As an urban fantasy author, one of the best parts of my job is traveling to SFF conventions, where I participate in panels, meet new and familiar readers, and hang out with fellow authors that I generally only see on the internet. I’ve been doing these conventions for years, but last year I did a personal-best SEVEN cons of 2016, including old favorites like CONvergence and Worldcon, and new favorites like Dragoncon and Anomalycon. Because of all these adventures, I think 2016 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 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– and because it turned out to be quite a conversation starter. Everyone who sees it in front of me on the table seemed to have to ask if I’d filled it with vodka. (I had not.)
So, yeah, I’m a girl. At home in my regular writing 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 was the case 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 even if you can, 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. This model is no longer available at Brookstone, but I do recommend spending a little more on a quality battery. Bonus points for multiple USB ports.
Conventions are loud, you guys. I’m a little introverted, and sometimes I need to find a quiet corner to get some writing done and/or just relax and watch Netflix on my phone for a bit. So 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 makes your face really shiny. Lots of people don’t mind this, and that’s cool…but I think it makes me look flustered and uncertain when I’m sitting on a panel. If you enjoy cosplay, having oily skin also take away from the effect of your awesomeness. 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? Available on Amazon, or at drug stores or Target.
Pro tip: this is also useful if you take a nap and wake up shiny. Much easier than reapplying makeup.
There’s a sort of assumption that when you’re at a convention, you’ll be stuck inside one hotel the entire time, but I’ve never found that to be true. The con might be spread between multiple properties, or there may be times when you and your pals want to walk to a nearby restaurant or bar. Some cons even offer day trips to a local sporting event or historical landmark.
Still, not everyone needs to carry sunglasses on their person, but bright lights bother me and can lead to migraines, which ruin my whole day. Taking care of yourself is crucial at conventions, and this is another way I keep myself healthy.
I mean, duh.
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, but I’m also a fan of the lavender-scented bottles they have in the checkout line at Whole Foods. Con aromatherapy; what could be better?). Now, keep in mind, I’m not suggesting you become a germaphobe who must 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, so yeah, I should have a pen. But this particular model is actually magical: on one end, it’s a highlighter, on the other it’s a pen, and there’s a little dispenser for post-it flags. I use this a lot when I’m carrying a book around for research.
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. I’ve also used hair ties to secure a stack of bookmarks or business cards, or to shoot at people in the audience when I’m at a panel (okay, not really. I mostly shoot them at other panelists). 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.
In terms of the actual bag I carry, well, this has a lot to do with your personal preference. I will say that conventions, in my experience, are hard on bags. You’re constantly throwing it on a floor or a chair, bumping it into people, and/or 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, but I prefer to 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 summer 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.) with a ten-year warranty:
Next month I’ll be at a con in Hawaii, where I’m planning to use a Fossil bag that’s a little more colorful and a bit bigger, so I can also throw in some beach paraphernalia. Other great brands for con bags include Timbuk2 and Eagle Creek, both of which offer lifetime guarantees on many of their products (but double-check that your chosen bag is included in this before you buy).
For photos of my con adventures (not to mention my chinchillas and pit bulls) follow me on Instagram. If you’re curious about my books, learn more here. If you’d like to meet me at my next convention, I would LOVE that. Click on the Appearances link by the top right of this page.