Given that it is currently sort of peak convention season time, I wanted to offer my top five tips for attending one. These can be for first-time convention-goers or even for people who maybe haven't been to a con in a while and need a few reminders.
This list is not specific to cosplaying at a convention. Instead it is aimed more at a casual attendee. I can't offer any advice at this time on wearing body paint for eight-plus hours or keeping a wig on. Maybe that will be in another post.
5.) Draft a Plan (and Be Okay If Things Don't Go Accordingly)
My pre-convention routine regularly includes scouting out the website for a prospective schedule of events for about four weeks. No one has to be as silly as I am about schedules, but it does help to have a rough plan or at least a few key things to focus on seeing. For some people this will be autograph sessions or meet-and-greets with writers, actors, and artists. Some people might want to make sure they see a few specific people on Artist Alley or hit up a few of their favorite merchants who maybe only appear at conventions. I usually center my schedule around panels and longer events, such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show Shadowcast or a costume contest. Having a plan involving times, especially for panels and shows, also allows some wiggle room to plan for standing in line.
That being said, don't have a cow if things don't work out. At my first convention I missed both the showing of Rocky Horror (my Plan A for ending the night) and the big costume contest (my Plan B for ending the night) because we didn't get in line for either early enough. We stood there for nearly an hour before being told there was no more room. Don't get too terribly bummed out about things like that. Sometimes it's more fun to just do general sweeps of the convention floor or even get stuck around a slowly-growing group of related cosplayers who keep getting stopped for pictures.
4.) Scout Out Food Options (and Consider Bringing Your Own Rations)
It can be an adventure just to get into a convention. The ones I've been to are inside huge convention centers with a labyrinth of parking, up escalators, on multiple levels. The last thing anyone wants to do after spending possible hours in a car or maybe just a good half hour to park is leave to get food. Sometimes there isn't an option of leaving for the day. Luckily conventions have a variety of foods to offer in a mall-like food court full of wafting smells and No Face from Spirited Away eating a burrito next to a Power Ranger. Unluckily, that food is ridiculously expensive. I once downright panicked when I ordered some pizza and drinks for three people and immediately started doing math to see if we could afford to eat something that night with my remaining money.
I heartily recommend eating before or after the convention and bringing snacks. My go-to snacks are beef jerky sticks, string cheese, and packs of nuts or trail mix. Anything portable, possibly one-handed-eating-friendly, and survivable in a small bag would be a good idea. I wouldn't even trust a drink from the vending machine to be a reasonable priced, so a water bottle and maybe some of those little drink powder packets might also be a good idea.
3.) Budget Thyself (and Accept Treating Thyself Sometimes)
So the ticket is expensive, parking can be expensive, and the food is expensive. Conventions are also a magical wonderland where I can go buy a sword that I've wanted since I was eight years old. And a copy of Leeloo's multipass from The Fifth Element. And the ancient key from The Mummy. And a new Renaissance Faire outfit. And tiny potion bottles. And art prints. And vintage comic books. And...you see what I mean.
My point is that it's very easy to walk into a convention with enough money for groceries for a week and walk out hoping there's enough soup in the cupboard to sustain basic caloric needs. I highly recommend researching everything down to parking and gas and possibly put everything on a pre-paid card with enough cash to buy the products and/or experiences you want at the convention itself. If you followed the previous tip, you'll be able to grocery-shop or set aside food money ahead of time to avoid the dilemma of "con treasures versus $15 in pizza" in the food court.
Work within a budget but, like the advice for making a plan, leave some wiggle room (or just forgiveness) if there's something incredible, life-changing, and must-have-able in a booth tucked into a corner. It will probably be worth it. Once.
2.) Ask for Photos (and Say Those 3 Magic Words "Please" and "Thank You")
Conventions have become especially well-known for elaborate and enthusiastic cosplay opportunities. This simple rule is all about pictures and interactions with people in costumes:
Don't touch people/props/costumes without permission.
Don't take pictures without permission.
The severity of adhering to these rules depends on the demeanor of the person in costume, of course, but I try to be strict with these sort of things. To be fair, I've also been hit in the face with wings and tripped over a dude's dragging Pyramid Head sword as well. The pictures thing sometimes doesn't make sense to people. "They spent forever making/combining/sourcing/putting on a costume! Don't they want people to take pictures?" They probably do. However, they did put a lot of time, effort, and/or sheer bravery into said costumes and also deserve the opportunity to pose and actually show them off properly. A horrifically-zoomed shot of their back and half of their face from 60-feet away isn't the best way to capture that hard work.
What to do?
Ask. Nicely. I'm still working on it myself (which is why I have probably less than 20 pictures of cosplay from my con experiences), but it's that easy. "Hey, I love your costume! Can please I get a picture? Thank you!" That's the script. A few other observances would be to not bother people in the middle of something (like adjusting or fixing a costume, in mid-conversation with someone else, shepherding children about) or eating. Accept "no" as an answer, but also know that the answer will usually be positive.
1.) Wear Comfortable Shoes (and Be Prepared to Queue)
This is the most vital tip and one I've constantly overlooked despite normally being a practical person. Wear comfortable, practical shoes with arch support. Please. All of the conventions I've gone to were held in places with concrete floors. Ask anyone who works in a warehouse what it's like waking around on concrete floors for ten hours. It sucks and it kills feet plus anything connected to the feet. Going to a convention wearing thin shoes with no arch support (such as my trusty Converse) results in slight stiffness, fatigue, and muscle pain at the end of the day. Amble tiredly back to a hotel room, eat some pizza, fall asleep, and wake up to a new day of sheer hell with extreme stiffness and a deep-seated muscle soreness that ages a person 20 years until it's worked out again.
Please. Comfy shoes. Arch support. Otherwise Day Two of a convention involves stopping by the first steampunk booth to get a spiffy walking stick and hoping for the best.
Bonus: Con Gear
I like bringing my ThinkGeek Bag of Holding - Con Edition, a portable battery bank (Anker usually has good ones on Amazon), a FitBit to count the ridiculous number of steps, my 3DS XL for StreetPass opportunities (and for waiting in long lines), and a water bottle to refill.
Have fun out there!