For those who don’t know me, I am a certified geek. I’m a Star Wars-loving, Dungeons & Dragons-playing, gamer girl, LARPER who loves anime, and loves costuming and cosplay even more. The thought of going to a Renaissance Faire in “civvies” (plain clothes) is sacrilege to me. I sit down monthly and dust off my prized vinyl statues and rare action figures… you get the drift.
One of my favorite things to do is attend conventions. I attend anywhere from 3-6 conventions a year, and they range in location from Maryland to Tennessee to Maine and New Hampshire. Pretty much every state has their own con and people travel from all over to attend, even from abroad. As you can imagine, if you’re not careful in your planning, things can get expensive. You need to pay for your travel expenses, convention registration, hotel, and parking if you drove. If you’re a cosplayer, you need to pay for the materials that go into your costume. Somewhere among all of these expenses, you need to find the funds to feed and hydrate yourself.
Conventions are anywhere from a 3-5 day affair. Most unofficially start on Thursday, with that day dedicated to picking up your badges/registrations and maybe an event or two, and the actual con itself runs Friday through mid-Sunday. A lot of people opt to take the rest of Sunday to wind down and don’t head home until Monday.
With activities galore, you’re going to be doing A LOT of running around, and you need to eat. Ramen noodles and granola bars just don’t cut it. You end up hungry and feeling like crap. Eating out and ordering take-out all weekend is expensive, and half the time you still feel like crap. We’ve all eaten out before, you know to expect anywhere from $7 to $15 a person per meal, or more if you like to have “nice” meals, though this definition is subjective. Don’t forget to count in drinks, too, especially if it’s a summer event. I’d say you can easily drop $15 a day on just bottled non-alcoholic drinks.
When it’s all said and done, you’re looking at spending between $100 and $250 a person just on food and drinks throughout the weekend.
I am far from wealthy, and most of my friends are in the same boat. With all of the costs involved, we decided a long time ago that our hard-earned money was being wasted. Yes we got to go to the convention, but we had little to nothing left to actually buy anything or see other local attractions. We say down and took a hard look at what we could do to cut down our costs. Some obvious things like carpooling came to mind, but we were doing that already. It had to be something else. Then there it was, like one of those classic “DUH!” moments. It was our food costs that were killing us.
My friends and I like to eat. Living off noodles for nearly a week wasn’t going to fly with us. Not to mention, we enjoy having healthier options available. The answer to this dilemma, I would find, was sitting on my kitchen counter the whole time. The answer was my Crock-Pot.
Looking back, I honestly can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. All hotels have at least one electrical outlet, and that was all we needed to not go broke or hungry the whole weekend.
With this new game plan in place, we gave it a test run at the next convention we attended. My Crock-Pot has since come to every single event with us. Additionally, when my mother found out what we were doing, she alerted me to the existence of slow cooker LINERS. Things became even easier after that.
Reynolds brand makes these ingenious slow cooker liners, pictured above, and they could not be easier to use. Pop one in your Crock-Pot, fill it up with food, cook, and indulge. When you’re done, tie up the liner and throw it away. At about 35 cents per liner, they can be life-changing.
On Wednesdays before conventions, my friend and I get together and go grocery shopping. She has a nice cooler that we fill up with everything we’re going to need. We spend maybe $80 tops on groceries between the two of us. We’ll pick up things like bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, grape tomatoes, and other veggies we can eat raw. Add a loaf of bread and some homemade chicken salad or cold cuts and lunches are covered. For dinners, we pick out anything we’ve been hungry for that can be made in a slow cooker. It’s easier if you pick one protein that can be used for multiple dishes, since buying in bulk is cheaper. For example, last year we made chili beef stew and piggy casserole (deconstructed pigs in a blanket, for us busy folk.) We also made a little pork roast with sauerkraut and potatoes since the roast was on markdown and looked good.
The trick is to do as much of the prep work as you can at home. Clean, chop, mix, and precook everything as need. Gallon freezer bags are your friend, along with those plastic Chinese take-out style containers. Anything that can just be warmed up (like chili) cook completely at home. Let it cool and put it in a freezer bag. You’ll end up with a cooler full of bags. Remember, we’re not freezing the meals. Placing them in the cooler over ice will be just fine. Although, if you are traveling for a LONG distance, or will need food for more than just a few days, you can go ahead and freeze them up.
You’re going to want to bring a big black trash bag or two with you. Those hotel cans are tiny. Stop at a dollar store and pick up some reusable plastic plates, bowls, cutlery, and a pack of plastic reusable cups that can be rinsed out in the sink and used again. A roll of paper towels will also likely come in handy, and don’t forget to bring some kind of serving spoon.
Have all that? Good, then you’re all set.
All you need to do is select the meal you want in the morning, pop a liner into your slow cooker, fill it up with the desired meal, and place it on the lowest setting. Your dinner will be hot and waiting for you when you get back to the hotel after your exciting day.
Breakfast person? No problem! I’ve done a baked oatmeal in the slow cooker that is delicious. Just pop it in at night and it’s ready by morning. Any internet search for Crock-Pot breakfast recipes will yield tons of amazing dishes. Just prep them at home like you did with the other meals.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Your wallet will thank you, and you’ll thank yourself when you can afford to bring home that piece of con swag/merchandise/whatever you’ve been pining over and still make rent.
Additional tip: as long as you’re not a soda addict, just bring a few gallons of water along with you and a can of Crystal Light drink mix. Two reusable bottles from a dollar store and you even have a drink to carry around with you all day instead of paying for pre-bottled.