I originally wrote this guide as a teenager to help one of of my friends prepare for their first-ever anime convention. I've kept it updated since, but I definitely don't go to conventions as much as I used to, and some of this might be "common sense." As someone who is likely neurodivergent, though, who wrote this guide for an autistic friend: I feel there's no harm in a guide of any sort being too specific or "obvious." I want this to be as accessable as possible, and to cover as much ground as posible. That said, this guide is a little lengthy. Feel free to jump around to the parts that best suit your needs. Thanks!
- Finding a Convention: Obviously, the first step in attending a con is finding one that you can attend. This can be harder than anticipated if you aren't already in-the-know! It can sometimes be as easy as searching your state or area followed by "anime con" or "fur con." If that doesn't get you a whole lot of helpful information, though, looking up convention masterlists can be super helpful. A common one is animecons.com, and they also have sister sites for furcons and geek-cons. If you have some options, consider if you want to go to a smaller, local convention, or a bigger more popular one. Smaller cons tend to be more accessable, and you'll likely spend less time waiting in lines, but they often don't have as many special guests and can be rough if your goal is to network. Bigger, popular cons offer a lot, but might be overwhelming, crowded, and you may not be able to see everything you want due to lines/crowds/busy or booked food and hotel resources. Check socials to make sure the con you picked is legit and active. Check out the conventions theme, rules, prices, etc., to make sure you're set for whatever your intentions for going may be.
- The Buddy System:Before you get too far, I recommend choosing a person or group you trust to attend the convention with you, whether that's a parent or guardian, significant other, a cosplay group, or a sibling. This might sound a bit much, especially if you're a capable adult, but safety concerns at conventions are very real. Floods of bewares and allegations follow many convention weekends, regardless of how well-ran an event is. Even if you don't plan on being together the whole time, you can at least plan check-in times, etc. If you don't have a person you can go with, consider downloading a tracking app like Life360 and pairing with someone you trust, and plan for call/text check-ins. A remote saftey net is better than none.
- Pre-register: Registration lines at cons can be long, and pre-registering usually ensures you get your badge for the lowest price. Badges are are needed to attend panels, enter the artist alley, dealers den, etc. If you are a minor attending with a parent or guardian sometimes there are discounts.
- Book a hotel; plan your stay: Some conventions are held in hotels, which is convenient, but also may be a little pricey. Look at your options! You may prefer to stay at a different hotel, or drive to and from the con from your residence. Plan your time and budget around this, and give yourself enough time to sleep and shower. Sleepovers and carpools save time and money.
- Check the forecast and surrounding area to prepare. There's few things worse than having to run through the rain with a delicate wig or fursuit. It also sucks not having snacks or a budget for the at-location food when you suddenly find out the nearest restaurant is a long drive away.
- Plan your time by checking the convention schedule. Differentiate must-see panels from casual interests, have backup ideas in mind for cancellations, and be sure to give yourself ample time to wander, shop, and eat. Compare this schedule with your group to plan check-in times, and double check it with the one provided at the con for last-minute changes.
Dressing up for a convention is a lot different than dressing up for photoshoots or short videos. Try to take the following into consideration:
- Once again, check the forecast. Aside from precipitation, you're going to want to know know how hot or cold it will be, and adjust your fit accordingly if you can. You might choose to wear layers under your costume, or forgo your undershirt for some handy arm sleeves.
- Check your conventions rules. Many events have bans on specific things like body paint, props, certain clothing, full-face coverings, etc.
- Be prepared to stand. Seats fill quickly and lines are long, even if you go to a small con. Comfort can and should influence the fit you choose; at the very least the choice of shoes.
- Do you really need to carry that prop around? Are you bad at leaving things behind and forgetting them? It might be best to leave your props at home, in your vehicle, or in your bag when you’re not using them. Consider leaving any oversized prop at home completely, unless you're also planning to do a photoshoot--and in that case, leave them put away during non-photoshoot times. Large props take up lots of space and can be a hazard for other con-goers. If you feel confident about keeping your (small) prop on you and understand you’ll be ok with carrying it for the whole day, go ahead!
- Bring a Change of Clothes. How long can you stay in your sweaty costume? How long before your feet start to hurt in those heels? Maybe it’s too hot for that full body-makeup? Bring a change of clothes and shoes just in case you change your mind halfway through. Conventions are usually a whole lot more chill than competitive online cosplay/costume communities. People usually understand and won’t pay too much attention if you don’t cosplay, or take it half off. I promise no one irl will confront you about "poodling" your fursuit. You're not going to look your best 24/7 in real life, and that's ok.
- Plan poses! Seriously! You're probably going to be asked for your picture, and you don't want to be caught off guard not knowing what to do with your hands.
- Conserve your RP. Cosplay does not have to equal roleplay. Some folks /do/ act out their characters to a minor degree, such as altering their speaking mannerisms and such, but the expectation is never that it's required. Of course, go for it if you want to! Just remember that everything you do will still reflect on you, and not everyone knows your "character." Be a considerate person first and foremost.
There's a few convention-specific items you're going to want to bring with you on your trip, in addition to your normal weekend-packing-list. Most of these I advocate for keeping on your person, although some could be either kept in a vehicle or in your room if you're staying on-site.
My convention packing list includes: Bandages, emergency sewing kit, light snacks/bottled water, travel deodorant, phone charger (wall or brick), spare cash, emergency cash, period products, allergy medication/pain medication/tums, make-up remover, hand sanitizer, a badge/business card of your socials that others can easily snap a picture of, and a lanyard to keep your badge on. I also recommend taking a picture of everything expensive you bring.
At the Convention
So you're at the con. Now what? What's the ettiquite?
Number one, meet new people! Conventions are all about finding others who share your interests. A lot of people I know have met some of their best friends at conventions. If there's a group cosplaying from the same series as you, approach them and start chatting! Similar species or the same fursuit maker? Strike up a convo! Compliment cosplays, shirts, or merch! Just hang around in popular spots! Don't be afraid to put yourself out there.
Ask to take pictures of folks, and never take pictures without permission. Most people at conventions are happy to be photographed, provided that they aren't in a rush or sitting down to relax. Avoid asking for pictures in the dealers hall or busy walkways, this can cause backups. If you want to get a picture with a character/fursuiter/etc, always ask before touching them. Costume pieces can be fragile, and some people just don't like to be touched. Cosplay is not consent.
If you see something obnoxious, show restraint. Especially if you're an older member of fandom, chances are you are going to see someone younger than you doing something innappropriate or obnoxious. You might see similarly obnoxious things happening among older members as well, especially if/when alcohol gets involved. If it's something inoffensive but annoying, just do your best to ignore it. If it's an issue, report it to convention security and move on with your day. The worse thing you can do is get engaged with something that is either going to waste your time or put you in a bad situation.
Keep your badge on you at all times. If you can, wear it around your neck. Few conventions replace badges. Even fewer do it for free.
Manage your spending, and don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Lots of artists bring their own original work, but a lot of vendors bring general merchandise and treats. Sometimes two stalls will be selling the same items at different prices! Take a walk around the dealers room before you buy anything, don’t waste all your money right away. Most vendors only bring as much as they think will sell, so don’t wait until the last minute either. Try to keep at least a little emergency money in a phone case or hidden pocket, away from your primary cash. Hopefully you don't loose your wallet, but in either case it's helpful to separate if so that you don't accidentally spend it.
Last of all, know your limits. Too many people end up hurt at conventions, all for the sake of maintaining an image or keeping the "magic" of their costume. If you're overheated, sit out. Know when you need to get real food, and when you need to drink some water. Take breaks. Sit. Try to sleep well, and shower every night. Conventions are overwheelming, exhausting, and can take more out of you than you realize. Take care of yourself so that you can keep having fun!