San Diego Comic Con (SDCC 2019) is only a few days away. Soon nerds from all around the world will be getting on planes, trains, and into automobiles to flock to San Diego. Being the largest comic book festival in the world, it offers attendees a robust schedule filled with endless panels, signings, merchandise, and attractions.
The hard part? All of these things are smashed into four and a quarter days. There’s only so many hours in a single one of them, and humans have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once. These constraints mean a lot of work has to go in to preparing a schedule.
Thankfully we’ve got years of experience going to San Diego and other cons. I’d like to offer my five best tips for creating your San Diego Comic Con schedule.
Recognize you can’t, and won’t, be able to do everything. It is literally impossible.
This is, perhaps, one of the hardest things to recognize. It is doubly difficult with an event like San Diego Comic Con, where the barriers to attendance are many. When you’re never sure if you’ll get to attend again, you will feel the pressure to try and do everything possible on the schedule.
I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I’ve stressed myself out, panicked, tried to figure out how to experience everything. In the end, I never enjoyed those early experiences as much as I enjoyed the later ones. Why? Because the more I went, the more I realized I can’t do everything.
If you temper your expectations now, you will likely be surprised at how much easier the days are.
Pick 1-2 BIG things a day (Ballroom 20, Hall H, a specific ticketed off-site event) and then build the day out from there.
It might be hard, but you need to pick your battles. Ron Swanson once said, “never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing”. This holds true for building your convention schedule. Pick the two things you absolutely do not want to miss, and build your day around that.
You want to get into Hall H for the His Dark Materials panel? Then let that be the main to-do. Focus on your plan to get a Hall H wristband. You want to go to that and try to get tickets for something at Horton? Forget about it. Choose one of the big things that requires tickets/wristbands, and stick to it.
However, let’s say there’s a panel in the middle of the day in Ballroom 20 which just requires waiting in line. That may nicely compliment getting into Hall H for His Dark Materials. You stop and get your wrist band in the morning, then can get in the Ballroom 20 line for the panel. That panel finishes, you can head to Hall H and your wristband will (hopefully) get you in.
You’ve now chosen two big things with processes that don’t overlap. One requires waiting for a wrist band, the other requires showing up an hour or two before the panel to hop in line. Between these two big things you can pepper your schedule with off-site activations, booth shopping, or other smaller panels that are easy to get into.
Have a plan B and a plan C.
I know, I know. I just told you to choose two big things and stick to those. However, there’s a chance you might not get your wristband for Hall H or Ballroom 20 may have a bunch of campers who have been sitting there all day for the panel you want. Crap like that happens all the time at San Diego and it sucks, but that’s why this tip is so important.
It takes a lot of work on the front end of things, but it always pays off when your plans go awry to have backup schedules. Choose a couple other big things you wouldn’t mind seeing, so when you first plans are thwarted you can shift gears immediately.
Or maybe if your big things are impossible to get to, you can fill your Plan B schedule with a lot of smaller, still-interesting things and focus your energy there. Hopefully you will never have to utilize your Plan C, but it is there if you need it. For me, my secondary plans also help me fill unexpected time when getting into the 1-2 big events was easier than I anticipated.
There’s no such thing as over planning at San Diego Comic Con.
Build in time to take care of yourself: rest, eat, sleep, etc.
I know, this is very much not in the typical spirit of San Diego Comic Con. I will admit I was the student in college who never pulled an all-nighter and who tried to keep a regular bedtime. It worked for me, though, because I knew if I exhausted myself then nothing the next day would be fun.
I’ve applied the same philosophy to comic book conventions. I fight the temptation to run myself ragged out of fear I might miss something. Sometimes, I’ll go take a quick nap between events. Other times, I’ll go find a cafe or somewhere to sit for a while.
If you’re staying at the Manchester Grant Hyatt, my favorite getaway is out the back door. Seaport Village has a lot of shops and restaurants right off the water. It is a great way to escape from the crowds for a little while and recharge.
Leave time for surprises.
Sometimes the best things at conventions happen when you’re not looking for them. Last year I went to an event at BAIT San Diego for Death Saves. While waiting in line, keeping an eye on everything happening around me, I noticed Flula Borg running around. A fan, I was able to get his attention and snag a selfie.
Another year I bailed on Hall H after waking up at a god-awful hour to get in line. I went back to the hotel, took a shower, and went to chill at NerdHQ. Zachary Levi did a surprise “smiles for a cause” session and I got a chance to meet him. That wouldn’t have happened if I stuck to my plan of staking out Hall H all day.
At the end of it all, San Diego Comic Con is all about what you make it. Don’t let the stress of it put a damper on your experience. Have a plan, but take care of yourself, and leave time for surprises. Who knows who you’ll run into!