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Presents: CON-Attending 101
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  Welcome to Balticon's guide to science fiction con-going, CON-Attending 101.  While this is intended for someone who's never been to a convention before, it contains information everyone could use. 

[Your not-so-humble Webmeister freely admits having stolen this idea from OTAKON. We steal only the best ideas...;-)]

How to attend a convention without spending your life's savings:

You may be thinking to yourself, "$50 for a membership, plus $119/night for hotel, plus food, parking, adds up to several hundred dollars for the weekend!  How can people afford that?!"  The answer is, very few people come alone.  If two people share a room, the cost is reduced to $60/night per person.  4 people in a room is $30/night, etc.  Sharing room expenses by coming to the con with friends is the easiest and most common way of keeping your costs down.

What's that?  You don't have any friends? ^_^  Fear not, there is another solution -- volunteer to help out for the weekend.  Balticon is always looking for reliable individuals to help us run certain aspects of the con, and we're happy to reward you for your effort.  At the most basic level, that includes some food to eat, thus lowering food costs.  For a few more hours, you get a free t-shirt.  Also, you can make friends with other volunteers. Many friendships have been started while volunteering at cons.

Here's a rough idea of the costs (per person) involved in attending a science fiction convention:

EXPENSE ALONE W/ONE
FRIEND
W/THREE
FRIENDS
Balticon membership $50* $50* $50*
Hotel room (3 nights, Fri., Sat. & Sun.) $360 $180 $90
Travel (gas, tolls, etc.) (3-6 hr trip) $30 $15 $8
Parking (4 days) $20-60 $10-30 $5-15
Food (10 meals Fri-Sun--2/3/3/2) $40-65 $40-65 $40-65
TOTAL $500-565* $281-340* $193-228*
* purchasing a membership earlier in the year will lower this by $5 or more depending on when and where you buy it.

What to bring?  What to bring?

Heading off to a science fiction convention requires a little pre-planning, but it's worth it.  First, bring a change of clothes for every day you'll be at the con, along with the other essentials you usually take when you're spending the weekend somewhere -- toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.  If you're sharing a room with several other people, bringing an extra towel and maybe a pillow or blanket (or a sleeping bag) is a good idea.

After you have the essentials, you can worry about the other stuff.  One way to save more money for the dealers room is to bring some food with you.  Go to your local grocery store and buy some food to bring along.  The con suite should cover snacks, but if you want more substantial food, bring it.  PB+J sandwich supplies keep well unrefrigerated, and cost about $5 for enough to cover the whole weekend.  Buying a six-pack or two of soda is also MUCH cheaper than buying soda at $1 per can in the hotel too.  But do save SOME money for food and the trip home. 

In any case, be sure you leave some room in the car for the stuff you will buy at the con.

Getting There

It's supposed to be half the fun, right?  Well, whoever said that is full of something, because driving for several hours is anything but fun.  Here are some tips to make the journey a little less painful.

Before you leave, visit MapQuest and get directions to the convention hotel from where you live.  If you can, print them out (with maps).  If you are travelling in a multiple-car group, make one copy for each car.

If your group consists of more than one car, make sure all the drivers can recognize each others cars.  Traffic on the interstates gets pretty hectic at times, and you don't want to lose part of your group.  It may be a good idea to plan for several places where everyone can stop in case one of the cars falls behind.  In a caravan, each car should keep track of the car in front of it, and the car behind it.

Dealing with the hotel:

Staying in the cons main hotel is always a good idea--they are usually cheaper, and you get to stay closer to the action.  It is a good idea to reserve your room as early as possible.  Most hotels require a credit card to hold a room, but not always.   Even so, there is no charge for reserving a room, and you can usually cancel as little as 72 hours in advance with no penalty.

When you check in, ask for keys for everyone in your group, up to 4 per room.  If you are cramming more than 4 people into your room, you'll need to work out a system for swapping keys for room access.

Most rooms have alarm clocks in them, and if not, you can call the hotel front desk for a wake-up call.  A good way to make sure you don't miss that early morning video.   You can also ask for extra towels, soap, etc.

Make use of the concierge.  "What's a concierge?," you say?  Well, they are like the tour guide / information desk at the hotel.  They can tell you where to get cheap food, where the closest ATM is located, how to get to the nearest grocery store, what time the trains run, and much more.  The hotel makes this invaluable resource available, and we strongly suggest making use of it.  We do.

What to do at the convention itself:

There is so much to do at Balticon, it can be a little overwhelming at times.  Video theaters are good, but there is so much more going on--things that may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see. 

When you register at the convention, you'll receive a program guide, and a schedule of videos and events.  Take some time to look it over and mark the things you really REALLY want to do so you won't miss them later.  If you're feeling industrious, work out your whole weekend schedule.  Descriptions of all the videos, panels, and events can be found in the program, so look up info on something you are unsure of.  Taking a little time early to plan ahead will save you more time later, and you'll miss less stuff.

As for specific events, the Balticon Masquerade is often considered the highlight of the convention.  It gets the prime Saturday evening time slot, and it is probably the most heavily-attended event at the convention.  Some people line up hours in advance to get good seats.  That's their choice, but they miss a lot of the convention by doing so.  You can probably line up 30 minutes in advance and still get in -- better than wasting the whole afternoon in our opinion.

The con suite is a mystery to some newcomers.  What it is is a room you can go to to relax, sit on a nice comfy sofa, and eat free food and soda.  You can also talk to your fellow fans while you're there, but free food is the main attraction.  Snacks like chips and pretzels, soda, coffee, veggies, chocolate and candy, and other snack foods are usually available.

Our Guests of Honor also have panels where you can ask them questions and learn about what they do.  Many of them also have one or two autograph sessions.  We suggest bringing something related to the guest for them to sign, but if you don't have anything, their page in the BSFAN will do nicely.

Some other links on this topic:

o http://www.locksley.com/neofans/

o Emerald City Magazine Con Attending FAQ

 

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