We are in the height of comic convention season, and in anticipation of one of the East Coast's biggest events, Rhode Island Comic Con, this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to compile a list of tips, tricks, and packing essentials for surviving all things comic con. If ill-prepared, cons can feel overwhelming, unorganized, and exhausting. However, if you take the steps to adequately plan and prep for your weekend, you are sure to have a thoroughly enjoyable and unforgettable experience.

Water

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! When I get into "con mode," it's easy for me to get caught up in the whirlwind of excitement around me and completely forget to take care of myself. Cons get hot and stuffy very fast, so don't forget to drink lots of water throughout the day to keep you going. If you can, bring your own water so you don't have to pay $5 for a bottle inside the convention center.

Hand sanitizer

You're going to be shaking hands, grabbing railings, touching tables, and making contact with who knows what else all day long, and the last thing you'll want to do is try to fight the bathroom lines to get to a sink. Load up on that hand sanitizer for your sake and the sake people around you.

My favorites are the PocketBac Sanitizers from Bath & Body Works. They're super cheap, they smell incredible, and they don't dry out my hands.

Lip balm

I never go anywhere without lip balm, but this is especially necessary for events like cons. Convention halls are often filled with dry, musty air that quickly dehydrates your skin. Bring lip balm to avoid the discomfort of chapped lips while you're spending the day talking to friends and guests.

My all-time favorite lip balm is the Glossier Balm Dotcom Universal Skin Salve. It's incredibly hydrating without feeling sticky and can be used on any other dry patches on your body like your hands and elbows.

Phone chargers

The last thing you want is to get up to a guest's booth for a photo and have your phone die. Charge your phone and other electronics the night before, then pack all the chargers you have for the day of the con. You'll need your phone all day long to take photos, stay in contact with people, and use while you're waiting in endless lines. Don't risk letting it die for the sake of having one less thing to carry around.

Deodorant

Please, for the sake of everyone whose shoulders you will be pressed up against all weekend: remember personal hygiene.

Wear comfortable shoes

This is not the time to sacrifice comfort for style (unless you're a cosplayer or are debuting these MadeByBunny Supergirl stilettos). You are going to be on your feet all day long waiting in lines and running off to your next destination. Be kind to your feet and don't forget to take a few moments to rest and stretch them.

Create a budget and bring cash

Many guest and vendor booths accept cards nowadays, but many also apply service fees. Don't get slammed with unnecessary charges and ATM fees; just bring cash. Using cash also helps you budget yourself throughout the day instead of getting caught up in the ease of swiping your card for anything that catches your eye. Before your convention weekend, sit down and create a rough budget for yourself that includes photos, autographs, merchandise, food, travel, hotel, and any other expenses so you know your limits.

Don't forget to eat

It's easy for time to get away from you while at cons, but don't forget to properly fuel your body for the long periods of exertion you're putting it through. Eat a full, high-protein, high-fiber breakfast that will fill you up and keep you going until you need to break for lunch. And yes, even though you may not want to stop, you need to break at some point. If you can, bring your snacks so that you aren't stuck paying for the overpriced (and usually less-than-spectacular) convention center food.

Wear layers

This doesn't so much apply for summer cons, but in the fall and winter, it can be tricky planning what to wear. At big cons, such as RICC, you can count on spending a few hours outside just waiting to get into the venue. You may not want to carry around a big winter coat all day, so layer it up. The main floors can feel like 100 degrees, while other halls and ballrooms can have the A/C on full-blast. Be prepared for anything.

Prepare for crowds

Perhaps the most stressful and overwhelming aspect of cons is dealing with the crowds. Most of your day will be spent waiting in lines and shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder in seas of strangers. If you're claustrophobic and socially anxious, like myself, being stuck in swarms of people all day can easily trigger discomfort and panic attacks. I honestly haven't found a way around this problem yet, but the best advice I can suggest is to just keep breathing and remember you're in a safe space. Don't be afraid to take a moment for yourself to step outside for a few deep breaths. No panel, autograph, or photo is worth sacrificing your well-being, so don't try to force yourself to wait out a panic attack in a place where you're uncomfortable.

Don't take photos of cosplayers without their permission

You're going to be in the presence of some incredibly gifted artists, so give them the respect and courtesy they deserve. Cosplay is not consent. This goes for taking photos of cosplayers, touching them, treating them a certain way based on their character, or engaging in any other form of harassment. If you see someone in an awesome costume, simply ask them for a picture rather than snapping one without them knowing. It's a sign of respect for both their artistry and their right to personal privacy.

Be open-minded

You're going to be seeing a lot of things that are "out of the ordinary," but that's what cons are all about. These events are filled with the most eclectic, artistic, passionate, and friendly people you will ever meet, so embrace this incredible opportunity to connect with different people from all walks of life. Cons are judgment-free safe spaces, so if you aren't about that, move along.

Be courteous

Have common sense and respect the people around you. Respect the guests, their personal space, and privacy (AKA don't ask invasive and awkward questions). Additionally, don't talk down to their agents or treat them as nothing more than part of their guest's posse — they are the reason your idols are there and deserve your respect. And don't forget the volunteers and staff; be patient and understanding with them as they're there to help you and assure an organized, safe event for everyone. Be considerate of the people waiting in line around you, of cosplayers, and of everyone you encounter throughout the weekend. Just be smart and be kind.