I am currently in Atlanta for DragonCon, which is my SEVENTH, and thankfully last, con of 2016. It’s also my third con weekend in a row, which means that I am in all ways exhausted.
I do love a good SFF convention, though, and I think this was the year that I really perfected an important aspect of con life: the con bag. I’ve got this thing boiled down to the essentials, and since I know plenty of authors (and readers) who travel to conventions, I thought I’d share my newly developed con bag science. For those of you who do go to conventions, I’d love to hear anything that I’m missing, or any brands/tips/tricks you’ve come up with, in the comment section.
Here’s what I carry with me:
1. Water Bottle
Probably the most important item on this list. Anyone who attends conventions sees the signs begging everyone to stay hydrated. I’ve found that there are water stations everywhere at conventions, but it pays to have your own bottle. I enjoy this one because its weird shape lets it fit better in my bag.
Yup, I’m a girl. At home in my regular life, I can barely be bothered to deal with a little mascara, but at conventions I want to look my best, because there are a zillion people taking photos, and because looking my best makes me feel more sure of myself. I usually put on makeup in the hotel room, but I also carry enough with me to pretty much get by, in case I’m running late, the airline loses my suitcase, or (as is the case here in Atlanta) I sweat off my original makeup job.
3. Rechargeable Battery
Carrying your own spare battery can be vital if you’re at the con all day. It may be difficult to find an outlet while you’re running around, and it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough time in any one spot to fully charge your phone. This is something I bought just this summer, and between playing Pokemon and using convention apps to run my schedule, it’s been endlessly useful.
Conventions are loud, you guys. If I want to find a quiet corner to get some writing done, I need a way to tune out the noise. I know lots of people who swear by noise-cancelling headphones, but they give me headaches. You can carry any other kind of headphones, of course, but I don’t listen to music when I write, so I like having some good, old-fashioned earplugs. I enjoy these pink ones, which are reuseable, and which are shaped a lot like earbuds that I’m used to.
5. Gum, mints, etc.
This one’s kind of obvious, but yeah. When I’m sitting on a panel or signing someone’s book, I don’t like to worry about dosing them with bad breath.
6. Oil Absorbing Sheets
Another new acquisition, and one I’m already addicted to. Most conventions are in the spring and summer, which can be hot. When you get hot, oil builds up on your skin and shines through your makeup (or just makes your face really shiny, if you’re not wearing makeup). Lots of people don’t mind this, but I think it makes me look flustered and uncertain. These sheets are cheap, and you dab them on your face to get rid of shine. I know it sounds kind of vain, but it’s harmless and it makes me feel better, so who cares?
Pro tip: this is also useful if you take a nap and wake up shiny. Much easier than reapplying makeup.
Not everyone needs to carry these, but bright lights bother me and can lead to day-ruining migraines. Taking care of yourself is crucial at conventions, and this is another way I keep myself healthy.
9. Hand Sanitizer
I’m proud to say that it’s been years since I’ve gotten Con Crud, and I think it’s in part due to carrying hand sanitizer with me (I like this one, which is a spray shaped like a pen). I’m not suggesting you stop and clean your hands every fourteen seconds –go on living your life, guys– but if there’s a situation with lots of hand-shaking, high-fives, etc, it’s a good idea.
I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake.
11. Extra Hair Ties
In the summer, especially, I may change my hairstyle six times a day. By “hairstyle,” I am of course referring to two ways of wearing my hair: up and down. I’ll start the day with it down, get hot and put it up, get annoyed by the tight ponytail and put it down, etc. Extra ties are just a good idea.
12. Business Cards
Also kind of obvious. Sometimes I’ll carry bookmarks instead of, or along with, these, but as an author I want to have business cards for networking, or for after panels when people come up and ask me which of my books they should start with. A list of my books is on the back of the card, which I keep in a card case so they stay nice.
I’m not going to spend too much time on the actual bag I carry, because this has a lot to do with personal preference. Conventions, in my experience, are hard on bags. You’re constantly throwing it on a floor or a chair, bumping it into people, and sometimes even using it as airplane carry on. (The footwell of the average plane seat? Not a clean place.) Some people prefer to buy cheap bags and wear them out quickly. Me, I go in the other direction: I like to get a nice, sturdy bag with lots of pockets and preferably some kind of warranty. I’m willing to spend more money in order to only have to spend it once. I’m also a big fan of bags with either adjustable straps or two straps, so I can carry it on my shoulder or cross body.
For cooler-weather cons I usually carry a leather bag, but in the summer it always seems weird to me to be dragging around half a dead cow. Last month I happened to be near a Tumi Outlet store, and spent a surprisingly not that huge amount of money on a bag made from ballistic nylon. It is not, sadly, bulletproof, but I can always keep looking.