Driving to Conventions - Pros and Cons
I keep it no secret that I drive to almost all of my shows. This routinely has me on the road for between 3 and 20 hours each way, depending on the show. Why did I decide on this path? To be honest, initially it was because I’m something of a nervous flyer, but overtime I’ve learned to take full advantage of the space in the vehicle and learned to love the long days alone in the car. Let’s talk about the Pros and Cons of driving to conventions.
Cost vs Profit
The biggest benefit in driving to shows, obviously, is that it allows you to load up a van full of stuff and haul it with you. If I were to ship my entire booth setup and inventory it would run between $500-1000 per show each way. By driving I am saving this cost and upping my potential profit. After shipping my setup and inventory, flying myself to the show, paying for hotel, and paying for the table itself it is easy to end up with a mountain of upwards of $3000 to make up before you’re seeing any profit at all. Meanwhile, my gas investment is around $300 for my furthest show.
There is always the option of stuffing your setup into a couple suitcases, but I find this to be less than optimal. Not only would I not be able to have my pro panels or canvases, I also wouldn’t be able to bring as much inventory. By driving I’m insuring that I can bring plenty of inventory and not risk selling out too early.
I can’t lie, when I set out on the road I imagine myself to be a little bit like those brave people who made the journey across our country during its infancy. Lucky for me though I have air conditioning, paved roads, gps, rest stops, jamba juice... Ok I’m nothing like them, but I can pretend can’t I? Seriously though, we live in a beautiful country and I love that I get to see some of it while traveling to a convention. Without even taking extra time to explore the dozens of national parks on my route I’m still able to experience some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Just have a look at a few photos I snapped from the driver’s seat:
Nothing instigates an existential crisis like driving alone for 20 hours. I get that this isn’t for everyone, I too was quite nervous at first, but now I feel so empowered by my time on the road. I am the type of person who wants to push myself to be self-sufficient and proving to myself I could do this was very satisfying. When I set out I can put all my anxieties aside for a few days and just drive. It gives me a great excuse to listen to an audio-book or catch up on podcasts. Sometimes, I will turn off the radio and just drive and think for hours and really take in my surroundings.This is where I get some of my best ideas and sometimes workout a few things that I didn’t realize were hanging around in my mind.
The amount of time you are comfortable spending on the road can vary person to person. I’ve found that I can do 2 full days on the road without it getting to me much. However, the one time I pushed it to 3 days (a 30 hour drive to Chicago) I found my limit. The drive home was agonizing knowing that I wouldn’t be home until 3 whole days in the car were over.
Hours of daydreaming aside, the time it takes to drive to shows adds up. An airplane can get you across the country in one day. In a car you can only get about 700 miles. This eats into your art time as you can’t do much of anything from the driver’s seat. This also affects your convention strategy as you will likely be focusing on the shows that are within your driving range - limiting the number available to you each year.
If you’re only driving to shows you are limiting the number that you can go to by how far you’re willing to travel. This also means you will be attending less shows (possibly not a negative), but that puts more pressure on the profit of each. I recommend pushing yourself to see what your driving limit is and mapping out the shows that fit within that radius. You’re likely to find there are quite a few and that might be all you need.
After Emerald City Comic Con 2018 I had a problem. I had sold out of nearly everything I brought with me and I could have made more profit if only I had more inventory. However, my small SUV was packed to capacity. On top of that I was about to head out for a 30 hour drive to Chicago for C2E2 the next month and being cramped in a Subaru Forester was not going to cut it. It was time to purchase a larger and more comfortable vehicle. So I invested in a van. At first I was looking at commercial vans, but those are too tall to fit in a parking garage and lacked most of the technology features. So, I did something I never thought I would, I bought a minivan. It was the best investment I could have made. Her name is Pearl, and she’s gotten me comfortably and safely to shows ever since. Driving long distances in a small vehicle can be uncomfortable at best and unsafe at worst - not to mention that you won’t be able to haul as much. If you’re not in a position to make an investment in a vehicle flying looks a bit more appealing.
Though it might seem crazy at first, I find driving to conventions to be an incredible experience. If you’re thinking about driving to your next show make sure you get a tune-up before hitting the road. Also, I suggest investing in a small survival kit - flares, water, blanket, flashlight, that type of thing. The last thing you want to do is break down in the middle of nowhere without any supplies while the 110 degree sun is scorching the pavement or the clouds above are threatening snow. Safe travels my friends, I’ll see you out there.