Conventions 101: The Ultimate How-To Guide, Part Two

Welcome one and all to the second installment of my super mega epic Ultimate How-To Guide for conventions! If you haven’t already, check out PART ONE, where I talk about planning, ticket-purchasing, and everything you need to do leading up to the convention.

Today we’re going to discuss being at the con itself and I’ll be sharing all of my tips and tricks to making the most of your days there from start to finish! Like with any vacation, you’ve saved up and spent money to attend this fantastic event, so I want to make sure you have fun and have a memorable (in a good way) time!

Today’s post is going to cover:

  • Special Requirements/Needs
  • What do I bring / what do I wear?
  • Familiarizing Yourself With The Space
  • The Autograph & Selfie Table
  • Photo Op Time!
  • Artists! Vendors! Merchandise! How Not To Set Your Wallet on Fire!
  • Some Final Thoughts

So without further ado, grab your tea and your snack and settle in. Let’s dive in to part two of our comprehensive guide!

Just as before, for your reference, the conventions/companies I will be talking about the most are Walker Stalker/Heroes & Villains Fan Fest (WSC), FanExpo Vancouver and FanExpo Canada (FanExpo), and Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC). Thus, the information below most accurately reflects those cons and cons similar to them.

Special Requirements & Needs

Conventions are striving to be as inclusive a space as possible, and therefore have made many efforts over the years to be more helpful and accommodating to those who may have differing needs.

Many conventions will have a special group or team you can contact ahead of time to let them know about your needs. Whether you are not able to stand for long periods (and therefore cannot stand in lines), or you have anxiety and will need a quiet space, if you have a mobility assistance device (or need to rent/borrow one)… whatever the case may be, please do address it with them and they will try to help make your experience as awesome as possible!

Whether your disability is physical, psychological, vision/hearing, visible or invisible to the naked eye, do not be ashamed to bring it up. Just be aware that while these services are available, they are not to be exploited and used as an express pass or a confirmation that you can jump a line or get into a panel.

What do I bring? What do I wear?

My guide below is an extremely comprehensive list of things to bring on con day. Some are necessities (like your pass, obviously) while some others may not necessarily apply to you. While I’m not suggesting that everyone MUST ABSOLUTELY bring every single thing I mention below (since I myself don’t necessarily always do that), it may give you some good ideas that you never thought of before!

Your Pass / Confirmation / Photo Op Tickets / Autograph Receipt

Some conventions give you the option of mailing you your passes so you don’t have to line up to pick these up at Will Call, but this usually comes at an extra cost (and the risk of something getting lost in the mail). Bring your printed confirmation/QR code to pick up your passes! 

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for being better to the environment and avoiding printing anything if at all possible. That being said, not all conventions accept scanning codes from your phone screen (technology is a fickle and cruel mistress). You also don’t want to be that person in line who gets to the front then spends a minute scanning through emails because you can’t find your code. Print them on paper. Bring the paper. Use your phone as a back up (or have the paper be back up to your phone). Everyone will thank you for it.

TIP: If your convention allows pass pick up the day before, do it. This weekend, WSC Portland‘s event is on Saturday and Sunday, but they will have Will Call open on Friday for guests to pick up tickets and photo op tickets ahead of time. This saves you the hassle of having to line up on the day of the event (and if you haven’t already figured it out, I’m all about saving time)! Protect your pass – this gets you into the event, after all!

Money. Cash. Dinero. Dolla Dolla Bills. $$$. £££.

At conventions, most transactions done in person on the day are done in cash. Autographs/selfies are paid in cash directly at the celebrity’s table. Any additional photo op purchases made on the day of the convention are paid for in cash as well.

While some vendors and artists may accept credit/debit cards, this is not always the case. In large convention centres, the signal/connection may also be utterly terrible so it is not reliable to use those types of machines for transactions, not to mention the fact that those machines typically charge the vendor/artist a fee to use it. Do yourself (and the artist) a favour and pay in cash instead!

TIP: Withdraw cash ahead of time to bring to the event. While conventions always have ATMs, they also always have long lines and ridiculous surcharges/fees to withdraw money. Be sure to withdraw cash in advance and only resort to the ATMs in times of absolute desperation.

A Roomy Backpack or Purse

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My Herschel Supply Backpack decorated with pins by The Ninjabot.

Backpacks are ideal because you keep your hands free and can fit plenty of things, just be aware of your turtleshell when you’re walking through a crowd! Sometimes people can forget they have backpacks on and end up smacking people with their pack.

TIP: When I roam through extremely crowded areas at bigger conventions, I switch my pack around and wear it over my chest. This way I have better control and can see if it’s hitting anyone, and I also have easier access to the pack itself (i.e. for making purchases). It also means that potential pickpockets don’t have easier access to my pack.

Just in case, you could also bring an extra reusable bag… unless you purposefully don’t to try and control how much things you buy. 😉

A Powerbank For Your Phone / Camera 

In this day and age, this is a necessity to most. Your phone will eat through its battery way faster at a convention because you’re taking photos, selfies, posting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat… and your phone is actually working twice as hard trying to compete for signal against the other thousands of people also trying to do the same thing! Bring a powerbank (and don’t forget the cable for your charger).

I personally love the brand ANKER – their products are available on Amazon. The devices themselves can be as small as a lipstick tube or just a bit bigger than your phone itself. I have one that can completely recharge my iPhone 6S+ 5 to 6 times. It also has two USB ports so I can charge my camera or another device simultaneously.

Food & Drink

Let’s face it, with everything you want to see and do, and everyone you want to meet, eating is probably the last thing you care about… which is all the more reason why you need to have things to munch on all day. You’re going to be on your feet for several hours on end expending energy – the last thing you need is for you to crash and burn from exhaustion.

Bring easy-to-eat snacks that aren’t messy: a piece of fruit, granola bars, trail mix, make yourself a sandwich. Think of things that don’t require refrigeration, and that you’d also be okay with if it kind of got smushed in your bag (because that’s inevitable). Also notice that I tried to recommend healthier snacks. While it’s just as easy to pack a giant bag of M&Ms, chips, and a soda… I would recommend not eating junk food that’ll get you hyper-beyond-belief followed by crashing so painfully hard.

Bring a water bottle. You can refill it throughout the day. Stay hydrated!

TIP: Save money and time by bringing your own food. Most conventions end up having some sort of food offering, whether there’s a food court or possibly food trucks outside the centre. Much like movie theatre food, however, these foods will likely be quite pricey and you will also be lining up with several hundred (or thousand) other people trying to get food, too. Whether you’re bringing food from home or you passed by Safeway to stock up, it’ll save you money and time!

I’ve noticed at cons that they often have fast food – fries, burgers, pizza… smells that can cling to your clothes! I personally am not fond of having the smell of stale fryer oil clinging to me for the rest of the day so I try to avoid food areas if I can.

Mints, Toiletries/First Aid Kit, and Tide-To-Go

So you just ate that delicious sandwich and now you’re about to meet your favourite celebrity? TIP: Do them and yourself a favour, and don’t have bad breath when you do: pop a mint. Whether you prefer mints or gum or you want to straight up bring a toothbrush/toothpaste and mouthwash, bring something to refresh your breath! I’m sure you want Jeffrey Dean Morgan to remember you. I’m sure you don’t want him to remember you as “garlic-and-coffee breath dude.”

If you’re wearing make up, you’ll probably need to touch up at some point. Norman Reedus is pretty known for having his photo ops in the late afternoon (at ECCC and FanExpo both times I met him, his photo op was at 5:30PM)! The last thing you’ll want is to finally have that photo you spent $100 on, only to look like a grease ball oilslick in it afterwards. Whether you just need to powder your nose and touch up your lipstick or you want to bring a full kit with all your makeup and deodorant – have something on hand so that you look and feel your best!

Some people may want to bring band-aids (for scrapes and cuts or for poor fitting shoes), feminine hygiene products (always bring extra!), and Tylenol/Advil/headache medicine. Conventions are loud, overstimulating places to be and they may cause headaches to some, so having the pain meds for yourself can certain alleviate that.

All it takes is one flick of sauce, one drip of chocolate, one smear of ketchup to ruin your shirt/dress/costume. A detergent pen could save your outfit! 

Photo Op-Related Things

Do you have props? Don’t forget to bring them!

If you’ve been to a con before or just happen to have these kicking about – you’ll need a protective sleeve to slip your photo ops into, to stop them from getting bent. They’re usually pretty cheap to buy at conventions but if you have them already kicking around at home, just reuse them for the day and save a couple dollars.

Wear Comfy Shoes!

I understand this may not always be possible, especially to those in full costume, but I absolutely cannot do conventions unless I’m wearing comfy shoes. If I’m going to be mostly on my feet for about nine hours a day, walking on solid concrete? I need support! Con day is NOT the day to decide to break in a brand new pair you’ve never worn before. You’ll thank yourself for this, especially if you’re going to a multi-day convention!

If you absolutely must be wearing heels or a pair of shoes you don’t usually wear, then be prepared with bandaids or a mini first aid kit… or even better, if you can, bring a pair of comfy shoes/flip flops you can change into. 

Dress In Layers

Until you get there, you won’t really know if the convention centre is freezing cold blasting A/C, blisteringly hot without ventilation, or a combination of both depending on where you are or how congested it is with people. TIP: Dress in layers if you can. Aside from my actual coat (which I will roll and shove into my backpack as soon as I arrive), I usually have a cardigan/shrug or a scarf as well, which I can put on or take off as needed.

Spend the night before the con with a packed bag, a giddy mind, and look over the floor plan (if it’s available, and if you haven’t already) to get a sense of where things are! Then, try and get some sleep before the fun weekend ahead!

As Soon As You Walk In…

Familiarize yourself where things are before you do anything else.

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Just a screenshot of six (out of eleven) floor plan maps belonging to last year’s Emerald City Comic Con, showing the various floors of three different buildings!

 

Grab a convention guide or download your convention’s phone app (if available) and look at the lay of the land. I’m not asking you to memorize the map, but give yourself a good idea of where the following areas/places are:

  • Photo Op Area – typically pretty clearly delineated space. In some bigger cons this could even be entirely in its own ballroom or hall on a different floor.
  • Autograph Tables – some larger conventions like ECCC may go so far as to number each table so you know exactly where each celebrity is.
  • Artists/Vendors/Merchandise – so you know where all your money is going later.
  • Panel/Stage Area or Hall(s) – in smaller conventions, these areas are hard to miss since you’ll see the stage with the seating for the audience. In larger cons like ECCC or FanExpo, major panels will be in a separate hall, while all the smaller sessions, meetings, speed dating, et cetera will be in several other meeting rooms.
  • Cool Displays – Last year at FanExpo Canada, they featured an exhibit of actual costumes on display from the film Thor: Ragnarok. At the last few WSC events, they’ve set up a Stranger Things living room set (complete with lights and letters on the wall) that fans can enter and take photos in! Read your guide and take note of these areas so you can visit them!
  • Washrooms – for obvious reasons.
  • ATM Machines – if you get desperate.
  • Food Court/Food Stands – if there are any.
  • Quiet Room – many cons have a designated safe space for those who need a quiet moment. As I mentioned before, conventions can be overwhelming, overstimulating and loud. I appreciate conventions that prepare for these situations.
  • Family Room – some conventions also have a family room or space where you can take a moment with your kids (to feed, change or soothe them, for example).

Note: Larger conventions can not only take up several floors of a convention centre, they can also take up multiple buildings! 2017’s ECCC was spread out amongst the two convention centre buildings and the hotel across the street. There were times where I had to go from a panel to a photo op – and I had to leave the building and cross the street to do it! Smaller conventions on the other hand either stay in one big hall or two side-by-side. Make sure you have a good idea of where you are and where you need to be at any given time.

Now… off you go! Explore!

The Autograph & Selfie Table

The autograph table is where most queuing takes place at conventions! At most cons, this is the set up where you can get the most interaction with a celebrity. During this time, you can have a quick chat, get some things autographed, take selfies (if they offer them), and give the person a gift.

Autographs

IMG_2481
Norman Reedus & Gaten Matarazzo chatting at FanExpo Canada back in September 2017. In orange, you can see Norman’s sign which lists pricing in USD and CAD (cash only!) and that no posed photos/selfies are allowed.

TIP: Before you decide to stand in a line, you can ask a volunteer or glance in closer to the autograph table to see what the actor’s pricing is. From there you can already calculate how much money you’ll need rather than stand in line only to realize you’re short. When you get to the table, you will first interact with the actor’s agent who will ask you what you want (autograph, selfie, or both in a combo discounted price, if applicable) and how many (for example, if an autograph is $40, and an autograph/selfie combo is $60 and you wanted a selfie and two items signed, then you’re paying $100 total). Note: The autograph price is priced per item signed. You then pay them in cash (so make sure you have enough $$$ on hand). 

The actors will have an array of 8×10 photos from their various roles and/or photoshoots which you can choose to get signed (included in the autograph price). Alternatively you can bring something for them to sign, such as a Funko Pop, or your own photo op with that actor. They’ll typically stick a post it to your object with your name (and its correct spelling) so that the actor spells it correctly when they sign for you. Though each actor’s method is different, they’ll usually have some coding system to inform the actor what you paid for. From there it’s soon your turn to step up, smile, and chat with your them while they sign your items!

TIP: Be reasonable with the number of things you get autographed. Don’t bring 30 items for them to sign! While you can argue that you have the money to pay for them, it’s selfish, plain and simple. Of course take a few moments to chat. Some actors (especially if there’s no one in line behind you) love chatting with fans for some time, so (respectfully!!!) take that opportunity if it’s available. But now is not the chance to pitch them your script, or tell them your life story, or hog their attention for twenty minutes, especially if and when there are other fellow fans waiting to go after you. Please be understanding and considerate.

Note: Actors will use their discretion when it comes to signing some things and they have the right to refuse signing a certain object if they’re not comfortable doing so. Be respectful of their decision and select an 8×10 or something else instead!

But First, Let Me Take A Selfie

Selfies are wonderful opportunities to have some personal photos with some celebrities taken with your own phone or camera. First off, they’re cheaper (usually $10-$20 less) than professional photo ops. Second, they can be more candid and feel more personal, especially if the celebrity is the one taking the pics with you (like a proper selfie, as opposed to just someone taking photos of you with your phone). Third, many celebrities will take several shots and poses with you, or if you have someone taking the photos for you, ask them to take some candid photos (if allowed) while you and the celeb are interacting, chatting, hugging, etc., as opposed to just the posed moment. Last, they usually check your phone with you if the photos are blurry or if you’re happy with them, and do a retake if this is not the case.

If you’re after a more casual feel, or don’t care for the posed professional backdrop, then selfies are a great way to have fun interactions that cost less money!

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Chatting with Khary Payton at FanExpo Canada, 3rd September 2017. The volunteer at the table was holding my cellphone and I actually didn’t know she was taking photos the whole time we were talking… so she caught a ton of animated sweet moments (there’s about ten more)!

Many celebrities will simply sit at their table to sign autographs, then stand up and come around the table to take the selfies (thankfully, so you don’t have the awkward lean-over-the-table selfie… though I still know of some actors who do that, alas). Some celebrities, however, will forego sitting at the table altogether and come around to the fan side of the table (like Khary above), so the interactions are just more natural and there aren’t any awkward getting up/sitting down moments in between.

While pretty much all of my encounters at autograph tables have been absolutely lovely, in my experience John Barrowman is one of the best for being super generous with his time – he too will stand up on the fan side of the table the whole time to interact with fans, as did TJ Thyne, Catherine Tate and Henry Winkler.

Note that not all actors do selfies at their table, and just because they did them in the past/at other cons does not mean they’ll do them at yours. Conversely, just because they didn’t do them before doesn’t mean they won’t at yours. The actor and their agent decide for themselves, and you find out at the con. Because of how time consuming they are, higher profile/more popular actors typically won’t do them at all (otherwise they’d never get through their lines in a timely manner), so in those cases, your only chance of getting a photo with them is with the photo op.

As a separate note, to the best of my knowledge, at Creation Entertainment conventions such as Supernatural cons, you are responsible for bringing in an item to be signed – so if you want an 8×10 shot of them, you either need to get one printed or buy one from a vendor, none are provided at their table. No photography is allowed during autograph sessions, nor is it a time for you to take a minute to chat with the actors. You get your autographs and go.  Instead, they auction off Meet & Greets and backstage hangout experiences to a lucky few to be able to chat and hang out with the actors amongst a smaller group. (To reiterate, it is an auction, so highest bids win.)

Photo Op Time!

Alright. It’s time for your photo op – the professionally shot 8×10 photo with you and your celeb(s) of choice! I’ve done my fair share of them, as you know, and some of them have turned out great while others not as amazing. Overall, though, they’ve taught me some valuable lessons over the years in how to get it right.

Lining Up For Photos

By now you will have probably seen where the photo op area is for your convention. For the most part, this area is staffed not just by convention volunteers but also employees of the photo op company itself. They will usually have large TV screens and someone on a microphone making announcements. On the screens, they will have a list of the scheduled photo ops for the day and they will inform you not only when to start lining up, but where (you will see lots of rows of people that lead to multiple photo op rooms since there can be anywhere from two to even five or six photo ops running simultaneously). Check these TVs and listen for any announcements in case there has been a last minute change to your photo op time.

Don’t line up unless you’re prompted to. As a general rule you shouldn’t line up more than 15-30 minutes before your scheduled time. If you hover around too early and clog up the area you will likely be asked to leave. Once you do finally line up, make sure you have your photo op ticket ready and on hand.

Pay attention to the volunteers corralling you! Lines will shift and move fast, so pay attention to your surroundings and listen to what the staff are instructing you to do!

Start preparing for your photo. Now’s the time to start getting ready. Fix your hair, eat a breath mint, powder your nose, touch up your lipstick. Now is also the time to bring out any props you may be using for your photo. If possible, I would suggest removing glasses – these will often have glare from the camera flash and could wreck your photo.

TIP: Take your lanyard off/get your cellphone out of your pocket and shove it in your bag! I get choked when I see beautiful photo ops kind of ruined by a giant convention pass dangling from someone’s neck, or the bulge of a giant cellphone in their pocket!

Entering the Photo Op Area

After scanning and getting in to your photo op area, there will usually be a space where a volunteer will take your bag/any items that won’t be in the photo. Make sure your bag is secure and nothing will fall out (and be aware that your bag will not be in your line of sight for a minute or two).

Each photo op company and convention have their list of ground rules for photo ops with little variations here and there, so be sure to read up on your con’s website for the most accurate information. For the most part, my pointers below apply to any photo op situation regardless of the convention:

  • Photo ops are not meet and greets! This isn’t the time to strike up a conversation. If you want to chat with them, do so at the autograph table.
  • You can’t ask for autographs or have your phone out while in the photo op area.
  • If you are going to pose, don’t make it overly complicated. The pose has to be something they can do pretty quick – you can’t ask them to put on full costumes (I have seen some actors put on a hat or glasses or something easy, but no, you can’t bring in a dinosaur onesie for them to wear).
  • If you can’t explain your pose in a few fast words, bring a photo to show them for reference.
  • For the love of all that is good in the universe, don’t grope, kiss, bite, or jump on the actors! This sounds like common sense and yet it needs to be said.
  • The actors can say no to a pose. I know this might be disheartening, but be ready for the possibility that they decline to pose or gesture a certain way, or decline to hold or put on something you hand to them.
  • Listen to the photographer’s prompts. They will be quick, so pay attention!

Picking Up Your Photo

Once you’re done follow the route out to gather your belongings and head out to where staff will be standing by with printers. By the time you get around there, your photo will probably be printed and ready to pick up!

If your eyes are closed in the photo… immediately notify a staff member so they can get you back in line for a reshoot. This is the only instance where they’ll allow for reshoots. For glasses glare / your mouth is open weird / you weren’t ready when the shot was taken… sorry. They won’t reshoot for those.

All you have to do now is scan to retrieve your JPEG or an additional print (or, if you did not buy those ahead of time, now is your chance to purchase them if you want them).

TA-DA! Now you can marvel at your gorgeous self with your favourite actor with an awesome keepsake!

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What’s your preference? It’s ultimately up to you if you’d rather have a single posed professional 8×10 or a bunch of candid selfies. Here are five out of the twelve Catherine Tate took on my phone! As you can see, I was hella indecisive… so I ended up getting both with her!

Artists! Vendors! Merchandise!

At some of the bigger conventions, this area may very well be the most overwhelming. It’s basically a fandom-filled shopping extravaganza, with everything from clothing to jewelry to fine art and everything in between.

Artists and Commissions 

In many larger conventions, there is an artist alley where illustrators, animators and artists will set up booths to sell their art at. Art can come in the form of prints, original sketches, and tons of other merchandise with their art!

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Me and artist Megan Levens! I commissioned some TWD art from her and ended up also purchasing this gorgeous Poe Dameron comic she did the cover of.

As artists get added to the artist alley the convention site will typically update their list. From there you can get links to their social media or website to see their art. Often, they will advertise that they take commissions – paid orders of art made specifically for you. Some artists will do this in advance (a month or weeks prior to the convention, and then you pick it up at the convention) or some will take orders throughout the weekend (for pick up later in the day or the following days). This is another cool way to get something personalized and original – and you’re supporting artists and their craft!

Shopping Shopping Shopping

TIP: Don’t buy things at first glance. I’ve found that walking through the vendor/art aisles of FanExpo or ECCC made me sorely tempted to buy 981742 things. Had I only gone for a day, I might’ve caved and bought things on the spot because I may not have had time to return through that area again. If you schedule your day with a proper amount of free time, however, you can walk away and mull it over. Don’t be embarrassed to tell someone you’re thinking about it.

Take note of where their booth is, ask them if you can take a photo (so it’ll trigger your memory of what you wanted/why you want to go back later) and walk away. Trust me, you’ll save so much money if you don’t cave and make countless impulse purchases.

This will also save you from having to lug around a bunch of things throughout the day, which is what will end up happening if you do all your shopping first thing in the morning!

Some Final Thoughts

  • Take everything in. If you plan your day right, then you shouldn’t be rushing around doing so much. Really take the opportunity to enjoy and soak in the experience. Don’t just look at everything through your camera phone while you take 1000 photos. Put it away for a moment and just… look.
  • If you are taking photos… there’s a pretty big chance you’ll encounter someone in full costume that looks pretty darn epic, or parents who dressed up their three year old as BB-8. Regardless of who it is – ask their permission before you take their photo, and make sure they’re okay if you decide to post it on social media. Them dressing up is not permission to be treated as a mascot, nor is it consent for you to take photos or get handsy.
  • Take a break when you need to. Don’t try and be a hero and do 32498235 things. You will get exhausted and burn out (imagine being so tired that you oversleep and miss the next day…?!). Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Talk to people, because we’re all fans here! Everyone at the convention is here because – like you – they are celebrating fandom! If you find yourself in line with people for an autograph or photo op, then they obviously already have something in common with you. Don’t be shy! If you’re willing, strike up a conversation. You never know – you might make a bunch of lifelong friends with someone you just happened to stand in line with, or sit next to. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t start watching The Walking Dead until season six while they watched it from the start, or if they prefer the Harry Potter books while you prefer the movies. We’re all fans and no one is “better” or “greater” than anyone else.
IMG_1331
My friend Sean and I after a day at ECCC 2016. Sean and I actually met at the Stargate Convention – my first con – a decade ago, and we’ve been friends ever since!
  • It’s not about how much money you spend. For all my talk about buying an upgraded pass and all that jazz… you don’t actually need that in order to have a good time. Most conventions I’ve ever gone to, I had a GA pass! With time management and good planning, I was still able to do most of what I wanted to do (and let go of the things that I had to miss). While an upgraded pass can save you time, proper planning can also yield great success.
  • HAVE FUN! Don’t be a taskmaster staring at a schedule you have to keep on top of. Like I said in my last post, be flexible, be open to the possibility of last minute changes and things not going exactly how you’d intended. Make a ton of amazing memories.

I was going to wrap up this post with how to deal with life after a convention (and inevitably crashing from your “convention high” / entering into convention withdrawal), but I realize that aside from the fact that this post is now mega mega long, there’s no better time for me to write it than when I am in the throes of post-convention feelings myself – so you’ll see that next week.

I hope you all enjoyed the read and learned some things from my experience – thank you so much for visiting my site. ’til next time!

Jen

PS: If you’re attending FanFest Portland this weekend, I hope to meet you – please say hi if you see me! I’ll be posting on Instagram (@jenofthemoon) and Twitter (@theshortcrust) all day. 🙂

Disclaimer: The post contains tips, tricks and personal opinions based on my own knowledge and experience. It is not sponsored by any convention company, nor do I claim to work or speak on behalf of any of these companies. All the pricing and information provided is – to the best of my knowledge – accurate as of January 2018.

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