Tara Lynne’s Dragon Con Survival Guide

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This year I have a fairly large group of friends who are attending Dragon Con for the first time ever. Because of that, it’s been brought to my attention that there are a lot of Dragon Con “survival guides” out there…and I’ve already had to explain away several things that they got wrong.

So I decided to put together my own guide, based on my Dragon Con experiences and with the help of some friends who have been attending DCon for much longer than myself.

Some of the following information is common sense, but I think there’s also quite a bit that only people who have attended Dragon Con (at least once, but likely several times or more) would know.

First and foremost, remember one very important thing:


Dragon Con Hyatt Regency AtlantaCoffee and sodas don’t count. (Neither does alcohol, sad as that is.) I suppose Gatorade/Powerade work okay (I personally am just not fond of them), but water truly is your best friend, especially in that late summer Atlanta heat. The hotels provide water stations, and many of the bars will also provide a cup of ice water if you ask for it (personally I always tend to tip a dollar or so if I do this). You can carry around a regular plastic water bottle to refill, of course, but I suggest investing in a Contigo bottle (or something similar) – especially if you can find one that will clip to a carabiner or bag strap.

Although I personally haven’t really encountered issues with this next bit of advice (either with myself or the people I hang out with at Dragon Con), it’s very important to remember what is referred to as the “5-2-1 rule”:

Five hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower, EVERY DAY.

Five straight hours of sleep is best, but if you’re feeling exhausted, skip an event or activity and take a nap. It’s not all that fun to make it to everything you want to do but to feel like a zombie the entire time!

Dragon Con CosplayI’m not saying those meals have to be eaten sitting down at a restaurant – another piece of advice I can’t repeat enough is to bring your own snack food (try to stick with stuff that won’t melt or make a mess in general; bringing some ‘healthier’ options like KIND/Clif bars or fruits (apples, bananas) is a good idea as well.

(And speaking of bringing your own, booze is another thing to stock up on beforehand, if you can. Yes, there are liquor stores around the convention area, but they all have limited options and they jack up their prices during Dragon Con. It sucks, but hey, that’s business. Will you still end up buying drinks at hotel bars and whatnot? Probably. I know I’ve never turned down an invite to start the evening off with a cosplay group shot or whatever. But nothing saves money like stocking your room.)

As for eating out, I keep seeing these ‘horror stories’ about insanely overpriced food at Dragon Con. Yes, it exists, but it’s easier to avoid than you’d think. There are two food courts very close to the host hotels – the one at the Peachtree Center, easily accessible from Peachtree Street and via a habitrail from the Hyatt, and another one in the Sun Trust Plaza (about a block from the Hyatt, also on Peachtreet Street NE). And if you want an actual sit-down meal there are plenty of restaurants in and around the hotels, though to be honest none of them are all that amazing and I personally usually stick with food I brought from home combined with a meal here and there from a food court restaurant.

That said, don’t forget the mythical Con Suite! Every year I tell myself I’m going to drop in and check it out, and every year I forget. But hey, maybe this year will be The Year! Regardless, they have soft drinks and usually snacks available, and it’s free. You can find the Con Suite (supposedly) on the second floor of the Hyatt.

Moving on to the shower, it’s for your own good as well as that of everything else. It’s a hygiene thing, and it goes hand in hand with this next piece of advice:

Wash your hands. A lot.

Wash them every time you go to the bathroom. Wash them when you return to your room. Wash them before and after you eat. It helps protect you against germs you pick up and helps prevent you from spreading germs to other people.

Okay, enough with all of the “boring” (but oh-so-important) stuff! Another extremely important thing – if you plan on doing more than just hanging out and partying – is to:

Create a viable schedule for yourself.

Dragon Con CosplayOne of my friends, Laura, said, “Accept the fact that you can’t do it all and prioritize. Have a plan, have alternatives, be prepared to wing it.”

I know that sounds a bit contradictory, but hear me out. Laura also suggested, “Pick one thing every day that you must do. Plan around that. Then pick the things you hope you can do…Prioritize what you must do and be flexible with the rest.”

And hey, even if you want to do something but aren’t outright committed to it (i.e., you want to attend a photoshoot but didn’t organize it; you want to check out a panel but you aren’t a panelist), don’t feel bad for missing it. Once in a while it’s much more fun to just fly by the seat of your pants – some of my best Dragon Con memories have come from doing just that!

The Dragon Con App is great but you may not be able to readily view it at the convention, so I suggest writing things down and/or keeping the program book (which you can pick up when you get your badge) with you.

Remember to take travel time into account, as well – it can take a good twenty minutes to make it from, say, a room in the Hyatt to a panel room in the Marriott when things are crowded. And don’t forget that there are some panels or events that require lining up at least 30 minutes in advance just to get in – an hour if you want a good seat. Thankfully Dragon Con does clear panel rooms, and they’re also pretty good about line control (including not allowing lines to form more than an hour in advance; it does happen, but in my experience it’s rare)…but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever have to wait at all, especially if you want to see, say, Stephen Amell on an Arrow panel.

(Check out the “Dragon Con Maps” post on my personal blog to get an idea of DCon’s general layout, as well as floor plans of the hotels!)

I also suggest taking the stairs whenever possible, and others often push the “go up to go down and go down to go up” rule – basically, get in an available elevator no matter which way it’s going; eventually it can get you to your floor. However, please don’t abuse this (a lot of people do). Remember that there may be people who need that spot in the elevator more than you do.

Speaking of travel times…

It’s often less crowded and faster to walk from one place to another outside.

Dragon Con Vikings CosplayYes, it’s hot. Yes, you should probably check to make sure there’s not going to be a sudden downpour in the ten-ish minutes it will take you to get from point A to point B. No, this isn’t a perfect solution. But the sea of humanity isn’t quite so bad outside as it is inside – and there’s less of a chance getting held up by people stopping to take pictures (of you, or of others). So if you can take the heat, get out of the hotels and habitrails.

But if you need to cool down, one suggestion I got was that there’s a great place to do it is the gaming room in the Hilton basement. And there are games to borrow and play while you cool down! I haven’t been down there myself so I can’t personally vouch for this (and I have heard rumors that this is where that ‘con smell’ – the bad kind – is the worst), but a well-airconditioned spot where you can also remain entertained has to be a good thing.

Now, this is from experience – there’s next to no cell phone service in the Hilton. In fact…

Phone and data reception will be questionable (at best) for basically the entire weekend, so plan accordingly.

Dragon Con Effie Trinket CosplayThere are 60,000-ish people who head to Atlanta just for Dragon Con. Not to mention the people who live and work there anyway. Texting is probably your best bet; sadly, if you have an iPhone you may even need to avoid iMessaging. But above all, if you are supposed to meet people somewhere, do your best to be there on time, but also wait around for a bit. I’m not saying for lengthy periods – five to ten minutes at most is okay – but remember that things happen (especially crowds), and if someone gets stuck somewhere or is running behind, they may not be able to warn you. If you really want to see that person/be with them for a specific activity, remember this tip!

But please, also remember to put your phone on silent/vibrate when you’re in panels, workshops, etc. There may not be much cell service, but do you really want to be that person whose phone actually rings at the most inopportune time(s)?

Despite the issues with cell/internet service, you should still carry your phone with you (if you have one, that is) at all times.

There are a few other things you should have with you as well, such as:
– YOUR BADGE – and a decent lanyard (*not* a breakaway lanyard).
(Another good thing to remember is to wear/tie that lanyard somewhere safe. I’ve known several people who lost their badges by just clipping them to clothing and the like.)
– An unobtrusive bag that is comfortable to carry
(I highly suggest Think Geek’s Bag of Holding – The Con Survival Edition)
– Comfortable shoes and/or shoe inserts
– Bandaids and/or blister pads and/or moleskin
– Aforementioned water bottle (didn’t think I’d bring that up again? well, it’s super important!)
– Hand sanitizer
– Mini cosplay fix-up kit if you cosplay (superglue, safety pins – basically things you need for cosplay emergencies and no more; anything else should be left in your room, especially if you’re staying at a host hotel)
– …and of course any other personal items you feel must be with you at all times, though again, remember to keep that bag you’re carrying at a comfortable weight and at a decent size for moving through crowds.

(The CVS at the Peachtree Center goes out of its way to be well-stocked for Dragon Con, though they can run out of the really popular/important stuff by Saturday night, so keep that in mind.)

And yes, I keep pushing the idea that whatever bag you carry – if you carry one at all (which let’s be honest, most people do and should/need to) – should be unobtrusive. Not lugging around a giant (and probably unnecessary) bag goes along with other common sense things like don’t stop walking in the habitrails, which also goes along with the general idea:

Don’t be a dick/asshole/jerk/whichever term you prefer for people who act inappropriately.

As the weekend marches on, people are usually running on less sleep, less food, more caffeine, more alcohol, their feet hurt, they’re increasingly tired of the heat and the crowds…I could go on and on. A little politeness – even kindness – goes a long way.

And also, never forget that Cosplay is not Consent.

Mega Con Starbuck Cosplay is not ConsentReport things that should be reported, whether you experience or simply see them. It’s as simple as that.

Since I’ve brought up cosplay…

Everyone can cosplay, and a lot of people do. If you’re a cosplayer, know that people will take pictures of you. Be nice about it, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree every time someone asks to take a photo (especially if you’re trying to get somewhere), or that you have to let it go beyond a photo (even just into conversation) if you’re not comfortable.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a photoshoot, try Facebook. The “Dragon Con Group Photo Shoots” group is probably the best place to start.

If you’re not a cosplayer, please ask if you want a photo. Of course there are exceptions to this – if a cosplayer is already having their picture taken by a crowd of people, it would probably be overkill for you to ask if you can do so as well – but smile, maybe try to say hi or at least ‘thank you’ after you take your photo. Don’t be a creeper. It’s really not that difficult of a concept to grasp.

In conclusion, here are a few more things I’ve learned via the trial and error method. I personally take them to heart, though they may not be the right advice for everyone, which is why I’ve left them to the end.

Ditch the drama and have fun.

Don’t spend all of your time (or just generally much of it at all) waiting around for other people.
If you want to go somewhere or do something – go there, do it, and meet up with your friends later. You could miss something amazing by waiting; if they’re your real friends, they’ll be okay with you going on ahead.

If you’re a cosplayer, don’t book every second of your time with costume changes and photoshoots unless that’s really the only thing you want to do.
This kind of goes hand in hand with not over-committing yourself; as I’ve already mentioned, leave time for surprise new adventures!

And of course, if you drink, * be mindful of your drinking *.
Be safe. Try not to let hangovers ruin your con.

This is Dragon Con. At any moment you could wander into a Deadpool conga line or stumble upon a giant Game of Thrones photoshoot. You could end up holding the door for Stan Lee, sharing a crosswalk with Xander and Buffy’s mom, giving directions to Richard Hatch.

There’s so much to see, so much to experience, and you’ll never fit it all in. Which is why so many people go back year after year after year.

Dragon Con Walking Dead Cosplay

Author: Tara Lynne

Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.


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