By Michelle Wittlich
FIVE DAYS! Five days until the best five days of our lives!
If you’re like me, your feelings are a mix of joyful anticipation and panic that you’re not ready. I have attended two Star Wars Celebrations (2010 and 2017), nine San Diego Comic Cons, and several local conventions here in Chicagoland. I’ve participated in so many queues, both overnight and those that just seemed to last forever, and, a secret to no one that knows me personally, I AM ONE HIGH MAINTENANCE LADY.
Although there are lots of helpful lists of general tips out there which are always important to peruse, I have specific needs. Lots of needs. I need sleep. I need to be as physically comfortable as possible. I need access to food, beverages (and caffeine) at all times. Because of certain health issues, it is problematic for me to stand or sit for long periods of time. All of these would seem to be counterintuitive to someone who loves convention culture, but after many trials and errors, here is a list of tips I have curated to help everyone (high maintenance and low) manage and optimally enjoy their SWCC experience. All product links will be provided below.
Yes. I have put coffee as my number one. It is probably as big a necessity for me at a convention as food and water. I see lots of convention attendees, looking very desperate, seeking out their daily cup of joy-sparking coffee. Personally, I do not like to rely on the convention center or hotel to provide my almond milk latte. The lines are painfully long and the products are expensive and maybe not very yummy. You might think this is over-the-top, but I have actually waited for a full 60 minutes in the San Diego Convention Center (a few times) for a latte, so I feel it’s worth the effort. First, call your hotel and find out what kind of coffee maker they provide. With that info, do what you will. I LOVE a hotel that provides a Keurig. I can easily bring my favorite K Cups with me to the hotel. Even a traditional coffeemaker that uses filters and loose grounds is fine. (I usually just bring extra filters and my favorite grounds with me.) BUT if they provide those silly coffeemakers that require pods…just, no. For about $12 at a Walmart/Target, I purchased a tiny, lightweight coffeemaker that fits easily into my suitcase. I know. This seems WAY TOO EXTRA to worry about while you’re trying to pack all your cosplay items, 50 Star Wars tees, etc, but I can assure you it will save you SO MUCH TIME in those dreadful coffee lines, you will thank me later! Additional items needed for your hotel room if you decide to go this route: SMALL filters to fit your new, tiny coffeemaker, some kind of cup/cups (I usually bring a package of disposable 16oz cups/lids or bring a collapsible cup), packets of your favorite sweetener, creamers, etc. I can usually find somewhere that sells little cartons of milk if that’s what you need, but also, many stores sell bottles of almond milk that aren’t in the refrigerated section! I pack a few of those (wrapped VERY securely in at least 2, zippered, plastic baggies and then wrap that in Press-N-Seal). I also have, at times when I’ve been desperate, relied upon Starbucks Via Instant individual coffee packets. I usually bring a few with me to every convention. They make a variety of flavors of coffee AND tea. Also, UTILIZE AMAZON PRIME PANTRY! If you have specific beverage needs, and/or don’t want to weigh down your luggage, they will ship what you need directly to your hotel where you can pick it up upon your arrival. It’s a miracle for a high maintenance convention-goer.
Hydration is a must. Simple….bring a collapsible water bottle or two. It will take up less space in your backpack than a big, bulky one. There are MANY different varieties of these available on Amazon.
Like many people, I have specific dietary restrictions. This can be very difficult when at a convention where standard food court fare may not be suitable. I pack as many snacks as I possibly can in my luggage to dole out daily as needed (bring zipper baggies!). Again, lines for food can get obnoxiously long, and I feel my time at these things is a valuable commodity. Another trick I have used for YEARS is to freeze a loaf of gluten-free bread prior to departing for my flight, wrap it in some of my clothes to protect it, and pack it in my suitcase along with small packets of peanut/almond butter. I literally live on these high energy sandwiches sometimes as I walk many miles around the convention center. Sometimes, if the hotel offers a continental breakfast, I can score little packets of jam or honey as well as plastic utensils. And again, utilize Amazon Prime Pantry if you can!
4. Waiting in long queues
This is a big concern for me, as I mentioned above. I can no longer “tough it out” as I could when I was younger and totally without health concerns. Sitting on the floor for hours is not an option. I can’t see going to a big convention such as SWC without some sort of collapsible chair. Amazon offers many brands of very lightweight (under 3 pounds), collapsible chairs. My favorite is SunYear brand. Also check the sporting departments at your local stores. The more compact and lightweight, the better for packing it in your suitcase.
5. “Sleeping” in an overnight queue
I have my fingers crossed that SWC will adopt a queue system similar to San Diego Comic Con that will make staying in an overnight queue more of an option rather than a necessity, but regardless, here is my advice as to how to make that a less torturous experience. I am a light sleeper, so I need a lot of help getting any sort of rest while sleeping on the floor under fully illuminated lighting, noisy neighbors around me, and the surprise, unholy appearance of a midnight DJ. And I really, really, really need my rest to function even minimally. I bring a large baggie with my overnight queue necessities. That bag contains very good quality earplugs, a sleep mask, probably a pharmaceutical sleep aid ( I am NOT a doctor so consult your own doctor about a sleep aid), some kind of freshening towelette for the next morning, deodorant, tiny toothbrush/toothpaste, gum/mints, eyedrops, AND FUZZY, WARM SOCKS (research has shown that warm feet aid in better sleep, and I concur). As a testimonial, I can tell you that I was sleeping so soundly at SWCO in 2017, that no one could wake me when Rian Johnson visited the overnight queue. (Yes, my own efficiency backfired on me hard core that time, and I have regretted it ever since.) I arrive at the campsite in comfy, layered, overnight clothes but also pack my clothes for the next morning in my backpack (usually something compact like a tee shirt/leggings combo). Of course, if you have that must-wear outfit in mind, pack that as best you can. In 2017, I was hesitant to leave the overnight queue early that morning to go to my hotel to change clothes out of fear that they would start loading the panel room, and I would miss it. I wouldn’t assume there will be time for a hotel room visit prior to the panel room bring loaded. Also, handy snacks for that night AND the next morning are essential. Those Starbucks Via Instant coffee packets I mentioned above are convenient, and a couple full water bottles are a must.
OK…here’s the big dilemma. WHAT DO I SLEEP ON? Some people brave the cold floor or sleep in a chair. I cannot and will not. So, a few years ago I purchased a self-inflating, roll-up camping sleep mat. Best purchase ever as far as convention-going is concerned, however, it was on the pricey side (about $100 at the time), but it is similar to the one I will link to below which is much cheaper. As far as a blanket and pillow are concerned, a travel pillow and blanket usually works as long as the layers I’m wearing are warm. The next morning, I roll it all up and either check it all at the bag check inside the convention center, or if necessary, keep it with me in the panel room, and afterwards, use the bag check if it isn’t convenient to go back to the hotel at that time. After the The Last Jedi panel, I actually used my rolled up sleep mat to protect my newly acquired, awesome rolled-up TLJ poster! At SWCO 2017, I saw a lot of people camping overnight in those inflatable, camping lounger/sofa/taco-shaped things. They appeared to be reasonably comfortable, but I haven’t tried one of those. Getting to the campsite with all of this can be cumbersome, but to me, getting a few hours of uninterrupted sleep is worth the hassle.
The bottom line is I advise thorough thought about the camping scenario well in advance if there is any chance you might decide to do so, and prepare as best you can to make yourself as comfortable as you need to be to function the next day. Prepare for your own worst case scenario. In my case, I will sleep in the overnight queues for 4 consecutive nights if that’s how I will accomplish living my best SWC life. And please, for the love of the Force, let’s all collectively pray that the overnight queues and the queues that precede the overnight queues, are INDOORS. April in Chicago is simply a crap shoot of any and all types of weather. I will prepare to be outdoors if necessary, but I will be VERY shocked (and fairly disgruntled) if that is what they have in store for us.
7. Portable chargers
A few years ago I invested in a large charger that is pretty heavy (my family refers to it as “the brick”), but has become indispensable at conventions. It provides a good 6 or 7 complete charges for my phone. When I’m waiting in a queue several hours long or camping overnight, that charger is all I need. It is on the pricey side, but I do not leave home without that thing. Otherwise, I bring several smaller chargers. I can never have too many, in my opinion.
8. Tote bag
If I plan to shop on the convention floor, I pack a good-sized tote bag in my backpack. I don’t want to crush my precious, new General Grievous Funko Pop in my backpack!
9. General tips
Comfy shoes are a no-brainer for me as are a good, roomy backpack with lots of compartments, poster tube, accordion folder to keep small pieces of art and swag from being bent in my backpack, Sharpies, a sweater if you tend to get chilly.
I hope this list is of some help to someone out there, and I hope we all have a joyous Star Wars Celebration Chicago! SEE YOU ALL IN APRIL!
Small, itsy-bitsy, coffeemaker: https://www.target.com/p/mr-coffee-4-cup-switch-coffee-maker-black/-/A-53658701
Collapsible cup: https://www.amazon.com/Glike-Silicone-Collapsible-Cup-Lid/dp/B07GQJW94C/ref=sr_1_50?crid=28FTG0T3BJTOL&keywords=collapsible+water+bottle&qid=1549851983&s=gateway&sprefix=collapsible%2Caps%2C155&sr=8-50
Starbucks Via Instant coffee packets: https://www.target.com/p/starbucks-via-instant-pike-place-roast-medium-roast-coffee-8ct/-/A-15251130
Portable, collapsible, lightweight, chair: https://www.amazon.com/Sunyear-Lightweight-Foldable-Breathable-Comfortable/dp/B01D2FFN8S/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=2W7AVGNJMZ522&keywords=sunyear+lightweight+and+foldable+camp+chair&qid=1549851100&s=sporting-goods&sprefix=sun+year%2Csporting%2C143&sr=1-1-spons&psc=1
Self-inflating sleep mat: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JN5JGGQ/ref=sspa_dk_detail_4?psc=1&pd_rd_i=B01JN5JGGQ&pd_rd_w=b6zg6&pf_rd_p=2bd81721-c115-4b8d-93a3-2ecd17466ded&pd_rd_wg=JHrMl&pf_rd_r=0FBGMJYK6ZNR14QV5SFH&pd_rd_r=dc22a9ee-2d9f-11e9-a095-811ee4313434
Inflatable sleep taco that I haven’t tried: https://www.amazon.com/Go-Beyond-Outdoors-Inflatable-Lounger/dp/B072JQWH9Y/ref=sr_1_21?crid=1ETW0OAJNBTQX&keywords=camping+sofa+folding&qid=1549853532&s=gateway&sprefix=camping+sofa%2Caps%2C147&sr=8-21
Huge, heavy portable charger: https://www.amazon.com/Anker-PowerCore-Portable-Capacity-PowerPort/dp/B01K6TA748/ref=sr_1_17?keywords=anker+powercore&qid=1549851374&s=wireless&sr=1-17