Some of you have attended more than a few national conventions. One person over on Hyperscale noted that he's been to close to 25! If this is your first, however, here's some advice to get you ready for The Big Show.
Look for other hotels. Even with less than two weeks to plan a trip to Loveland, if you haven't make hotel arrangements yet, consider staying "off campus," that is, a hotel other than the one at the convention site. The convention hotel tends to be on the expensive side, so if your budget is limited, it’s okay to stay elsewhere in the area. Use a web site such as Travelocity or Orbitz to find something more affordable. Although it’s convenient to be able to run up to your room during the day, it’s really not necessary. Don’t let an expensive hotel bust your plans to attend the Nats. Last year I stayed at a very affordable "tourist" hotel about five miles from Disney, and this year I'm staying at a hotel ten miles north of Loveland. I'll save about $200 doing so. Will I spend that $200 on models? Maybe.
Talk to other attendees. I know most of us are introverts at heart -- we'd rather spend an afternoon in the basement than at a party -- but you're among friends here. Talk about what you're looking at. Share your thoughts. Introduce yourself. And while you're at it, talk to the vendors as well. They're spending three or four long days sitting in one spot, so a friendly face is sure to break up the monotony.
Don't blow your wad on your first pass through the vendors room. You'll feel overwhelmed when you walk in for the first time. The tendency, hardwired into your modeler-DNA, is to buy everything you like, but make sure you save some dough for the remaining days. That said, if you see a bargain, grab it while you can. And if you find that ultra-rare kit you've been searching for, snag it now. (I'll offer more tips on the vendors room next week.)
Criticize models discretely. If you're browsing the contest entries with a friend, it's natural to share your thoughts on the models. If you do, be constructive and humble. The owner may be right behind you. As much as we say we like to receive constructive criticism, some guys will take offense if they hear you picking apart their latest masterpiece. A short-tempered modeler may gut you from behind with his antique kukri.