Home Utility Belt Helpful Hints & Tips An Englishman’s Helpful Hints to San Diego Comic-Con: 1. ‘First Preparations’

If 2014 is your first time heading out to California for San Diego Comic-Con, you may have done some homework already – you only have to read a handful of blogs and forums to realise it’s going to be quite the hectic trip. The whole thing might seem a little daunting already and you may wonder how on Earth you’re going to cope, with the crowds, with the size, with the sheer scale of the whole event. The good news is, however: you’re heading to a safe place!

image - SDCC UK Attendees Meetup 2013

You’ll only have to walk around San Diego for a very short period of time and talk to the interesting and driven people you get to meet to realise that pretty much everyone has gathered there from all over the country (and, indeed, the globe), drawn by a common interest: a sense of tribe. It can be quite an addictive experience, to be in the company of so many people, just as passionate as you are – and that’s why many of us keep returning, year in year out. So, ‘don’t panic’ too much, it’s all going to be just fine, there are plenty of fellow ‘hitch-hikers’ that have made the pilgrimage with you! But still, you might want some pointers to make things a little easier to bare.

image - SDCC 2013 inside the convention center

I’m going to be posting this ‘Helpful Hints’ series as regularly as I’m able: you may think I may have left it a little late to start. Well, I’ve left this first post till now because, well, you could never be certain if you’d be going or not, until the actual Open Online Badge Registration had taken place – by now, however, if you were one of ‘the chosen ones’, you should have a Confirmation Code written down from Saturday’s scrum or even received a confirmation email for your bought badges already. Lucky you!

I can hardly consider myself an expert but I’ve been to Comic-con enough times to have a couple of insights that could come in handy – these ‘Englishman’s Helpful Hints’ are intended to make your trip go a little smoother and a lot more enjoyable.

With four months to go to San Diego Comic-Con (24th-27th July 2014, should you need reminding), it’s safe to assume that your preparations for your trip over t’pond should be at full tilt at this point. But, coming from the UK, it’s also safe to say, that there are a whole bunch of other considerations that must be taken on board. Let’s have a look at what you need to do, straight out of the gate…

Helpful Hint 1. First Preparations

Passport: This one may seem a little obvious but, trust me, you wouldn’t be the first to plan an international trip and not have your passport up-to-date or even close to hand! Do you know where your passport is?

It’s going to be more useful than you think, even on a day-to-day basis, especially if you are lucky (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) to be young and fresh-faced enough to be not considered legal to drink alcohol – you have to be over 21 to be served. And, boy, do they take that seriously in San Dee.

image - file box

It’s a good idea to have a ‘travel box’, a file which you can have all your paperwork instantly to hand – take the passports of the people that are heading out in your individual household and put them in there, safe and sound. It’s also useful to know where your passport is, for all the other paperwork that’s going to be needed for your trip. Including…

Travel Insurance: You may have travel insurance in place with your flights but that may not cover any and all eventualities, such as damage to any tech you may take with you, such as phones, laptops, tablets or cameras. Make sure you take the time to go over the various companies out there that do solid insurance at a reasonable price – I’d even recommend travel insurance that you can pick up at the supermarkets. Tesco is very reliable, Asda is excellent for customer service, both are at a great rate for international travel.

You can never know what may happen (in 2013, my wife broke her ankle – on Preview Night, of all nights – which lead to us spending some time in a hospital in San Diego and having her leg put into a full splint. X-Rays, wheelchairs, crutches, professional care… All of this sounds pretty routine and, in the UK, you wouldn’t normally have to think about it but medical costs in the United States are notoriously expensive and, without travel insurance, we could’ve have been financially, well, buggered, frankly.)

image - caroline in crutches (sdcc 2013)

ESTA: The security on entering the United States has, understandably, risen substantially over the last decade or so – to expedite the process and perform checks against law enforcement databases, Homeland Security has introduced the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation which all international visitors have to complete. You need to apply for an ESTA, prior to boarding the plane, if:

  • You are a citizen or eligible national of a Visa Waiver Program country.
  • You are currently not in possession of a visitor’s visa.
  • Your travel is for 90 days or less.
  • You plan to travel to the United States for business or pleasure.
  • You want to apply for a new authorization for one person or a group of applications for two or more persons.
The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorzation) front page: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ (c) US Gov.

The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorzation) front page: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ (c) US Gov.

As of 2010, applying for an ESTA now costs $14.00 ($10 for the actual ESTA and $4 for processing the application – if you’re denied, they’ll keep the four bucks. Just a heads-up.) There’s a questionnaire as part of the application which checks out your criminal history – that’s something that could be a problem if there’s some unsavoury in your past. But them’s the breaks. Apply for your ESTA today at the official US Govt. website.

Money: The good news is that the exchange rate as risen since last year, almost consistently, from April last year (with only a couple of blips – and here comes the bad news: in May and July). There was a dip in early February but the conversion rate at the mo is back at a nice high of approx. £1 = $1.66). You could risk giving it a few more months to exchange your cash but, as always, there’s no promises.

One thing that I would certainly recommend is a Travel Card, something you can load from the UK before you fly and can be drawn from anywhere with a VISA symbol – and that’s pretty much everywhere. It’s a safe, convenient way to carry real-world currency with an element of protection from having your holiday money easily accessible. If you get one issued from your bank, you should be able to load it directly from your account by mobile banking, too, although they don’t necessarily have the best exchange rates, especially when you get home. Best to have a look at those available at travel shops such as Thomas Cook or online – there are a number of sites allowing you to shop around.

Flights: San Diego has its own international airport, Lindburgh, only a cab ride from the city centre – trust me, you come into the city on the I5 interstate and you’ll see just how close to the city it actually is! Lindburgh receives flights from UK airports, such as Manchester and London Heathrow – if San Diego Comic-Con is all you’re heading to the US for, it’s a simple thing to just fly in, enjoy yourself, and fly out. (It’s not the worst idea in the world, actually – San Diego is a fantastic vacation city in its own right and, even if you head into town a week or so early, there’s plenty to see and do… that’s all going to be covered in a future ‘Helpful Hints’!)

image - san diego lindbergh airport (01 from the air)

Flights into San Diego are cheaper mid-week; Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best option. If cheaper flights are something you are wanting to keep a close eye on, check out the Skyscanner website/app – it gives you the opportunity to set up a Price Alert on flights to monitor price increases and decrease. Handy.

These are the first initial things you need to be looking at having in place now, or as soon as possible – now, hotels? They’re a whole other ball game… and something we’ll cover in the next Helpful Hint.

Anything you think we’ve missed? Anything you think we’ve gotten wrong, or could be edited? Anything you want us to cover? Just let us know in the comments below.

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