Deciding what to eat might seem as easy as stuffing your bag with your favorite snacks and bringing cash for a few restaurants, but you’d be surprised at how hard it is to keep food costs down and energy levels up. While wandering the halls of a convention is nowhere near as hard as running a twenty-six mile marathon, keeping hydrated and energized are important nonetheless. There will be a lot of shuffling, standing, and walking, so if you don’t do a little bit of planning with food, your experience can turn very sour very fast. The right food will not only save you money, but boost your longevity and keep you active right till bedtime.
The first things you need to consider are your main meals of the day. If you’re a teen or young adult, chances are you don’t have a steady dietary schedule even at home, but breakfast lunch and dinner are the best pillars to plan around. The most important factors when planning these are expense and variety.
If you’re living on a budget, bring food with you from home or go grocery shopping as soon as you settle into wherever you’re staying. You don’t have to plan on making a gourmet meal, and spending twenty or thirty dollars at the supermarket can supply you for the duration of the convention. If this is the route you’re taking, make sure your temporary home has a microwave and mini-fridge. Nonperishable items like canned chili and soup are great because they’re easy to carry, but you’ll have a lot more variety available to you if you can store a few things in the fridge. Of course, buying a few microwaveable dinners is always an option just as long as you get them to your room before they thaw out. Don’t skimp on fruits and veggies, canned or not, since a balanced diet actually does help with energy levels and all-around wellbeing. (Trust me, I’ve tried loading up on just pancakes, burgers, and chips, and it makes you feel sluggish and bloated.)
If you have a fridge, but no microwave or any other means of cooking, don’t underestimate the power of sandwiches. Load up on a few different meats, condiments, and some fresh veggies like onions, lettuce, and tomatoes and you’ll be good to go. You can make all of them on day one and never have to worry about prepping food for the rest of your stay. Of course you will crave other things to eat after a while, so invest in milk and cereal, and always have some fruit on hand. Do note that bringing a hot water steamer or rice cooker is an excellent way to give yourself nutritious and tasty meals that are cheaper than the restaurants. It helps if you or one of your friends is a great cook, but even inexperienced chefs can easily cook rice, steam vegetables, and pour a decent sauce over the whole shebang. Hotels tend to frown on this, so be discreet.
If you do choose to hit up the local restaurants for your main meals, budget accordingly. You don’t want to feel the sting of realizing that you can’t pay for that one figure you’ve been eyeing for days because you blew your money on pizza every night. As a general rule, try to stick to low cost places as much as possible and save the expensive restaurants for one or two visits. If you plan to rely heavily on buying food instead of preparing it, be sure to use Yelp ahead of time. Unless you have a smartphone, you’ll be too busy preparing, settling, and moving to research local restaurants, and it’s a lot more convenient to have a repertoire of eateries in mind rather than wandering town for hours just to settle on McDonalds. Make sure you keep track of nearby 24/7 restaurants like Nations, Denny’s, or IHOP. Even if you don’t plan to rely on restaurants for food, you never know what can happen and if you need to chow down at one in the morning but don’t have the energy to cook, these places will be a lifesaver.
Never order pizza from a place that doesn’t provide inch measurements for their sizes because those places will most likely scam you. You might order a large pizza only to discover that their definition of large is the circumference of a plate. In general, try to avoid restaurants in touristy locations since more often than not their prices are high and quality is low. Never resort to eating at the convention unless you absolutely have to. The prices are notoriously high for food that you could easily buy few blocks away for a lot less.
Arguably, the most important type of food you’ll need to consider are snacks and fluids. Some people might be okay going from big meal to big meal, but most of us need to have a snack bar or two to keep our energy levels up. You might not be doing a lot of exercise at a convention, but you’re essentially taking a very long walk with no determinable end, and this will drain you. Pack snacks that have a decent amount of calories and nutritional variety, such as Nutrigrain bars. Even though it’s tempting to chow down on soda, chips, and candy, they’re only good for short energy spurts and might actually cause you to crash harder later in the day. Water is an absolute must and toting around a bottle is a lot easier to deal with than getting light headed at the end of a very long line and hoping there’s a water fountain nearby.
If you plan properly, it’s easy to keep costs down and maximize your time at the convention. The more alert you are, the more fun you can have and the more engaged you will be with the entire experience. As far as hydration goes, it’s something you absolutely must not skimp on; drinking water isn’t just a matter of having fun, its vital to your health. Minimize costs, maximize nutrition, and you’ll be one happy otaku.
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