Con Survival Series: Money and Packing

Now that all the plans have been laid you have to start thinking about the actual needs on the trip. I think one of the most common questions on forums for first time con-goers is, “how much money do I need?” I can understand that because the last thing you want to do is arrive and be broke by the end of day one. But alas it is rather a complicated question.

It is best to be a fat cat millionaire to whom money is an inconsequential matter for the poor people to worry about. For everyone else you have to prioritize on your general free cash vs. your desires. Single people with full-time jobs are going to have more than students and people with families. Also as far as I can tell, any serious cosplayer is going to have less free cash. If you mainly collect manga and phone charms you’re going to spend less than the person who buys art books and 1/8 sized figures. We are going to try to do our best to give a ball park minimum and some idea of additional costs you might incur. As always you want to tack on some extra because if you don’t old Murphy and his law will surely strike.

Establishing a budget leading up to the convention and then trying to stick to it while there is a good idea. Excluding your hotel and transportation expenses you need to figure in food money, spending money, and emergency money. So making the budget, first of all you should start the moment you make that commitment to go to the convention. If it is going to be the highlight of your year then you can bend your will and knuckle-down to save a bit. I think using cash is best at conventions only because it stops your spending from getting away from you.

My sample budget is as follows:

  • $80 ($20 a day for food/drink, this should include travel days, not just days at the convention);
  • $150 for the dealer’s room (total, not daily);
  • $40 emergency fund (or could have a credit card).
    total: $270

Divide that number by the number of weeks to the convention and you’ll know what you need. Put away a little from each paycheck/allowance/lunch money and voila you’ll have your total in no time!

If you are taking any pointers from our Room and Board post, then you know you can save a lot of pennies by not eating out in excess. You might also want to up your food and drink budget if you plan to go out to eat meals at a restaurant any time during the convention. Also if you are going to indulge in any amount of alcohol your drink budget is going to shoot up quite a bit. The place you are most likely to blow out all of your cash is the dealers room. The most important thing to remember is how much you have budgeted for spending in the dealer’s room and try to only buy what you can’t get anywhere else. We will be devoting a whole article in April to how to get the most bang for your buck in the dealers room so look forward to that. If you are super paranoid you can always throw an emergency 20 in your sock. It’s always good to have an extra bit of cash on you when you are away from home. I know that the area around Otakon is sort of less than upscale. I have never had any sort of incident but sometimes a little piece of mind is worth more than anything. Plus it prevents you from causally spending your last 20 dollars on anything frivolous.

So besides the suitcase full of money you’ll be bringing, you will probably also need a number of other amenities for your person. The key is to pack as little and compactly as possible because the last day of the convention you might just have to lug all your stuff around with you. For example, take a hoodie instead of long sleeve shirts. You can wear it over and over plus t-shirts take up less room. Anything that can be worn over and over, without it being gross, is a good choice. I usually wear one pair of jeans the whole time and take on extra just in case. Some of the easiest things to lose from your load are things the hotel provides like soap, shampoo, hairdryer, and towels. Sure they may not be your first choices but it is only for a couple days. Some things you might not think about bringing but can be helpful are a travel sewing kit and an extra bag for purchases from the dealer’s room.

My packing list:

  • 4 t-shirts (which is one more than I need)
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair sweat pants (for sleeping)
  • 4 pair underwear/socks (which is one more than I need)
  • toothbrush/toothpaste/floss
  • medication (prescription, aspirin, cold, etc.)
  • deodorant
  • contact case/solution
  • hair brush
  • hoodie
  • sewing kit
  • extra bag (something you can fold up when not in use)
  • cellphone charger
  • book (for traveling)

I prefer packing in a bookbag because it is the easiest thing to lug around, plus it forces you to pack only what can fit. And since I don’t have a car, it makes it easier to get to and from the bus station. Also a friendly reminder to anyone taking a plane, don’t forget the liquids law for carry on baggage. Which is another good reason to just use the hotel provided toiletries.

You might also want to bring the following if you have room for it: A portable game system is always nice for playing when you are traveling, waiting in line, or just to kill time in general; A camera and/or a digital recorder if you meet anyone interesting; A laptop and power cord if you are doing a panel, plus many hotels have free internet access. As we’ve mentioned before you might want to bring food from home. A nifty trick is to throw all your food in one bag. Since you are probably going to eat a majority of the food you brought by the last day you can now use that bag for anything you got at the convention. I also bring a messenger bag. You can use it to carry around anything you need at the convention and store any valuables. The best way to make sure you take everything you need is a check list. So what happens when you forget something at home (which is probably going to happen). People often forget their cellphone charger which is the most inconvenient thing to forget. Fortunately there is a simple fix to this situation. Almost any pharmacy or convenience store will have backup cellphone batteries that will get you through the weekend. If you forget any toiletries that are not automatically in your room, just ask for them at the concierge desk. Anything else can also usually be bought at a local pharmacy or convenience store in travel sizes.

4 thoughts on “Con Survival Series: Money and Packing

  1. Kiri says:

    Nice little series you’ve got here.

    I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned anything about packing cosplay though, which takes up a ton of room for some people especially those who have a costume for every day and a wig to go with each one. One of the people I was carpooling with to AWA last year brought two, three-layer kimonos with her in this gigantic body bag that basically took up the space of an entire person in the back seat, and we were already seating five people in the compact car. Not really pleasant. The space issue might not be avoidable given the outfits, but it would have been nice if she had informed us that she was bringing along a body bag so we wouldn’t have tried to squeeze that many people in such a small car (for a five hour drive!. It’s just a little inconsiderate.

  2. reversethieves says:

    I guess you have exposed one of the most glaring weaknesses in our series. None of us are cosplayers. I think both of us have kicked the idea around a little but never have we taken that plunge. Unless you consider wearing New Balance sneaker, jeans and a t-shirt doing Initial D cosplay. (Pro Tip: The answer is no.)

    Theoretically if either of us was a cosplayer would could do a whole article just on cosplay con survival. Heck you might get two or three articles about it. It would also have additional notes for all the other articles becuase if you do cosplay hardcore it does effect every other part of your con experience from travel, to budget, to scheduling.

    The problem is I don’t think either of us is so haughty as to believe that we could actually discuss cosplaying despite not really being part of the culture. If someone wanted to do a short series of articles I am sure they could email us a sample and we would eagerly post it or link to their site where whey had written it (pending approval from Narutaki that the author knows what they are talking about and writes in something close to comprehensible).

    – Hisui

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