Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
Travel Companion: Girlfriend, and we’re meeting other friends at the convention
Costs: Flight. I’m flying in from New York City because of a family event, so I’m flying from JFK to SJC to LAX. I paid $358.30 for round trip tickets, including luggage. I booked in January because I knew booking flights closer to a holiday weekend was going to be ridiculously expensive, especially because I’d be coming in from so far away. I think I got a pretty decent deal all things considered.
Costs: I’m staying at a hotel near the convention center, the Fairmont in San Jose, splitting it with four friends. We’re paying $133.95 each for four nights.
I’m going to an anime convention, FanimeCon. It’s an event where people gather to celebrate anime, manga, and Japanese video games. The gatherings and events at anime conventions have also extended to celebrate other cartoons and other forms of media.
I mostly buy my costumes second-hand from Facebook buy and sell groups, and my wigs from online wig stores. Buying second-hand tends to be cheaper, but if there’s something I really can’t find in a secondhand group, I commission a friend to sew/construct it over buying new if it isn’t too expensive to do so. I’m glad to be in a financial position where I can support independent artists, though I understand that not everyone is able to do so.
I do enjoy making my own cosplays and will be doing so for another convention later in the year, but with my busy schedule I knew it wasn’t going to be feasible to churn out a new costume in time for this convention.
2:30 p.m. – I say goodbye to my uncle and sister, who are the last members of our family that haven’t left New York City after our family gathering. My uncle offers to get me an Uber to the airport because I’m running late and I happily take him up on this: We got a little carried away window-shopping in SoHo. I’m normally very anxious about flights and like to get in super early, so this is not a fun experience for me in the slightest. The driver gets me to the airport about an hour before my flight, giving me just enough time to check my suitcase in. Talk about a close call. I’d prefer to never repeat that experience again.
5:20 p.m. – We finally take off after a few delays. I spend the first couple of hours on the plane napping and recovering from my hectic week, before waking up and playing Tales of Vesperia on my Switch. I’d like to cosplay from it some day, but we’ll see about time and money.
9:30 p.m. PST – My best friend C’s family picks me up to bring me to the hotel: C’s parents are local so C came to the area one day early to visit them and she’s waiting in the car with her parents and their dogs! They have a birthday gift and card for me, which is very sweet. They drive us to the hotel where I am reunited with T, who flew to the convention from LA. She bought some buns for us to eat at the convention so I have one before passing out. Our other hotel roommates get back around midnight, but I’m so tired that I barely notice.
7:30 a.m. – I wake up and say a proper hello to my other roommates, R, G, and H. I’m wearing my heaviest costume today so I get myself out of bed early to start doing my makeup. This is usually a fairly involved process and can take me hours because I’m vain and picky, so I have true admiration for people who can get their cosplay makeup done in a matter of minutes! T isn’t cosplaying today, so she goes out to pick up some food for us, including some instant ramen (she pays). I have some for breakfast, which may seem strange to most people, but noodles are a common breakfast in my culture.
10:00 a.m. – One of the armor pieces on my costume broke during transit, so I message my friend Y who will be cosplaying from the same series as I am to see if she has a hot glue gun on hand. Thankfully, she does, and I go to her room to borrow it and fix my costume up. Y is only half-dressed, so I wait for her to finish putting on her clothes and doing her makeup after I’m finished making adjustments to my costume. She shows me the heels she’s wearing to match my height. They’re at least three inches tall, which won’t be comfortable for someone who’s walking around in cosplay all day. But the characters we’re cosplaying don’t have a sizable height difference in canon so she’s trying to compensate for it. I tell her that she really doesn’t have to and that I’m mostly out here to have a good time, but she’s determined to be taller.
12:00 p.m. – T texts me to say that the Artist Alley (where you can buy artwork/charms from independent artists, think a fandom Etsy bazaar) and Dealers’ Room (where you can buy licensed merchandise and other items from established companies) at the convention don’t open until 2 p.m., which is when Y and I are supposed to have our first photoshoot of the day. I text our photographer and she’s happy to meet early so that we can all go to the Artist Alley as soon as it opens, so we do our first photoshoot of the convention! We go outside the convention center to a small park where we take photos as the characters we’re dressed in. Our photographer, D, shows us some of the back-of-the camera shots once we’re done and it’s amazing how she’s made this small park look like it could be in medieval times with some clever angling.
1:22 p.m. – I’m still not super hungry when we’re done with our photoshoot, so Y gives me a granola bar and I eat that. We meet up with T and walk into the convention for real. I pick up my badge because I pre-registered for the con and this is an incredibly quick process that doesn’t involve much lining up at all. I’m very impressed considering I’ve been to conventions where I had to wait for hours in line. Once we go into the convention center, we run into some people cosplaying from the same video game series as we are. This includes a couple who are cosplaying a pair of characters whom T and I are making costumes for to wear in July. I ask for sewing tips because they look amazing, and the couple is more than happy to give them to me.
4:02 p.m. – Y and I finally make it out of the Artist Alley and go to the meet-up for the “Tales of” video games, which she loves. Meet-ups at conventions are organized time slots where people can go to meet fellow cosplayers from a particular series they like or to go and take pictures if they aren’t cosplaying themselves. I start feeling lightheaded halfway through the meet-up though, and head back to the hotel room to get changed. I realize that I forgot my hotel key and text T, who heads back to the room to let me in. I’m feeling slightly lightheaded and can’t help but wonder why, but then I realize I haven’t had a proper meal since lunch yesterday… That was definitely not a smart idea. I take off the heavy armor and wig of my costume and rest a little bit before deciding that I’m done with cosplay for the day. I have some more of the bread that T brought for us and resolve to have a healthy dinner.
6:10 p.m. – T and I check out Artist Alley again before dinner. I see a lot of stuff I want but I don’t want to blow through my entire budget just yet after spending so much earlier in the day.
8:42 p.m. – We Lyft back and T pays for this as well: I’m feeling very spoiled at this point! She gives me another part of my birthday gift when we get back to the hotel room. It’s a humorous essay about my favorite character from a series I like, complete with citations and “interviews” from “experts on the subject,” mostly my friends who love the character as much as I do. I laugh super hard and am sure to tell her how much I appreciate this. Our hotel roommates come back up to the room and mention a swap meet where people will be selling merchandise for cheap, some new and some second-hand. I’d like to check it out, but T is fairly tired so she goes to sleep early.
11:48 p.m. – My hotel roommates and I make it back to our room where we finally turn in for the day. There are convention parties going on outside, but we’re too old for this when we have to get up and get into cosplay the next morning and we just want to sleep. I put the cat plushie in T’s arms while she’s sleeping. She stirs a little and mumbles “what is this?” but I kiss her forehead and tell her to just cuddle it. It’s a tiny thank you gift to her for being so kind and considerate to me all day.
7:33 a.m. – I wake up a little earlier than T, only to see that D messaged me at 1 a.m. to tell me that she’s finished editing our photos! This is ridiculously fast by convention photography standards: I’ve waited weeks or months for photos before. Our photos look amazing, and I send them to Y so that she can see them. Meanwhile, T wakes up to find her new cat plushie friend in her arms. She’s very grateful and happy. I eat last night’s leftovers for breakfast before getting ready, though at a much more leisurely pace because I’m getting into a simple costume that I’ve worn many times before.
8:30 a.m. – I can’t find my eyelash glue, and this is bothering the hell out of me because I use it for falsies and to glue parts of my wig to my face. Nobody else in my room seems to have any with them, either, but my hotel roommate R texts their friend to lend me some. We finish up around 10 once R’s friend shows up with some lash glue for me and we leave the room only for me to notice that they are also wearing heels to be taller. Since the character they’re cosplaying is commonly paired with mine, this makes sense.
5:30 p.m. – We can’t seem to get our thigh high socks to stay up when we walk, so we use the eyelash glue to stick them to our thighs. I love cosplay sometimes. We head to our photoshoot with another photographer, N, who’s supposed to meet us in the lobby of a different convention hotel. She’s running a little late so we take selfies while waiting for her and then do the shoot after she arrives. She makes me feel like a model!
10:21 p.m. – The “casino” is just a few tables where people are playing games and isn’t very photogenic at all. We have a good time though, even if we aren’t allowed to bet real money there. Everyone who wanted to play is given some chips for free, which we have to return before leaving the casino area. A lot of the patrons recognize us as the characters we’re cosplaying, and we joke that we’re really getting into character because R’s character would absolutely be as good at blackjack like they are. Once it hits about 10 p.m. G wants to go back early and we follow suit. On the way back one of my other friends tries to send me $3 back from the Lyft, and I tell her that she tries to pay me back for it I’m going to block her on Venmo. It feels silly asking 5 people to pay me back for $2 – $3.
6 a.m. – G has a photoshoot at 8 a.m., which means that he needs to get up early. Unfortunately, his alarm wakes everyone else in the room up as well. The rest of us spend an hour lying around and debating whether we’re going to get back to bed before deciding to get up and get into cosplay early. Guess what I find when I’m rummaging through my makeup? My eyelash glue! I’m absolutely livid because I went through all that trouble for nothing, at least I have a spare.
2:00 p.m. – We go to the meet-up for the series that we’re cosplaying for! Everyone there is very nice. A lot of people have produced merchandise for free to trade at the meet-up. Even though I don’t have any handmade merchandise to offer, a lot of people are happy to give out free stuff anyway – I don’t usually get too deep into fandoms but this one is very nice.
3:00 p.m. – J and I have a separate photoshoot with C, who I took photos with on the first day of the convention. We’re doing this separately from the rest of the group so we can get some couple-y photos. C wants to take photographs in a riverbank that’s fairly close to the convention center, but that means that J has to climb down the riverbank in his high, high heels. The lengths that people have gone to match my height at this convention are very extreme and I’m flattered. After we’re done, T texts me to say she’s getting into her last cosplay of the convention and asks me if I want to join her, even though we were supposed to do this tomorrow. I instantly agree, since J is changing out anyway: I’ll be way too tired to do a cosplay tomorrow. Before that, J and I decide to meet back up with the rest of the group in the lobby of the hotel to take a few last pictures.
4:13 p.m. – We head back to my hotel, where our other friends have bought us bubble tea, and T has already changed into her cosplay. R has paid for me because I paid for their Lyft yesterday, and when I try to pay them back they threaten to block me on Venmo… That’s my line. I finish my bubble tea and take a few last pictures, but not before taking a photo with both J and T: My cosplay boyfriend and my real life girlfriend. This is the closest thing to a player I’ll ever be. I’m thankful that T isn’t the type to get jealous when I cosplay as couples with other friends.
11:04 p.m. – Some people want to go to the convention game room for some late-night fun, but T is too tired and wants to get some sleep. I go with them, but I’m so exhausted that I don’t have the energy to line up for any of the arcade games and I’m spacing in and out while we play board games.
12:30 p.m. – I head back to the hotel room only to find that T is still awake and is complaining to G about the latest installment of Kingdom Hearts. Absolutely valid. I collapse next to her after getting ready for bed.
How did you prepare for this trip?
I’ve known about Fanime for years and have always wanted to go. I’ve been to numerous anime conventions in the past, so I decided to just approach it the way I usually approach conventions: finding friends to share a room with and planning a schedule of what costumes I want to wear and when.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
The food around the convention center was surprisingly decent, but the Malaysian restaurant that we went to, Rasa Sayang, was a recommendation from a friend. It was simply amazing. I’ve heard that there’s another Malaysian restaurant near the San Jose Convention Center as well, but I don’t regret going to the one that was further out.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I don’t really think that I needed to book four paid photoshoots though I can’t say I regret any of it. Still, that’s a lot of money that I could have spent on something else! I’ll think of the photos that I get back as convention souvenirs. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be a lot more careful about eating properly at conventions in the future. I feel like reading through my experiences, it sounds like this tweet, only replace “candles” with “cosplay photoshoots.”
Would you stay at your hotel again?
For sure. I stayed in the Fairmont San Jose, and it was such a nice hotel room, especially for cosplayers – there were a lot of mirrors in it so we didn’t have to take turns putting makeup on, and it was nice and spacious so we weren’t getting in each other’s way.
Where were you located San Jose and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
I stayed at a hotel that was a seven-minute walk away from the convention center, and I definitely recommend doing that if you’re going to be cosplaying. I have friends who stayed at AirBnBs that were further out from the convention, and I ended up saving a lot of money on Uber/Lyft. Plus it was nice to be able to head back to the room and get a snack if I needed to.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
I really wish that I’d had more time to spend in the game rooms at Fanime! There were arcade games and computer games that I wanted to try, but I didn’t have the time for it. Oh well, maybe next year.