Having been a PAX East goer for 5 years now, I know how exhilarating and exhausting it can be. If you’re not someone who is lucky enough to have a room at the hotel next to the Boston Convention Center, just getting to and from PAX can be stressful and tiring. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to put together a PAX East 2020 survival guide, both for newcomers and veterans alike.
Before we dive in, I want to emphasize the importance of self-care. In the pure excitement of the event, it’s easy to lose sight of your own physical and mental health, so much of this guide will center on attending to your own needs. With these best practices in your back pocket, you’ll be well equipped to take on PAX East 2020 and fully enjoy the experience.
Pick the Best Day for You
First, let’s talk about what day to go. You’ve probably already bought your tickets at this point, but if you haven’t or you’re planning for next year, I highly recommend going on Thursday or Friday.
Most attendees can’t afford to take time off work, so the majority of people buy Saturday tickets. Because of this, the day sells out in minutes, and the place is absolutely mobbed on those days. Thursday and Friday, by comparison, are much more chill. There’s more room to move around and shorter lines, which gives you an opportunity to try out some demos without feeling the pressure of getting in line super early for something else. The indie developers, in particular, will be more available to talk to, since they’ll have less gamers to attend to, so it’s a great time to speak with them if that’s something you’re interested in.
If you’ve never been to a PAX and you’re considering going but you only want to pick one day, I recommend going on Sunday. Sunday is similarly less busy than Saturday, and the day is shorter than the previous days, so you can get a taste of what the event is like without being squashed by too many other people or feeling pressured to stay until close.
Plan Your Schedule in Advance
The PAX app is really awesome. You can add the PAX event you’re going to and create a customized schedule for everything you want to see. I love planning my days ahead of time. Even if some events overlap, I like to include everything I’m interested in so I have options. Maybe the mood of the day will inspire me to check out something different, so I like having that flexibility.
Speaking of the PAX app, it also comes with a few fun features, including PAX lines (allows you to see how many people are lined up at upcoming events, updated in real time, so you can know exactly when you need to head to the line) and PAX XP. PAX XP features a micro-story written by Jerry Holkins, founder of PAX. To unlock the story, you need to find XP stations hidden around the conference center. When you find one, you merely scan your badge. Finding these stations can bring you to the far reaches of the convention center, and you might stumble on some really cool booths you never would have found otherwise. There are also game stations where you can scan your badge for a chance to win prizes!
The PAX app also comes with a digital map of the Boston Convention Center. Study this map ahead of time, and make sure you understand where to go for different panels. Here’s a pro tip: All the second floor rooms are named after flying animals, so that will help you in a pinch!
Figure out Your Travel Early
Whether you’re a Boston native or just coming into the city for the event, you’ll want to think carefully about how to get to the Boston Convention Center. The Silver line is your easiest way to get to the convention center via public transportation, and then it’s just a short walk from the nearest stop.
Otherwise, it’s worth checking online for some discount codes for Lyft or Uber. In the past, PAX has partnered with ride-sharing apps and supplied these codes for free. You could save a few bucks! Also, you may want to slightly adjust your arrival spot. If you put in the convention center’s address, you might get stuck in a ton of traffic. To avoid the traffic jams, consider putting your destination at a side street or nearby restaurant. The few minutes you’ll spend walking from there will be much faster than awkwardly sitting in traffic with your driver.
You should definitely wear comfortable shoes, preferably with support. My first year of PAX, I made the terrible mistake of wearing uncomfortable shoes. They had no arch support whatsoever, and I did a LOT of standing and walking. By the time I got home, I had blisters the size of plastic wrap bubbles on my feet. The next PAX, I put on my comfiest pair of sneakers. Best decision I’ve ever made—I was in heaven. I may not have looked as stylish, but it was worth it.
Also, you should try to wear comfortable clothes all around. PAX East is tricky, because the air outside is mega-cold, and once you’re inside, it’s pretty warm. But there are coat racks if you want to wear a big coat outside for the cold and an outfit for warmer weather inside. I usually brave the cold and wear a light jacket, so I don’t have to waste time at the coat rack and can just wear that around for the day without worry, but that’s just me.
Relatedly, this tip may sound a bit cliche, and I don’t want to play into the nerd stereotype, but seriously—wear deodorant. In fact, I like to pack a stick of deodorant so I can reapply throughout the day. I tend to spend a lot of time on the exhibition floor, and it gets HOT. People are everywhere, and there is no fresh air. Don’t underestimate the need for deodorant. And just think, people around you will be grateful.
Bring Something to Keep Yourself Entertained in Lines
PAX is infamous for its lines. Depending on what you want to do, you can avoid them pretty well for the most part, but chances are, you will end up in a line at one point or another. You should prepare for this by bringing something to keep you entertained while you wait. For me, that’s usually a magazine or a portable gaming system. I love bringing my Nintendo Switch or 3DS with me—they’re perfect for these types of situations.
You should also bring a portable or wall charger for your phone. If you are there for the entire day, it will likely get low on battery, especially if you’re on your phone while in line. There are plenty of areas in the convention center where you can charge up, but make sure you pack your chargers!
Drink Lots of Water
You’ll want to make sure you drink plenty of fluids throughout the day—more than you normally would, too. The first thing I do when I get through the entrance line is head over to one of the vending machines or food stalls and buy a big bottle of water.
You’d be surprised by how fast you can get dehydrated at a convention like this. One second, you’re walking around and gaping at all the video games you want to try; the next, you’ve got a pounding headache and need to sit down for a while. When you pay $60 for a ticket, you don’t want to waste a minute! (Though it is totally fine to take your time.)
The nice thing about getting a water bottle right at the start (or bringing one) is that all the panel rooms have giant water jugs, so if you need a refill, you can reuse your bottle without paying for anything more.
Eat Periodically Throughout the Day
Food and drink go together naturally, so it should seem obvious, but you need to make sure you eat periodically throughout the day, too. There’s this weird sense of limbo when you get into the convention center: night and day cease to exist. Because of this, it’s easy to forget when to eat meals.
Again, I recommend picking up some food right off the bat. Some of the food stalls have breakfast pastries, protein or granola bars, and more. Breakfast is the perfect way to start the day, and you might not have time to eat before you head there (entrance lines can get pretty long and tedious, so you’ll want to show up very early to skip all that nonsense).
For lunch and dinner, I suggest eating during off times. Everyone tends to head for lunch a little after noon. Dinner usually hits peak period around 5pm and 6pm. To avoid the mad rush, try working around those times by either arriving earlier or later. For instance, you may want to have lunch around 2pm or have an early dinner at 4pm.
Just make sure you’re spacing out your food to last you the full day. Whether that means packing your bag with snacks whenever you need them or hitting up the Cookie Brigade at opportune moments is up to you.
Wash Your Hands Often
If you’ve never heard of the PAX plague, then consider this a warning: It’s real and you will probably get it. It’s just what happens when so many people exist in the same space for 4 days in a row. That said, you can do your damndest to fight it off. I recommend washing your hands as often as you can. It might sound weird, but it could make the difference between being fine immediately after PAX or losing several days to a debilitating cold.
The convention center does have hand sanitizer spouts located at key areas (at the escalators, for example), but by the end of the day, many are completely out of liquid. This is also just a preference of mine; I never really feel clean after using hand sanitizer. It just feels much nicer to rinse off all those germs and send them down the drain.
While we’re on the subject of cleanliness, make sure you take a long, hot shower when you get home or head back to your hotel room. You may want to collapse onto your bed and immediately go to sleep, but trust me, you should get all those germs off of you as soon as you can. Your body will thank you.
Stick to a Decent Sleep Schedule
When each day ends late and starts early, it can be difficult to fit in a decent sleep schedule, but trust me, you’ll need all the sleep you can get. If that means leaving a little early or arriving a bit late, then you might have to make that sacrifice.
You need energy and strength to walk around and stand all day, and if you’re like me, your body probably isn’t use to that!
Talk to Others!
Don’t be afraid to talk to others. If you’re like me, you’re a natural introvert. The great thing about PAX is that if you’re into gaming, you are among friends. In fact, there’s more to PAX than just games. It’s really just a celebration of community. It never hurts to start up a conversation with someone in line.
While we’re on the subject of taking time for yourself and making new friends, it’s vital to mention respecting others. PAX is a celebration of people and their passions. Everyone is welcome, and they should feel that way. Make sure you come to PAX with an open mind and think about what you’re saying to others and how. Support those around you, and make sure you are staying true to the sense of community that PAX is all about.
If you see anything problematic happening, the PAX enforcers will help out, so don’t hesitate to say something.
Take Some Quiet Time for Yourself
Again, if you’re anything like me, you appreciate being alone. I love the atmosphere of PAX; there’s something so special about being around people who are passionate about the same thing as you. But it’s like going 0 to 60 sometimes. I have a handful of close friends and family who are into the same things as me, but I go from that to being surrounded by thousands of people at once. Needless to say, it can feel overwhelming.
Luckily, PAX understands that feeling, and they’ve developed a specific area called the AFK room. It’s essentially a quiet space to catch your breath. There’s also the handheld lounge, which I always love. It’s just a bunch of bean bag chairs where you can chill out for a while and play 3DS. There’s also nothing wrong with sitting in the back of a random panel and just relaxing for a bit.
If you want some other type of entertainment, the Jackbox stage is another great spot, as well as the Just Dance stage. You can sit back and watch at both, and you can even participate if you want.
Don’t Always Follow the Group — Do What You Want to Do
PAX is so much fun when you go or meet up with a group of friends. But my one suggestion is don’t be afraid to go off on your own and do what you really want to do every now and then.
Sometimes, you might feel pressured to go with the group, but there’s nothing wrong with going to a panel only you want to go to. You paid a lot to attend, so make sure you are getting your money’s worth! If you want the whole group to go with you, don’t hesitate to speak up, either. You might have to make some compromises, but at the very least, make sure your voice is heard.
Submit to Some Raffles
Raffles are huge at PAX, and you’d be surprised at your chance to win. Simply add yourself to a list and make sure you’re back at the booth for the announcement of the winner. You might win something cool!
Companies of all types are looking to spread the word about their products, so this is a great way to rake in some free swag.
Most Importantly, Have Fun!
At the end of the day, having a good time is the goal. Try not to stress about doing everything, because it’s nearly impossible to do so. Focus on what you want to accomplish while you’re there, and kick back and relax. PAX is a great opportunity to enjoy your passions with likeminded souls. If you do it right, you’ll leave feeling recharged, refreshed, and ready for the next convention!
Let me know if you find this survival guide useful, and if you have any additional tips to consider, feel free to share!