So you've picked your pen show, created a valid excuse for skipping work and/or disappearing for a weekend, and committed to go. So what next? Is your head spinning from reading all of the pen show recaps discussing all of the things you need to see? Mine sure was before my first show. Here are a few things you can do in advance to make your trip more enjoyable, and ultimately, memorable.
- BUDGET. I have this one in all caps for a reason. Before you leave for the pen show--and I would recommend a couple months before--sit down and figure out how much travel itself is going to cost you (in gas/airfare, food, drinks, lodging, etc.) and then set aside some additional funds for the show itself (admission, and, of course, pens and ink). I set a hard limit on spending for the show, and withdraw that amount of money in cash. While Square and the iPhone have made it easier for more and more vendors to accept credit cards, many still take only cash, and I've found that credit cards and pen shows are a bad, bad mix. You will always find one more pen you want, whether you can afford it or not.
- Make a List. Not just a list of what you want to buy, but what you want to do. As with any big, highly anticipated event, you will get there and experience a huge adrenaline rush, and as a result forget to check out one or more vendors you wanted to visit. Check the show website. Most of them are fairly bare bones, I know, but at a minimum the show should list in advance which vendors are attending. Do you want nib work done by Mike Masuyama? Make getting your name on his list a top priority once you are at the show--as in, "as soon as you walk in the door"--because it fills up fast.
- Get a good bag. I don't see this one discussed much in articles discussing "pen show strategy", but having a good "show bag" (or "bags") is extremely important. I bring both carry a messenger-style shoulder bag (I'm currently obsessed with Filson) and a clutch-style pen case. That way, if I need to carry around ink and paper, I can use the messenger bag, but if I have a day where I am just carrying pens to be worked on, or bringing pens down to the bar for show-and-tell, I can leave the larger bag in my room and go with the smaller carry. Good options include the Nock Co. Brasstown, the Aston Leather 10 or 20-pen cases, and if you're not squeamish about your pens touching, one of the Lihit Labs cases. On days when a show is very crowded, it can be nice to ditch a larger bag and not have to worry about it hitting people or knocking over merchandise.
- Bring your own paper and ink. Hopefully, you'll have the opportunity to test lots of pens and inks. Is there a preferred type of paper that you typically write on? If so, bring it with you. Many vendors don't have paper at their tables, and the pads of paper at most ink testing stations are subpar. I usually also carry a bottle of "safe" fountain pen ink if I'm going to be dipping pens.
- Connect with people beforehand. If there are people who you want to meet up with at the show, set a time and place to meet up ahead of time. This is especially true if you plan to attend a larger show on one of the busier public days, such as Saturday or Sunday. These shows can get crowded, and finding people in the ballrooms can be difficult.
Next week is the Atlanta Pen Show, so I will be traveling Thursday through Sunday. Posts next week will likely be thin, but before I leave I will post the last part in this series, Tips For Surviving at a Pen Show. Also, check out my Instagram and Twitter feeds for live show updates.
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