Pax East on the cheap – all about food

It comes as no surprise that I’m a big lover of video games. When it was time to my gaming fandom to the next level many years ago, I decided to check out Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). Conventions are not cheap events to attend and it seemed like each year we were shelling out more and more for hotel, travel, and event tickets. So now, I like to head to PAX each year with a plan and a budget to keep us on track.

Sample Budget:

  • Convention Badges
  • Lodging (hotel, airbnb)
  • Flight/Train tickets
  • Driving (gas, parking at event and at hotel)
  • Meals (coffee/breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks)
  • Swag/Souvenirs
  • Taxi/UBER/T-pass (to and from airport or convention center)

In this post we are talking all about food. You will probably want to eat while attending the convention. There are a lot of options to fill your tummy in the area with different advantages and costs to each.

  • Restaurants – There is no shortage of dining establishments in the area but this would involve leaving the convention center, maybe paying for an extra coat check (you may laugh but paying a few bucks every time you leave adds up). In my opinion, the quality of food is better than eating at the convention center. You can expect to pay $15 or much, much more depending on your restaurant choice.
  • Food Trucks – If you venture just beyond the sliding glass doors there will be a variety of food trucks lined up and waiting for your business. I’ve found the food trucks to be hit or miss. My rule for food trucks is to always go for the ones with a big line. This may go against your instincts to get food as quickly as possible, but trust me when I say that you probably don’t want to eat at an empty restaurant or a dead food truck. Expect to spend $12
  • On Site – There are vendors in the convention center with a large variety of food but be prepared to wait in yet another line to eat. Last year the on site dining did not offer alcohol and I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer on if it will be offered this year. If you like your beer with lunch this is something to keep in mind. Expect to spend $8+
  • Packed Lunch – We’ve been attending PAX East for the past 8 years and we only eat out for every meal when we were staying at a hotel with no fridge. Fueling my body with a bunch of junk was not a good call. The best thing that you can do to save money on food is to hit a grocery store at the start of the convention weekend. If you do not have a fridge where you are staying, get some sandwich bread and peanut butter and fluff. While you are at it, grab some pastries for breakfast as well. One loaf of bread will yield 9 sandwiches. This will run you about $0.72 per sandwich.

Brown bagging your lunch is the way to go! Not only will you save roughly $10 per person, per meal but you will enjoy a more satisfying and healthier option to the food that you might otherwise consume. We pack all of our snacks and lunches the morning of the event and usually get to the convention center shortly before it opens at 10am. March in Boston is usually cold so we won’t worry about the temperature of our food staying warm for too long if we decided to head over early and wait in line outside. You will want a food that tastes good cold or room temperature.

We usually plan the following food schedule:

  • 8am – Breakfast at the rental/hotel – pastries, eggs, toast
  • 11a – Snack of fresh fruit or anything that you brought that you don’t want sitting in your bag all day
  • 1pm – Lunch time! We usually do sandwiches and some light sides to go with
  • 3pm – Snack of nuts, jerky, granola bar or anything else that we brought
  • 6pm – Dinner back at the room. We take turns cooking and will usually do something easy to make and satisfying. Little prep is the name of the game!

Here are some lunch ideas:

  • Sandwiches – Peanut butter is probably one of the cheaper options but deli meat sandwiches are also great.
  • Salad – Load up on dark leafy greens, protein, cheese, veggies and your favorite dressing.
  • Pasta/Potato Salad – best done in batches if you are traveling with a group. Or this can be done at the beginning of the trip and portioned out for the week.

My Favorite Snacks:

  • Seeds or nuts
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Granola or granola bars
  • Fruit leather
  • Cheese sticks
  • Raw carrots or other veggies
  • Jerky

No one knows your body better than you do.  So make sure you are making decisions about what to eat that will keep you satiated and avoid the bubble guts.  One of the worst experiences that you can have, is suffering through stomach pains when there is a whole world of gaming to explore at the convention. Any convention is not a great time to start taking iron supplements when you’re not used to them.  Ask me how I know.

If you are staying at a place with a kitchen, use it! We usually have at least one person driving in to the event and we will have them bring a crock pot for an easy meal that can cook all day while you are out exploring and be ready as soon as you get back to your room. If you are cooking from scratch each night, some easy meals after a long day of walking around are:

  • Tacos
  • Pizza – get already cooked crust
  • Chili
  • Chicken and Rice
  • Pasta

Don’t be limited by this list. Any meal that you are comfortable cooking and doesn’t involve a lot of preparation will work for these nights. The goal is to make it easier to cook than it is to spend the time finding a restaurant with open seating. Set yourself up for success and look forward to your meal at home. Your body will thank you later for not over doing the restaurant food.

Boston is a great city with some amazing restaurants. If you decide to take advantage, like we do, limit your eating out to one or two outings. We like to meet with local friends (guildmates) that live in the area and will usually eat out with them. I like doing one lunch and one dinner on separate days. We know ahead of time what days these will be on so we know where we are eating and when. I find that this makes our days much easier if we have things planned and we don’t have to make so many decisions.