Another year, another multitude of Comic Cons to attend. Whether you're hitting up the mother of all Cons in San Diego, cosplaying in NYC, or attending a smaller Comic Con in Grand Rapids or Amarillo, the following strategies will help ensure that you have a truly delightful time.

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Buy tickets early.

Whenever possible, buy tickets online before the event. You'll save money and avoid the heartbreak of arriving at Comic Con only to find out that the special event you needed to see has already sold out.

Make a plan in advance.

There is so much to see at Comic Con, and it's physically impossible to see it all. For this reason, it's important to study the schedule and venue maps in advance so that you can plan out each day around your must-see events. If you want to see one of the major presentations (say, Game of Thrones in San Diego's Hall H), keep in mind that you'll need to budget in hours (and hours) of time for waiting in line. And because there are no guarantees that you'll actually make it into the room you're waiting in line to enter (especially because many venues don't empty rooms after panels), it's a good idea to have a backup plan (or several). One last tip: If you're traveling with friends, remember to designate a meeting place before you split up for the day.

Bring cash.

Some vendors don't accept credit cards, and ATM machines are few and far between. (And the ones that do exist are guaranteed to have insanely long lines). Spare yourself headaches and lost time by bringing plenty of cash with you to the venue.

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Avoid parking (if possible).

It will come as no surprise that parking at Comic Con can be a major headache. In the rare cases that you do manage to find a spot near the venue, it's likely it will cost you—some lots have been known to charge upwards of $50 per day. If at all possible, ditch the car and arrive at the venue via public transportation or on foot. If you must drive, be sure to arrive early in the day for the best chance at finding a spot.

Be social.

It's a smart idea to download the venue's app, which is an indispensable resource for navigating any Con. It can also be helpful to create a list on Twitter that includes the official Comic Con Twitter handle, any vendors that you want to see, and people whom you know will be present. Don't underestimate how valuable real-time updates can be when you've been standing in line for three hours.

This tip also extends beyond the digital space. There are tons of great connections to be had at Comic Con, so don't be shy about approaching people. Bonus: Chatting up fellow comics fans is a great way to pass the time while waiting in line. Which brings us to…

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Prepare to wait.

We've mentioned that you'll spend a lot of time waiting in line at Comic Con, right? We're not kidding. Instead of hoping that it won't happen to you, accept that it will—and then plan accordingly. Download podcasts to listen to, bring a book or journal, play games on your phone (just make sure it's fully charged before Con), or simply settle in and enjoy the time to let your mind wander. Just remember to make sure you're actually in the right line—sometimes lines bend and merge together, so check to be sure you aren't wasting your time in the wrong place.

Practice self-care.

As always, you'll be much more likely to enjoy yourself if you do what you can to avoid getting sick or burnt out. Stay hydrated, get enough sleep, wash your hands often, and pack healthy snacks—healthy food can be hard to come by at Cons, especially when you're stuck waiting in line. Having snacks on hand can provide the blood sugar boost you need to continue having a great time.

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Ask permission.

A common phrase heard round Con is that “Cosplay is Not Consent.” What this means is that just because someone is cosplaying (or simply present at Comic Con), that does not give you the right to touch them, harass them, or photograph them without their permission. If you want a picture, just ask—most people are more than happy to indulge. Be polite, keep your hands to yourself, and remember that everyone there is a human just like you.

Consider cybersecurity.

Wi-Fi is often available in most convention centers, but you're likely to find that it's painfully slow (or completely jammed) because of the sheer number of people trying to log on. You may see free networks available, but be cautious—some of these may be malicious. It's a good idea to always practice good cyber-security strategies (even if this means you have to hold off on uploading photos to social media until you get home).

Above all else, remember to enjoy yourself. Though the lines may be long and your plans may change, the sheer number of interesting people and panels to see means that you'll have a great time at Comic Con simply by going with the flow.

  Featured photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr.

  This article was originally published on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog on April 13th.

Published in United States

San Diego is one of California's most entertaining cities. It can be exciting or relaxing, fun or mischievous, but always an enjoyable and delicious time. While many people come here for the weather and beaches, there is much more to San Diego than shoreline. Check out these offbeat sights and activities to make your next trip to "the Plymouth of the West."

The Whaley House in San Diego, the Most Haunted House in America

Experience "The Most Haunted House In America"

Never heard of the Whaley House? Neither had I. Turns out this place has a history to it, and was in fact named "the most haunted house in America" in 2005 by Life magazine. Built back in 1857, the Whaley House was much more than just a mansion. It was the theatre, county courthouse and general store. Unfortunately for the Whaleys, however, many of them lost or took their lives in this same house. Sightings of their ghosts are still reported.

The Cuban Cigar Factory in San Diego, California

Visit A Cuban Cigar Factory

Don't worry, it's perfectly legal. The Cuban Cigar Factory uses Cuban tobacco grown in Honduras, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic combined with traditional Cuban methods and expert rollers from Cuba to produce their cigars. It's even possible to watch the masters at work, which means you don't have to be a cigar connoisseur to enjoy a brief visit here.

Lucha Libre restaurant in San Diego, California

Wrestle Your Lunch

What makes good food even better? When you throw in a crazy, quirky environment that overloads your eyes and mind as much as your taste buds. This my friends is Lucha Libre, the most offbeat eatery in all of San Diego. As you may have guessed from the name, this delectable diner has a strong Mexican wrestling theme. In fact they even offer a discount for patrons who dine wearing their favorite lucha mask. Beyond on the flair however are tacos that deliver a smackdown. Definitely the best taco shop in all of San Diego. (Go for the Tap Me Out taco.)

Offbeat Brewing in San Diego, California

Taste-Test Some Offbeat Beer

Be honest, who doesn't like a good craft beer? Offbeat Brewing is known for producing top-notch craft ales and just happens to be located in Escondido, in the northern suburbs of San Diego. The founder and brewmaster left Stone Brewing Company to start Offbeat Brewing in 2011. Since then Offbeat has made a name for themselves throughout not just California but also with craft beer enthusiasts throughout the States. Last year while I took a tour through their brewery and sampled their entire line in the tasting room afterward. The winner? Hands-down it's Bear Arms Brown Ale, one of my favorite beers of all time.

Stumble Into A Secret Speakeasy

For a tasty cocktail simply text the number on the website to make a reservation at Noble Experiment, San Diego's secret speakeasy. Just please don't post about your visit to social media.

Tijuana, Mexico

Bonus: Tijuana!

This Mexican metropolis is located just a short drive or bus ride to the south and is perfect for a day-trip. Eat some delicious food, do some shopping or just soak up the glorious Mexican culture.

Eager to take your trip? Well my final piece of advice is to make sure a book a cheap San Diego hotel and use the money you save exploring these offbeat activities.

See More       Offbeat Travel Guides   United States Travel Ideas

  flickr //   josepha   jeffc5000   quitepeculiar   Dan K   omaromar

Published in United States

Everyone knows that Carlsbad, California is home to many amazing resorts and relaxing beaches; however, there are tons of other exciting things to do during your vacation here. Whether in town or just outside of the city, family friendly activities or things geared more towards adults, there is no shortage of ways to pass the time. It is a perfect destination for both romantic getaways and family vacations, and one that leaves first-time visitors eager to return for a second taste.

Legoland California

The most well-known of all of Carlsbad's attractions, Legoland California is obviously heaven for children. However, it is also entertaining to parents as well. With over 60 family rides, and plenty of engrossing and educational attractions and shows, Legoland is 128 acres of pure joy. To save money on tickets, check out Excursiopedia.

K1 Speed Carlsbad

K1 Speed Carlsbad in California

While mom and the young kids are having fun at Legoland, K1 Speed is the perfect place for dad to take the teenagers. Get a rush of adrenaline and experience what it is like to be a race car driver in a safe, fun environment. Even if you've been before, it's worth a second visit because they periodically change the track. Oh, and did I mention they also sell food and beer there? So, what are you waiting for?

Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

The beautiful Flower Fields at Carlsbad, California

Arguably the most beautiful sight in all of California, the Carlsbad Flower Fields are 50 acres of colorful brilliance. For a nominal $10 entry fee, visitors can wander through the fields for hours and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. It is also a favorite destination of photographers or anyone who wants to get some amazing family photos amongst a sea of flowers. The best time of year to visit is during spring when everything is in full bloom.

Day-Trip to San Diego

Located just a 30-minute drive to the south, San Diego is a bustling metropolis that offers tons of activities not found in Carlsbad. Whether you want concerts, sports venues, or theatre shows, the city is your oyster.

The Chargers call San Diego home and, depending upon the time of year you are visiting, catching a football game is a great way to pass the afternoon. If the performing arts are more your taste, the Civic Theatre and Balboa Theatre are the two main theatres in San Diego. My personal favorite is the latter. Not only is it an impressive theatre, but it was recently named one of the world's 15 most amazing theatres by CNN Travel. Tickets to all of these events, as well as musical concerts, can be found on TiqIQ.

However you decide to pass your time in Carlsbad, there is one thing everyone needs: a nice hotel. Luckily, visitors can find cheap hotels in Carlsbad and save some money for all the impressive sites and excursions around town. Additionally, if you have any questions on what to do while there, feel free to leave a comment below.

  flickr   //   notahipster

Published in United States

IT’S stupid-o-clock. It’s some time between 2am and 2.30am and I can’t sleep.

I probably would have been able to sleep had I not incorrectly set the air conditioning/thermostat thing to ‘ludicrous’ heat before settling into bed.

My dreams began peaceful and placid and slowly progressed to being infinitely weird and hell-like.

You know those dreams where you’re parched and desperately trying to find something to drink? You got it, times infinity.

Air conditioning is admittedly something I’ve never been able to get my head around.

I mean, hailing from England how or why the hell would I know how to operate an air conditioning unit?

All I’ve ever done is light gas fires to combat the freezing winters.

Air conditioning? Pfah.

Where I come from ‘air conditioning’ is opening or closing a window. Or asking your flatulent friend to leave the room.

Holidays in Egypt… that’s what air conditioning is designed for for us Brits.

So yes, I can’t sleep. My bedroom, and in fact my entire apartment, is currently a blazing furnace.

I’m in a state of undress with sweat dripping from my brow onto the keyboard. Ewww…

It’s warmer in here than it is in the desert on a summer’s day.

I hear you… ‘open the windows’ and ‘stop whingeing’!

They’re open. And it’s really warm outside. Even at stupid-o-clock.

San Diego, it seems, doesn’t do ‘chilly’.

It’s actually so warm here throughout each and every day, that the city’s parks and recreational spaces boast an unbelievable amount of tramps – or ‘bums’ as they’re called here.

They’re largely harmless. They just sit around sleeping, acting weird occasionally if anyone offers them a glance.

It’s like a year-round bum summer camp. And we’re their entertainment.

 

Honesty deserves charity

Anyhow I digress.

As I write this I’m also Googling the bloody air-con unit instruction manual in the hope that I can rest easy tonight without the sleep/sauna detox.

I might talk the talk and walk the walk but there is no doubt, here in the U.S. I am a still a stranger in a foreign land – just as much as I was in next-door Tijuana.

I’m daily misunderstood, and often confused.

In the nine weeks that I’ve been here in San Diego I can tell you that Americans are a fascinating bunch.

Oh and in case you didn’t know, they are crazily open and honest about health and religion.

These are two things that people here love to talk about openly.

These are two things that we Brits never really talk about when we’re in the UK.

We have a funny way of avoiding discussions concerning our illnesses, ailments, and of course religious leanings.

Personally I’m not really comfortable talking about either – especially with someone I’ve just met.

“What do you take?” I was asked recently.

“When?”

“Now? Nothing, I feel fine”.

Again: “Seriously... what do you take?”

Me: “Uh… aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache… a ‘Lemsip’ if I’ve got a cold…?”

“Aha…”

*cue long lingering stare*

“And…?”

*stare continues*

“And… nothing… I don’t take anything. Nothing to get me through the day, nothing to help me sleep, nothing.”

“Isn’t that weird?” I was then asked.

“What REALITY?”

It’s only when you go to a supermarket (otherwise known here as a ‘grocery store’) that you begin to appreciate the national obsession with remedies.

 

Drugs - 'aisle' buy that for a dollar!

 

Shelves and aisles of pills and potions to cure everything from headaches and sports injuries, to sleep deprivation and toothaches. There are pills for things I’ve never heard of.

And natural remedies featuring seemingly unnatural-sounding ingredients.

 

'

'D3 5000 I.U.'....? Isn't that a brand of motor oil?

 

Sure, we have pharmacies in England but wow.

I’m sure there’s actually medication for medication here.

When you’re seen to be new to town religion is the other big talking point.

Within seconds of meeting some people they’ll ask you if you go to church and if you want to go to their church.

I always consider that I must have sinned during the conversation leading up to that point and that they’re trying to cleanse my soul as a result.

I immediately feel uncomfortable and I try to joke my way out of it.

Bad move.

So forgive me.

The actual process of greeting someone here in California (or indeed the U.S.) also confuses me on a daily occurrence.

Rather than simply offering a hardy handshake or a pat on the back, people here seem obsessed with a greeting known as ‘fist-bumping’ – or variations of it.

 

Bump day

How the pros do it

It’s basically the action of putting out your fist for someone else to ‘bump’ with their own fist.

I’ve observed plenty of Californians doing it here and I must admit, they look cool.

I however, do not.

There are simply too many variations for me to get my head around.

There’s the actual fist bump. Then there’s the high-five. And there’s some of other part-handshake part-grip thing.

And these are just three of the more popular types of greetings.

And for me, who is new to town and the whole fist-bump thing, I panic when someone puts out their fist or hand because I don’t know which greeting they’re planning on using.

It’s always an awkward moment and, despite the fact that the whole thing is supposed to look and feel ‘cool’, I don’t. I can almost feel my coolness dripping away as and when someone puts out their hand for the bump , or slap, or whatever.

I always hesitate.

Once or twice I admit, I’ve pretty much just thought ‘bollocks to it’ and shaken the outstretched bump fist.

Epic fail.

I actually freak out that one day I’m going to face-palm someone by accident.

So I’ve taken to YouTube to try and teach myself some basic rules…

Anyhow. People are strange when you’re a stranger right?

 

Hey, I noticed my last blog post was popular in Latvia.

Bizarre, but very cool. Welcome Latvians!

At the bottom of this blog is a ‘translate’ icon if anyone wants to read it in a different language.

I can’t promise my ramblings will make any more sense but hey.

Thanks for lending me your eyes.

 

Want daily updates on this bizarre life I live in…?

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tristan_nichols

Published in United States

07/03/2013

 

“DO YOU want some of THAT meat in your breakfast taco?” a Mexican friend asks me as we take our places in the queue at one of Tijuana’s best-known and most celebrated taco stands.

“What is it?” I ask.

Oh… no sooner had I asked, I realized that the long thick piece of meat being ‘shaved’ in front of me was in fact a cow’s tongue.

 

Shaved tongue anyone?

 

People say they enjoy going to restaurants where they can see the chefs preparing the food in front of them.

But on this occasion I beg to differ.

Taco stands – and the idea of simply pulling over on the side of the road and eating among strangers – are woven into the very fabric of life in Mexico.

They are inextricably associated with Mexico in the same way as a traditional fish and chip shop is linked to England.

The look of them, the smells, the tastes, even the sound of them, is so unique you can only be in Mexico.

And it seems that over the generations, Mexicans have developed a technique to eating tacos.

Much like the Chinese with their amazing ability to eat soup with a pair of chopsticks, Mexican folk devour tacos without any issue.

And me? Well… here I’m like a clown who got left behind by the circus.

The skill involved with eating tacos is something which I am yet to master and truly understand.

I’m sure it’s a secret art which has been whispered to young Mexican ears through the generations.

So what is the secret?

“Head down and eat fast,” is one answer from a Mexican friend here in Tijuana.

“Big bites, get your head close to the plate, eat quick, don’t talk, focus,” adds another.

Good advice.

However no matter how hard I try, I end up wearing the tacos instead of consuming them.

 

 

I mean, how hard can it be...?

 

Okay...

 

It all went wrong from here

 

Napkin count for eating two tacos?

Thirteen.

In the end I’m not sure whether the restaurant charged us for the tacos, or for the napkins.

I look around and other people have clear plates with no evidence that they ever held food.

 

 

 

 

As we leave the stand I’m fully expecting one of the staff members to shout after me (between giggles) “you haven’t finished your food…”

Yes I know, I’ve left most of it on my once-clean T-shirt.

New sense of the word ‘takeaway’.

Eating at a taco stand will never be classed as a fine-dining experience.

It is definitely not the place to take a girl on a first date. Can you imagine?!

“I really like you…” says the hopeful hombre with meat juice and chili sauce dripping down his chin.

Cheque please!

However with all jokes aside, the food is goooooooood.

“The beauty of these taco stands is that you can drive for miles and miles into the middle of nowhere, you can be starving hungry, and then you’ll just stumble across a random one right there on the side of the road,” one Mexican friend tells me.

“It’ll almost certainly serve the most delicious tacos you’ve ever tasted. They can be the shittiest looking stands, but they’re guaranteed to serve the best food.

“That’s how it works.”

 

I mean, you just won't expect this to serve Michelin Star food right?!

 

Urban legends are always associated with culture, and – given the national obsession with tacos – it’s only natural that there will be some myths surrounding such places.

“They’re good, but they’ve not been the same since my friend was killed who used to work here…” a Mexican friend proclaimed as we tucked into tacos in Playas de Tijuana on another occasion.

“Car accident?” I offer between bites.

“No, he was shot dead by a gang.”

“Yeh, while serving tacos right?” I add laughing.

“Oh, you heard about that?” he asks me surprised.

“Um…WHAT?! I was joking!”

Yep sure enough, a while ago my friend’s favourite taco maker/server was murdered while doing his job in this very taco stand right here in Playas de Tijuana.

Gulp. Bon appetit!

Sure, you never really know what you’re going to get at these stands.

Some claim that another stand here in TJ once sold ‘cat’ tacos.

Admittedly when you look at the meat it’s difficult to tell which animal it once belonged to.

You can get egg and shredded beef tacos, which is basically your ‘breakfast’ taco.

As mentioned above you can also get ‘tongue’ tacos; chicharron (boiled pork scratchings) tacos; chicken tacos; intestine tacos; chorizo tacos; and fish tacos – or a strange combination of them all.

It seems that anything goes.

 

 

 

I’m sure that if someone discovered traces of horse meat in any tacos here, there would be a queue miles long across the border into San Diego.

Most tacos with either a mix of, or all, beans, chili, cheese, avocado and fresh herbs.

 

A relatively 'normal' taco

 

And most are actually delicious.

But with each visit comes a new surprise for me.

Last weekend Jacks and I took our seats at a taco restaurant in front of a cauldron-like bubbling dish of stringed meat.

The ‘meat’ turned out to be intestines.

 

Sometimes you just shouldn't ask...

 

Worst of all… after we ate relatively ‘normal’ meat tacos, I discovered that the actual taco tortillas are cooked in the fat which the intestines are fried in.

Mmmmmmm… not.

Anyone hungry...?

Published in Mexico

What is now the city of San Diego started out as Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's San Miguel, named when he sailed into San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. The Portuguese explorer claimed the land for Spain, but Spain ignored the area for sixty years and all proof of Cabrillo’s claim had weathered away. Sebastián Vizcaíno made landfall in San Diego Bay as well, and he renamed the area after San Diego de Alcalá on November 10, 1602.

It would be another 167 years before the Spanish returned to San Diego. During the entire Spanish conquistador period, Spain had been establishing missions to convert the natives in New Spain to Catholicism in order to colonize the lands. Yet, it took the movements of Russia eyeing up the western coast of North America with Peter I the Great asking Vitus Bering to command an expedition of the Kamchatka peninsula and the subsequent discovery of additional lands east of Siberia across the now eponymously-named Bering Strait.

Detail from the Stations of the Cross Mosaic
Detail from the Stations of the Cross Mosaic

To secure Spain's claim to the entire Pacific Coast by right of discovery, King Philip V felt missions were necessary in Alta California. In 1769 Junípero Serra led an expedition from Baja California to found the mission at San Diego and presidio at Monterey. Both the Presidio and the Mission of San Diego became the first European settlement in what is now the state of California.

The site of the Presidio and the original Mission is in what is now San Diego's Presidio Park. No historical structures remain in Presidio Park today, but a fenced-off area encloses the foundations of the chapel, walls, and other historical sites. Mission moved about five miles upriver at its current location in 1773. The Presidio was gradually abandoned since need for military protection disappeared and people settled in Old Town at the foot of the hill from the Presidio. It lay in ruins by 1835.

The flower garden at Mission San Diego de Alcalá
The flower garden

If San Diego is the birthplace of California, then Junípero Serra is California's father. Father Serra was a Majorcan Franciscan friar who founded the mission chain in Alta California, including Mission San Buenaventura, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and perhaps the most famous of them all Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores). During his lifetime, he was witness to the American Revolutionary War and he notably took up a collection from his mission parishes throughout California. The total money collected amounted to roughly $137 and it was sent to General George Washington.

My aunt and uncle asked someone in one of the stores about the Mission to find out when it might close. We rushed to the Mission from our visit to Old Town San Diego since the Church was only open until 5:00pm. We followed the signs on the Kumeyaay Freeway to the exit and after some creative navigation found ourselves in front of an unassuming building. While it had the traditional Spanish architecture, it was a smaller façade than I had anticipated.

The fountain at Mission San Diego de Alcalá
The fountain

When we entered into the Mission grounds and I saw the large patio with a fountain, I realized the scope of this property. Like many of the Missions, the plaza was surrounded by solid and massive walls that were broad and undecorated. I wondered around and found the arched corridors that lead to the school area and a statuary garden.


Pieta

I joined my family in the flower garden and moved into the church. After the move to the current location, the Mission struggled against native attacks and was destroyed in 1775 by fire. Though it was one of the poorer Missions in the system, Blessed Father Serra returned to oversee the rebuilding and brought prosperity back to the area. However, with Mexican Independence and U.S. acquisition, the Mission was neglected. Finally, in 1931, the Church was restored to its current look. Today it is an active Catholic Parish in the Diocese of San Diego.

To honor the historic role that this first Mission held in the history of California and the US, Pope Paul VI designated Mission San Diego de Alcalá as a Minor Basilica in 1976, which includes in its privileges granted, the permit to display a tintinnabulum and an umbraculum.

The altar of the church - the umbraculum is the red and yellow piece hanging on the left.
The altar of the church - the umbraculum is the red and yellow piece hanging on the left.

I appreciate when these original historic sites are able to be used for their original purpose. The USA doesn't have the length of history that the United Kingdom, France or China have, but we do have a collective breadth of history. I'm proud when we do preserve our history for future generation to use and to value. When we partake in our over two century old history, we continue to define ourselves as Americans.


My cousin and I

Published in United States

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