How To Travel to and Attend Conventions Alone (2023 Edition)
So you’ve finally decided that you want to travel to and attend conventions alone. While you’ve loved attending them with friends and family, you know deep down that you can’t stand all the clutter of sewing machines, bags, figurines, and alcohol bottles they’ve generated in the hotel at each convention.
Maybe you like to party into the late hours and don’t wanna deal with waking your lame, square, non-partying roommates up at 3 in the morning in your intoxicated state. Perhaps you’re a working industry professional or content creator yearning for a quiet, private space to do work or wind down after a long day of being productive without distractions.
Whatever your case may be, you just wanna start attending conventions alone. However, you might be utterly confused, terrified, and don’t think you can do it due to your lack of knowledge and experience. As someone who often travels to conventions alone, I got you covered! While it can be challenging and expensive, traveling alone can be both rewarding and fun! You’ll learn so much about yourself and the world as well as gain new insight and experiences that you’d never have gotten through traveling with others.
This guide will teach and show you how to find the right hotel that fits your budget, what mode of transportation you’ll need, how to network with fellow convention attendees, and much more. While we will focus on major conventions outside your city, you can apply some of the information from this guide to local and regional conventions.
If this all sounds great to you guys, let’s get started with the advantages and disadvantages of solo convention travel.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
For our first advantage, there’s no waiting on others. We all had to wait on someone within our group during a con for something. It sucks and it wastes your precious, short time that could be spent doing something else. When you’re soloing it at a convention, there’s no waiting outside of being in line for an event, panel, or to get inside the convention itself. Once you’re done prepping in your hotel room, off you go to whatever you had planned, which brings us to the next advantage.
You can switch up your plans without protest. You know how sometimes switching up a plan with a group can cause beef, conflicts, and clashes that can lead to childish drama within the friend group? You’ll always avoid that mess by being alone.
Maybe you had planned on going to a Komi Can’t Communicate panel but you had hit it off with a Yor Forger cosplayer earlier. She wants to hang out and know more about you for whatever reason; may it be because you were cosplaying as her favorite character from a rather obscure series or you had a nice, charming chat in line with her while waiting for an event.
You can change up your plans without upsetting anyone. Hell, who knows? Maybe you and the Yor cosplayer hit it off so well that later, you guys decide to have a few drinks at the bar or a room party before heading to the rave. Things get a little heated and you guys decide to take things back to your room where we have our next advantage:
You have the room to yourself.
I don’t think I need to explain why this is great (especially for us single folks).
Okay, I probably should…
Look, having a hotel room to yourself is a godsend. You ever noticed how when you share a room with others how peaceful the room gets when everyone is out at the con and you’re the only one in the room as you rest up? Now, imagine that feeling – throughout the whole weekend.
Plus, cosplayers, no matter our background or skills, are NORTITOUS for being messy. We can take up so much space in a hotel room. We can spend hours in the bathroom preparing for the convention. It can be chaotic. When it’s just you alone in that room, you will have order, space, and peace.
(Now, if you’re room is messy even without others in it, you’re just nasty.)
Finally, there’s no drama. While conventions should be an enjoyable experience, drama between friends can happen. It can ruin your convention weekend. Nobody wants to deal with drama during a time of relaxation and personal work. If that means going solo, so be it.
(By the way, if you often find yourself dealing with con drama with your friends, you may want to re-consider who are your friends truly are.)
That said, let’s cover the disadvantages.
The obvious drawback is cost. Things will get expensive. You could easily overspend or not have enough in savings. You won’t have anyone to bail you out in the event you exhaust funds before the end of your trip. Therefore, have a solid budget and save money often! Plan everything out all the way to the end expense-wise: hotel, transportation, food, con badge, entertainment, shopping, and party goods (if you’re into that part of the con scene). To figure out how much you need, count how many weeks until the event and divide the total of your budget by the reminding weeks left.
Second, you’ll have to leave behind your complex cosplays that require handlers. Yes, I know you want to show off your amazing ED-209 from Robocop cosplay that you busted your ass off for C2E2. But, if you know that you need a crew to help you get it and out of that cosplay and guide you throughout the con, it’s best to save it for Dragon*Con where you know you are going to be attending that con with a crew.
Finally, you have to watch your own stuff. At the airport or Amtrak station and gotta pee? Well, you gotta drag your luggage to the bathroom. It’s annoying, but it’s better than having your convention ruined because someone stole your stuff.
Now that we’ve gone over the advantages and disadvantages if you feel that you are up to solo convention traveling then let’s continue.
When traveling alone consider the cost of your lodging options as they’ll play a major role in your budget. As soon as the convention allows for hotel bookings (usually around 6-9 months before the convention starts), see what’s being offered in terms of lodging. Choose a hotel and save your money for it as early as possible.
If you’re going to a small-to-medium-size convention within your home state or region, you could get away with saving your money about 5-9 months prior to the convention. However, if you’re planning to attend a major, premium-level convention outside of your home state or region like Dragon*Con, San Diego Comic-Con, Anime NYC, or Anime Expo, then you want to start saving up about a year in advance if possible (depending on your monthly income).
Remember that the convention rate will always be cheaper than the normal booking rate. However, you may find a good deal on nearby hotels outside the official convention hotels. Granted, these hotels may not be within walking distance, so keep that in mind. While we’re still on the matter, prices for the convention’s hotels will either increase or decrease depending on the brand, distance from the convention center, and hotel type.
If you want to cheat and save extra money, rent a bunk bed at a nearby hostel for about $30-40 a night (in America). Sure, you’re going to wind up sharing a room with strangers, but there’s a good chance you’ll meet travelers from all over the globe and across the nation who might be attending the convention. Of course, most hostels do offer private rooms for around $90-$120/night, which is cheaper than your traditional hotel stay.
If hostels aren’t your thing but you don’t mind sharing a room with strangers, there’s always the option to share a room with other convention attendees at one of the main hotels. Most conventions will have official or fan-run room-share groups on Facebook or Discord. On there you can find hosts looking for people who need space for the convention weekend and split hotel costs. Yes, this isn’t completely solo as you are sharing a room with others (even if they’re strangers), but it is cheap.
Now that we’ve figured out our lodging situation let’s move on to travel and transportation!
TRAVEL AND TRANSPORTATION
Just like your hotel situation, transportation too will play a major role in your budget. Therefore, you need to consider how you’ll travel to and around the city as well as the cost.
To start, there are long-distance bus services such as Greyhound or Megabus. For under $50-60, you can ride the bus to your destination. Unless you’re traveling less than five hours or making a transfer to the Amtrak station or to an airport to continue your journey, I wouldn’t recommend this.
First, bus services are notorious for delays. Furthermore, the cheaper brands tend to attract weirdos and shady types. There are high-end bus services that you can use to avoid this if you are willing to pay a premium. However, at that point, you could use the cash for the next mode of transportation on my list: Amtrak.
For around less than $70-100, you can get a comfortable travel experience compared to the bus with Amtrak. I prefer this method for cities that aren’t far from where you’re departing from. Trains don’t suffer from delays as often as buses. Plus, you can bring items on the train that you normally can’t get away with on the plane in addition to bringing on extra bags.
For those who are traveling long-distance and want to arrive at their destination in a speedier matter compared to rail or bus services, there’s flying; a rather expensive yet quick way to get where you need to go. With flying, you need to book your flight as soon as you get word of the convention’s dates, as flight prices increase the closer you get to your departure date.
Example: If a convention historically runs on a certain holiday weekend each year (ex. Anime Expo during 4th of July Weekend and Dragon*Con during Labor Day weekend), you want to make sure that your tickets are booked at least 6-10 months prior to those dates.
You can apply this to your bus and Amtrak tickets as well. While Amtrak and bus tickets don’t increase as much compared to flight tickets, you still have to worry about the train and bus ride filling up as time goes on.
Always remember to arrive at the airport two hours before your departure (or two and a half to three hours if departing from a busy city/airport) if flying nationally, and four hours (or six hours departing from a busy city/airport) if flying internationally. For trains and buses, arrive about an hour to an hour and a half before departure.
Now let’s talk about moving around and about in the city itself.
When it comes to getting to and from the con (and/or getting around the city), you have a few options. First, there are ride-share services such as Lyft to get where you need to go. Of course, ride-share services can be expensive (especially during surge hour or you’re going to and from the airport).
Another option is public transportation. See if the city you’re in has a reliable public transportation system and if they do, research what bus and light-rail services you need to use and how often they come and go. If you can afford to, rent a car to get around the city! Always plan ahead, no matter what mode of transportation you’re using.
That said, let’s move on to buying your badge.
BADGES AND ADMISSION
There are three ways you can tackle your badge situation: Going all in (meaning, buying your badge ASAP), saving up to buy the con badge for purchase on a future date, or buying the badge day of. Let’s review each option.
By going all in, this means that you’ll have the funds to buy the convention badge instantly. I recommend this, as you’ll be saving both money and time more importantly. To call back on an old post of mine, “Hey Broke Weeaboo! Let’s Get Your Money Right For Your Next Convention”:
“Yes, you’ll lose money, but you won’t lose time waiting for your badge in line during at-door registration. Trust me: losing time is worse than losing money. Money, we can gain back – time, we can never recover.”
It’s best to buy your badge at the cheapest tier’s time frame. Now, if you can’t afford to buy the badge yet, but know that you can save up for future tier pricing, do that instead.
Example: Let’s say the second tier badge price starts at $55, the price increase will start on December 3rd, 2017. This gives you four paychecks until December 3rd. 4 paychecks divided by $55 equals $13.75 ($55/4=$13.75)
For the six months option (October 3rd to March 3rd): 12 paychecks/$75 = $6.25 a check. Again, just like your hotel money, place this money in your savings and do not touch it until you hit your target goal.
If you want to buy your badge the day of, that is fine. Keep in mind that you may have to wait in long lines if you chose that route, especially on day one. If the con allows people to register on day zero (the day before the convention, usually on that Wednesday or Thursday before the event), take some time out to visit the convention to buy your badge on that day. This way, you’ll have the rest of the weekend to do con stuff without waiting in line.
There are some conventions such as Anime Central, Anime Expo, and Youmacon that allow shipping of badges to your place of residence before a certain date. It may cost a little extra to ship (around $2-5 but no more than $10 depending on the convention), but it’s worth it to skip both at-site registration and per-resignation lines.
One final thing: while I’m not going to go over different types of badges such as Press/Industry Badge, Guest Badge, Lifetime Membership, VIP, or Premiere Fan (R.I.P until Anime Expo realizes they made a horrible crackhead-like move), it’s good to look into them to see what benefits they offer compared to normal badges and see how they’ll work with your budget.
FOOD AND DRINKS
Budgeting for dining options will differ from person-to-person. However, everyone will need to make sure they’ll have enough cash to keep themselves fed during the duration of their trip. There are no splitting costs or sharing with others here. With that in mind, here are some tips on taking care of your food needs.
Check out the surrounding area for restaurants, food trucks, supermarkets, corner stores, and liquor stores (if you’re into drinking/partying). Ask locals attending the convention what restaurants and supermarkets they recommend for dining and shopping. Make a list of the places that fit within your budget and diet.
A meal at a fast-food chain restaurant should run you no more than $7-10. Meals at most local restaurants shouldn’t be higher than $15. If you prefer to make your own meals because you’re at a hostel or Air BnB with a full kitchen, you should seek to spend no more than $45-60 on groceries depending on how often you’re going to cook for yourself.
With food out of the way let’s move forward to our next tip:
Just because you’re attending conventions and exploring new cities alone doesn’t mean that you should be a total anti-social loner. Given that conventions are social events, you want to interact and connect with others who share your hobbies and passions.
Get a head start on networking and building your presence with fellow fans attending the convention. Most conventions will have official and/or fan-run social groups on social media platforms (such as Facebook, Reddit, and Discord) for attendees to interact and network with each other. Use this knowledge to get in good with these groups.
Why is that?
Having your name already known (IN A GOOD WAY) by people from that convention’s community before it even starts gives you a huge edge. You’ll gain information on local places to eat, shop, party, and hang out at during the convention. If you’re in a separate but decent size fandom group, forum, or server for a series, don’t be afraid to ask people if they’re attending the convention. You may find someone who’s going to the convention as you and you guys can link up and hang out during the con.
Make sure you are constantly communicating with people. I’m not saying to spend and waste your time being on social media 24/7. However, the more social you are in these groups, the better it’ll be for you come convention time. This is especially true for larger and major conventions in busy cities; as unlike local conventions or medium-sized conventions, your chances of meeting someone again are low at best and zero at realistic.
Now, I know many people in the convention/cosplay community (myself included, although a social variant) are introverted and find it a hurdle to be social in real life. While I won’t go in-depth on how to get out of your shell and become more social despite being an introvert, the best tip I can give you is to go out and make small talk with the world around you. Meaning, if you see a clerk or anyone else at the store wearing something relating to your geekdom, have a quick chat about it and keep it pushing. Keep doing this often and soon you’ll break out of your shell.
Anyway, let’s go on to packing for the trip.
PACKING AND CLOTHING CARE
When it comes to your clothing and cosplay, make a list of the characters you’re planning to cosplay in addition to your regular clothes. Listing your items ensures that nothing major will be forgotten and it prevents over-packing. Store an empty trash bag in your luggage bag to separate your clean and dirty clothes. Throw in a laundry sheet or two to make the luggage bag smell fresh. You want to do this a week before the convention.
If you’re not traveling in your own vehicle, pack light. When it comes to bags, have a medium-sized luggage bag for your outfit and a small bag for your personal items (such as hygiene products, electronics, IDs, and so on). That’s it. If possible, pack an extra outfit in your personal bag just in case you have any checked bags with your clothing that could get lost by the airlines.
If you’re on medication or need to use medical gear, ALWAYS have it in your personal carry-on bag or in your pockets. NEVER have them in checked luggage. Store your medicine on top of everything in an easily accessible section of your bag so you can grab it in case of a medical incident.
Invest in clear containers and toiletry bags for your smaller items If traveling by plane, aim for carry-on only. Checked baggage fees can be expensive and airlines often lose them. You don’t want to have your convention ruined because your clothes or cosplay were lost somewhere. Remember what happened during the Great Winter Storm of 2022 in America and how airlines (Southwest) were losing customers’ bags.
To save space, learn to do this simple yet effective packing method: the Army/Ranger roll pictured below.
Art Source: https://www.artofmanliness.com/skills/how-to/how-to-pack-a-bag-using-the-ranger-roll/
For my fellow closet cosplayers seeking to save space, see which article of clothing you’re planning to pack and see what each of your closet cosplay can be used for different characters you’re cosplaying as in addition to your casual/going-out clothes.
Example: I have a black blazer, black chino pants, a white dress shirt, and a brown belt and shoes use for both my Shido (Persona 5) and Tatsumi (Zombie Land Saga) cosplay (granted, I use two different white shirts for both of those cosplays). The only difference between those two cosplays is Tatsumi’s bow tie, vest, and sunglasses.
That’s it. Other than that, I’m saving space by using the same items for multiple cosplays. If I were to go to a nice upscale club or a bar in the city, I could use my dress slacks and shoes from the Shido/Tatsumi cosplay and use a polo shirt or nice V-neck t-shirt from my normie clothes I packed.
Since we’re on the topic of clothing, you want to take care of your clothes when you’re traveling. Make sure your clothes are cleaned, ironed, pressed, and/or starched (if needed) before you pack. Use the Army/Ranger roll packing method roll mentioned above as it can prevent wrinkles.
If you do get wrinkles, you can steam your wrinkled clothes in the bathroom of the hotel by hanging your winkles clothing on the bathroom’s door hooks, turn the shower on to its hottest, seal the crack under the door with towels, and let the shower run for thirty (30) minutes. By then, your clothes should be winkled free. If there are wrinkles left, iron them out. If you have a suit that has wrinkles, use the streaming options on the hotel’s iron or invest in a streamer to remove wrinkles.
Invest in stain removal pens and don’t be afraid to buy a small bottle of laundry detergent and fabric softener to hand wash your cosplays in case they get too stained/dirty or you know you’re going to wear the same piece of clothing/cosplay the next day.
While we’re still on the subject of outfits, now’s a good to talk about cosplaying at the con while solo.
You can’t deny that cosplay is a huge part of the convention scene and for many, they’re the reason why they go to conventions; may it be they’re a cosplayer themselves, or for content creation. While you can partake in this hobby with friends, you can still cosplay alone and have fun with others. Of course, cosplaying at the convention is merely recommended and not required.
However, cosplaying gives you that full con experience and by being a solo con traveler, you can make new like-minded friends. Plus if you’re introverted, cosplaying can really help you break out of your shell as a lone attendee.
How so you may ask?
First, check for any gatherings and photoshoots of your fandom(s) and fit them into your schedule. As mentioned before, if the gatherings have any Facebook groups or Discord servers, join them to start networking with others to get yourself known within that community.
Second, if you want (good) attention or something that’s an icebreaker, wear an eye-catching cosplay. Having a cosplay that stands out, is memorable, makes people stop in awe and want to take pictures, and talk about your cosplay on social media. If somebody asks questions about your cosplay (like how you made it or simply because they just dig your cosplay), don’t be scared to open your mouth and have a short chat with that person.
Finally, cosplay as a popular or beloved character within your fandom. If you are feeling ballsy, cosplay as one of the most, if not, the most hated character within your fandom. Trust me, people will give you props for having the courage to dress up as a character people have a strong hatred for, especially if your character did something horrific.
That said, let’s move on to the final item on the list!
MIND YOUR DAMN BUSINESS: HAVE AN ACTION PLAN!
When going to a convention as a group it is somewhat important to have an action plan for the convention for when you guys go your separate ways. However, as a solo act, it’s extremely important to have an action plan.
You need to fill your time up with action! Make a plan of all the things you want to check out at the convention and in the city you’re in. Guests panels. Guest Autographs. Dances and raves. Gaming Tournament. Events in the city like pop-up museums or comedy shows. Whatever you are interested in or slightly curious about, don’t be scared to interact with it at the convention.
If you find yourself struggling to break out of your shell but you manage to make a few friends at the convention in person or through networking, don’t be scared to ask if you guys can link up for a panel or two during one of the convention days.
If you guys don’t have any idea on where to go, take charge and go somewhere random yet interesting for the group. Are you curious about Chainsaw Man and see there’s a spoiler-free panel during your free time? Go to that with your new convention friends.
If you’re a content creator, it is triple important that you make an action plan. Focus on doing things at the con that you can talk about on your podcast, show, or channel. People are curious about what you have been through at the convention and are willing to listen if you produced good and respectful content based on the convention. Don’t forget to promote your content while you are there! Make business cards if you have to and pass them around to like-minded people! Take notes, record audio and video
Don’t aimlessly wander around. You’ll get bored quickly and don’t wanna do anything with the con.
I hope you’ve found this guide useful and that it has inspired you to travel to convention alone. To quickly go over what we’ve covered:
- Have six-to-nine months of savings put aside for hotel, food, and transportation for the convention.
- Buy your badge as soon as possible or have a target date on when you’re going to buy your badge and save money until that date.
- Network with attendees through official and fan-run convention social media groups and channels.
- Pack light. Learn to Army/Ranger Roll. Have a personal bag and luggage bag only.
- Find out about cosplay gatherings for your fandom. No complex cosplays that require handlers.
- Have an action plan for the convention so you aren’t wandering the con floor bored. Plan all the way to the end.
Finally, let me hook you guys up with a useful website to help you budget for your trip:
Check that out. Thank me later.
Until next time, later!
The Swarthy Nerd Podcast
A Black nerd empowerment podcast where Black nerds (well, all nerds, but Black first and foremost) can get together and talk freely about nerd culture while also acknowledging systematic white supremacy and racism in nerd culture. Every Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays we drop episodes containing serious and laidback topics while Saturdays we drop episodes talking about TV shows, anime, film, comics, manga, and video games.
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