The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving a Convention

Where can you find multiple iterations of Spider-Man, every anime character you can think of, and a man dressed as “Dorito Pope” all in the same place? A convention. Specifically a fandom convention.

With San Diego Comic-Con just around the corner, con season has arrived, and with it comes extended weekends of geeky panels, fantastic cosplay, and more merch than your bank account can afford. But cons can also be daunting. Hundreds if not thousands of people elbow their way through crowded hallways to get where they need to go without regard that you’re trying to get some place as well. Or you’re jam-packed in a room without sufficient space to scratch that obsessive itch from your cosplay that’s been bothering you for the last hour or stretch your aching muscles without ramming your arm or leg or cosplay prop into someone else. There’s the constant existential crisis of determining whether to attend a Dungeons & Dragons 101 panel, spectate the popular karaoke performances, or bask in the glory of Waluigi Time with fellow Nintendo nerds. And as the weekend wears on and your temper wears thin from lack of sleep, food, and respite from the human population, you may wonder what even compelled you to sign up for this wild and exhausting and supposedly fun event.

As an introvert, surviving a weekend at a con might seem hopeless. But it’s not impossible. To make the most of the fun that comes with a convention, here are a few things to keep in mind. 

Make a Plan

Whether you’re attending Comic-Con International or a small university’s one-day event, almost every con has a schedule available ahead of time. Utilize this. Download it, print it out, color code it, whatever. Spend time looking over what events are available during the con, decide what you absolutely want to do, and make those your priority. When you’ve finished mapping out your plan of attack, make a back-up plan.

Sometimes things go wrong at cons. Panelists cancel, rooms reach capacity, someone pulls the fire alarm and everybody has to leave the building, Deadpool causes a scene because he didn’t get into the “Your Waifu is Trash” panel. You want to be prepared for whatever might happen so you won’t be disappointed if you end up missing a panel about your favorite video game franchise or don’t have time to stand in line for an artist or celebrity. The bigger the con, the greater chance you have of missing out on a popular event because other people have the same idea as you. So make a plan, but realize you may have to be flexible and switch your plan on the go.

If you’re going to the con with a group (and if you’re an introvert, I’d recommend going with a group so you’ll feel comfortable knowing there are familiar faces around), plan ahead of time how you’ll communicate with each other. Group messages or forums are helpful to keep in touch so you know where everybody is at, even if your interests vary, but you also need to keep in mind that cell service could be sketchy or the WiFi overloaded. Make plans before you disperse to meet up with each other for specific events or photoshoots or even just to grab a bite to eat, and double-check that everybody in the group is on the same page before you arrive so everybody can enjoy the weekend together or apart.

When you get to the convention, find a map of the building so you can easily find the correct panel room, security (in case you lose something or need to report an incident), bathrooms, and exits. Familiarize yourself with the place, especially if you’ve never been there before, so you know where to go. Being lost or feeling panicked in a crowded place is never good. And if you see someone else that looks upset or distraught, offer assistance. Point them in the correct direction, find a security member for assistance, or maybe just offer a few words of encouragement. 

Don’t forget to schedule in time to eat and rest as well. Cons are busy, busy, busy, but you can’t forget to stop for a snack or a nap or just a break from human contact. Your body may be able to handle a few days without proper rest or food, but eventually, you’ll need something to give you energy. And for introverts, that energy might come from spending time away from the con and the crowds, doing something else like reading a book or playing a game on your phone.

Come Prepared

A weekend at a con can be loads of fun, but you want to be prepared for all situations. You’re not at home where you can easily change your clothes if there’s a spill or grab a snack from the fridge when you’re feeling hungry. Instead, you have to bring everything you might possibly need with you, which can be a lot to carry around all day in addition to merch or cosplay props. 

First, make sure you pack the essentials. Items such as your I.D., con badge, money, and medication should always be on your person so you have it when you need it. Other items such as your phone charger, snacks, and a water bottle can easily be carried in a small bag or backpack. But there are a plethora of other items that might be helpful to keep handy, whether that’s in your hotel room or vehicle. Books, playing cards, handheld games, and even music can help keep you entertained while waiting in long lines (or give you a much-needed break from socializing). Hand sanitizer and tissues will keep germs away. Pain reliever and a spare change of clothes might be needed as well.

Second, create a budget. Cons have a wide variety of things to buy—anything from fanart and figurines to replica swords and costume pieces. It can be overwhelming to step into the dealers room or artist area and see all the possibilities before you. But no matter who you are, you can’t buy everything and chances are you’ve already spent a chunk of money paying for the con, a hotel room, and transportation. So before you come, create a budget: how much you’ll spend on food, how much on souvenirs, and how much on something else. Maybe you’d rather get an autograph from an anime voice actor than buy a con t-shirt. Figure out what is most important to you and your con experience, and prepare to spend that amount. Then give yourself buffer money in case something else comes up or you lose your wallet. 

Third, bring comfortable shoes. Yes, even for your cosplay. After walking around for several hours, your feet are going to be worn out. Wearing shoes that pinch your toes or leave blisters on your feet won’t make the next day and the day after that any better. Be prepared to sacrifice your cosplay shoes for something more comfortable to give your feet a breather. 

Last, stay calm. If you lose your wallet or the fire alarm goes off, the worst thing you can do is panic. Instead, take a deep breath and think about what you can do. If you’ve lost something, find security and check with them. Someone may have picked it up and turned it in, problem solved. If not, security will have some kind of procedure to assist in finding lost items. If the fire alarm goes off or security is ushering people from a specific area, follow their instructions. Exit the building or area as quickly and safely as you can. Don’t run people down to get out of the way, though, because everybody needs to get out and that just causes more panic and more harm. If something happens and you don’t know what to do, find someone in charge—a security member, a panelist, another con worker—and ask for help. 

Knowing ahead of time what to expect from a con can do wonders in helping you stay focused and have a great weekend.

Do Something New

The hardest part of attending a con as an introvert is engaging with other people. But that’s a huge aspect of the con experience. Most of the time, you’ll be surrounded by other people in costumes or having nerdy conversations. Join in. If you just stand against the wall with an expression that says, “Don’t talk to me,” you won’t have much fun. Panelists often encourage interaction and questions, and cosplayers are willing to take pictures. You just have to step up and get involved, even if that’s not something you would normally do. Most of the people you meet a con you will never see again. (And if you do, well, you made a new friend. Good job you!)

The people who attend fandom conventions are fellow nerds like yourself, so it’s easy to start a conversation with them by mentioning their fantastic cosplay or the fandom-themed shirt they are wearing. If you notice they’re reading a book you like, just pop over and ask them what they think about it. While waiting in line for a panel, you can strike up a conversation about the con itself, asking questions like “What’s your favorite event so far?” or “What are you looking forward to in this upcoming panel?” Yes, you may hit a wall with a few fellow introverts who don’t know what to say or how to react to your question, but more likely than not, the person you’re talking to will respond and you just let the conversation take you. But remember, if someone comes up to you and tries to start a conversation, be receptive. You never know if you just met your new best friend.

As I said before, be flexible. Maybe you have a friend that wants to attend a panel you have zero interest in. Go anyways. You may not watch that anime or care about that book series, but maybe learning about it will pique your interest.

Be Respectful

Cons can be fun, but they are also loud, crowded, and chaotic. Remember, though, that everybody is dealing with the same loud, crowded chaos as you. Be courteous. Don’t push your way through a crowded hallway because you’re feeling jostled or claustrophobic. Chances are someone else is feeling the same and you just rammed your elbow or backpack or replica sword into their space bubble. 

If you attend a panel, be considerate of what they have to offer. Don’t interrupt or grumble if their ideas don’t align with yours. Whispering a quip to your neighbor is fine, but don’t have an entire conversation while someone else is presenting. If you need to take a call, step into the hall. You chose to attend that panel; listen to what they have to say or move on to another event. 

Don’t argue with security. If they tell you to move or to leave or to take your cosplay prop back to your vehicle, listen to them. They can and will kick you out of the con if you’re disrespectful. And then what? You’ll be stuck not having a fun weekend with the rest of your friends.

Also, remember to ask before you take photos of cosplayers. First, it’s polite. Cosplay does not equal consent. Wearing a mask or a costume doesn’t entitle you to be a jerk to other people. With more and more people cosplaying, it’s become important to understand that cosplay is not for your benefit; it’s for the person who is dressed up. Second, asking to take a picture will give you a better angle than if you try to take it from across the hallway while they’re walking and other people are passing by. 

Whether you’re dealing with the security team, a panelist, or other attendees, treat everybody with respect and the weekend will be more positive. 

Take Care of Yourself

Cons can be a whirlwind, but you need to know your limits. You can’t do everything. It’s okay to say no.

If you need to take a break from attending panels to grab something substantial to eat, do it. If you need to leave a photoshoot because you’re feeling overheated in your cosplay, do it. If you need to get away from someone who makes you feel uncomfortable, do it. If you need to skip out on the glow stick dance party to return to your place of lodging for a nap or a night’s rest, do it. Remember, there is no right way to have fun. Sitting down to people watch or scroll through social media for a while is completely understandable.

No one is judging you for not having all the stamina in the world to endure hours upon hours of events or people. Even the most social person in the world will hit their limit and need a break away from people and activity. 

Cons can be memorable, amazing weekends, but you need to take care of yourself. If you’re tired and cranky from staying up too late and you smell like you haven’t had a shower in a month, you won’t have fun. (No one around you will have fun, either.) Take the time to take care of yourself. And have a great time!