You’ve done an amazing job at finishing your costume, and now it’s time to get to the convention. If you’ve made any breakable or bulky costume pieces, this might be a little more difficult than you first thought.
When traveling with a cosplay, keep any fragile pieces carefully supported, using your clothes as padding. Keep delicate clothes in a garment bag, and heavily styled wigs will need their own box to stay in good condition. Large props and armor will likely need to be disassembled and packed in a second box.
Of course, the way you pack and travel to a convention will vary depending on what kind of costume you have and how you are getting there. It is significantly easier to pack for a car ride than it is for an airplane. But with this checklist, you can know how to pack your bags and travel while keeping your cosplay in good condition.
Step 1: Packing your costume
The first step to traveling to a convention is, of course, packing. You have to make sure that you have everything and that it’s packed in a way that won’t damage the costume while you are en route to the event.
The costume will usually be the easiest part of a costume to pack, assuming it’s made out of fabric or a flexible material. If your costume includes large pieces of armor, you might have to use some of the techniques suggested for packing props.
In general, costumes can be packed like any other clothing. Most hotel rooms include irons that you can use to get rid of any wrinkles the clothing got along the way, so most costumes can be folded and arranged inside your suitcase.
Use these tips when packing your costumes for the convention:
- Keep a checklist. For each costume that you bring, make a complete checklist of all the different parts of the costume. Include accessories, shoes, and even special effects makeup supplies that you need so you can go through the list and avoid forgetting anything. When you are finished packing, bring the list with you so you don’t forget anything when traveling home.
- Pack a repair kit. Include some basic supplies for fixing up a costume. This should include some scissors, a needle and thread, safety pins, hot glue, and any other specific tools that your costume would require for a quick repair.
- Leave enough space in your suitcase for merchandise. It’s common to go to the dealer’s room at conventions and come home with a lot more stuff than you left with. Make sure to plan for that by using a slightly larger suitcase than you think you need.
- Pack anything that can leak in a ziplock bag. Anything the could mess up your costume, including toothpaste, makeup supplies, face wash, hair spray, or any other liquids should be kept in their own plastic bags. Whenever possible I keep these supplies in a separate backpack, away from the costume pieces.
- Avoid wrinkles with garment bags. Delicate fabrics and elaborate costumes might not be easy to iron. In these cases, you’ll want to use a garment bag for your costume. If you are traveling by car, the garment bag can easily be hung in the back seat. Otherwise, folding a garment bag into a suitcase will still give you fewer wrinkles than if you don’t use the bag.
- Use clothing as stuffing for fragile pieces. If you have any delicate costume pieces or anything that needs to maintain a specific shape (like a breastplate), use your other clothing as stuffing to give your costume some support.
Step 2: Packing wigs
Wigs can be a little tricky to pack sometimes, especially if you put a lot of work into the perfect styling. Because it’s so easy for wigs to get messed up along the way, I recommend always bringing hairspray, hair gel, styling tools, and a wig comb with you to touch up the styling when you get to the hotel room. A hairdryer is usually included with the hotel room, but you may want to bring your own just in case.
Wigs that are only lightly styled can be transported relatively easily. Put the original hairnet back onto the wig and place it back into the wig bag. It’s a good idea to loosely braid any long wigs to prevent them from tangling during travel. They can then be flattened and packed into your main suitcase. I recommend packing a wig head or wig stand so you can do some light touch-ups once you get to the hotel room.
Heavily styled wigs are a little more difficult to travel with. If you try to flatten them, these wigs will end up completely ruined, so they need to maintain their shape and stay upright the entire time during travel. Keep the wig pinned to the wig head and place it in a separate box or bag (some people will use a hat box for this). Use stuffing around the sides of the wig to keep it from falling over.
If you are traveling via train or airplane, keep your wig box with you as a carry-on. It’s too likely that the wig will get tossed around or turned upside down if you include it with checked baggage.
Step 3: Packing props
Small props can probably be packed in your main suitcase or a small carry-on bag. You can use clothing and stuffing to keep any fragile pieces from breaking during travel or keep them in a carry-on where you can keep a close eye on them.
The issue comes when you need to transport large props or props that look too realistic and might be mistaken for a real sword, axe, etc. Traveling with these props might not be too difficult if you’re traveling by car, since you don’t need to worry about getting them inside a box, and you can hold onto them to ensure the props don’t get damaged.
However, if you need to take any form of public transportation, you’ll need to do some planning for these items:
- Make collapsible props. The best thing to do is create collapsible props. Measure the length of the suitcase or box that the props will be in and then make sure you create ways to take the prop apart and put it back together to match those measurements.
- Use stuffing in large boxes to keep props from breaking. To prevent your prop and armor pieces from moving around and getting damaged in transit, include bubble wrap or crumpled paper in the box.
- Some people will ship props to the hotel overnight. You can also carefully pack your large costume pieces and send them in the mail to the hotel location. You can pick it up from the front desk when you get there.
Travel by car
The easiest way to travel to a convention with cosplay is in a car. This way there is no limit to the number of bags you can bring, and you can more easily hold onto delicate costume pieces to keep them safe.
If you are carpooling with friends who also cosplay, keep in mind that all of your stuff will need to fit in the car. Even though there is more flexibility with this option, you still need to try to pack your belongings into as small a space as you can.
If you are using a taxi service or an Uber or Lyft, make sure you are considerate of the driver. Don’t put props in the car that will block the view in the rearview mirror, and try to only bring bags or boxes that will fit into a typically-sized trunk.
Travel by Train or Bus
Trains and buses will offer more flexibility in traveling than with an airplane since you don’t need to worry about going through a TSA checkpoint. However, you are still limited in the number of bags you can take and the type of props you can bring. In general, you can expect to bring 1-2 checked bags, as well as a carry-on. You’ll likely also be allowed to carry long props like a staff or a sword (as long as it looks fake), without needing to place them into a box.
Anything that looks like a real weapon should always be packed in a box out of view. Even if the sword in question is flexible foam and wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone, it could still alarm the public and cause problems for you.
Air travel with cosplay
Air travel is where things get tricky. Not only do you need to get your costume through security checkpoints, but there are also a lot more strict rules about the types of products you can bring (put your liquids in the checked luggage). You also have to worry about crazy fees for heavy or oversized bags, and the possibility that your checked bag will get lost in transit.
In addition to looking up the terms and conditions for your airline, these tips can help get you through the flight with your costume intact:
- Try to take a direct flight to your destination. There is less chance of losing your luggage if you don’t have to make a layover. Even if it will cost you extra, it’s worth it for the peace of mind in getting your checked luggage.
- Make sure your suitcase isn’t oversized! The way airline fees go, it’s almost always better to have two checked bags than one oversized bag.
- You will probably need a checked box for your props. Using a hard-shelled suitcase will offer your props more protection as it’s tossed around at the airport. You can leave a note at the top of the prop box asking anyone who checks it to handle it with care and explain that everything is fake and only a costume prop.
- Be aware of the weight of your luggage. Overweight luggage can easily cause extra fees when checking the bag. Try to distribute any heavy objects between bags so nothing ends up being too heavy.
- No live steel or dangerous items. In general, try to avoid these items even in your checked bags. While technically you can put these in your checked luggage, the bags might get held up at inspection and potentially miss the plane.
- You can ask for an in-person inspection of your costume. If you’re worried that your bag will get held up at inspection or the staff will accidentally damage your cosplay, you can request an in-person inspection so that you can watch as they go through the bag and then prevent it from being held up later on.
- For heavily styled wigs you can use a wig travel case or hatbox. I recommend bringing any styled wigs with you as a carry-on. Because of the fragile nature of wigs, they will likely get damaged if you put them in any checked luggage.
Unpacking when you get to the convention
When you get to the hotel and the convention, it’s time to unpack and check on your costume. Take the time now to get it ready for the day you’ll wear it, so you don’t need to rush as much in the morning when you’re getting dressed.
To unpack your cosplays for the convention:
- Hang up your cosplays. Immediately after you get to the hotel room, hang up your costumes so they don’t get any further wrinkles.
- Iron your costumes. It’s also a good idea to spend the time ironing your costumes now and hanging them in the closet so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
- Repair anything that is broken. Inspect your costumes and all pieces of it to make sure everything made the trip okay. Use your repair kit to fix anything that was damaged during travel.
- Take out your wigs and set them up on the wig heads. You can make any styling repairs and let the flattened wigs air out until you’re ready to put them on.