First, a Personal Note
There really isn’t any easy way to say this, but my mother-in-law passed away earlier this week. She had been very sick for months so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but the news was still devastating. My husband and I weren’t sure whether we should still go to Comic-Con (which begins a week from today), but ultimately decided to go. His mom absolutely would have wanted us to go and enjoy ourselves, and his dad still wants us to go. I worked on updating this post before we got the news, and have been sitting on it until I felt it was appropriate to return to blogging. There are no rules on how to proceed with life while mourning, and we’re doing the best we can as we navigate our loss. With that said, let’s proceed.
SDCC Survival Guide
[ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 16, 2016. UPDATED FOR 2018.]
San Diego Comic-Con begins one week from today. This year 2018 marks my tenth consecutive year of attendance (plus my fifth wedding anniversary)! Suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot about how this epic con works so I have plenty of advice for first time SDCC attendees. Because I’ve been so many times now, I’m sharing my SDCC survival guide based on my own personal experiences over the years. Long post ahead!
We’re All in This Together
What I only realized last year is that probably a decent chunk of SDCC attendees are, like me, people who normally avoid giant events with massive crowds and a lot of stimulation. So it’s comforting to keep in mind that many of us will feel the same way about the hustle and bustle of the con.
Some of the below tips are based on my own anxieties and how I’ve learned to cope with them during Comic-Con. Even if you happen to love crowds, I also have general tips that will help you navigate the con.
The first and most important tip is to be patient. Comic-Con can be very trying for those who don’t enjoy waiting (so…everyone, basically). One inescapable element of Comic-Con is that you will wait to do basically anything: buy coffee, use the bathroom, get into panels, participate in booth activities, board SDCC shuttles, get into parties, and even to cross the street to get to and from the convention center. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the best people-watching in the world while you wait.
Be open to talking to strangers! I’m not usually one to chat it up with strangers, but Comic-Con is a magical place where it’s easy to meet like-minded people—especially if you’re waiting for hours to get into a panel. The overall vibe at Comic-Con is “happy and excited,” so all the waiting sets the stage for some fun nerd bonding.
The official SDCC shuttles are a 24/7, free method of transportation if your hotel isn’t within walking distance. As with everything else con-related, there is often a line to board a shuttle. Depending on your hotel’s location along the shuttle route, the first one or two shuttles that come by may already be full…so plan accordingly and leave extra time to get to the convention center if you want to be there by a certain time! Also check the shuttle schedule here so you don’t get screwed and have to wait 30 minutes for a shuttle at 3am. Uber and Lyft are good alternatives, but prices and wait times can increase during SDCC.
New in 2018: Harbor Drive in front of the convention center will be closed to vehicles (except shuttles and emergency vehicles). Only people with badges can access the front drive, stairs, and surrounding sidewalks. I’m curious to see how this will affect foot traffic in the immediate area surrounding the convention center.
Keep Calm and Comic-Con
If you are prone to anxiety that’s exacerbated by crowds, come prepared with some deep breathing and calming techniques as well as prescription anxiety meds if you have them. Need to take a breather from the convention floor? That’s okay. There are quieter areas inside the convention center where you can hide out. Take the escalators upstairs on the Hall H end of the convention center—there’s usually space to sit on the floor, and security (probably) won’t ask you to leave. Don’t sit on the floor in the main lobby because security will tell you to get up.
The two hotels closest to the convention center (Marriott Marquis & Marina and Hilton Bayfront) also have lounge areas where you can go to escape, though open seats can be hard to come by. You could also just duck into a random panel in a small room and chill out in the back.
Take Comic-Con from the Rear
The back (marina) side of the convention center used to be a mini respite from the indoor insanity. Now that the Hall H line system* has turned the marina into a giant nerd encampment, the marina side of the convention center has fully lost its chill. However, it’s still a sight to see. There are some great bay views from the second floor terraces behind the convention center, and the lawn behind the center is jam-packed with con-related activities. For years there’s been a no-frills taco truck stationed by the base of the stairs behind the convention center. You can get yummy breakfast tacos there if you’ve been waiting on the Hall H line all night!
TV Guide used to rent a yacht on the marina where they would interview and do photo shoots with the stars. IMDB took over the yacht starting in 2016, so there’s still great celeb-spotting along the marina. Now that the yacht activities are common knowledge, though, hanging out there to see celebrities has become a fucking shitshow.
“Respect My Authoritah”
Listen to and respect Comic-Con security. This is a gigantic event, and crowd control is not an easy feat. The security guards have an important job to do, so when they ask you to do something, don’t argue or act like an entitled dick.
Locating the nearest bathroom is a concern for some attendees like myself, so I always make a mental note of where more than one nearby bathroom is in case there’s a long line for the closest one (which definitely happens). I always carry a travel pack of Kleenex in case I end up in a stall without toilet paper. I also recommend carrying Pepto Bismol and Immodium in case of GI distress.
Fuel for the Day
Always carry water and snacks, especially if you’re planning to attend panels and are expecting to wait on line for hours upon hours. Lines often idle for hours, giving you ample time to leave and grab something to eat. When a line starts moving, though, you won’t want to jump out of it. Bring a reusable water bottle and refill it at the water fountains to help cut down on waste!
Panel Return Policy
During panels you’re allowed to leave the room to use the bathroom or get food. When you leave you’ll be given a pass that allows you back into that room during that same panel only. If you return after that panel has ended, you’ll have to wait on line again to get back in. So time your trips appropriately! (The exception to this rule is Hall H, which has restrooms inside of it as well as its own dedicated food vendors just outside of it.)
Don’t Be That Person
During panels, don’t hold your phone or camera up to take photos and videos the entire time; you’ll block the view of people sitting behind you. If you want to take pics or a video—it’s okay, we all do it—just be quick.
Cosplay is Not Consent
There is an unspoken etiquette for taking photographs of cosplayers. Odds are that if someone is wearing a costume they probably won’t mind being photographed. BUT…it’s polite to ask for permission. After the cosplayer agrees and you’ve taken your photo, thank them and compliment them on their costume. Many cosplayers put a ton of time, effort, creativity, and money into their costumes, and showing your appreciation is kind.
Also: you will see many people in costumes that show a lot of skin. On more than one occasion, I have seen grown men—in front of their children, no less—taking pics of scantily clad women without their knowledge. THIS BEHAVIOR IS NOT OKAY.
One of the most exciting things about Comic-Con is that you can literally run into a celebrity at any moment. Last year I encountered Carlos Valdes from The Flash when I was getting off the elevator on my hotel floor. Misha Collins from Supernatural was staying at our hotel as well, and he kindly posed for a pic with me.
Be respectful and don’t get all up in a celebrity’s face with your phone without asking. Many celebrities are quite open to posing for pics with fans at SDCC! But remember that celebrities are people too and most humans don’t enjoy being yelled at, touched, or having their personal space invaded by strangers. Celebrities are typically on very tight schedules at SDCC; they spend all day doing interviews, panels, photo shoots, and attending parties. So don’t take it personally if someone declines your selfie or autograph request—they may literally not have the time. Or they just don’t want to, which…hey, I get it. And if a celebrity handler or security person asks you to step back from a celebrity, just do it.
There’s a TON of stuff going on outside the convention center, much of which is open to everyone—even those without an SDCC badge. The SDCC Unofficial Blog (a GREAT resource) has a calendar dedicated to 2018 offsites, with more being added daily.
Group Meeting Spot
My group of friends designates an “in case of emergency” meeting spot. Not to be a downer, but if something were to happen at the convention center and cell phone service went down, it would be vital to have a rendezvous point. I also carry a small notebook that has a list of my friends’ phone numbers in it, because who can remember anyone’s phone number anymore?
I’m not done just yet! Here’s a list of items I recommend packing:
- Comfortable shoes. Comic-Con is the worst the time to try out a new pair of shoes. You’re going to be walking miles and miles every day.
- Extra phone charger like a Mophie case or a lightweight, portable external charger. Available outlets are often in short supply.
- Camera battery charger. (If you use a digital camera.) Recharge your battery every night and bring the charger with you in case the battery runs low during the day. Or bring an extra battery!
- Meds: OTC painkillers and allergy meds are good carry with you. Make sure you have enough of your prescription meds to last the whole trip (I bring an extra day or two worth in case of travel delays).
- Deodorant. One SDCC constant is that some people smell really fucking terrible. Also, do the rest of us a favor and shower daily.
- Hand Sanitizer. So many people. So many germs.
- Sunscreen. You’ll eventually venture outside, and that San Diego sun can get hot very fast.
- Sunglasses. So easy to forget to pack!
- Fold-up tote bag. Perfect for smaller purchases.
- Light jacket, hoodie, or sweater. July in San Diego is usually quite pleasant, but the convention center can get chilly. The temperature cools down overnight and if you’re on the Hall H line on the marina at 3am (I’ve been there) you’ll want an extra layer.
- Towel or mini fold-up chair. Recommended for the the Hall H line. Sitting on the concrete for hours can be painful, so at the very least, pack a towel to fold up and sit on. (You could bring a hotel towel, but for the love of god, make sure you return it. Hotels must lose a ton of towels and bedding during SDCC.)
- Cash. It’s a good idea to have at least a bit of cash in case a vendor doesn’t take credit cards or you just want to buy something small from a food stand.
Additional Packing for Collectors
- Poster tube. If you anticipate buying posters, you’ll need one of these to transport your goodies back home safely. If you forget to pack yours, there’s a mailing store inside the Marriott Marquis lobby (and probably most other nearby hotels) where you can buy a poster tube and mail it to yourself.
- Sharpie and notebook. If you’re an autograph seeker, you’ll want to have these items on you at all times in case you run into a celebrity whose autograph you’d like to ask for.
- Extra Baggage. If you expect to buy a lot of stuff, pack a fold-up duffel bag or something similar inside your luggage. Every con attendee receives a giant Warner Bros bag to carry stuff around in, which comes in handy, but it’s not a great bag for carrying on or checking on a plane.
Last but not least…SDCC can be very overwhelming, but try to remember take it all in and HAVE FUN! I think that’s about it—I hope this post has been helpful. See you at Comic-Con!
*I don’t fully understand the Hall H line wristband system (“Toucan Tracker”) because I haven’t gone through the whole thing myself since they instituted it a couple years back. However, if you’re going to try for Hall H panels, make sure you understand how the system works! Read this post on the official SDCC Toucan Blog for full details on the Hall H line.