Four years ago, when I had just started this column, I wrote one about stuff to put in your con bag. I’m actually heading to a con tomorrow (no, I won’t tell you which one), and since I’ve spent the past few days preparing for it, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give you my six best tips for convention preparation.

6. Go food shopping. — I’m not talking about regular food shopping that you do every week. I suggest making a special trip, and I have two reasons for that. First, if you don’t buy con stuff on your normal grocery trip you won’t mess up your normal grocery budget. Second, it gives you the opportunity to try a new grocery store. My wife and I checked out the new Aldi by our house, and it’s kind of a “super-Aldi” — it has one more aisle, and the produce is in a different place. We did spend about $75 there, but to be fair it wasn’t all on con snacks; they had some stellar prices on other things that we needed.

Put it in your bag: non-perishable food. Always, always, always carry emergency food. Cons are often at hotels, where food is not cheap, and when hundreds (or thousands) of people are all hitting the same coffee stand or snack counter, you’re liable to miss something while you stand in line. Trail mix, meal bars, and even non-perishable fruit (apples and bananas are good for this) will keep you going until you have time to sit down and have a real meal.

5. Lay out your clothes. — Remember back in Ye Olde Dayes when your parents told you to lay out your school clothes the night before, to save time? Well, it’s time to go back to school (so to speak). We all plan out our outfits when we go to conventions, but I also recommend setting out your work clothes. That way you know exactly what you will and won’t be wearing in the days leading up to your departure, and how much laundry you’ll need to do to make sure you have everything you need.

Put it in your bag: an extra shirt. I keep an extra shirt in my desk at work because I’m a messy eater. It doesn’t usually get hot enough to sweat through anything in the office. But when a lot of people are packed into a small place, the a/c can get overloaded and you can get sweaty. Swapping out your shirt (and, if you wear one, your bra) can mean the difference between comfort and stinkiness. And if you’re into costuming, you’re probably going to get grody inside your Master Chef (Master Chief in a chef’s hat… get it?) costume, so you’ll want a dry t-shirt to put on when you take it off.

4. Figure out your schedule. — A lot of bigger cons now have apps to manage schedules; either they make their own, like ServiceNow does for Knowledge, or they use an app like Guidebook. Either way, you should have the app on your phone. Now, I personally prefer to make a spreadsheet so I know what my options are at any given time, but I always put the sheet into the app. And, if there is no app, I put reminders on my calendar (in a different color than everything else). Knowing what you’re doing and where you’re going will make you much more comfortable in the long run.

Put it in your bag: bathroom supplies. Speaking of gross, public bathrooms are not always known for having the most comfortable supplies. A small packet of wet-wipes is helpful (and they can get other things off your skin, like makeup or dirt), and if you’re a woman, carry extra of your chosen feminine hygiene products even if you’re not at a point in your cycle when you think you’ll need them. And carry hand sanitizer as well — you never know what you’ll pick up when you shake someone’s hand (or even just do a fist-bump).

3. Order your products early. — If you’re going to be selling anything at a con, it pays to order early. I put in an order for some books to sell, but I waited a hair too long. They’ll be arriving today, but if there are any delays in shipping I won’t have anything to sell. The same goes for promotional items — cards, flyers, pens, stickers, whatever. Make sure you have them at least a week in advance, just in case there’s a shipping delay. And so you have time to pack them, because that can be tricky.

Put it in your bag: promotional materials. I’m terrible — terrible — at self-promotion. I hate drawing attention to myself. But I’m also an author and I want to get people to buy my books, so I have to let people know who I am. Sometimes it’s by leaving cards here and there; sometimes it’s by putting flyers on a table; sometimes it’s by handing people promotional items as they walk past. But if I don’t have the materials in my bag, all I can do is talk, and then when someone says “okay, I’ll check your book out,” they won’t have any easy way to remember to do so. A card helps with that.

2. Make sure you can accept cash and cards. — Speaking of selling things, I’m sure you’re aware that most people don’t carry cash. When you’re in a hotel or convention center with thousands of strangers, there’s always a chance your wallet could be stolen, and while credit cards can be cancelled and charges disputed, if you lose cash, it’s gone forever. So when you want to sell something, you need the ability to accept credit cards quickly and easily. You could use Paypal, Venmo, or Zelle, or you could get a card reader for your phone (which is what I did). Set it up in advance, though, and test it to make sure it works, even if there’s no internet. And as a vendor you also should probably have $50 secreted about your person in case you need to make change. If you charge $5, $10, or $20 for everything, you’ll never have to carry ones or coins.

Put it in your bag: chargers. I’m sure you’re planning to have phone chargers in your room, but you may not go back to your room for twelve hours or more. You need to have a charger, and now that they’re smaller and more portable than ever, there’s no excuse not to. I have one from Monoprice that works amazingly well, and it has two ports on it, so I can make friends by letting them charge their phones. Conceivably. If I want to. (But I probably won’t.)

1. Check your meds. — On Monday morning I realized I was almost out of one of my pills, and I put in an order for a refill at the pharmacy. I’ll pick it up today or tomorrow and pack it with the rest of the myriad of pills I take on a daily basis. I always forget to check, and more than once I’ve run out of one pill or another. With all the stress of con prep, you’re liable to forget something too, so do yourself a favor and check early. Also, if you have some sort of pill carrier where you can portion out your meds for each day, use that. It beats forgetting you took something and then running out. (Oh, and always take one extra day’s worth. Just in case.)

Put it in your bag: on-demand medications. Headache medicine. Stomach medicine. Breathing medicine. You know you’ll need one of these at some point, so why not put a small supply in some tupperware and stick it in your bag? If you’re going to be speaking a lot, throat lozenges are helpful too. Plus, you can help make someone’s day by saying “why yes, here you go” when you hear “does anyone have any aspirin?” (And you might as well stick some band-aids and neosporin in there as well. You’d be surprised just how easy it is to get a cut when you’re least expecting it — last Saturday I cut my finger opening a takeout container.)

Bonus Content!

Never underestimate what you’re going to need for a convention. For four days, I’m packing:

  • Six days worth of clothes.
  • Pool attire.
  • An extra pair of shoes.
  • Five days worth of medications.
  • OTC headache and stomach meds.
  • Bandages and antibiotic ointment.
  • Laptop and charger.
  • Two phone chargers.
  • Two external batteries.
  • Extension cord.
  • Fan (in case the hotel room a/c doesn’t work well).
  • Merchandise to sell.
  • Credit card acceptor.
  • Assorted cash for making change.
  • Promotional material.
  • Toiletries.
  • Razors and trimmers.
  • Good toilet paper. (Fun fact: some hotels actually now have good TP, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.)
  • Handheld snacks.
  • Fruit.
  • Cheese.
  • Crackers.
  • Ginger ale.
  • Gatorade.
  • Disposable silverware, plates, and bags.
  • Water bottles with built-in filters.
  • Games for the game room.

Am I overpacking? Sure, a little — I’m probably going to have four full bags. But I’m not the heaviest packer. I have friends who are packing crock-pots, enough food to feed fifteen people for four days, dry ice, flats of water, alcohol…

Cons are fun. Just be prepared for anything.

Got an idea for a future “Six of the Best” column? Tweet it to me @listener42.

Now available in paperback! Space travel, steampunk Seattle, superheroes, and more (but no zombies) can all be found in The Clockwork Russian and Other Stories, which has been called “intelligent, compelling, and always entertaining” by award-winning author Sean McMullen, and “clever, thought-provoking, and occasionally unsettling in all the best ways” by award-winning author Andy Martello. Get your copy today, in print or for your Kindle!