With 500 inside exhibit spaces, 2500+ flea market slots and numerous forums, Dayton is arguably the largest ham convention in the world.
I’ve been to Dayton a few times (not making it this year!) and I thought I would pass along a few tips for making it through the long weekend.
Get your airline tickets. If you fly into Dayton and you have not yet purchased your airline tickets, now is the time. Fuel prices keep going up and airlines keep going bankrupt, so sticking with airlines that will be there (and completed all of their safety inspections) will make things go better.
Check schedules on at least two different airlines. One year I flew on one airline only to be stuck in the airport for my flight while four other flights on a different airline left.
You already have a place to stay, right? If you haven’t gotten a room yet…well, you won’t. The convention weekend is booked months in advance. You need to be on reflectors asking for a room from those that end up canceling because they can’t make the place. This needs to be done now.
Things to do before you go
Print out you itinerary. Hey, you need to know when you need to be where and not all the places in Dayton have online access from hotel rooms. Plus having all those confirmation numbers for your flights, car rental, and hotel rooms will save you lots of time and frustration if something doesn’t go right.
Print out maps. Whether it is from the airport to your hotel, from your hotel to the Hamvention at Hara Arena, or to the other banquet sites you’ll attend, print out the driving directions. Having a map already done and in a folder relieves a lot of stress.
Order your Hamvention tickets. You can buy them there, but it is a long line and they cost more. You can order tickets from the Hamvention Online Store.
Decide on forums to attend. It’s important to lay out the times and places to be for the forums to attend during the convention. The forums are all killer — and fill up fast. Having a plan before leaving is critical to enjoying the convention. The forums are Friday through Sunday.
Decide on any Additional Activities to attend. Additional Activities are not directly sponsored by the Hamvention, but are a big part of going to the convention. For example, Contest University runs all day Thursday and requires registration — and if you are going to attend Contest University, you’ve made arrangements to arrive on Wednesday, right?
Decide what banquets to attend and buy tickets. These banquets are usually about some specific segment of the hobby. I’ve attended the Annual Dayton Contest Dinner every time I’ve gone and it is always a good meal with a good program. But, you need to order tickets as there is limited seating. By the way, most of the banquets have business casual as the “dress code” and most people change cloths from the day at the Hamvention to go to the banquet. Bring some good stuff along with those blue jeans. No one will kick you out, but the first year there I didn’t know that and I felt a little uncomfortable.
Other activities do not require registration, but require your limited time. Whether it is making time to attend the contest or DX suites, or just activities with your club, you need to know when to pencil in the time.
Check the weather forecast. Dayton weather has been more consistent since it has moved to May, but knowing how to dress and what to bring is important. If there is any chance of rain, make sure you bring good, portable rain gear and an umbrella to take in your backpack. When it rains it gets very crowded inside and you might end up being outside in the rain, prepared or not.
Get LOTS of sleep. Dayton is like a 72-hour contest and we’re just not prepared for the scope, pace, and intense schedule that goes from 8 AM to Midnight. Sleep is a premium while in Dayton and having lots of good rest before getting there will really help.
UPDATE: Road Construction information is here — and there appears to be a lot of it.
Once in Dayton
Know where you will park. You can park in the fields by Hara Arena and it can take a little less time from there to the site. But the parking areas are a field with grass and dirt. The kind when it rains that turns your shoes and pants into a soaking mess, with mud to boot.
Much better to park behind the Salem Mall. The parking lot is paved and busses travel the 5-minute trip to Hara Arena all the time.
I’ve done both and the Salem Mall parking is well worth the little extra time it takes to get to the convention center.
Know where to eat lunch. There are restaurants serving food both inside and outside the Hara Arena. Where you eat does make a difference as the quality of the food significantly varies from place to place. Most of the restaurants are run to support organizations (Boy Scouts, high school bands, etc.), so it is a good cause to eat while on the site.
Personally, I’ve never had very good food inside the arena. The best places to eat have always been in the flea market. My suggestion, then, is to check out the eating places outside.
And if you’re a coffee aficionado (hey, I live in Starbucks-land), get your coffee before you get to the arena. The coffee, unless it really changes this year, is simply black water with caffeine.
Have a game plan for seeing the convention. Listen — the place is huge with the equivalent of maybe five full buildings of exhibits inside (all weirdly interconnected) and rows upon rows upon rows of flea market sites outside.
I was fortunate that my buddy Eric, K9GY, took me under his wing the first time I went to Dayton and he had a pretty good plan. It was buy a program (they were free back then) and then do this:
- Spend the first morning completely covering the flea market. You’ll most likely see people you know and if you need something from the flea market (and there is everything there under the sunspots), Friday is the day you will have the best selection. Mark off the rows you have visited in the program (really — you’d be surprised when you won’t remember what rows you’ve been down…).
- Spend the rest of Friday and all day Saturday inside the convention center itself seeing the exhibits there.
- Sunday, if you have energy left, you can attend the convention, but it ends at noon. If you are into deals, visiting the flea market Sunday morning is a must as people do not want to pack up their unsold stuff and take it back home.
Attend the forums. Get there at least 10-minutes early which means leave to get to the forum a good 15-20 minutes before hand. Especially to your first forum as you will most like get lost even if you are an old pro at Dayton. The buildings are just confusing to get around in.
Make sure you hit your high points. If you know that Icom is coming out with a new rig that you want to see, make sure you find Icom on your program and go see the stuff. New stuff from W9XT and Unified Microsystems? Check out the location of his booth on the program and take a look. Want to check out the latest on WriteLog (I was behind that booth one year)? Find their space on the convention floor and go look.
The importance of seeing your stuff first means that you accomplish what you wanted to going in. The rest is just more good stuff. Focusing on what you want to see first means you’ll have to traverse the different buildings and find your way around. But seeing what you wanted to first is a great feeling.
Keep your eyes open. You’ll see lots of hams that you know on the air, whether it be in contests, DX’ers, DXpeditions, or old friends. I can’t tell you how many times people have just walked up to me and asked me how I was doing and giving comments on my site. You will see people you only know by call sign — get to know them as a person too.
Finally, don’t stress over logistics. Whenever you are traveling, most everything is new, or different, or not in your control. It is the nature of travel. Getting your blood pressure elevated because the convention center is crowded (it is) or it rains (it does) or things aren’t going just right (they won’t) isn’t good for anyone, especially you.
Focus on your priorities and go with the flow. You’ll enjoy the Hamvention a lot more.