Many of the items on this list come courtesy of Matt J. McCullar’s excellent “What to Take to a Con” list that was posted to alt.fan.furry in February of 2000. His list, in turn, was based on an older list that originally turned up at A-kon 8 and likely has been circulating in the Science Fiction fandom for years. This is simply my next revision of the list of things that I have observed come in useful, particularly at furry con. I originally wrote this revised list in 2006, and I’ve most recently updated it in January of 2014.
This is a short list of things to consider bringing with you to a furry convention, and some suggestions on how to make the most of your first convention. I tried to focus more on some of the lesser-thought of items that people might forget (obviously, I’m not going to include clothing or the like in the list).
So, without further adeiu, here are some tips from a veteran on what to bring and how to do your first furry con.
- Before You Go
- Getting There
- At The Convention
- Final Notes
Before You Go
Pre-registering for the convention will save you both money and time, as you won’t have to wait in the registration line. Remember to bring proof of registration with you - an e-mail, registration verification printout, etc. It may make your registration easier to find if it gets lost.
If you don’t have a credit card, remember that you can buy prepaid debit cards at many grocery stores and convenience stores.
Find a place to stay
Don’t just show up at the convention without a place to stay - you may not find one, and hotel security will usually take a dim view of people sleeping in their cars. If you are staying in the hotel, book ahead of time - in fact, book as early as you possibly can.
If you don’t have a credit card, ask the hotel to put your room as “deposit pending.” However, the danger here is that, if and when the hotel sells out, they will begin bumping unpaid rooms in favor of paying customers, so have a backup plan.
Use your smartphone
If you have a smartphone, use an app such as TripIt to manage all your travel confirmations. Keeps everything for your trip in one place.
If possible, download the schedule to your phone so you will always have it handy. Cellphone coverage may be spotty at the convention.
Look at the schedule
Don’t wait until the convention to get your schedule - look it up on the website before the convention and plan accordingly. If you have your schedule before get there, you won’t accidentally plan a game of D&D during the comedy show you really wanted to attend!
Most conventions will hand out a “pocket schedule,” - a small version of the schedule. Keep this on you at all times. A great place to put it is behind your badge if the convention uses plastic badge holders. Mark on the schedule the things you don’t want to miss.
Take some time to jot down someplace convenient - like the back of the pocket schedule - the times and locations of all the things you absolutely don’t want to miss. Even better, enter these into your phone with reminders. This way, it’s easy to find where you need to be and when at a single glance.
There are lots of things to buy at furry conventions. You can visit the dealers den, the artists’ alley, the art show, the auctions, and much more. But you won’t be buying anything from anyone at the con if you don’t have any cold, hard cash.
I generally recommend carrying a limited amount of cash on you when traveling, as this will make you less of a target for crime. Be sure to bring a debit card with you and stop at a bank before reaching the convention - as cash machines at the convention will often run out of money.
Increasingly, dealers at furry conventions are accepting credit cards through services such as Square. However, not every dealer does; you should not rely on this when doing your shopping. If you are carrying cash, carry small bills and use these in the dealers’ den - dealers will love you.
As a last resort (if you don’t have a credit or debit card) you can use traveler’s checks. However, these are getting hard to come by now and fewer and fewer places accept them (or have even seen them before). If you do manage to get Traveler’s checks, be sure to write down the serial number on travelers’ checks, as you won’t be able to get a refund if they’re stolen without these. Keep the serial numbers somewhere other than your wallet.
Always carry your wallet and/or checkbook in your front pocket, as this will make live miserable for pickpockets.
Put simply: carry a small amount of cash to the event and have a debit or credit card so you can get more cash. As a last resort, you can use travelers checks and get them converted to cash at the hotel.
Write down some of the things you are looking for. Einstein said that if it’s written down, you don’t have to remember it. Write down things that you are looking for in the dealers den and which artists you wish to visit in the alley - movies, CDs, prints, comics, books, anything you really want.
Specifically, remember soap, shampoo, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Those little shampoo bottles and soaps the hotel provides will not last all weekend, especially when you have a bunch of people in your room trying to use them. Be sure to wrap anything liquid - toothpaste, shampoo, soap - in plastic bags as these have a habit of exploding during travel, showering your clothing with liquid. Be sure to bring plenty of deoderant, but go light on cologne as it can often irritate people with sensitive noses. And always remember that there is no substitute for a daily shower!
Also in your toiletries bag:
Tweezers & Nail Clippers - something you never think about until you really need.
Pepto Bismol - You may have a reaction to the water, or simply get some bad food. The hotel gift shop will usually price this stuff into the stratosphere since they know you’ll need it. Get the pill form, as pills will travel better than liquids.
Vitamin C tablets - vitamin C can boost the immune system and help prevent the onset of con crud - that mysterious disease that can spread at conventions. Best to start taking it a few days before you leave and a few days after you get back.
Pain Killers - headaches happen, and you wouldn’t want to be without these little wonders when they do. Cough tablets are another good item to bring as well.
Birth control and/or condoms - as the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared!”
Sewing Kit - especially important if you have a costume or fursuit, and for more mundane uses like fixing a button.
Extra pair of glasses/contacts - Can you see well enough to drive home without them if they get lost? If you have glasses, it might be a good idea to also include a pack of mini-screwdrivers to fix your glasses when one of those little screws pops out.
Earplugs - Conventions can be loud places, even in your room. You may have a roommate that snores, or you may get a room near the elevators. These can help you get some sleep.
If you have any life-necessary medications, keep them on you at all times. Write your name, contact information, information for a relative, and medical conditions you have on a stiff card and keep it in your wallet - it is the next place a paramedic will look if you don’t have a medical bracelet.
Remember to pack one set of clothes for each day you will be gone, plus an extra in case you get stranded or miss your flight.
Comfortable, climate-appropriate clothing. You’re going to be moving around a lot, so you’ll want to select clothing that is comfortable for everyday wear. Check the weather listings before you pack for the convention - there can be an amazingly wide variety of temperatures, even during temperate months.
Comfortable shoes. You are going to be doing A LOT of walking, so you want a pair of shoes that will offer good support and be comfortable. Sandals are not recommended as many hotels will not allow them outside the pool area. Be sure to also pack extra pairs of socks for your shoes. Wear a clean pair of socks (and underwear) every day.
A set of nice clothes. You might decide to spring for a snazzy restaurant one night. Also, some cons are beginning to offer “formal” dances - think like high school proms - depending on their theme that year.
Swimsuit. Relaxing in the hotel pool or whirlpool is a good way to end a day at a convention. Just remember that this is not a substitute for bathing!
Towel. Douglas Adams said, “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have” - and he wasn’t lying. There are never enough towels in a hotel bathroom, and they’re never big enough or fluffy enough. Also good for the swimming pool.
Pillows. If you’re picky about your pillows, bring your own.
If you’re sharing a room with other people, you might be the unlucky sap who ends up on the floor. Don’t count on everyone else to give up their covers for you!
Air matress and pump
If you do end up on the floor, you might as well be comfortable. If you do bring an air mattress, be sure to bring a pump - inflating it the old-fashioned way means your roommates will have to either step over you all the time or drag you out into the hallway after you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen. Of course, you could sleep in the tub if you don’t mind a rude awakening when one of your roommates stumbles groggily into the bathroom and turns on the shower…
Another one of those things you don’t think about needing until you do. The power might go out - or you might need to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night through a minefield of people sleeping on the floor.
Jambox or iPod and Headphones
Never hurts to be able to listen to the music you paid way too much for in the dealer’s room. They make great for room parties. However, be sure you have private headphones in case your roommates don’t share your taste in music. I like country music - chances are most other people won’t.
The second part there is pretty important: be respectful of others, especially your fellow con-goers, other hotel guests and hotel staff. It’s generally considered pretty rude to be playing music from a jambox in a public area of the convention, for instance. So, always try to keep others in mind when listening to music.
Laptop preferrably. Some conventions have “Internet rooms” which will have a bank of computer terminals that you can use, but it will always be packed by all the suckers who didn’t bring a computer. Almost all hotels have wireless Internet available for free or a nominal charge, and many conventions provide it for free as well. Airport security also may ask you to boot up your laptop computer, so be sure to keep the batteries charged.
Cooler and Food
If you are driving to the convention and doing a it on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to “brown bag it.” By making your own food, you take out one of the highest cost items at a con (after travel and hotel). If you’re a finnicky eater - you know who you are - this may for the best. Other things to consider…
Lunchmeats - Bread. Mustard. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Making your own food is a LOT cheaper than McDonalds, and loads cheaper than the hotel restaurant.
Sodas - If you drink sodas, bring your own. They are ultra-expensive if you buy them from the hotel vending machines. Also, pack some bottled water, fruit juices, or other non-carbonated beverages.
Munchies and other small snacks - Be sure to select some small candybars that you can throw in your backpack while you’re on the convention floor.
Alcohol - If you’re going to drink, buy your alcohol before the party starts. In fact, if you really want to save money, check places along the route to see where the booze is cheapest. Also remember that some places have weird laws regarding alcohol sales - be sure to be aware of these before you begin partying.
Plastic Bags - There are never enough trashbags in a hotel room to clean up after a really good party. Go easy on the hotel staff - they will love you for it. Plastic bags are also really good for keeping dirty clothes separate from clean ones - just be sure to hide it in your bag so the cleaning crew doesn’t think it’s trash!
Paper cups, plates, and utensils - If you are providing your own food, this is a must. They’re surprisingly hard to come by when really needed.
If you’re a dealer or are otherwise carrying large amounts of money with you, it is probably best to lock it up. Often hotel rooms will have a safe in them - if so, it’s usually listed as an amenity on the website, but call the hotel to be sure. And, as a last resort, the front desk can usually put things in the hotel safe.
Necessary these days if you’re traveling by air, but useful in other situations as well. Many cons will not allow you to claim a badge without photo ID. If you’re a foreign guest, carry your passport with you at all times.
You’re going to have an amazing time. So amazing, in fact, that you’re probably not going to remember half of the awesome things that happened. So be sure to bring a camera to capure all those great moments.
I recommend bringing two cameras - one nice camera and one single-use camera for situations where having a nice camera might not be a good idea (like around a pool). Bring extra batteries and either extra memory cards or what you’ll need to get them off your camera - those things fill up fast and you don’t want to be sitting around going through your pictures trying to decide what means the most. Unload your memory cards every night so that, in case something happens, you won’t lose all your photos.
This is an essential item, even these days when we have clocks on our phones. A watch is just easier to glance at without having to fish your phone out of your pocket to check the time. Be sure to set it to whatever time the host city is in, so you’ll be on “con time.”
Put your name and contact information on everything you bring. Laptops and sketchbooks can appear similar when laying on the floor next to each other - quickly be able to tell what is yours and make it easier to locate when lost.
You will always come back from a con with more than you arrived with. Keeping that in mind, be sure you have extra luggage space to accommodate whatever you buy. You may consider bringing an extra bag if you intend on going on a mega shopping spree.
Remember to take advantage of things like airline frequent flyer programs or hotel frequent guest programs. Over the years, those miles and points can add up to a nearly free convention!
Have your car checked out before you set off on the journey. Have the oil changed and make sure all your fluids and air are within parameters. If any service needs to be done, get it done several weeks before you leave.
A small toolkit consisting of basic tools (wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, a hammer, jumper cables, etc) should be in the inventory of any car owner. Useful for fixing small problems that can occur on an extended roadtrip, but also useful in a wide range of situations - another one of those things you never think of until you wish you had it.
Plan your route carefully and allow for bathroom and food breaks and rest along your route.
Be realistic when planning your trip. Don’t expect to travel 900 miles in 12 hours, even though that’s an average speed of 75 miles per hour - with breaks and traffic the actual drive time is closer to 18 (I learned this the hard way going to Anthrcon 2004).
Don’t try to pack four people and luggage in a sub-compact car, for that is a miserable trip no matter how long it is. Stop and take frequent breaks for both the occupants and the car, and at each stop check the fluid and air pressure levels. Don’t “run on empty” because you never know how far it may be to the next fuel station.
Get a GPS or a phone that has GPS, and use this to route you to your destination. This will help keep you from getting lost in the bad part of town. But be sure to invest in a good road atlas in case your GPS fails.
Get a spare car key made and put it someplace safe. That way you’re not stranded at a rest stop in Missouri looking at your keys through a window.
If you are in a furry convoy of several cars going to the convention, invest in a set of FRS radios. These will help coordinate the drive. Take turns being on “point” (in the lead).
Flying, Bus, Train, etc.
When packing your bag, don’t put anything valuable in your checked bag. This includes medication or almost any kind of electronic device. Lots of people have access to checked bags and your chances of having something valuable stolen are not insignificant.
Meaure and weigh your bags. Remember that airlines have size and weight limits on both checked baggage and carry-on baggage. Check with your carrier to see what these size and weight limits are (as of this writing, 50 pounds and 62 inches length + width + height seems to be common for checked baggage). Exceeding sizes or weights can cost a lot of money.
If you are flying to the convention or going by bus or train, keep your tickets in a safe place. If you are traveling as a group, appoint one person in a group to keep track of all the tickets for the group.
Under no circumstances are you to joke, at all, with security, or do one within earshot with a friend. Certain words, such as bomb, gun, and related, will set off alarm bells with security people. Finish the humor before you get to the security area. If you listen carefully to what a security person tells you and do exactly as you are told, you should have no problems.
All luggage looks the same at the luggage claim in the airport. Make sure yours stands out by tying a bandana or neon piece of tape to the handle. Remember not to lock your luggage as the TSA will have to cut it off to inspect it. Put your name on the outside and on the inside.
At The Convention
Bring a copy of your hotel confirmation with you when you check in. If there are any problems, it may help clear up.
Stay in the con hotel and book your hotel room early. You want to stay in the con hotel - the last thing you want to be doing is trudging back and fourth each day to another hotel while others are partying and having a good time. However, the con hotel will usually fill up fast so book your hotel room early. Bring proof of your hotel room with you as hotels have been known to lose reservations.
Get a spare key to your hotel room. Put it in a safe place (like your wallet). This will save you the trouble of having to go to the hotel desk when you inevitably lock yourself out. Don’t put your hotel key in the same pocket as your cellphone - certain types of hotel keys can be wiped when they are in close proximity to a cellphone.
Do not hang anything from the sprinkler heads in the hotel room. Very bad things can happen that result in very big bills. And remember, the person whose name is on the room is the one responsible for damages!
Before you leave, check under the bed, dresser and in the shower. Black holes in these locations suck in all the lost items in the universe.
Be sure you note the checkout times so that you don’t get charged for an extra day for not checking out on time.
DRINK LOTS OF WATER. I cannot say this enough. And soda, coffee and alcohol are not substitutes for water. You’re going to be on the go for potentially 18-20 hours - a schedule the human body isn’t designed to run on for long. Please don’t be that guy that has to have the paramedics called because of dehydration. And, best of all, water is the secret key to recovering from hangovers!
THE 6-2-1 RULE. Get 6 good hours of sleep each night, eat 2 good meals each day, and take 1 good shower each morning. Budget your time accordingly and in a way that will allow you to see what you would like - there is far too much going on at a furry con to try to do it all.
THRE 3 DOWN, 2 UP RULE. Furry conventions have a well-deserved reputation for breaking elevators. If you are going less than three floors down or two floors up in the hotel, use the stairs instead of the elevator. This simple step will reduce the chances of breaking an elevator and will make life better on everyone.
REMEMBER TO TIP! (This one primarily applies to the United States - other countries will likely be different). See all those people working at the hotel and restaurants while you’re having fun? They’re working hard, and probably for less than minimum wage. So be sure you tip them generously. Notably, remember to tip servers, bellhops and valet drivers (this is not an exclusive list, though).
Thoeretically, this is optional. In reality, unless the service is absolutely appalling (and you’re complaining to management), you should always leave a tip. The general scale is:
- Waiters: 15-20% of the total bill.
- Bellhops: $1 per bag, with a minimum of $5.
- Bartender: $1 per drink or 15%. Tip early for better service.
- Hotel shuttle driver: $1-$2, plus $1 per bag if they help you with them.
- Valet: $2-5. Remember, this person is driving your car. Be generous. :)
- Taxi driver: 10-15%. I usually tip better the faster the driver gets me there. Also add $1 per bag if they help you with bags
While the fandom as a whole is big on touching and hugs, remember that not everyone likes being touched. Always ask permission first and remember that no means no.
Business cards are not just for suits - they’re an ultra-convenient way to exchange contact information with all the friends you’ll make. Be certain they contain all your relevant contact information - website, e-mail, blog, etc - that you want people to have. Hand them out three at a time - people always lose one or two, and this gives the opportunity for your contact info to spread.
Most conventions have a “message board.” This will be a large array of corkboards or the like upon which guests can post messages like “Kilroy is here! Room 1337!” Post some of your business cards on the message board, so others know you’ve arrived.
Leave the bathroom light on when you go to bed each night. It serves as an excellent night light.
Don’t try to eat an entire weekend out of the convention hospitality suite. The hospitality suite usually contains small snacky foods designed to get you through the day - not sustain you for a weekend.
If you are at a convention with a group, consider using a group text messaging service such as GroupMe between you and your friends. This will make it much easier to communicate when you are spread all over different locations in the building.
People in costumes - such as fursuiters - often have a very limited field of view. Put your hands on the side of your face near your eyes - that’s about the field of a fursuiter with a head on has. Never approach/hug a fursuiter from behind or walk in front of them from a direction where they cannot see you.
Please let fursuiters get onto and off of elevators first. They may be having an emergency and needing to get somewhere where they can get their costume off, or they may just want to get out of suit. Having to wait while others move on and off the elevator can quickly cause them to overheat.
Many fursuiters will not speak when “in character,” and will mime out what they want. If you are having a hard time understanding them, simply say so.
It is considered bad form to identify the person inside the suit, even if they are wearing badges on the outside.
If you are fursuiting, take breaks often and drink LOTS OF WATER. You can overhead and/or dehydrate incredibly fast in a fursuit.
From the moment you step foot into the convention hotel, you will be serving as an ambassador for the furry fandom whether you like it or not. You may be the first interaction someone has with a furry. Try to make everyone feel welcome, not terrified. Let’s try not to make every single piece of negative publicity about the furry fandom look right.
If you are new to the fandom and this is your first convention, go out of your way to say hello to people and talk with them. That’s why we have cons - to peel ourselves away from our computers and actually see other furs in real life! You will see all sorts of people, but they all share the same common interest in anthropomorphics that you do.
Thank the hotel and convention staff for making all the magic happen - remember that they’re working very hard while you are having fun. If you have any problems, bring them to the convention staff - they are willing to assist all attendees and would much rather solve a problem at the time rather than hear about it afterwards, but they can’t help if they don’t hear from you.
Above all, bring a sense of humor, patience, and a willingness to have fun!
See you at the cons!
Kira is an Alabama-based collie dog permanently stuck in 1999. Her hobbies include software, trains, and doting on her wife, daughter and far too many cats. Lover of comfort foods, science fiction, alternative rock and progressive rock. Often wandering around without a clue. Proudly weird, proudly queer. 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️