The husband and I with Stan Lee at Cincinnati Comic Expo (2016)
DO Check out the schedule and map beforehand. Even when I attend cons at my home convention center (the Indianapolis Convention Center), I always check out the map for the event as every organizer will use a slightly different layout. Also, familiarizing yourself with the event schedule will give you an opportunity to at least make a game plan for each day you are attending, and also give you a heads up if you need to register for anything before the con starts.
DON'T Try to do and see everything. It's unfortunate when you look at the con schedule and realize that John Barrowman's panel is at the exact same time as that Pokemon trivia contest. Unless you have a TARDIS or a Time Turner, you can't be in two places at the same time. You'll have to prioritize what you really want to see, do and participate in. And don't forget to build in time to take a rest, eat and socialize if you have friends going.
DO Wear comfy clothes! Of course if you're cosplaying you are at the mercy of your outfit, but if you aren't in costume, comfort is key. You'll likely do a lot of walking and standing, and inside the convention halls tend to not be carpeted which is hard on the feet and knees. With all of the fun nerdy t-shirts out there, jeans/shorts and a tee are your best friend along with sensible shoes. I also recommend some sort of light jacket or longer sleeve top to layer as the air conditioning can be a crapshoot inside (sometimes it's freezing cold, sometimes it's barely on).
DON'T Forget to read up on all of the convention policies (usually posted on their website and/or Facebook page). Make sure you know all of the rules regarding bags, cosplay props, photos/video, etc.
Me as the 10th Doctor on vacation at Indiana Comic Con (2017) My Fem! 6th Doctor at Lexington (2016)
-Panels: These can vary from Q&A sessions with celebrity guests to how to make cosplay armor from foam. The celebrity panels can sometimes be very popular and you sometimes have to line up early so watch for signage and check the schedule.
-Artist Alley: My wallet takes a hit at almost every show I attend in artist alley. There are so many talented artists out there making wall art, comics and more covering pretty much every fandom you can think of.
Me in Artist Alley at a con (image source)
As for my tips about what to bring, it just so happens that I recently made a video about what I personally take with me to most conventions.
I hope that you find my tips and tricks helpful as you plan on attending a convention, regardless of whether it is your first or 500th. I still have several that I'm planning on attending this year, most of them are here in Indiana. Although I kinda wish I was attending the upcoming Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con later this month. With guests like Ray Park (Darth Maul in the Star Wars prequels), Adam West (1960's TV Batman), Burt Ward (1960's TV Robin) and Stan Lee (STAN LEE! The father of most things Marvel and the King of movie cameos) it looks like it'll be a fun time.
Plus it's in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Convention Center which isn't that far away from the strip, so you could make a bigger vacation out of it. I love Las Vegas: the shows, the shopping, the dining! And the travel deals page on the Vegas.com website is the gateway to all sorts of ways you can save money on your travels, money that can be spent in the dealer's hall instead. *wink wink*
John Barrowman and I at Cincinnati Comic Expo (2016)