Source: Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/user/sonsofmaxwell
Hotel room? Check. Registered for your convention of choice? Check. Now how are you going to get there? You could walk, but it might take a while. Don’t even bother with hitchhiking; that never ends well even if you’ve brought your towel.
If you are within walking distance to the convention or live nearby, then you probably have this part already handled. But for the rest of us, conventions require a serious hike. Many people travel not just across country to go to popular conventions, but across the globe. Whether by road, rail or sky, each method of travel to the convention has its pros, cons and pitfalls.
First thing to consider is how far away the convention is. If you’re in California and want, for example, to go to Anthrocon in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, you’re looking at around a 2,550 mile hike. By car that’s about 38 hours, or a solid 2-3 days of driving, taking time for sleep and food. For an instance like this, flying may be your best bet at a measly average travel time of 6 hours across the continent, and you don’t need to worry about paying for crappy motels.
You have a few more options if you live closer. For example, I live approximately 300 miles from Pittsburgh. This is about a 4-5 hour drive, traffic permitting. It would take about an hour if I chose to fly instead. In my case I would need to consider the cost of flying to the effort of driving and how much wear and tear I’d be willing to put on my car. Will your car survive a drive of 4+ hours? If it won’t, you might also need to consider the cost of renting a car for the weekend and that can sometimes be the same price as a plane ticket.
In some cases a bus or train are also a way to get to the convention. But we’ll be focusing primarily on arriving by plane and car since these are the most popular forms of transportation to and from conventions.
Arriving By Car
Going to the convention by car gives you the most freedom on when you arrive and leave the convention. You pick when you want to get there and it’s completely up to you on whether you want to leave early or later. Have a lot to pack? No worries, because your luggage is only limited to how much you can shove in your trunk! You’ll also always have a mode of transportation around the convention if you want to go to a restaurant or store.
Driving takes the longest and the most effort. It’s also lonely. Driving for hours on your own can be very difficult and nerve-wracking! But with driving you have the option of carpooling with other people. Do you know someone else nearby who is going to the convention? Ask if they need a ride or if they’re looking to take more people with them! Many conventions also have resources available to help you find a ride or to offer a ride to others. But before doing this, take into consideration your level of comfort in dealing with strangers.
Conventions will have driving instructions on their websites, but these directions are usually only from a nearby highway to the convention hotel. Before starting off, make sure to get a full map from your favorite map website. Print out a map and instructions even if you have GPS just in case of outages or if your battery dies– this has saved me from ending up in Nowhere, USA on more than one occasion. Use that map to also plan where you’ll want to stop and get food or stretch your legs ahead of time, especially if you’re going on toll roads. It may also be worth picking up a USB battery to keep your gadgets charged– small ones can be found for around $20.
If you want to drive but aren’t sure that your car will get you there, consider a rental. There are a number of rental companies out there, and you can often get a pretty good deal on a full week rental for a decent sized car. Prices on rental cars vary week by week, and are primarily influenced by how many cars they have rented out at the time you’re renting, not the day that you are renting for. So check on weekends that don’t have any national holidays, and keep an eye out for deals.
Arriving By Plane
Although more expensive, going by plane is not only faster, but easier on your nerves if you don’t like driving long distances. It is considered safer and sometimes less of a hassle. Flying can cut down your travel time significantly, so it is great if you just want to get to the convention and not have to worry about anything else.
When you’re going by air, you’re restricted on what you can take with you. It’s best to pack light, and only what you really need for the weekend. If you’re a dealer, you may want to stick with driving. If you have a fursuit, keep your head as a carryon– you don’t want to see can happen to a fursuit head in checked baggage. It’s recommended that you keep the rest of the suit is in a hard-case luggage to better protect it.
There is a specific timeframe that is considered best time to book your flight; usually around 50-60 days before your trip. This is around the time that airlines are attempting to get rid of the remainder of their seats, so you may be able to get a lower priced flight. Don’t bother with 3rd party sites, instead go straight to the airline website. This will make it easier on you if you need to change your plans at the last minute and the prices will usually be about the same. Be careful though; many airline websites will keep track of your searches through cookies and may change the prices to your disadvantage if they detect searches for flights to specific places. When searching for a flight, use your browser’s private mode to prevent this from happening or use a different computer altogether.
There are many different airlines, but we at PTBAF recommend Jetblue, Southwest and Virgin America for domestic US travel. Due to past and current issues, United is the only airline that that we strongly suggest for you to avoid, no matter how cheap the tickets get. [Editor’s Note: United is hard to avoid– they partner with other airlines to take overflow or cover smaller routes, and this editor has at least twice booked with another airline to avoid United only to end up basically tricked onto a United flight. United is the Count Olaf of airlines. You’re better off to walk.]
You will still need transportation to the convention hotel once you get to the airport. This is where having a friend with a car would come in handy, but other options would be taking a taxi, Lyft, or in some cases there may be a shuttle service from the airport to the hotel.
Where available, there are also train and bus. Taking the train is more of a nostalgic form of transportation; it’s fun for the first one or two times you take it, but can become tiresome. They take longer than driving and can sometimes cost only a little less than the price of a plane ticket. It’s the scenic route of convention travel, but if the convention isn’t near a city with a train hub it can add hours to your trip through connecting trains or having to take portions of the trip by bus.
Bus is only recommended if you can’t get there any other way. Traveling by bus isn’t very expensive, but can take hours longer than if you were to take a car and does not offer any flexibility for the route or taking time to stretch your legs or stopping to get food. For both train and bus your luggage is limited similarly to taking the plane, but often without an option to check more baggage if you need to.
It all comes down to what you’re comfortable with and what you feel you can afford. But once you’ve picked your mode of transportation, there’s nothing left to do but wait. In the meantime, what’s your favorite way to get to a convention? Have any tips or tricks that you use for traveling? Share them in the comments below!
Links to recommended airlines and car rentals:
Edit: Virgin Atlanta and Virgin America are two separate companies now. The one you want for domestic American flights is Virgin America.