To say my first ever San Diego Comic Con was an experience coupled with a sharp learning curve is an understatement. Having seen so many people before me do the Con without a hitch i thought to myself “yeah i can do this!”. I Got my Press Pass, booked my flight and with a bag full of over confidence I made my way there; where upon it became very apparent that I was very much under prepared for the trials, mishaps and troubles that come with navigating around one of the largest Comic Cons in the world. Nothing will properly prepare you for the shear size of this event and for those coming from colder climates, the heat!
With this in mind, and in order to better prepare my fellow UK Geeks, who are thinking about making this great Odyssey, i have put together a short guide, with the help of some other UK pilgrims who have made the journey more than once, to aid you in your quest for Nerdy Nirvana.
So sit back, relax, don’t forget to grab your towel and enjoy…..
Step 1. Do Your Homework
If you haven’t already, registered with www.Comic-con.org. Within you will be able to get a members ID and, if you aren’t Press register for your Comic Con ‘Badge.’ They also have information on hotels, Shuttle Buses and a valuable FAQ section where they answer most of the big questions. You can also see past comic cons on their website which includes a vast collection of pictures and also a Map of the surrounding area. I say surrounding but the con takes over the entire city; literally.
Get on it. https://www.facebook.com/groups/comicconukattendees/ is THE group to join, the people are friendly and information is plentiful. Got a question? these guys will answer it in record time, usually coming from Garry Quigley the Oracle Admin of the group or from Patrons like Cassandra Queeley, Charlie Pearson or Graham Small. In fact when writing this article i reached out and asked for their input, so here’s some gold top tips from the group.
Dom Rand – “Top Tip – Learn what is and how to use. ….Deodorant” – A general tip really but with all that heat, and all those people, essential
Sal Ellis – “Take snacks!” – There are numerous places to get food and drink BUT they will be full and you may need sustenance to keep you going, especially in that long winding Queue for Hall H.
Graham Small – “The first rule is join this group, going to SD from anywhere overseas is a large commitment, so its worth planning a trip before or after the convention at the same time – best cost flight routing may help shape your trip (flights direct into San Diego are limited).” – A sound Idea… VEGAS BABY!
Simon Ellis – “San Diego Convention Centre is big, you may think it’s a long queue for a photo op at a UK comic convention but that’s peanuts compared to queuing for one of the big events in Hall H ” – Seriously I cant emphasise this enough, Queues are HUGE and if you want to get into Hall H, be prepared to queue over night in some instances.
Martin Head – Take a chair! – especially if you are in line for the above.
Do or do not, there is no try
Climbing the mountain that is SDCC without a plan isn’t a great idea. Having a plan for each day along with backups will help insure your experience is as rewarding and stress free as can be expected from such a large event.
Communication is key! Phones die, technology fails so having a meet up point and time can really help keep you and your friends comfortable and in contact. No one wants to be alone in the worst case scenario so taking the time each day to set this up will give your group peace of mind.
Step 2. Visa Application (ESTA)
The application process is relatively easy, costs about $14 and you can just follow the link here ;https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Now i know the idea of applying for a Visa sounds terrifying or at least a little daunting but i have to say the questions asked are straight forward and easy to answer. All it takes is a little common sense and you’ll be fine. If you are unsure about anything always refer back to the Facebook i linked at the beginning and the good people on there will help.
Step 3. Flights
Conventional travel methods would have you booking flights via a travel agent however this is not always the best way to secure the best deals. Sites like Expedia offer great deals, tailored to your unique needs. A top tip is to clear your computer cache before each search! This will make sure you’re getting the best deals of the day. (also search for flights on Tuesdays! This is a slow day for most airlines and the deals start there!)
It is important to check your baggage allowance for each deal, sometimes the ticket will require you to purchase your bags separate, driving up the ticket price.
You should note though (and thanks to Gavin Braiden for pointing this out to us), “a lot of the major airlines are now selling basic economy tickets which includes hand luggage only and no seat selection etc. These are usually the first and sometimes only option thrown up on price comparison websites like Expedia, Skyscanner etc and it’s very easy to miss this detail and get stung for an extra $60 each way for a bag, and, I estimate, maybe more for seat selection especially if you have connections and will have to purchase seats for each leg!! They’re all becoming more like low cost airlines these days!!”
Step 4. Hotels / accommodation
There are three options for staying in and around SDCC: Hotel, Air BnB or stay with a friend. Having a friend in the area is obviously a bonus because it will most likely be free, or at least a fraction of the cost of anything else. Air BnBs are a double edged sword and can be great, and super cheap if there is a group of you, BUT I have heard horror stories and so it is imperative that you check reviews and feedback as the owners with little notice can cancel your booking.
Hotels are your final option and can be very expensive so either you suck it up and pay the big bucks, get a hotel in LA and travel or book well in advance to make sure you get a better rate. The hotels are more convenient but make sure you do your research first.
Step 5 . Travel to and from the Convention
If you are lucky enough to stay in a near by hotel then this wont be an issue for you but if you are further a field then either get to know where the shuttle bus goes from or UBER is your friend, cheap as chips and abundant. Pro tip for new users! If everyone in the group downloads the app, you will each get a free ride code to share to first time users, once they use the code you will also get a free ride, with some planning a group of new users can get a fair amount of free rides!
Step 6. Reconnaissance
San Diego is not your average Comic Con. It’s hot, humid, crowded and loud. To most of us in the UK it would resemble a herd of cattle being led to market while wearing their Warner Bros San Diego bags strapped to their backs. A day, or at least an afternoons recon/survey, when you first get there, is a must. Get the lay of the land, where everything is, best places for food, where the air con and meeting points are.
Therefore you need to pace yourself find out what’s happening, and when, so you have an itinerary personalised to you.
Step 7. Prepare to queue
Prepare to queue, I mean a lot. If you’re lucky enough to get the exclusive lottery you need to have the patience of a saint because other people won’t. Like Martin Head said, above, bring a chair, or a tent, if you attempt Hall H. (Hall H being the Main hall where MARVEL hold their announcements)
Step 8. Hydration and the right cloths for the day
Staying hydrated, especially for those unused to the heat is key. Make sure you have water easily accessible at all times, especially in lines.
Clothing, be comfortable in what you’re wearing, shorts and hockey jerseys are my go to dress sense. Sensible shoes and clothes will help to keep you cool and comfortable, lightweight fabrics and loose clothing for ease of movement.
Step 9. Shopping and Tipping.
With so much on offer, the amount of amazing merchandise you can buy is endless, but don’t weigh yourself down! Take the time to drop off large and heavy purchase back at your room, your back with thank you but also your exclusives will be safer from damage and theft. Keep in mind your baggage allowance, if you over do it you may gave to pay for postage home, not a cheap or safe option! Bring your own bags just incase they run out!
For many in the service industry in America, Tipping is used to make basic wage, to not tip is to stop a person making a basically liveable income. It is only acceptable not to tip in light of truly horrific service but keep in mind the livelihood of these people, you will not make friends with Americans by stiffing the staff on tips. 15% is considered a standard tip, feel free to go over that for excellent service!
Step 10. Take a day off from the convention proper
SDCC isn’t just the convention centre itself, its almost the entire city! Take a day to check out the different bars, pop up events and stages in and around the hotels and waterfront.. you don’t even need a pass for most of these and can enjoy the event without one! Remember you’re in a different country! Why not enjoy a bit of what they have to offer while you’re there!
So there we have it, a quick 10 step guide on how to deal with your first San Diego Comic Con. It will be hot, it will be crowded and it will be an assault on the senses (and wallet) but if you take these points in to mind, (and obviously bring a towel, it is Hitchhikers guide after all) you will have one of the best con experiences of your life.. UK conventions just wont be the same anymore.
Got anymore tips / Advice then please leave us a comment below
So until next time, Face Front True Believers and thanks for all the fish.