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What to PAX? A guide to packing for a gaming convention

When gearing up for my first convention (GenCon 2018), I read many blogs on what I should pack when attending a convention. The lists were long, seemingly, too long, but having never been to a convention, I figured I’d better listen to the pro’s.


I traveled with multiple bags all packed to the brim with “essentials”, many of those “essentials” I didn’t touch once.


I recently returned from a trip to Philadelphia for PAX Unplugged. In preparing for that convention, I decided to streamline my packing process and thought I would share with you, fellow convention-goer, what I consider to be my “essentials” for a trip to a convention.


Admittedly, everyone will have their own list of things they need to survive a convention. We are each unique in this regard, so please, don’t take this as gospel. If you NEED your lucky jersey—bring it! Who am I to poo-poo your luck? This is simply my thought process while “Preparing to PAX” for your reference. Add on as you see fit!


Clothes:

I was heading to Philly in 30-degree weather, but I was also going be inside a stuffy convention center a lot, so for me, easily-packable layers made the most sense. It turns out, although rainy, the weather was quite nice. The packable layers were a great option. I wore a hoodie but kept a jacket in my bag. If you’re wearing a coat outside—consider where you will keep it when you’re inside. Since it wasn’t too cold, I ended up keeping my coat in the car, but this is certainly something to keep in mind had the weather been coat-worthy (a packable coat that you can shove in your bag is a must).


Bring a change of socks every day. You will be outside and if its snowy or rainy your socks will get wet and cold. If it’s summer, your socks will get sweaty. You don’t want to be walking around all day in wet, cold socks or sweaty socks.


If you’re staying at a hotel close to the convention you might chose to return to your hotel before going out for the night. If not, your day clothes may become your night clothes. Unless you’re attending a special themed event (i.e, “Prom”) you most likely will not need anything too formal or specific, but keep in mind where you might end up that night and how your day attire will transition into night. Our hotel was a short drive from downtown, but leaving and returning to the parking garage gets expensive. I opted for jeans and a hoodie by day, with a cute top packed away for night.


Make sure your footwear is comfortable. You will walk… LOTS!


Real talk: the convention hall gets tightly packed and we’re all spending the same long days together. Inevitably, we’re going to get stinky. Start off on the right foot by making sure the clothes you pack are clean and fresh-smelling. Your fellow gamers will thank you!


Toiletries:

In addition to what I leave at the hotel, I like packing travel items with me in my bookbag. A little travel toothbrush/toothpaste, cleansing wipes, and deodorant can make you feel like a brand-new human when you need it most!


There is a such thing as the Convention Crud. Each convention has one (at PAX it was being referred to as “the Pax Pox”). Do what you can to avoid it. I took my normal multi-vitamins and airborne, got as much rest as possible (you won’t get much during a convention weekend), and drank lots of water and I was fine. You might also consider a small bottle of hand sanitizer. If that’s not your jam, make sure to wash your hands often.


Food:

I love to eat. I want to make that clear before I say what I’m about to say. Are you ready? Remember, I love to eat. Here we go: packing loads of food for the convention is not necessary.


Before GenCon, I read so many posts that said you need to pack provisions—like I was trekking through the desert. For GenCon, I packed a cooler in the bag I carried through the convention hall with yogurt, fruit cups, cereal, string cheese, granola, PB sammy’s and two refillable bottles of water. I don’t know where I thought I was going, but I was ready for it. Guess what -- I did not eat any of it.


There is easily accessible food for purchase everywhere. Not to mention, a lot of the convention scene is socializing over a meal with friends, and, if you have the good fortune of traveling to a new city for your convention, you should 100% get out of the convention hall, support the community, and experience the food scene.

You might wantsnacks, in which case by all means pack them but you don’t need them. There are two caveats to this: 1) if you are anticipating sitting down at a tournament and not getting up the entire day, pack a protein bar. 2) If you’re driving a great distance, you absolutely need road trip munchies (which also double as late night munchies—BONUS!!)


What you do need is water. Or at least a water bottle that you can refill at nearby water fountains often. Stay hydrated! It’s a long day and you will feel so much better throughout it if you are taking care of yourself.


Tech:

Bring what you need, but don’t plan to carry it around all day. I bring my laptop for work, but it stays at the hotel.


What I will bring to the convention hall (and use often) is my phone.

The best tech-related tip I picked up from GenCon: invest in a portable power bank! I used my phone a lot: taking pictures, communicating with friends, referencing my itinerary, using maps, etc. For GenCon, I did not have a power bank with me, so I had to search the convention hall for an outlet and hang out by the wall for a bit anytime I could charge.


For PAX, I was prepared with my own power bank and I used it often!

You will definitely want a charged phone, at the very least, to stalk your favorite celebrities at the con on twitter. How else are you going to “accidentally” run into them?


Gaming:

This will, of course, differ for each reader and each convention, but I used very few gaming materials at PAX. Bring pens/pencils, perhaps a small notebook, a set of die if your game of choice calls for it. You don’t need to pack every gaming accessory you own. Remember with most gaming necessities… there’s an app for that. And you’re surrounded by vendors who are selling everything you could ever need!


Also, make sure to check out the free game libraries available (we played a fun bluffing game called “Don’t Mess with Cthulhu”) and spend some time in the expo hall demoing games provided by the vendors (the big one at PAX this year was “Fog of Love”—so much fun!)


Personal:

I joked earlier about a lucky jersey, but in all seriousness, conventions can be overwhelming. There are lots of people, there is lots of noise, and there’s a fair amount of uncertainty. At the end of the day, you should pack what makes you most comfortable.


Know your needs! If you take medication, remember to bring them. If you know you need to eat every hour or you get hangry, bring snacks. If you’re trying to convention on a budget, brown bagging your food is a great way to cut costs. If you struggle with anxiety in crowds, think about what calms you down.

Be prepared to be you at your best.


More than anything:

Remember to bring a great attitude and willingness to meet new, incredible people. You will be surrounded by people like you, or at least people with like interests. A convention is a great time to Let Your Geek Flag Fly! Oh, right… remember to pack your geek flag!


Enjoy!!

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