Since 2008, I've been a regular attendee at LEGO conventions - primarily Seattle's BrickCon, but I've made appearances in Portland and Virginia as well. I've attended nine conventions, and have plans to attend at least another three in the next year-and-a-bit.
These conventions are horrendously expensive to go to, especially for a university student still largely dependent on his parents for financial support. Flights are of course the largest contributor to this - my flights to BrickFair were $700, with another $100 for baggage fees and travel insurance. Usually accommodation is quite affordable thanks to room sharing, but not affordable enough to offset the cost of transport. When I lived in Vancouver, West Coast cons were fairly easily accessible. Not so much from Edmonton.
There are also other, non-monetary concerns, primarily in the form of missed school. I expected to miss four calculus classes for BrickFair; I ended up missing seven. My mark will come in any day now, and I really have no idea whether I'll pass. The cost of failing would be a lot of wasted time and a ton of frustration - not to mention paying to take the class again, since I need it for my degree.
So I've been asking myself lately why I bother going to these events. The reality is that I usually don't get a lot out them in terms of LEGO-related benefits. The deals are nice, but given that I already have a hard time paying to get there, I can't generally afford to buy much; at BrickFair I came away almost totally empty-handed. I actually didn't mind that so much - I don't have a lot of time for MOCing these days anyways, nor do I have the desire to at the moment. Well, I do have a big project in the planning stages, but that's still a little ways off.
This also relates to the fact that I seem to be going through a bit of what's called a "dark age" in terms of my interest in LEGO. I'm sad to say this, but my enthusiasm for Bionicle is and has been for a while at an all-time low. My interest in other aspects of LEGO is slightly better off, but not great. If I had the money to start the aforementioned project, I think things would be different, but in general I feel as if my LEGO hobby is largely on hold for the time being.
The one thing I do get out of conventions is the social aspect, and it's been dawning on me more and more recently that that's the only real reason I continue to attend. There's a certain small group of BZPers I can call real friends whom I've gotten to know over the years, and I go mostly to see them.
BrickFair was probably the most disappointing LEGO convention I've been to (ask anyone who was there - it was very much an off year) but it was by far the most incredible year in terms of socializing. If I go again, it'll be for that reason, regardless of how good or bad the con itself promises to be next year.
But there are other ways to see people. Tomorrow morning I'm flying to Vancouver to visit my parents, and I'll be making a trip down to Portland for a couple of days to visit some people. Some other people are moving there soon; combine that with two of my closest BZP friends living in or near Vancouver, and in a couple of months I'll be able to visit almost my entire group of friends with just a train down to Portland whenever I happen to be in Vancouver. The Vancouver trips happen anyways for family visits, so that's only about an additional $150 for the round trip, as opposed to the amount mentioned above - plus minimal or no hotel costs, since I can usually stay with friends. Well worth it.
Another advantage of seeing people outside of cons is the additional freedom. When you're registered for a con, you feel bad if you're not spending a lot of time there - like you're not getting your money's worth, or like you're missing out. At BrickFair, I really wanted to visit the Air and Space Museum and see DC, and I would have if it hadn't been BrickFair week. In hindsight, I would much rather have gone to those places with some friends than sit around bored at the convention for hours on end.
I'm not entirely sure what the purpose of this entry is. I guess I'm just thinking out loud (in print?). I don't think I'll stop going to cons altogether - BrickCon will continue to be a thing for a while, I think, and BrickCan in Vancouver as well when it starts next year - but I might trim down my appearances at cons in favour of non-LEGO-related trips down the West Coast.