Follow these 10 Tips to Survive and Thrive at SEMA

Top 10 Tips to Survive SEMA


by Karma Carlson of Chaotic Customs

Las Vegas lights

We live in Kansas. That’s a long haul to Las Vegas! 1,262 miles to be exact which equals out to 17 hours and 50 minutes of driving. Pull a trailer and travel with two women and that time increases by a good six hours. We installed a 75 gallon fuel tank in the bed of the truck. It’s great because you don’t have to fill up as often. It’s not great because we don’t stop as often. In order to make it from one stop to the next, I forgo all liquids for two days before we travel. Arriving in Vegas dehydrated is never a good idea. (Have you seen that 100 ounce margarita at MargaritaVille? Not the best idea when you are thirsty and dehydrated!)


SEMA is a great place to network, see all the latest products and get new ideas. You can see what other people in the industry are doing and showcase your own workmanship. The best part is seeing the talented builders and innovative ideas that keep the hot rod market fresh and exciting! Following these few tried and true tips will help ensure that you cruise through SEMA week and your Las Vegas adventure without hitting any roadblocks. Soak up the culture, make memories and paint the town red! It’s Vegas Baby!!


I’ve learned a few lessons about traveling to SEMA. Listen up! Don’t make the same mistakes that I have!


Tip #1: Eat only prepackaged or fried foods on the way to Vegas.

I had a very healthy Caesar salad at an airport restaurant on my layover in Denver. That healthy salad helped me not only loose weight but cleanse and detox at the same time. Food poisoning in a hotel is unpleasant to say the least. Room service was very accommodating though and sent up chicken noodle soup and crackers for a mere $42.99 fee.


My poor husband threw up in every potted plant between Ceasar’s Palace and the Bellagio. I consumed more Pepto-Bismol than any human should ever consume. (The Pepto did finally stop the cleansing. For weeks. There’s a reason the box says no more than 8 doses in 24 hours. Chugging the entire bottle was effective but probably not the wisest decision.) Also, be cautious of truck stop foods like chili, anything under a warmer, egg salad sandwiches and do not be deceived by the word “fresh” on the label, it’s anything but fresh. Artificial preservatives are your friend!


Tip #2: Sensible shoes are a necessity.

Shoes are a weakness of mine, especially high heels, however, those super cute shoes do no good if you have to carry them down the strip. My fashion tip is to wear lots of sequins & bling on your shirt. It draws the eyes upwards and distracts from the sensible shoes. Band-aid Blister Bandages are a necessity. I’ve passed out many of these at car shows over the years.


Tip #3: Make a list of the vendors and exhibitors you want to see and do that the first two days.

Download the free SEMA app, it will help you locate booths and plan your day. Keep in mind that you will not, can not, see every exhibit at SEMA. There’s always next year!


Tip #4: Don’t make eye contact with those guys passing out baseball cards on the strip.

They aren’t baseball cards.


Tip #5: Get to know the staff at your hotel.

It’s Vegas! You never know when you may need assistance. Or bail money!


Tip #6: Don’t take any literature home from SEMA.

They can scan your badge and e-mail it to you. It saves you from having to lug it all back home.


Tip #7: When in need of coffee at SEMA…

Have one person from your group stand in line at Starbucks. Just make sure you aren’t that person. I stood in line for two hours. Then when it was finally my turn, I ordered eight different cappuccino-frappe-latte-mocha-vodkas with a double shot of espresso and an angry mob formed behind me. Scary!


Tip #8: Be prepared to spend a lot.

Everyone says that Vegas is affordable, especially the buffets. Don’t believe it! Be prepared to pay $35 for a buffet and $12 for a drink. Find things to do that are free and save your money for hot rod parts! Watch the volcano explode at the Mirage, the Pirate show at Treasure Island or the street performers. Last year we moved two chairs, an end table, lamp and a fake ficus into the hotel elevator. It was very entertaining to see the elevators open and people enjoying our sitting area. (This is where tip #5 comes in handy, get to know the hotel staff!)


Tip #9: Make the most of your time.

Nobody goes in to SEMA week rested and refreshed because you are trying to hit that deadline. SEMA is exhausting. You will be dog-tired when you leave. Before you hit the Vegas strip, jump off of the Stratosphere, or go to dinner, plan time to rest in your room. Power naps do wonders! The best memories we have from our SEMA trips are when we were able to just hang out with friends. Stay out late and get up early! You can sleep on the trip home!



Tip #10: Above all, what happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas.

That is a marketing scam! Your drunken shenanigans will be on Facebook and Youtube before you even get home. If you are planning a wild and crazy night, wear a competitor’s hot rod shop shirt. Most likely the photographic proof will be fuzzy at best. The last thing you want to do is make your own shop look bad. Don’t forget, deny, deny, deny!


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