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.
This week’s travel diary: A 28-year-old strategist celebrates her birthday with her girlfriend and friends at an anime convention in San Jose.
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Travel Companion: Girlfriend, and we’re meeting other friends at the convention
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Trip Location: San Jose, CA
Trip Length: 5 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: Unlimited
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.
Convention ticket: $65 for four days. I bought the ticket early, as ticket prices tend to surge closer to the time of the convention.
Photoshoots: I spent $200 on four photoshoots: Two were $65, one was $40, and one was $30. It’s fairly common for cosplayers to pay photographers for polished, high-quality photos of us in costume. However, getting four paid shoots for a single convention is a lot: I haven’t been to a large con in more than half a year and got a little overzealous when booking. I don’t really post photos of my cosplays online any more, but I love having nice pictures of things I wear even if I keep them to myself.
Costumes: I’m re-wearing two costumes I’ve owned for a while and am wearing three new cosplays. One of these I bought second-hand after finding it on a Twitter sales thread and it cost me $150 plus $20 for a new wig. I bought another costume new because I wanted to own the officially-licensed costume: $130 for the costume and a prop, plus $55 for a new wig and wefts to add volume. The third one was pieced together from scouring thrift stores and from buying the wig second-hand from a Facebook group. ($14 for the wig, $47 for the outfit). I purchased these items over the span of six months, knowing that I would be going to a convention over the holiday weekend. I’ve been looking forward to this event for a while!
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.
4:03 p.m. – I was initially planning to buy myself a snack to eat on the plane before leaving for the airport, maybe some cup noodles or a salad. I didn’t manage to because I was running late, but I decide I should probably buy some sustenance because I’ll be on a six-hour flight. However, I’ve been drinking a lot and eating way too much food over the last few days, and the thought of eating any solid food makes me feel nauseated. I make the very adult decision of buying myself a Jamba Juice and calling it a day. Future me is going to regret this, but present me is very pleased with myself. $6.52
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.
10:29 p.m. – I realize my girlfriend’s mother’s birthday was yesterday, and I forgot to wish her a happy birthday. Yikes! I send her a quick message using the plane’s WiFi – she also forgot about my birthday, which was recent, so she doesn’t seem too upset. I’ve only met her once but I like her a lot, so I’m going to make up for forgetting by getting her a small gift. I text my girlfriend, T, who suggests getting her mom a nice pot or a planter because she’s into gardening. I send her mom a set of two pots from Amazon ($19.99). I add a gift-wrapping option ($3.99) and leave her mom a happy belated birthday note. The gift is inexpensive but I hope she likes it. I never really know how much or how little I should be spending on these things, so I’m just going to follow my girlfriend’s advice and hope for the best. $23.98
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.
Daily Total: $30.50
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.
2:00 p.m. – T, Y, and I finally make it into the Artist Alley. An artist I follow on Twitter has a booth there where he’s selling charms and prints from the series I’m cosplaying from, including the older games, which isn’t super common so I’m very excited! A friend of mine who isn’t at the convention gave me $40 to spend at this particular booth for a birthday gift, so I spend that on matching keychains of the characters I’ll be cosplaying in July and two other favorites ($40). I also see another keychain with three of my favorite characters on it, so I buy that as well ($10). $50
3:15 p.m. – T decides to split from Y and I because we keep getting stopped in costume by people who want to take our photograph, even in the Artist Alley – it’s been a little difficult to get through so we can peruse properly. Not that we mind, of course – it’s nice to have people tell us we look good, especially for Y who made the entire costume herself. I drop another $10 on a charm for a different anime series, Full-metal Alchemist. I then reach a booth that’s doing a lucky draw for merchandise for a Chinese web-novel series I like, Mo Dao Zu Shi/Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation. The creator of this series doesn’t want fans selling merchandise for profit, but a lot of artists who are passionate about the novel are happy to sell merchandise for production costs. I do the lucky draw ($3) and win another keychain. $13
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.
6:45 p.m. – T and I didn’t get to spend my birthday together because I was in New York, so we made reservations at a Malaysian restaurant that’s about fifteen minutes away. We Lyft there – T pays because this is part of my birthday treat. I have fried noodles and a hearty serving of vegetables with sambal for dinner and pack leftovers for when I get back to the convention. She pays for this as well, but I offer to buy her bubble tea as a thank you for looking out for me over the last couple of days. The line at the boba place is around the block though so we decide that we don’t want that. Instead, we go to Walgreens and I buy a six pack of cider for the room. $12.62
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.
10:05 p.m. – The swap meet is packed and extremely warm. I’m grateful that I’m not in cosplay for this. I see a cute cat plush toy that I know T will like and the vendor asks me to name my price, so I offer $10 as a shot in the dark and the vendor agrees! I also pick up a Star Trek poster for my cousin-in-law ($1) and a second-hand keychain for a friend ($3). $14
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.
Daily Total: $89.62
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.
11:49 a.m. – R, T, G, C, and I meet up with the rest of our cosplay group at their hotel room and we meander to the convention center together. The large group of us walks around the Artist Alley for a while before getting lunch at the convention center. This surprisingly isn’t too bad or too expensive and I order a BBQ Cobb salad and spam musubi. $11
2:30 p.m. – We take some photos as a group before some of our other group mates want to change out of their costume, which is earlier than I had planned to change out but this lets me try to figure out my eyelash glue dilemma. I take a shared Lyft to Target ($4.79) and ask the rest of my roommates if there’s anything else they need. G asks if I can help him find some adhesive for his cosplay but I don’t find any of the kind he wants, while R asks for a Kit Kat which I do manage to find. I also pick up some Pepsi and Tic Tacs for T, which are her favorites, a bag of Haribo candies for the room, and a tube of eyelash glue – very important! ($13.29) I take a shared Lyft back ($5.43) and rest a little before getting changed into our next costume. $23.51
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!
7:39 p.m. – After our shoot we have pizza with my hotel roommates and some of our other friends, including C ($8). There’s an 18+ section of the convention with some panels that I’m very much not interested in but there’s supposedly a casino in the area and I wonder if it might be nice to take photos of our cosplays in that. The section is a little far away from the convention center though. We could take the free hotel shuttle but none of us feel like waiting 30-45 minutes for it. G has a car, but it won’t take all 13 of us who are hanging out at the time so I offer to get the rest of us a Lyft XL ($14.83). We get recognized on the way out of the hotel: some of us are cosplaying as characters who are in a musical group and someone shouts the group name out loud while we’re getting into the Lyft XL. I truly feel like a celebrity getting into their limo. $22.83
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.
Daily Total: $57.34
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.
10:25 a.m. – We finish getting ready and meet some other friends in the lobby who are cosplaying from the same series as we are. We wander the convention center a little bit before realize we want to head back to the Artist Alley. I make friends with an artist who offers me some stickers for free because they love my cosplay and we gush about a video game series I like that they’ve also done art for. They’re so nice that I end up buying a postcard from them anyway as a gift to a friend. $3
11:45 a.m. – We have another shoot with N for this cosplay! We meet up at the lobby of one of the convention hotels. This is when I realize that my friend J, who’s doing this cosplay with me, is wearing five inch heels to be taller than me in cosplay – he’s cosplaying my character’s boyfriend, so this makes sense, but this has happened to me so many times this weekend that I can’t help but laugh. The photoshoot goes very smoothly and we finish right before it begins to rain. Since we’re all starving we go into the convention center for lunch and I have the BBQ chicken cob salad and spam musubi for lunch again. Hey, it was good. $11
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.
5:30 p.m. – I change into my cosplay to match T and head back to the convention. I have a friend who’s coming to LA to visit me in a few days and I want to get her a small gift from the convention, so I go back to the booth of the artist I made friends with and get a postcard ($2). While T and I are wandering the convention hand-in-hand, someone comes up to me and tells me that I’m not tall enough to cosplay the character who I’m dressed as… which is pretty rude, but also kind of funny considering what all my friends have been doing to match my height all convention. I laugh it off. Tip to anyone going to a convention in the future though: don’t do this. $2
8:15 p.m. – My other friend has ordered food for all of us, but it’s been two hours and our food is nowhere to be seen. We go to her hotel room to wait and hang out and eat. The food is fairly disappointing even when it arrives and I kind of wish we’d gone out to eat instead. I Venmo my friend $19.20 sadly. $19.20
9:14 p.m. – My friends who have been to this convention before have a tradition of going to ice cream as a HUGE group on the second-to-last night of the convention. I don’t want to walk that far away from the convention center in full cosplay, so T and I go back and change out before joining the rest of the group. We walk about fifteen minutes to the ice cream shop and I get an ice cream sandwich. As we are standing outside the ice cream shop eating, some douche blows cigarette smoke into my face and it triggers an asthma attack, so T and I head back to the room to fetch an inhaler. I’m very upset and feel a bit like I ruined her evening but she’s quick to assure me that it isn’t my fault. I love her. $5.74
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.
Daily Total: $40.94
7:30 a.m. – Our body clocks all wake us up super early, so we get an early start and begin packing. I finish packing and realize I can’t find my socks, so I unpack everything only to realize that they’re in my backpack. G comes out of the bathroom in his boxers and asks where his jeans are and then I realize that I accidentally packed them into my suitcase… so I have to unpack everything again. Our room is a bit of a disaster zone after all the cosplay, so we all leave a generous tip for the housekeeper. I get a text from T’s mom who loves the gift I got her! I’m so glad. $10
9:00 a.m. – We ask if we can use some trolleys to bring our suitcases down, but the bellhop offers to come and help. This is very rare for an anime con because of the sheer number of people checking out at any given point in time. We have so much stuff that they end up needing to send two bellhops up to help us. I tip the bellhop with mine and T’s stuff ($5), but G doesn’t have change left so I give him $4 for the other bellhop. $9
10:18 a.m. – We get breakfast at the bakery downstairs and I pay $5.69 for a croissant. Everything here is so expensive, which is why I’m grateful that T stocked up on supplies before the convention. We go to the Artist Alley for some last-minute shopping: T and I go halfsies on a fandom cookbook for my old roommate ($10) and I buy a puppy keychain to replace the one I had that broke ($7). We also go to the Dealer’s Hall, and I consider buying a sweater from it but I have too many clothes at home. $22.69
1:18 p.m. – I want to go to another Malaysian restaurant that’s near the convention center for lunch, but some of my friends want to go to a bubble tea store that also has snacks, so I go with them since I won’t be seeing them for a while after the convention ends. I’m still full from breakfast so I get some fish balls, a passion fruit green tea, and a mochi waffle ($14.31). We say goodbye to each other since some of them are leaving the convention now. I’ll miss them! Conventions are always such a rush of friends and fun, it’s no wonder people enjoy them so much even though they’re so tiring. $14.31
2:00 p.m. – My flight isn’t for a few more hours so I meet up for a quick day drink with a friend who I’ve been trying and failing to meet up with all convention. I get an Angry Orchard ($7) and we chat about how our conventions went. She’s still in cosplay, somehow… truly a brave soul. After we finish, T and I take a Lyft to the airport ($14.97). The trip is officially done! $21.97
Daily Total: $77.97
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.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location? If you go to Fanime (or any anime con!) and decide to cosplay, please remember to hydrate and eat nutritious meals. Bread and instant noodles aren’t going to cut it – you’re going to be wearing heavy costumes and walking around. Don’t be like me, that wasn’t smart of me at all.
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.
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