How To Pack For A 5-Day Con

Conventions GeekMom
My trusty, well-traveled, hard-sided suitcase, perfect for things you don’t want crushed. Image credit: Ruth Suehle.

Dragon Con starts this week. That means it’s time for the last-minute frenzied packing. Quick, somebody make a list! No worries—got that covered for you. Even if you aren’t Atlanta-bound this weekend, you can bookmark it for your next con, or possibly even your next vacation, assuming you like to spend time on the beach in your Avengers suit.

I’m a frequent traveler with airline and hotel status and enough nights away from home that I can tell you what brand pillows are on the Sheraton beds. (Those things are awesome.) I’ve also been doing Dragon Con for 13 years. This is my ultimate packing list of that accumulated knowledge. It comes with one rule: If it’s not on the list, it’s not in the bag. You might say to yourself, “Of course I’ll remember the bobby pins.” Tell me that again when you get all suited up and can’t do your hair.

Costumes each get their own packing lists. To emphasize the rule, if it’s not on the list, it’s not in the bag. The last thing I do when I make a costume is make a list of every single piece that’s required for it. Need the black full-body Spanx? Pearl earrings? No matter how small, or clearly impossible to forget, they’re on the list. (I don’t list regular underwear in these since that’s in the clothing section, but if it only fits with a specific bra, that goes on the list.) For example, here’s my list for Nyssa al Ghul:

  • Jacket
  • Pants
  • Belt
  • Quiver
  • Arrows
  • Bow
  • Black stompy boots
  • Flat black boots
  • Gloves
  • Bracers
  • Socks
  • Shoulder/chest piece
  • Hood
  • Veil
  • Sword
  • Black Mehron disc (for hair)
  • Sponge (for applying the color)

Image credit: Debadeep Sen Photography

I have two pairs of boots listed because while normally I wear the heeled boots, sometimes it’s day four of the con, and I want to suit up, but I just can’t look at the heels anymore, so I go flat. Thus, they both go on the list.

Don’t forget to list handheld items, like a weapon or other prop.

Whether you list makeup with each costume or in a separate makeup section is up to you. I end up packing a makeup arsenal, so I list it separately below, and I list a specific item only if it’s unusual to the arsenal, like a gold eyeliner I rarely use except for my Jean Grey costume or the blue lipstick my daughter uses for her Skylanders costume.

The Repair Kit
There was a time I swore I’d never take a sewing machine to a con. Then there was the time I did. Now I’m back to swearing that off. So this is what I now consider a repair kit. If yours includes a machine, you probably don’t need me to help you make this list!

  • Glue gun, duct tape, and safety pins: There is little that can’t be stuck back together with one of this magical trifecta. If you really want to get serious, add some E-6000.
  • Heat gun: Either for re-shaping foam pieces or melting hot glue that went where it shouldn’t.
  • Needles and thread to match all the costumes
  • Fabric scissors and sewing scissors
  • Paint and brushes for touch-ups
  • Spare parts of whatever is in your costume—rivets, buttons, grommets, buckles that might come loose—and the tools required to insert them.
  • Spare pieces if you think you might need to remake or patch something—for example, a few extra chunks of foam or Worbla if you have a fragile piece.
  • Zip ties
  • Velcro
  • Hooks and eyes
  • Sew-on snaps
  • Fray-Check
  • Extra wires, batteries, LEDs, or other electronics parts if your costume needs them.
  • Tide pen, because you just had to have BBQ for lunch, didn’t you?
  • Multi-tool

This is a good time to note that if you’re traveling by car, you can pack everything in the world. If you’re flying, you might have to pare down to the essentials. Think about what’s most likely to break on your costume, and bring the things to fix that.

I confess. We travel with too many electronics. Again, driving versus flying, but I carry much of this everywhere regardless. My husband has a bag we use that we even have come to refer to as “the electronics bag.” I list every item’s power cable separately because one inevitably gets left behind.

  • Laptop (play music, look for restaurants, download pictures from your camera)
  • Laptop power cable
  • WiFi hotspot
  • Tablet
  • e-Reader
  • Phone
  • Enough USB cables to charge the things that use them
  • Power packs (like this)
  • Camera
  • Camera batteries or charger
  • Extra memory cards
  • Waterproof camera
  • Power strip—because no hotel room has enough outlets

Hair and Makeup
This one’s going to be more personalized, depending on your needs. But especially if you don’t travel often, it’s the most important one for the “on the list” rule. You will forget something.

  • Makeup kit (don’t forget to list any specific items that are costume-critical)
  • Makeup remover
  • Curlers
  • Mousse, gel, spray, or other hair products
  • Bobby pins
  • Straightening iron
  • Hairbrush
  • Round brush
  • Deodorant
  • Razors
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Eye drops
  • Contact lens supplies
  • Spare contacts
  • Glasses
  • Nail clippers
  • Band-Aids (entire first aid kit if you’re accident-prone or cautious—I was certainly appreciative of the person carrying one the year I cut my head open!)
  • Moleskin (if you’re blister prone)
  • Your lady-time supplies of choice, because even if you’ve never had breakthrough bleeding in your life, your uterus knows when you’re unprepared and not in a situation to deal with it easily.
  • Any medications
  • Painkillers of your preference (that aren’t liquor)
  • Tiger Balm—we’re old. Muscles hurt. Wintergreen smells good.
  • Earplugs if your roommates snore (hi, Neal!)

I don’t usually pack the things that hotels have—soap, shampoo, blow dryers, but if you are attached to yours, add them to the list. And if you’re a wig person, don’t forget all your wig accoutrements.

Whatever liquids you do pack—hair gel, shampoo, contact lens solution—wrap it in a plastic bag. The last thing you want is to get to the con and discover all of your clothes are covered in conditioner because the lid popped open or something crushed it.

Con Needs
If you’re flying, this is the stuff that should be in your carry-on, just in case.

  • Lanyard (for your badge—they’re sometimes not provided, and Dragon Con is one of those times)
  • Badge pickup confirmation (for Dragon Con, your postcard)
  • Photo ID
  • Small bag for carrying around daytime essentials, like the program guide, water bottle, phone, camera, etc.
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Cash—the ATMs around the con are going to run out of money. Don’t forget to have small bills for tips.
  • Your hotel confirmation number, just in case
  • Umbrella/poncho
  • Sunglasses
  • A couple of pens and Sharpies—I don’t know why this is, but you always need one and never have it.

In the Room
How much food you pack depends on how much you want to eat in the room. Some people bring PB&J and a loaf of bread and eat it all weekend. Here’s our approach for a five-day con:

  • Breakfast bars
  • Cookies
  • Chips/pretzels
  • Fruit
  • Soda
  • Alcohol of choice
  • Plastic cups
  • Pitcher for mixing
  • Paper towels
  • Bottle opener, because nothing is sadder than a six-pack you can’t open
  • Board games—now’s a good time for that Cards Against Humanity deck you never play because there are always kids around!

Just in case you aren’t actually in costume all weekend. Just in case you don’t want to ride home in a corset because you forgot actual clothes.

  • Enough clothes for the weekend—if you can’t imagine con without your favorite Batman shirt, list it specifically!
  • Underwear (extra underwear is never a bad idea—cons are sweaty times!)
  • Socks
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Swimsuit
  • Hoodie if you’re cold natured
  • Pajamas (just because you don’t wear any at home doesn’t mean your roommates want to see that)
  • Hangers for anything costume or clothing that should be hung

Final Tips

If you want to be absolutely certain you’re as prepared as possible, I would read a few other lists as well. This is what I’ve found we need. You may want things we don’t care about, like an alarm clock, or have personal needs that aren’t on my list.

Finally, here are a few general packing suggestions:

  • Pack folded clothes on the way there. Roll your clothes to come home, which makes them take up less space, and you can fit in your new treasures from the dealers’ room. I usually roll dirty clothes and leave any still-clean ones folded so I don’t accidentally launder clean clothes when I get home.
  • If you’re flying with family, spread out your clothes. If you need three suitcases for three people, that is not one suitcase per person. That is one-third of a suitcase per person, so if one goes missing, nobody’s naked.
  • If you have to ship to the hotel, they will usually charge you a handling fee for the box somewhere between $5 and $25, depending on which hotel and the weight of the box.
  • I have one costume that requires two suitcases and a Rubbermaid tub. It is an epic game of Tetris to get it in. If you have a similar situation, when you get to the hotel room, take pictures as you unpack it so you know how to get it all back in. Nobody wants to spend the last night of con trying to figure out how to get it all back home.
  • When I’m packing for the family, I make a chart for items that each of us need so that I can check off for each person and separate it by what goes in which suitcase. Here’s an example:
    Screenshot from 2015-08-31 10-34-29
    Image credit: Ruth Suehle

    You can see that in the purple bag, so far R and H have both of their formal outfits packed, but S and I do not. S has no underwear and should really get on that. S didn’t think he’d need a hoodie for this trip, so that spot is blank. Making this chart makes the list one-quarter the length compared to making each person an individual list!

  • Check with your roommates so you don’t end up with doubles of everything when one would be enough. Make a shared Google Doc and note who’s bringing what.
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