them to give you something for nothing, and they might not feel comfortable hugging strangers or answering personal questions… Celebrities are people too.
Respect the other congoers. We are all here to have a good time. We all have panels or photo ops and signings we’re trying to make it to in time. We’re all hungry. We’re all tired. So please don’t push through others or cut in line. Please don’t steal someone’s seat or their spot on an elevator… And some of us aren’t as able-bodied, so please be aware of who’s beside you: give priority to wheelchairs – it’s not easy to navigate a crowded hotel or sidewalk, and the elevator is the only option to change floors; be aware, too, that not every ailment is as obvious, so if you see a disability sticker on someone’s badge, even if they don’t “look disabled”, assume they need it. Don’t touch other people without permission (“cosplay is not consent”), and please limit all behavior that polite fans would find offensive to your hotel rooms (this is a Dragon Con policy, since it aims to be a family friendly event).
Respect others, and respect yourself. What happens at con doesn’t always stay at con, so make sure you make decisions you can live with when you go home. You may want to “do con with a buddy” if you’re drinking a lot – for safety’s sake and so you don’t do something you’ll regret when you’re sober.
Plus, not respecting others could get your membership revoked and you thrown out of the convention… That’s a whole lot of money wasted for not nearly enough fun.
9. Get Some Sleep
“We’ll sleep when we’re dead,” is great in concept, but in practice not so much; in fact, too extreme lack of sleep could kill you. It lowers your inhibitions and critical thinking skills (for example, driving a car on zero sleep isn’t too dissimilar from driving under the influence). It impairs your attention and concentration, and sleeping helps cement in your memory what happened earlier that day; so if you want to remember how your favorite actors answered your burning questions, or the name of that cute stormtrooper, you’re going to want to sleep on it.
10. Have Fun!
This should go without saying, and saying it may be a little cliche… but we’re saying it anyway. We wouldn’t drop all this time and money if we weren’t going to have fun. If cosplay is your jam, go all out – but if something doesn’t go exactly as planned, remember there’s more to con than cosplay; thousands of people wear their street clothes all weekend and still have the time of their lives. If you miss a panel you had scheduled, there’s another awesome one right around the corner! There are lobby parties, room parties, and bar parties; there’s karaoke and movie screenings; there’s a parade and group photo shoots; there are video games and board games; and there’s so much more (check the app)! Make friends, and make memories that could last a lifetime… and have the time of your life.
What do you think of this list? Did you think of something important that we didn’t? Let us know! And please share this post with your friends so they, too, can survive Dragon Con (and have the time of their lives).
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