Life Con The Cheap – How I spent less than $177 at SWCE

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I’m cheap. I love to travel. I love Star Wars.

Somehow I was able to accommodate all of these seemingly competing interests and pull off an affordable trip to Star Wars Celebration Europe in London. Here’s how I did it.

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The first breakdown I want to do is the costs incurred during the convention weekend. This does not include travel and hotel expenses because those are fairly standard, but I will touch on ways to get cheap flights/hotels at the end of this post.

However, I think after having talked to a lot of Con-going friends, it’s the costs that add up during the convention that kills people (or at least their bank accounts). I hear it all the time: “I can’t afford to go; it’s too expensive.” If this is you, this post is going to break down how to hack your way into spending far less money than you might think you need to at a convention.  

How to eat on the cheap: DO NOT EAT AT RESTAURANTS!

I can’t emphasize this one enough. The number one expense besides travel and lodging is food. Here’s how to curb your spending without having to starve.

  • Local grocery shops are awesome. If you’re flying in, budget some time to stop by a local grocery store to stock up on healthy, but comparatively cheap snacks. A well-timed Cliff Bar can be paramount in chasing midday hangriness away. This helps in avoiding spending an irrational amount of money at convention vendors and food stalls. Depending on where you’re flying, you can even pack snacks before you leave in the suitcase as long as they’re pre-packaged.
  • Hotel breakfasts are your friend. I’ll touch on hotels in general at the end of the post, but most hotels near convention centers offer a free, complimentary breakfast. This is your ticket. Played right, the free hotel breakfast is going to carry you all the way to dinner. Have a hearty meal at the hotel in the morning, but most of the continental breakfasts have cereal bars, muffins, croissants, or other items that you can pack with you to eat as a snack later in the day.

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  • Granted, I have to confess that most of us don’t want to simply survive on extending the continental breakfast, and Cliff bars. I normally plan to grab some hot food from a more or less affordable vendor at the convention for convenience sake. I do this because I want to avoid ordering a large meal when friends and fans inevitably get together for dinner once the convention floor closes. Certainly go to dinner, but this is where you can simply order a drink, snack, or dessert instead of a full-course meal, and extend your savings.

Drinks… Don’t.

  • Be sure to pack your own bottle of water at the beginning of the day and keep replenishing it, so that you avoid buying water bottles. It’s very easy to run out of water and simply shell out a few bucks on bottled water, but it really does add up.
  • The same thing goes for soda/sugary drinks. Not only are they pricey in convention centers, they will also make you more thirsty. Normally if you’re craving a bottle of coke, you’re simply dehydrated and hot. Some cold water will do the job better in the long run, as soda isn’t as effective in hydrating you. 
  • I have to confess however, I do have the “Riley coffee exemption.” Especially considering most convention nights you don’t get much sleep, coffee is a must for me. I’m afraid I’m likely to be buying several iced coffees throughout the weekend of any given Con.

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Walk Walk Walk

  • If you’re staying anywhere near the convention, it may be a little uncomfortable, but anytime you can walk, do so. For me, if the walk is anything less than a mile I’ll choose that over a taxi, or Uber.

  • Public transportation is your friend. Most major U.S. cities (Except Atlanta…) have pretty good public transportation systems which are fairly affordable compared to renting a car or taking a taxi. Which brings me to my next point….
  • Never take a taxi. I may be biased but I have literally never had a good experience with a taxi driver. Whether it’s the temperament of the driver, or the cost of the ride, I’ve always had a much better experience with the ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

Buy nothing – Take pictures of everything

  • This is my absolute, number one recommendation. Star Wars Celebration – there’s always a litany of exclusive merchandise that people go crazy over. I sincerely don’t understand this segment of Star Wars fandom, but that’s because I’ve never been much of a collector. What I like to do at each event I attend is pick one token collectible to remember it by, but beyond that it’s just not worth it if money is an issue. The money really does add up as you purchase artwork, books, collectibles, t-shirts, lightsabers, trinkets, stuffed Ewoks/Lothcats, you name it. I do have an alternative solution.
  • Simply take pictures. It’s a whole lot of fun to find all of the coolest collectibles, displays, costumes, and artwork and spend a couple hours one afternoon going to the convention hall getting pictures of all of it. I like the memories of all of the cool stuff on display, and honestly having a record of the event with your own photography is just as rewarding (for me) as actually having to purchase and transport home a giant amount of merchandise (again as a disclaimer I’m not a collector).
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Taking pics at Canary Wharf (Rogue One Shooting Location)
  • The same principle applies to autographs as well. The nice thing is that so many celebrities are willing to talk and catch up and say ‘hi’ without you necessarily having to buy an autograph as permission to just talk to them. The reason I don’t collect autographs is two-fold.
  • One, I’m not an autograph guy per se because for me I like having the memory of meeting some of these celebrities and creatives behind Star Wars. I don’t have to necessarily have signature to do that.
  • The second reason is far more compelling. The lines. You will spend so much time waiting in line for autographs, that you will miss key panels and events which are much more enticing, and at least for me create better memories.
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Bethany meeting Ray Park! (not in an autograph line)

Simply put, I think Star Wars Celebration is all about the experience of going, hanging out with friends, and celebrating the big bad Galaxy that is the Star Wars universe and fandom. Doing this does not require the buying of convention food at outrageous prices, the collecting of merchandise or autographs, or eating full course dinners at restaurants every evening (though by all means go). However, this is just my take on my experience as a fan (and cheap college student). I would rather go to three conventions in this manner than one convention where I buy what I want. :-)

Riley’s Cost Breakdown:

  1. $39 For Tube-station tickets (Rides all over London for 5 days)
  2. $16 Uber (2 rides)
  3. $10 Drinks
  4. $25 Fancy Dinner (The only one)
  5. $41 Food (Subway, noodle stand, and vending machines FTW)
  6. $24 Lothcat stuffed collectible
  7. Total: $175

Hack the Hotel

  • While typically a bit more expensive, I always recommend getting a hotel within walking distance of the convention center.I particularly recommend splitting a room with up to four friends. It’s cramped, but far more affordable if you have a few friends splitting a room cost with you (and really, you won’t spend much time in that room with the con going all day and parties/hanging out going on in the evening).

  • Striking out on your lonesome? Be sure to look up Facebook groups for a lot of the major conventions which are dedicated to matching up people for rooms. It always makes for a more adventurous and social experience to share rooms with other passionate fans. Just be sure to have a conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page if you’re splitting a room with new friends. :-)

Flights

  • Flights…, the most expensive part of the entire trip. For flights I have one recommendation. Do not book too early! Don’t do it! Set up a price alert on some of the major travel sites like Kayak, or Flight Hopper, and wait until at least a month out before you book your tickets. You can save up to hundreds of dollars if you do this.

  • Well, that’s all folks! Remember, going to the convention doesn’t require Breaking the Bank. Planning ahead and being intentional with your budget is the key to being able to have a great time without having to ignore/weep over your checking account for a few weeks afterwards.

So, how do you save money when you go to a con? Let me know in the comments or shoot me a tweet!

-Riley

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