Tips for 2016 San Diego Comic-Con Newbies

San Diego Comic-Con 2016 begins next week, and it will be my eighth consecutive year! I’ve learned a lot about how SDCC works and have picked up many tips and tricks along the way. The internet is filled with of SDCC survival guides, packing tips, and other advice, but I’d like to add some of my own tips as well as things you can expect if you’re attending SDCC for the first time.

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Some of these tips are based on my own anxieties and how I’ve learned to cope with them during Comic-Con, and I imagine there are plenty of people out there who have many of the same worries. But I also have some general tips that will help you navigate SDCC!

Practice Patience: The first and most important tip is to be patient. I’m not the most patient person in the world, and Comic-Con can be very trying for someone who doesn’t enjoy waiting. One fact of Comic-Con is that you will wait to do basically anything: to get coffee, use the bathroom, get into panels, get autographs, participate in booth activities, board SDCC shuttles, and even to cross the street to get to and from the convention center. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the people watching (which is literally the best in the world) while you wait.

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Non-Stranger Danger: On a related note, be open to talking to strangers! I’m not usually one to chat it up with strangers, but Comic-Con is a magical place where it’s easy to meet like-minded people—especially if you’re stuck waiting for hours to get into a panel. The overall vibe at Comic-Con is “happy and excited,” so all the standing around and waiting sets the stage for some fun conversations.

Getting Around: The official SDCC shuttles are a free method of transportation if your hotel is not within walking distance, but be aware that there is often a line to get onto a shuttle. You may not be able to fit onto the first one or two shuttles that come by, so plan accordingly and leave extra time to get to the convention center if you need to be there at a certain time. Uber is a good option, but it will most definitely have surge pricing so if you’re planning to use it during SDCC, expect to pay a premium.

Keep Calm and Comic-Con: If you are, like me, prone to anxiety that is exacerbated by crowds, come prepared with some deep breathing and calming techniques as well as prescription anxiety meds if you happen to have them. And if you need to take a breather from the convention floor, which can get insanely packed, that’s okay. You can certainly find a quieter place to escape. If you take the escalators upstairs on the Hall H end of the convention center you can usually find space to sit on the floor, and security (probably) won’t ask you to leave. If you sit on the floor in the main lobby, security will tell you to get up. The two hotels closest to the convention center (Marriott Marquis & Marina and Hilton Bayfront) also have lounge areas where you can go to escape, though open seats can be hard to come by.

Take Comic-Con from the Rear: The back side of the convention center is actually a great place to spend time. First of all, the convention center is located on a marina, so it’s a beautiful spot. There are some great views of the bay from the second floor patios at the back of the convention center, and the lawn behind the center is filled with con-related activities. You can easily get to the eternally epic Hall H line by going around the back side of the convention center. There’s a taco truck stationed behind the convention center, tucked in between the base of a couple sets of stairs. You can get breakfast tacos there if you’ve been waiting on the Hall H line all night! TV Guide takes over a yacht on the marina every year where they interview and do photo shoots with the stars, so there’s always some good celeb-spotting back there too. Though now that the yacht is common knowledge, hanging out there to see celebrities has become a fucking shitshow.

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“Respect My Authoritah:” Listen to and respect Comic-Con security. This is a gigantic event, and crowd control is not an easy feat. The security guards have an important job to do, and when they ask you to do something, don’t argue…just do it.

Rest Stops: Knowing where the nearest bathrooms are is also a concern for some attendees. I have mild IBD, so I always make a mental note of where a couple nearby bathrooms are in case there’s a long line for the closest one (which definitely happens). Also, I always carry a travel pack of Kleenex in case I end up in a stall without toilet paper. If you have GI issues like I do, I recommend carrying Pepto Bismol and Immodium with you in case of emergency.

Fuel for the Day: Always carry water and snacks with you, especially if you’re planning to attend panels and know you’ll be waiting on line for hours upon hours. Sometimes the line might be idle for hours, giving you time to leave and grab something to eat, but other times the line will start moving quickly and at that point you will not want to jump out of it. To be eco-friendly, I like to buy one bottle of water on the first day and then refill it at the convention center water fountains. Even better: bring your own reusable bottle!

Panel Return Policy: During panels you’re allowed to leave the room to use the bathroom or get food. When you leave you’ll be given a ticket that will let you back into that room during that same panel only. If you return after that panel has ended, you’ll have to wait on line again to get back into the room. So make sure you time your trips properly! (The exception to this rule is Hall H, which has restrooms inside of it and has its own dedicated food vendor just outside of it.)

Don’t Be That Guy: During panels, don’t hold your phone or camera up and take photos and videos the entire time; you’ll block the view of people sitting behind you. If you want to take pics or a video—it’s okay, we all do it—just be as quick as possible.

Sometimes you can capture amazing moments like this (Oberyn Martell lives! Game of Thrones 2014 panel)

Sometimes you can capture amazing moments like this (Oberyn Martell lives! Game of Thrones 2014 panel)

Cosplay is Not Consent: There is an unspoken etiquette for taking photographs of cosplayers. Odds are that if someone is wearing a costume they probably won’t mind being photographed, but it’s polite to ask for permission. After they’ve agreed and you’ve taken your photo, thank them and compliment them on their costume. Many cosplayers put a lot of time, effort, and creativity into their costumes, and showing your appreciation is a kind thing to do. You will see many, many women in super skimpy costumes. PLEASE DO NOT sneak a photo of their asses from behind. Don’t be that person.

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Celebrity Squee! One of the most exciting things about Comic-Con is that it’s a place where you can literally run into a celebrity at any moment. Always be respectful and don’t get up in their face with your camera or your Sharpie and paper. A lot of celebrities are actually quite open to posing or taking selfies with fans at SDCC, but you have to remember that they are people too and not everyone enjoys being yelled at, touched, or having their personal space invaded by strangers. There are usually security or handlers around celebrities anyway, so if they ask you to step back, do it.

Stephen Moyer (True Blood) posing for selfies with fans at the TV Guide yacht, 2014

Stephen Moyer (True Blood) posing for selfies with fans at the TV Guide yacht, 2014

Group Meeting Spot: I’ve never done this before, but this year I’m going to suggest that my group of friends pick a designated “in case of emergency” meeting spot. Not to be a downer, but if something were to happen at the convention center and cell phone service also went down, it would be very important to have a place nearby where we could all find each other.

Here’s a list of items I recommend you pack (this is partly functioning as my own list of things I can’t forget!):

  • Comfortable shoes. Comic-Con is NOT the time to try out a new pair of shoes. Wear whatever won’t give you blisters. You’re going to be walking A LOT.
  • Extra phone charger like a Mophie case or a lightweight, portable external charger. You’re going to use your phone a lot, and you won’t always be able to find an outlet to charge it.
  • Camera battery charger. I’m one of those people who still uses a digital camera in addition to my iPhone, and I take a ton of photos. I recharge my battery every night and try to remember to bring my charger in my purse in case the battery runs low during the day.
  • Meds: over the counter painkillers and allergy meds are good to keep in your bag. And make sure you have enough of your prescription meds to last the whole trip (I even bring an extra day or two worth just in case of travel delays).
  • Deodorant. No, seriously. It’s a fact of life that some people really fucking smell at Comic-Con. Don’t be one of those people.
  • Hand Sanitizer. So many people. So many germs.
  • Sunscreen. You’ll likely find yourself outside at some point and that San Diego sun can get hot, fast. Now’s a good time to pack those samples from Birchbox and Sephora!  🙂
  • Sunglasses. These can be easy to forget to pack!
  • Fold-up tote bag. I always have one of these in my purse, but it’s a great thing to have on hand for those impulse purchases on the show floor.
  • Light jacket, hoodie, or sweater. San Diego weather is just about perfect in July, but the rooms inside the convention center can get chilly at times. It’s can also cool down overnight and if you’re in the Hall H line at 3am (I’ve been there) you’re going to want an extra layer.
  • Towel or mini fold-up chair. I recommend this if you’re planning to wait in the Hall H line. Sitting on the concrete for hours can actually be painful, so at the very least, pack a towel to fold up and sit on. (You could bring a hotel towel, but for the love of god, make sure you return it. Hotels likely lose a ton of towels and bedding during SDCC.)
  • Cash. A lot of people these days don’t carry cash with them, but it’s a good idea to have at least some in case a vendor doesn’t take credit cards or you just want to buy a bottle of water from a food stand.

Some items that collectors will want to pack are:

  • Poster tube. If you anticipate buying posters, you’ll need one of these to transport your goodies back home safely. If you forget yours, there’s a mailing store inside the Marriott Marquis lobby where you can buy a poster tube and mail it to yourself.
  • Sharpie and notebook. If you’re an autograph seeker, you’ll want to have these items on you at all times in case you run into a celebrity whose autograph you’d like to ask for.
  • Extra Baggage. If you expect to buy a lot of stuff, pack a fold-up duffel bag or something similar inside your luggage. Every con attendee receives a giant Warner Bros bag to carry stuff around in, which comes in handy, but it’s not a great bag for carrying on or checking on a plane.

Last but not least…SDCC can be very overwhelming, but try to remember take it all in and HAVE FUN! I think that’s about it—I hope this post has been helpful. See you at Comic-Con!

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