Going to NEAF? Here Are 5 Things You Need to Know

How to Survive NEAF 2017

So you’ve just booked tickets to one of the biggest astronomy events of the year - but now what? If you’ve never been to a show like this before, it’s can be pretty daunting, especially for beginner astronomers just getting into the game. We know exactly how you feel, and we’ve been through the same thing! (Last year was our first time attending such a show - if you want to know more, be sure to check out our blog post on our NEAF 2016 trip.) So we’re here to help you enjoy (and survive!) your NEAF weekend.

(Before we start, here’s a link to the Rockland Astronomy Club’s NEAF page for full details on the when and where of the event.)

Below are our top five tips on how to make the most out of the event.

NEAF panorama
Source: Reuben Otero

Make airtight travel plans

Are you attending from out of town? In addition to having attendees from all across the United States, NEAF is big enough to have attendees come from all over the world - the UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia (that’s us!).

If you’re from out of town, your top priorities should be to:

  1. Book a hotel/accommodation ASAP (Rockland Astronomy has a list of nearby hotels which offer discounted rates for NEAF attendees)
  2. Rent a car (if you’re flying in)
  3. Ensure that you have clear directions to the location (Rockland Community College has several buildings and car parks, and it took us a bit of time to find the right building and parking)

Once you’re sure you’ve organised everything and won’t be left floundering in a panic without a hotel room for the weekend, it’s time to move on to the next tip.

Plan your purchases

One of the big appeals of attending shows are the huge discounts you can find. Most vendors will have steep sales (especially on the second day, as they’re trying to get rid of inventory and stock that they don’t want to drag back home) and will have their best-selling products showcased. This is your chance to check out that new scope or eyepiece you saw advertised - you won’t be the only one to bring a tape measure! Being able to see and touch the products is one of the reasons that attending shows or star parties is so popular. This is the perfect time to look at the most coveted products and ask questions.

Your top priorities should be to:

  1. Check out what kind of discounts brands will have (check websites, social media pages, forums, and astronomy magazines for updates; many companies advertise their presence and sales months ahead of the show)
  2. Figure out what products and equipment you want to see in person, and contact each company to find out if they’ll be bringing it to the show (many retailers will even bring specified stock if they know there’s a demand or they’re guaranteed a purchase from you)
  3. Create a budget for the weekend to make sure you don’t accidentally go overboard with the spending - some vendors don’t accept card so bringing some cash is advised
  4. Set aside some money for raffle tickets (many big brands donate some very expensive equipment to the raffle prize and tickets sell fast - in fact, we’ve entered in our two best-selling DSCs)

Know the event itinerary

Have you looked at the keynote speakers for the event? Did you know about the free solar party on Saturday? NEAF has a full and diverse set of events scheduled, and you should check it out to see if there’s a talk you want to attend or a workshop you want to go to (they hold both pro and amateur workshops that are quite popular).

Your top priorities should be to:

  1. Check out the event schedule to see whether there’s anything you’re interested in going to
  2. Write down the time of the event and make sure you set an alarm so you don’t miss it! All the NEAF talks are announced on big speakers in the hall, but it’s easy to miss it when you’re in a heated discussion over your favourite scope
  3. Want to get in touch with big names in the community? A lot of writers from magazines attend the show, and if you’re a big fan of their work, try to see if you can get in touch and treat them to a coffee and chat about their work. This can be your chance to make a new friend or talk to someone you admire

Plan your clothing, bags, and food for the day

You’ll be doing a LOT of walking over the weekend, so we don’t advise this as the best time to break in a new pair of shoes! Also, if you’re planning on purchasing something, you’ll need to carry it out of the hall. Do you have proper transportation for heavy items, or a bag large enough to fit all your purchases? Planning your clothing, bags, and food on the day is essential for your comfort.

Your top priorities should be to:

  1. Plan your outfit accordingly for the weather and activities. Comfortable shoes, breathable clothing, and a jacket if the weather’s cold (last year we had to wear our coats inside the hall during the cooler hours of the day)
  2. Decide what bag to take with you - it should be able to hold any of the smaller purchases you make in addition to a water bottle, your wallet, jacket, and anything else that you deem essential
  3. If you’re a picky or sensitive eater, or just don’t want to spend too much money, make sure you can either find someplace else to eat or bring your own food. There’s a canteen at NEAF but the food is expensive and lacks a lot of choice (though the cheese fries are delicious!)

Make it a social event

If you’re a member of a forum or a part of your local astronomy community, ask around to see who else is going. These kinds of shows are a bit more fun when done with a group, so if you know anyone else who’s attending, it would be beneficial for all of you to go together.

Your priorities should be to:

  1. See if you can you travel together and save money on accommodation. Carpooling and sharing hotel rooms will ensure you have a buddy for the weekend and won’t be lonely or lost (or at least you can get lost together)
  2. Ask what your group wants to do. Knowing their plans and schedules ahead of time will make it easier to figure out meeting points, lunch plans, and after-the-show activities. It’s always nice to eat with someone or talk about the exciting day you all had
  3. Know someone from the forum who you’d like to meet? Try to see if you can meet up for a coffee or short break in the day, since most people are happy to put username to faces. A few of the Cloudy Night members even create a forum name tag for easier recognition!

The above tips are vital to ensure smooth sailing on the day, and we learnt a few of these the hard way. We know better now, and hope this post helps you have a great NEAF weekend!

For additional resources, you can check out the Astronomy Shows & Conferences section of the Cloudy Nights forums, where they have yearly threads on NEAF and lots of discussions about sales, purchases, and plans.

Do you have any other tips that are essential to surviving NEAF? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo source: Reuben Otero

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