Now in its 26th year, Anime Expo is the place to be for lovers of anime, manga, cosplay and more. The biggest anime and manga convention in North America is happening this weekend (July 1-4), and we here at ComicsVerse want to help you be con-ready.

Part one of this two-part guide covers everything from what to pack in your con-backpack (and trust me, you’ll need one!) to what official rules you should probably read before stepping into the Los Angeles Convention Center. Whether this is your first or fifteenth Anime Expo, there’s never been a better time to prepare yourself for the busy weekend ahead!

A lot of this might seem like common sense, but sometimes, even the best of us falter. This ten-step guide can serve as a helpful checklist, for seasoned attendees and unsure newbies alike, as you get ready to head out to LA. But if you think you’re all set, you can head over to part two, where I put together all the best things happening this weekend so you don’t have to!

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Outside the Los Angeles Convention Center. Image: Anime Expo.

1. Figure out your budget.

Before you head out, it’s important to set a budget. It’s very easy to spend more than you’d ever planned at any kind of convention. Creating a budget can help prevent Empty Wallet Syndrome when you go back to the real world on Tuesday. Even if you’ve already saved up money specifically for Anime Expo, I beg you to keep reading. Setting a budget is more than just giving yourself a maximum spending amount. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you should ask yourself three questions: how much do you want to spend, how much are you willing to spend, and how much are you willing to go over your limit?

Another thing to keep in mind while walking around the convention spend is that cash is king. While a lot of vendors have card readers these days, some of the smaller vendors, like artists in Artists Alley, will prefer cash. Carrying cash will ensure that you have the option to purchase any piece of merchandise you want.

Still don’t know how much money to bring? Conventions can get expensive between food and shopping. If you’re being frugal, $100-$200 should get you through all four days just fine. If being frugal is less of an issue, anywhere between $200-$400 should allow you to score a few exclusive items and then some over the course of the Expo.

2. Bring a comfortable backpack that can support a lot of weight.

I know it doesn’t go with your cosplay. I also know that it’s really annoying to carry around. But bringing some sort of bag with you could literally save your life. While some vendors may offer a free bag or tote with your purchase, they generally aren’t made to last. You don’t want to be that person whose free bag breaks in the middle of the aisle. Many of you can argue that you don’t plan on buying or picking items up on your journey through the Exhibit Hall. And that may be true for some. But the rest of us (myself included) have a hard time resisting all the free swag being passed around.

A backpack is also a great place to keep any valuable items, such as your phone, away from opportunistic hands. It’s also awesome for safely stashing away con-exclusives and other merch you don’t want damaged while walking through thick crowds of people. But if you still can’t support toting around a heavy backpack, it’s never too late to participate in the fanny pack renaissance. They’re hands free, often waterproof, and so convenient. I’ll definitely be sporting one.

SEE: Need something to decompress while preparing for Anime Expo? Check out MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID!

3. Figure out what you want to attend.

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Map of LA Convention Center courtesy of Anime Expo. Full image: Anime Expo.

The LA Convention Center is one of the biggest in the country, and while I’m unsure if this is true for other conventions it puts on, it’s notorious for utilizing a confusing layout for Anime Expo. To avoid getting lost in the throng of people and to ensure that you get where you need to be, check out AX’s schedule and vendor list. Just a warning though: the Anime Expo website is really tricky to sort through due to the fact that a lot of it hasn’t been update since last year’s con (or the year before that in some cases). Luckily, part two of this guide highlights all the exclusives, panels, screenings, and on-site events you should be on the lookout for!

As with any convention, a lot of the time is usually spent waiting in line — for a signing, for a panel, for food… Heck, even the bathrooms have crazy lines! If you plan on attending some of the bigger events, such as the TOKYO GHOUL live action movie screening or the ATTACK ON TITAN: SEASON 2 Voice Actors Panel, you’ll want to get in line fairly early for seats. My suggestion is to be in line 30+ minutes before a panel if you just want to be in the room, and an hour early if you want front-of-the-room seats.

Figuring out what events you want to attend is only half the battle. Are you easily distracted by merchandise or fan art? Take the probability of being sidetracked into consideration when deciding your travel times. At a convention, those five to ten precious minutes could mean the difference between a few people and dozens upon dozens in front of you in line.

4. Tell your friends.

If you’re attending Anime Expo with a group, set up a spot somewhere on- or off-site where you can regroup at the end of the day. Battery packs may be the con-goer’s best friend, but any number of things could happen that would leave you with a dead phone or dead battery pack, and no friends in sight. Don’t forget to pick a time as well. There is nothing more stressful than being unable to contact someone in your group.

There are, of course, other things you can do to ensure everyone in your party makes it back safely, such as using a real camera instead of the one on your phone to take photos to save phone battery life. Another option, especially when your group splits off into smaller groups, is to designate someone as the taker of all photos. Ensuring that you always have someone with a working, fully-charged phone is just one of the few ways that will help your experience. Just to be on the safe side, write down everyone’s number on a piece of paper that you can keep in your wallet or backpack in case you need to borrow a stranger’s phone. Because let’s be honest, who memorizes phone numbers these days?

5. If you’re planning on cosplaying, know the rules.

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Photo Credit: Jeremy Rafanan

If you’re one of the many people cosplaying, be aware that there are certain guidelines one must follow. Some of these rules are as simple as wearing shoes (even “invisible” ones count) to ensuring that your cosplay weapon passes inspection. For a detailed list of their policies, click here. If you are carrying a prop weapon, expect more rigorous checks. Ever since a man tried to enter Phoenix Comicon last May with real guns and the intent to kill POWER RANGERS actor Jason David Frank, steps are being taken at conventions around the country to ensure nothing of the sort happens again.

Anime Expo is a convention that offers great opportunities for cosplayers. Want to take some cool photos? Anime Expo has been offering authentic-looking photo sets since 2013, with designs ranging from a traditional Japanese tatami room to a high school rooftop. Want to meet up with other people cosplaying as characters from the same show or manga as you? Here’s a complete list of all the different cosplay gatherings happening around the Expo! And if you find yourself in need of a quick stitch, head on over to the Repair Station.

I should mention that it’s important that you know your own limits. While the drought may be over, Southern California is still as hot as ever and wearing a bulkier or thicker cosplay might get hotter than you expect. Take a break whenever you can and whenever you feel like you need it. The last thing you want is to get heat stroke.

Also, don’t be afraid to tell someone “no” while cosplaying, especially if they are making you uncomfortable. Cosplay DOES NOT equal consent. You have the right to turn down any photo requests without reason. Sometimes, after a long day of walking around, the last thing you want to do is repeat the same pose for the zillionth time and that is totally okay.

CLICK: THE IDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS will be performing live at Anisong World Matsuri. Check out the latest game in the franchise, THE IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE! THEATER DAYS!

6. Join online groups.

Facebook groups are a great way to keep in touch with on-site events and activities. Many groups contain Anime Expo staff, which can help you navigate through the convention floor, especially when it comes to special announcements, like limited-time opportunities. There’s a Facebook group for nearly everything. Want to keep in touch with 18 and over events? This might be the group for you. Attending Anime Expo alone? These people don’t want you to feel like it. Just want to stay up-to-date with on-site news? So do these attendees!

7. Enough water to survive Southern California in the summer.

Now that you’re ready to walk through the front doors, it’s time to get real about things you’ll need to pack. With Southern California summer heats averaging 80-90°F, dehydration is an ever-present danger. When you’re at a convention, it’s easy to forget to stay hydrated. Bring an empty water bottle that you can refill at any water fountain on-site. Bottled drinks at conventions can be anywhere from $3-$5. That kind of money can really cut into your budget if you’re unprepared. And while the people who run Anime Expo are known to hand out water bottles to those waiting in lines outside, you don’t want that to be your only source of water. People have passed out due to dehydration and intense heat in the past. Don’t let that happen to you!

8. One word: SUNSCREEN.

The honest truth!

If you’re one of the unlucky souls waiting in line outside to get your badge or for a panel, sunscreen is just as necessary as water — maybe even as necessary as deodorant (maybe!). You might not think that you’ll be spending much time under the sun. But even quick trips outside the convention for food warrant the use of sunscreen. Some attendees might also think that they “don’t burn,” but the benefits (such as lowered risk of skin cancer and better skin in the long run) should outweigh the cons. If I didn’t have to tell you twice, good for you! That’s one less piece of wisdom I must bestow upon you, young grasshopper.

SEE: Ready for the new season of ONE PUNCH MAN? This new image has us worried (in a good way)!

9. Know thy food.

As with the water, convention center food is notorious for being ridiculously expensive. Honestly, what kind of monsters justify charging $6 for a small hotdog or subpar pretzel? There are other options on-site, such as a maid and butler cafe, but those are ticketed events that don’t include food and drink. So you might end up spending upwards of $30-$40 by attending them. In previous years, food trucks have filled what has been dubbed the “AX Foodtruck Lot.” This year, there are two new food truck lots opening up around the convention center. You can read the announcement by Rice Balls Anime Lot on Facebook here. But if food trucks aren’t your thing, you can always check out some restaurants in the area.

The other option of course is to pack food and snacks to keep you going throughout the day. Here’s a list of easy, healthy meal/snack prep that you can add into your handy-dandy backpack. If cooking isn’t an option for you though, grocery stores are a great place to find cheap, ready-made meals to carry with you. You’ll want to stick to protein-rich foods, like egg and chicken, or if you’re vegetarian/vegan, foods like trail mix (especially almonds and cashews) or greek yogurt, so you can keep on moving throughout the day. Chips and other sugary snacks are great but aren’t meant for the long run — a PB&J sandwich is. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be walking anywhere between 5-10 miles a day when you pack your food!

10. Lastly, have fun!

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Photo credit: Jeremy Rafanan

Conventions can be really stressful and “winging it” doesn’t always work. But at the end of the day, you’re attending Anime Expo because you love anime and manga! Take so many photos that your phone or camera runs out of space! Buy all the figurines and manga that your wallet will allow (within reason)! Meet your favorite voice actors and cosplayers! That Pikachu kigurumi looks great on you and it definitely counts as cosplay!

WATCH: Love Japanese video games? Watch the DANGANRONPA V3: KILLING HARMONY English trailer which was released at E3!

Featured image courtesy of Anime Expo.

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