Summer time is con time! This year the whole family packed up the car and drove to San Diego for Comic Con International. My dad and sister had been to local fan conventions before, but it was my first fan convention ever. Go big, or go home is my philosophy. I had a great time, but there were certainly moments when it was a little overwhelming, so here are some of my lessons learned.

The whole weekend might be too much.

Because I was at the mercy of the infamous lottery system, I was only able to get tickets for Thursday and Sunday. I was definitely disappointed then, but now having actually done the con, I’m a little relieved. Going to the con all four days would have been totally exhausting and I’m sure I would have been super cranky by the end and not enjoyed myself. There were panels that I was interested in on the days that I didn’t get to go to, but I planned my Thursday and Sunday so that they were really satisfying. Also on the plus side, in between my con visits, I got to hang out at the beach and explore San Diego.

Realize you cannot do everything.

There’s literally hundreds of things going on every day, and lots of things are happening at the same time. When you accept that you’re going to miss some of the stuff you want to see, the whole thing will be much less anxiety-inducing The fam and I accepted that we just weren’t going to get into Hall H panels. Some people waited 28 hours to get in, and we weren’t that committed. Nerds are enthusiast people and at a nerd convention there are going to be people that are more enthusiastic than you are. When there were multiple things we wanted to see happening at the same time, we picked what was closest to us in the convention center.

Smaller panels have a lot to offer.

We bounced around from smaller panel to smaller panel, which meant we didn’t spend a ton of time waiting in lines-our longest wait time was about 45 minutes, which is significantly less than 28 hours, in case you’re bad at math. And ultimately, I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything by not attending the bigger panels, because when I logged on to Facebook all of the trailers and best quotes were sitting right there for me. The things discussed in smaller panels, like one I went to Sunday on the state of the Harry Potter fandom, never made it to the news cycle, so I’m glad I prioritized the more niche panels over the bigger, flashier events.

The exhibit hall is kind of overrated.

This might be a personal preference, because I’m not really into swag, but the exhibit hall was the most crowded and least fun part of the con for me. It was basically like an overstuffed shopping mall, and the items at the booths were mostly things that you could buy from an online store. I bought a couple of books from the publisher’s row, but I could have bought them from Barnes and Noble. I would basically only recommend going to the exhibit hall if you are A) looking to buy art from Artist’s Alley, or B) a collector and you’re looking for a specific item. And even then, you should get in, find what you’re looking for, and get out.

Talk to people. They’re nice.

I know, I know, initiating conversation is hard, but everyone there is a nerd like you! I didn’t make any lifelong friends or anything, but I did have a pretty deep and also hilarious conversation about the Star Wars franchise while standing in line for the bathroom. If you like somebody’s costume, say something! They’re probably more than happy to chat with you about it.

Jump into panels that are outside your comfort zone.

While we were waiting for a panel about the movies of 1986 to start, we decided to sneak into the panel right before in the same room. It was on the new Transformers TV show, which none of us had any interest in, but when we sat down and looked up at the panel Darren Criss, Will Friedle, and Steve Blum were up there making jokes about Optimus Prime. It was super entertaining even though we didn’t know anything about Transformers.

Leave the convention center.

There is a ton to do in the immediate area surrounding the convention center, so even if you don’t manage to get tickets to Comic Con you can still experience a ton of nerdy goodness. Zachary Levi (aka Chuck from Chuck) runs NerdHQ, which is right across the street and has TV panels and game demos and a cereal bar. The big TV networks also set up shop outside. There were carnival rides and free frozen yogurt from NBC. We also saw a Sharknado parade and some evangelicals damning us to hell, which we thought were part of a promotional stunt and then turned out to be real.

I had a freaking amazing time at Comic Con and would definitely go back. I’m sure next year will be even better, since now I’m armed with the knowledge I gained this year. Did you go to San Diego Comic Con this year? What was your favorite event?

Featured image via NBC San Diego.