ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 16, 2016. REPOSTED AND UPDATED FOR 2017.
San Diego Comic-Con 2017 begins next week, and it will be my NINTH consecutive year! Needless to say, 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 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. Apologies for the lengthy post—I have a lot to say!
First, I’d like to note a recent realization: probably a decent chunk of SDCC attendees are, like me, people who normally avoid giant events with massive crowds and a lot of stimulation. So I will keep that in mind this year—many of us will feel the same way about the hustle and bustle of the con, and it’ll be comforting to know we’re in it together.
Some of the below tips are based on my own anxieties and how I’ve learned to cope with them during Comic-Con. Like I said, I imagine there are plenty of people out there with many of the same worries. But I also have some general tips that will help you navigate the con!
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 unfortunately inescapable element of Comic-Con is that you will wait to do basically anything: buy coffee, use the bathroom, get into panels, get autographs, participate in booth activities, board SDCC shuttles, get into parties, 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.
Stranger Non-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, super nerdy conversations.
Getting Around: The official SDCC shuttles are a free method of transportation if your hotel is not within walking distance, but as with everything else con-related, there is often a line to board a shuttle. Depending on your hotel’s location along the shuttle route, the first one or two shuttles that come by may already be full…so plan accordingly and leave extra time to get to the convention center if you need to be there by a certain time! Also check the shuttle schedule here so you don’t get screwed waiting 30 minutes trying to get home at 3am. Uber and Lyft are good options, but prices do go up during SDCC.
Keep Calm and Comic-Con: If you are prone to anxiety that’s exacerbated by crowds, come prepared with some deep breathing and calming techniques as well as prescription anxiety meds if you happen to have them. If you need to take a breather from the convention floor, which can get insanely packed, that’s okay. Amazingly, there are quieter spots inside the convention center where you can hide out. 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. You could also just duck into a random panel in a small room and chill out in the back.
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 terraces behind the convention center, and the lawn behind the center is filled with con-related activities that I will refuse to call activations because the term makes my brain bleed a little. You can easily get to the eternally epic Hall H line* (which, over the past couple years, has come to look more and more like a homeless encampment) by going around the back side of the convention center. There’s a no-frills taco truck stationed behind the convention center, by the base of the stairs. You can get yummy breakfast tacos there if you’ve been waiting on the Hall H line all night! TV Guide used to rent a yacht on the marina, on which they would interview and do photo shoots with the stars. IMDB took over the yacht in 2016 and will do so again this year, so there will still be some good celeb-spotting along the marina. Now that the yacht activities are common knowledge, though, hanging out there to see celebrities has become a fucking shitshow.
“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: Locating the nearest bathroom is a concern for some attendees like myself, so I always make a mental note of where more than one nearby bathroom is 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. I recommend carrying Pepto Bismol and Immodium with you in case of GI distress.
Fuel for the Day: Always carry water and snacks with you, especially if you’re planning to attend panels and are expecting to wait 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 won’t want to jump out of it. To be eco-friendly, I 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 allows 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 as well as its own dedicated food vendors just outside of it.)
Don’t Be That Guy (or Gal): During panels, don’t hold your phone or camera up to 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.
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, creativity, and money into their costumes, and showing your appreciation is a kind thing to do. Also: you will see many women in very skimpy costumes. On more than one occasion, I have seen grown men—in front of their children, no less—taking a pic of a scantily clad woman without her knowledge. THIS BEHAVIOR IS NOT OKAY.
Celebrity Squee! One of the most exciting things about Comic-Con is that you can literally run into a celebrity at any moment. 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 for 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. Celebrities usually have handlers and sometimes security with them, so if those folks ask you to step back, just do it.
Offsites: there’s a TON of stuff going on outside the convention center, some of which is open to everyone—even those without an SDCC badge! This blog has a whole section dedicated to the offsites scheduled for 2017, with more posts being added daily.
Group Meeting Spot: Last year, for the first time my group of friends designated an “in case of emergency” meeting spot. Fortunately there was no reason to use it, but I think we will do it again this year. Not to be a downer, but if something were to happen at the convention center and cell phone service went down, it would be vital to have a rendezvous point. I also carry a small notebook that has a list of my friends’ phone numbers in it, because who can remember anyone’s phone number anymore?
I’m not done just yet! Here’s a list of items I recommend you pack:
- Comfortable shoes. Comic-Con is the worst the time to try out a new pair of shoes. You’re going to be walking A LOT. Like miles and miles.
- Extra phone charger like a Mophie case or a lightweight, portable external charger. Available outlets can be in short supply at times.
- Camera battery charger. I’m one of those people who still uses a digital camera in addition to my iPhone. I recharge my camera battery every night and try to remember to bring my charger in my purse in case the battery runs low during the day.
- Meds: OTC 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 in case of travel delays, which came in handy last year when we decided to stay an extra night because our original flight out was massively delayed).
- Deodorant. Seriously. It’s a fact of life that some people smell really fucking terrible at Comic-Con. Also, do the rest of us a favor and shower daily while you’re there.
- Hand Sanitizer. So many people. So many germs.
- Sunscreen. You’ll eventually venture back outside, and that San Diego sun can get hot, fast.
- Sunglasses. So 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 impulse purchases on the show floor.
- Light jacket, hoodie, or sweater. San Diego weather is just about perfect in July, but the convention center can get chilly. The temperature usually cools down overnight and if you’re on the Hall H line on the marina at 3am (I’ve been there) you’ll want an extra layer.
- Towel or mini fold-up chair. Recommended for waiting on the the Hall H line. Sitting on the concrete for hours can 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. Many folks don’t carry cash anymore, 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 (and probably most other nearby hotels) 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!
*I can’t say I understand the Hall H line wristband process because I haven’t bothered waiting on that line since they instituted the new system. However, if you’re going to try for Hall H panels, make sure you read through this page so you understand how it works!