Hello Nerdophiles, I’m here to tell you guys about how I managed to prep for my first ever out-of-town convention- PAX Prime. It also happened to be my first time planning my own vacation. Needless to say, it has been a pretty hectic learning experience for me. So now I’ll show you my experience with con prep, learning a few things the hard way. Hopefully this will help you out the next time you venture out in the world and give you a new perspective on trip planning.
Hear me out. This seems like a very obvious first step, but it is also one of the hardest, and I made it even harder for myself for choosing a notoriously fast-selling event. This year’s PAX was no exception, selling out most tickets in under an hour. I was in queue to buy tickets 10 minutes after the twitter announcement and stayed there until it was made clear that the badges were all sold out. Which means that if you weren’t in queue within the first 9 minutes of the announcement you were not going to get a badge. It’s a jungle out there. So how did I get my tickets, you ask?
This subreddit. I wasn’t about to brave Craigslist or Ebay and get gouged by shady scalpers for tickets that were either fake or revocable. For those unaware, PAX organizers go through addresses that ship over the 16 total badge limit to cancel them and discourage scalping. So that was out of the question. I lucked out on the PAX Pass Exchange and managed to find a seller I was willing to trust, who provided legit proof of purchase, kindly mailed a check to my house for collateral, and was easy to reach via text. In addition to my own judgement, I also had Paypal’s policy on my side- if something unscrupulous happened I had the right to dispute my payment to the seller.
This is just my experience buying tickets online, but I would recommend going through a similar process no matter what event it is. You always, always need proof of purchase before you show the seller a cent, and don’t let someone charge you exorbitant prices. I inquired with around five sellers before I found mine, and they were all selling their tickets for 2 to 4 times more than the original price. That’s a huge red flag- this person could be a scalper, or they could just be an ass, and you never want to buy from a stranger who is an ass. I got 2 sets of 4 passes (8 in total) for $280. That is 0 profit for the seller, who just needed to recoup their costs.
Shop around for a good deal, the best time is about two months before the con. Late enough that people’s plans will unfortunately fall through, and early enough to give yourself enough time to shop around. Also, receive your tickets face to face whenever possible. It eliminates the risk of tickets getting “lost in the mail”, and if someone says no despite living in the city of the con? Run.
I’ll be honest, as a broke college student I didn’t have a lot of money to put aside for 5-star accommodations. By the time I got my tickets PAX-rate hotels were all but sold out, so I had to look for budget alternatives. The hardest part was finding any accommodation on the days I was planning to be in Seattle, made more difficult by the fact that I was bringing a +1: the boyfriend. I put my Google skills to use and started looking for student hostels. These are the cheapest you can get, the rooms are usually dorm-style, and you get a twin-size cot. A bed was around $30/night. As much as I wanted to save money, I also wanted a nice place near the convention hall to rest.
And then I found Hotel Hotel Hostel, which is basically a stylish, industrial-style hostel. Looking at the photos made me feel like I was in a hipster’s studio loft. It was practically perfect, and they had two beds available for that week. But just as I thought I’d found the best of the best, I discovered AirBnB. You’ve heard of bed and breakfast places before? AirBnB makes it easy to find an affordable, chic place to stay in any number of cities, especially within cosmopolitan centers like Vancouver, New York and even Paris. The concept is that someone rents out a certain part of their home for a nightly fee, and in addition to a place to sleep you get a real, live city person looking after you. Or not, if you prefer it that way.
I found a condo located 10 minutes away from the Washington State Convention Center, bookable at $80/night. Less expensive then any hotel in the downtown area. Once again, you just have to be persistent in finding the best place for you, and book early for the best spots.
Keep in mind that AirBnB sometimes asks a large deposit due at the time of booking, and charges a small non-refundable fee. Also make sure that the cancellation policy suits your needs. Some owners allow you to cancel 24 hours before your reservation for a full refund, others will only give you half even if you cancel a month in advance. Be satisfied with what you’re ponying up for, generally.
This is probably the easiest thing to get out of the way, but might make you cry. The flights I was looking at were completely non-refundable past 24 hours and tickets were a solid $450 and up for a round trip. Again, booking early gives you the best prices, but you also need to be conscious of your flight times. PAX ends on September 1st, and I started classes on the 2nd. That meant I needed to find a flight late enough to attend the last day of PAX and to make it to the airport in time. It gets pricey. Factor in having to buy two plane tickets at once and it easily exceeded the measly $1000 limit on my visa.
Aircanada was looking like my best bet until I dropped into a Flight Center location in the mall. But isn’t buying flight in the mall a guaranteed rip-off, you ask? Well, I was looking at a $529 flight at the minimum regardless (late booking strikes again), and the retail location was able to offer me a better departure time and the ability to pay in person with my +1. As far as websites go I recommend Google Flights and Farecompare if you’re flexible on times, because they will save you a ton of money.
Since I wanted to explore Seattle for a few days before PAX started and I had to get into con mode, there was a bit of additional planning required. So I hit up Urbanspoon and Yelp to find some fun places to dine, and decided on shopping by asking Google once again. It’s important to plan out your trip using Google Maps so you know exactly how long transit will take you, especially if you don’t have a car.
It’s also a good idea to put aside time just to wander around in a fun district, trying a bit of everything. I’m really looking forward to walking through Seattle, and unlike some I like to keep my itinerary vague and spontaneous. As for PAX itself, planning currently isn’t possible since the panel schedule hasn’t been released.
For starters, due to some snafus regarding planning and international mail, I got stuck booking my flight and accommodations really late. As of the time this post was written I’d just hammered out the finals of the trip. Anybody who wants to save money should be doing their booking at least a month ahead of schedule at the minimum. Also, keeping more cash saved up prevents a lot of headaches and really expands your options.
This actually all happened because I was buying second-hand rather than nabbing my tickets from the PAX website, so naturally, do your best to buy official.
Going solo can mean getting great deals on flights and single-occupancy rooms, but traveling with a friend means you can essentially split the cost of everything- in theory. In practice it might result in a confusing amount of debt on both sides and add stress to the planning process. Just make sure you trust your travel companion 100% to come through with the funds and everything will turn out fine. Hopefully. I’ll get back to you on that one.
This has been my expensive lesson on trip planning and life experience. I’ll try not to mess up as much next time. Hopefully this was an informative read on the art of convention traveling, and perhaps you’ll use some of these tips on your next trip out into the wild. Expect more PAX content as the date draws nearer, and I hope to see some of you guys at PAX myself!