Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pre-DragonCon Plans

DragonCon is in less than two weeks! I've had a really busy summer and the last two weekends I've been out of town, so it snuck up on me. This is my fifth DragonCon so I've got some suggestions for folks who are going for the first (or second) time.

Self-care stuff:
If you wear contacts and you plan to be at the convention early to late, make sure to bring contact solution and eyedrops. Around late afternoon my eyes are feeling gummy; by midnight they're positively gross. I take my contacts out when they first start to bother me, clean them, and use hydrating eyedrops before putting my contacts back in. Then I'm fine until I get back to the hotel.

Bring a refillable water bottle. There are icewater stations all over the place. You're going to be sweating a lot and you may not be eating regular meals, so drinking as much water as you can hold will keep you from getting con crud later and will help keep your energy up.

Bring snacks, the healthier the better. Fresh fruit (and handwipes for after), fruit leathers, trail mix, granola bars, nuts, chocolate-covered raisins, peanut M&Ms. If you're driving in rather than flying, bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, and put a sandwich in your bag for emergencies. The food court and restaurants are overrun all weekend, and you may be tempted to skip meals to save time. Having good snacks with you will keep you from getting grouchy and miserable.

If you're a full-on introvert like me, you're going to need some downtime to recharge. Schedule that! I try to get away from the con for an hour or so Saturday afternoon and again Sunday afternoon. I get a meal somewhere that's not mobbed with con-goers, maybe get together with a friend for a conversation. Then I'm ready to plunge back in to the excitement.

Dress for the weather, which will be hot and muggy. There may be an occasional quick thunderstorm in the afternoons. The air conditioning is good in the hotels, but there's also a lot of body heat from so many people, so if you run hot anyway make sure to wear cool clothes. If you wear a skirt and you've got healthy-sized legs, wear biking shorts underneath or use that cream that bikers use to stop chafing. Last year I wore a cute short skirt and within a few hours I had the worst case of heat rash ever on my thighs where they were rubbing together as I walked and sweated.

Similarly, bring a fan. For many events you may have to line up for a long time, and some lines are so long you'll end up standing outside in the heat. Everyone will envy you your fan. Especially if it's a black lace fan like mine that looks really awesome.

Phone stuff:
Bring your phone charger. If you have a spare phone battery bring it too. You're going to want to take lots of pictures so right now is a great time to go through your old photos and delete a bunch to make space. You might also want to upgrade your memory card.

Connectivity will frequently be poor, but if you go just a few blocks away from the con hotels, you can pick up wifi from restaurants without much trouble.

To maximize your battery life, before you leave for DragonCon delete any apps that you know suck your battery. You can load them back on your phone when you get home. During panels and other events, put your phone on airplane mode. Get to panels early so you can grab an outlet and charge your phone during the event.

There's a DragonCon app you can download for your phone. Not only will it help you keep track of your schedule, it contains a good map of downtown to help you navigate between the hotels. I get turned around easily so I'm always checking the map. Having the app also gives you something to play with for the week or so before DragonCon starts.

Keep It Low-Stress:
DragonCon is big. It's huge. It's held in five big downtown Atlanta hotels so you'll definitely be doing a lot of walking. Panels are scheduled with half an hour in between, but if you have mobility issues or if you get caught in post-parade traffic (DragonCon holds a full parade on Saturday morning that a lot of locals attend), it can take far longer to get where you want to be. If you're running late for an event, don't stress. Just slip in quietly once you get there and grab the first seat you see. If there's a particular event you REALLY want to attend, especially if it's a popular one, get there way early so you can get in line. Events can fill up fast depending on where they're held.

Bring cash. Wear it in a money belt or zip it into a secure (not easily accessible) pocket of your bag. There are pickpockets among the 70,000 or so people crushed into DragonCon's five hotels. ATMs will run out of money and have long lines anyway, so don't rely on them.

You'll need a bag to carry your phone, charger, snacks, water bottle, camera if you bring one, contact solution, fan, etc. Every year I bring a different bag because I have yet to find one that's perfect. It shouldn't be too big or you'll be thumping everyone with it. It shouldn't be too small or you won't have room to hold the T-shirt and books you impulse-bought. It should have a long enough strap that you can get into it while it's hanging off your shoulder. You should like it because it's going to be your close friend for the entire weekend.

The first two years I attended DragonCon, I had no idea there were major concerts at midnight every night. The ballrooms are huge and hold some 5,000 people, but for especially popular acts, or if you want to get close to the stage, you'll want to get in line at least at hour early. This is where you'll be really glad you kept your phone charged all day. There are usually chairs set up at the back of the ballrooms, but you can't really see the stage from there and anyway, hey, you should be dancing!

I drive to Atlanta and save a lot of money by staying in a hotel about twenty minutes away from downtown. That means parking. There are lots of 24-hour parking garages so you don't have to worry about moving your car if you're sticking around for concerts or other late-night events. Generally expect to pay $20 or $30 for a full day's parking--most of the cash I bring goes for parking, but it's still cheaper than staying at a con hotel. Once you park, take a picture of the parking garage, and a picture of the nearest intersection's street signs. That way you can actually find your car fifteen hours later.

If you find you're not having fun for some reason, go somewhere else or do something else. Get some food, take a nap, find a friend, destress in whatever way you prefer. You don't have to actually be doing something every second of every day. Some people come to DragonCon just to people-watch, because the costumes are spectacular; some people want to sit at a bar and catch up with friends; some people stick to one particular track's events and don't branch out, while others jump from track event to track event as something takes their fancy. Don't be afraid to ditch your plans and just chill, if that's what you want to do.

Have fun!