How to Make the Best of San Diego Comic-Con By Not Planning Everything

gaslamp_sliderPerhaps the most common piece of advice veteran con-goers bestow upon SDCC hopefuls is “be prepared”. And with an attendance size that rivals some Midwestern cities, it’s not at all difficult to understand why.

To both long-time attendees and newbies a like, setting foot in San Diego during Comic-Con can be like entering a war zone. It can feel like the only possible way to make heads or tails of it is to pull out your trusty highlighters and plan your day down to the very last second.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Some attendees have the best luck working within the constraints of a tightly planned schedule keeping their eye on the proverbial (and sometimes literal) prize for five solid days. Others may find this approach a bit stifling when faced with the sheer volume of stuff Comic-Con has to offer. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re at all like me, the result of being overwhelmed can sometimes be paralyzing.

So what’s the alternative for those attendees who want to make the most of their con experience but might feel a little smothered by the idea of setting up their Google calendar? At the risk of sounding contradictory to nearly every Comic-Con guide the internet has produced — try winging it.

Winging it might sound a little crazy and a lot scary, especially for those attendees who have had the importance of pre-planning emphasized over and over, but hear me out.

Comic-Con has an incredibly rich history rooted in surprise. The rush of not knowing what’s going to be on the street when you step out of your hotel is part of what keeps attendees clamoring back for more. And you’d be hard pressed to find an attendee who can’t share an amazing ‘only at Comic-Con’ story that doesn’t revolve around being in the right place at the right time.

It’s this element of random luck that makes every year of San Diego Comic-Con different from years past, and so much different than any other con in the country. And this element of random luck tends to work best with a day or two left open to just going with the flow, rather than putting forth any effort to completely iron out your schedule a head of time.

Here are some tips for making the best of your plan-free your Comic-Con experience:

Keep your eyes (and ears) open: The con floor and the Gaslamp Quarter are full of people who have a lot of information to share with you. Be ready to pay attention to them! Many offsite and booth events are not announced in the official schedule and sometimes they may not even be announced via Twitter. Staying alert as you move from point A to point B can be the only way to get details on some of the coolest and most hidden things Comic-Con has to offer.

Speak to your fellow attendees: Word of mouth is a powerful thing when you’re sharing a city with thousands of your fellow fans. Asking questions can sometimes get you valuable information about things you may have missed. See a line starting to form? Ask what they’re waiting for. See a group of people moving with purpose toward one end of the hall? Ask where they’re headed! Comic-Con is a rare opportunity to interact with a whole community of like-minded individuals. Of course, remember to be polite and respectful just as you would in the “real world”.

Read the signs: Events tend to be hidden in the cracks of San Diego. Some of the most interesting experiences you’ll have at the con will start with the most innocuous looking things. Spray painted emblems on the sidewalk might lead you to a pirate ship in the harbor. AR codes on signs might enter you to win meet-and-greets with celebrities, tickets to premiere events, special screenings, or swag. The thing to remember about the city of San Diego during Comic-Con is that if it looks like something that was put in place for a reason, it probably was. Marketing campaigns have gotten more and more guerrilla and more and more rewarding for people who are paying attention.

Keep a portable charger for your smart phone on hand: Twitter, Facebook, and various apps relating to your favorite shows and companies are great ways to get info and announcements for big surprises. Unfortunately, these alerts can also be a quick way to kill your phone. Portable battery packs are a big asset to anyone on the hunt for secret events.

Be open to new experiences: The best part about winging it at Comic-Con is that it encourages you to live “in the moment”. SDCC might be a great opportunity to see celebrities, get free stuff, and watch your most anticipated movies and shows months before anyone else, but it’s also a great time to experience brand new things and expand your horizons. Be ready to do and see the unexpected. Some of the most popular properties at the con this year started off as no-name panels and events that were only available to people who happened to be paying attention. Being open and willing to participate in new things is one of the best ways to get ahead of the curve down the road.

Relax and have fun: This goes without saying but perhaps the most freeing thing about leaving the schedule behind for a day or two at Comic-Con is the fact that it makes the convention itself feel just a little bit less like work. SDCC can be very intense. Keeping yourself on track for everything you want to do over the week can feel a lot like enlisting in boot camp. Worrying about creating an air tight schedule for the week can often times lead to exhaustion, especially when it involves camping out overnight again and again! Removing yourself from a strict itinerary and diving in plan-free can be one of the most freeing experiences you’ll have while at the con, and maybe even the most rewarding.

What special moments at Comic-Con have you experienced by just being willing to “wing it”? Let us know in the comments.

About Meg Downey

  • Tiffany W.

    I couldn’t agree more. I had our whole schedule planned out for four days. By letting go a bit we were able to meet someone who we teamed up with to get into the Funko booth, we found out about and were able to get to meet Matt Smith, and got last minute tickets to the Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk Nerd HQ panel. We were also able to get into some other panels because we just happened to walk by ballroom 20 at the right time. It does help to talk to people and keep your eyes and ears open.

  • Mary Weise

    This year was my first SDCC and basically our entire trip was just us winging it (other than Hall H camping for Saturday). Between a stack of free books, numerous celeb encounters, free lounges (with free ice waterr!!!!) and the little farmer’s market on Sunday that we found while taking the long way around to the Hyatt, the spontaneity of it all was the real magic

  • Jon Reeves

    Indeed, two of my most memorable experiences were just this sort of “winging it”: The year I was in a “movie” (a promo video for Butterfinger) with Rob Lowe, filmed on a double decker bus, and the year Hugh Jackman stood on the back of a box truck promoting Real Steel to a small crowd of only a couple hundred or so. And then there’s the year I met Donald Glover before he was famous, in a booth promoting Mystery Team. Nothing comparable this year, alas, though getting 2nd row tickets for Weird Al from a kind stranger comes close.

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  • theartimus

    I always allow room in my schedule for “winging it”. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but hear me out. I’ll have my plans A, B, and C set up, but with so many things that just pop up, I don’t stick to any of those plans too strictly.

    For example, as a member of Marvel Unlimited Plus, I received an invite to the Disney Infinity offsite event this year, before it opened to the public. I had set that in my schedule, but I was not aware there would be FREE BEER served. I took full advantage of this (perhaps more than I should have). For the rest of the day, I had planned on walking the exhibition hall, however, the booze was telling me to take it easy. Therefore, I showed up to 6BCF early (Sharknado 2 was plan B) and caught the awesome Star Wars Rebels panel. Being there early also led to getting a great seat for the Sharknado 2 panel and chatting with Jeremy Rutz for a while as well.

    A similar thing happened (minus the alcohol) when I popped into 5AB way early on Friday. I could’ve walked right in had I shown up just before Wayward Pines, but by showing up early, I had some laughs at the “Milestone @ 21″ panel (which I knew nothing about prior), heard some excellent stories during “Batman in the 80s & 90s”, and had a 2nd row seat by the time Wayward Pines began.