We've invited some friends to share their FOGcon experiences. This con survival guide is excellent advice for first-time con-goers and veterans alike.
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When I was asked to write a guest post with a suggested subject of “tips for first time con attendees,” I jumped at the chance. I love attending conventions, and therefore I love talking about conventions. So I’ve compiled a list of my self-care practices for conventions, which will hopefully be interesting whether you’re new or seasoned at convention-going.
Please note your mileage will vary. You and I are not the same person, so some things that I find helpful might be completely unappealing or inapplicable to you. More than to give specific advice, I hope this list will inspire you to think about what it is YOU need to have the best experience possible.
1. Always have something to eat on your person. Meals at cons are unpredictable in terms of their timing, their frequency, and their size. But when I get too hungry, I become both indecisive and cranky. So I tend to carry power bars, fruit leather, and/or chocolate to fill in the gaps.
2. Hand sanitizer is your friend. John Scalzi gave me this tip, and it’s a helpful one, particularly for those of us with weaker immune systems. We spend a lot of time at cons shaking hands and touching public surfaces, and there is always SOMEONE who is sick at the con. Hand sanitizer helps keep you healthy.
3. Take advantage of the con suite. I particularly appreciate the free beverages, but sometimes a snack or light meal provides a much needed pick-me-up. Plus the con suite can be good for socializing too.
4. Butbe careful what you eat at the con suite. This is also for those of us with persnickety immune systems. Try to avoid any food served loose in a bowl, which means large numbers of hands may have touched it. Instead, opt for packaged food, whole food like a banana, or food that is served with a spoon, tongs, etc.
5. Pace yourself. Ask yourself these questions: “How am I feeling? Do I need to sit? Do I need to eat something? Do I need some quiet time?” Allow yourself to follow the pace that works for you.
6. Be realistic. As a night person, I assume I won’t make it to any morning programming. If you’re a morning person, perhaps you can instead set realistic goals about your party-going in the evenings. If you’re an introvert, you might want to schedule in some quiet time.
7. Get enough sleep. Many of my friends skimp A LOT on sleep at cons, but when I do this, I am miserable. Plus, my immune system hates me afterwards. So I choose a minimum acceptable sleep amount and plan ahead in order to give it to myself.
8. Prepare a list of interesting panels ahead of time. Yes, I know this will only appeal to my fellow planners, but it was invaluable when I was still new at con-going. It meant that even if I saw no one I knew and didn’t have the energy to approach strangers, I always had something interesting to do or look forward to. I still make my list before every convention.
9. Don’t think about the con everyone else is having. Focus on the fun you’re having instead, and if you’re not having fun, try to figure out what WOULD be fun. There is so much going on at conventions, it’s impossible to do all the things, have all the experiences, and meet all the people. You’ll have a much better time if you accept this truth and enjoy what you CAN do.
10. Be friendly. You are at a place where you assumedly share a common interest with almost everyone else there. That means lots of fodder for conversation, from talking about the panels you’ve attended to what books you’ve enjoyed reading recently. Say yes to invitations to meals when you are able. Invite other people to meals with you. Friendships have been formed from much less.
11. But let people take care of themselves. Being at a con can be an intense experience, so if someone declines an invitation or excuses themselves from a conversation, don’t pressure them and don’t take it personally. They may be tired. They may have a headache. They may have complex dietary restrictions. They may need some alone time. They may be trying to find some precious quality time with one of their best friends who they only see once a year. They may want to talk to more than one person at the party. It doesn’t really matter. Let them excuse themselves gracefully and focus on what YOU are going to do next.
12. Be kind to yourself after the con is over. I am almost always exhausted by the end of a con. And at the same time, I’m sad to be saying goodbye to my friends. So when you get back home, be good to yourself, whatever that means for you. For me, it often means taking a night off from socializing, making the to-do list a bit shorter for a couple of days, and drinking lots of water.
Do you have any tips to share of things you do to take care of yourself during a con?
Amy Sundberg is a SF/F and YA writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Buzzy Magazine, among others. When she’s not writing, she’s either buried in a good book, singing musical theater songs, or trying to convince people she’s not a Cylon while playing Battlestar Galactica. She is an avid blogger at practicalfreespirit.com and can be found on Twitter as @amysundberg.