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10 Tips For Your First Tucson Gem Show

Are you going to the Tucson Gem Show for the first time? It can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re flying in from abroad (we travel from the UK), so we’ve put together a beginners guide to the Tucson Gemshow, with our Top 10 Tips to make your life easier!

1. Hire a car

One thing you definitely need if you’re planning on visiting the gem shows is a car. Although there are shuttle buses available between some of the shows, to make the most of your time there a hire car is a must have. Some shows have free parking, some with more restricted space are paid car parks, and can run up to $10 each.
If you're arriving from outside the US, check ahead of time whether your car hire includes insurance. Many of the cheaper deals you prebook online won't include this, and they will charge you for it at the counter when you pick up your hire car. You can buy an insurance policy before you go which is much cheaper than the car hire centre will charge you for, make sure it covers CDW and SLI (insurance for damage to the car, and damage to other people/property respectively).  

2. Book your hotel early

Although there are a lot of hotels in Tucson as it is a major city in Arizona, because a huge number of people are coming from all over the world, it pays to book as early as you can. There are some fairly unpleasant motels which it’s definitely better to avoid if possible, especially around the airport area. The first year we made the mistake of booking into the Extend-A-Suites Motel for our week in Tucson, and it was not a pleasant experience (and we are not fussy about where we stay usually!) You were allowed one toilet roll before having to buy more, getting hold of a duvet proved challenging, and there was a 3 inch gap under the door that the wind blew a gale under every night - and despite it being the desert, it does get chilly at night in January!
It’s also worth noting that there are several hotel shows during Tucson, so a lot of them will be booked out for exhibitors. The other option, though it tends to be more expensive, is Airbnb. If you like going out for dinner every night and a hotel breakfast than this probably isn’t the right thing for you, but if you’re there for a longer period and want to be able to cook your own meals at night, then we far prefer Airbnb for the “home away from home” vibes - and cooking for yourself is much cheaper than eating out, which means more money to spend on rocks!

3. Wear sensible shoes and layers

Although this is Stu’s favourite saying to me at the best of times, it’s especially appropriate here, as you will be doing a LOT of walking! Closed toe, sturdy shoes are best - some of the shows, especially the fringe outdoor ones like the Miners Co-Op, have been blustery every time we’ve been, blowing sand and dust around. I'd also recommend you wear several layers you can take on and off as the temperature changes throughout the day, rather than one big fluffy jumper.

4. Bring something to carry your purchases in

Some people prefer a rucksack, but if you’re lucky enough to be driving to the show rather than having to get on an aeroplane, you might consider bringing a trolley or something similar with wheels. It makes it more difficult to get into some of the smaller stands - if you’re there with someone else they can stand outside with it - but the hassle can be worth it, especially if you’re planning on buying a lot. A suitcase is another option, though again if you’re buying quite a lot, the weight may end up breaking the wheels on your suitcase, especially over uneven ground at some of the outdoor shows. 
If you’re buying a few boxes from a single vendor, a lot of them (depending on space), will let you store them there whilst you walk around the show, and then collect when you leave, which makes it much easier than walking around the show with a lot of boxes, or making several trips to the car.

5. Allow enough time and plan your trip

It really is impossible to properly describe the scale of the Tucson Gem Shows, especially if you’re from the UK. There are more than 40 official gem shows, with other fringe events happening around the city. It’s impossible to see everything, but allow yourself enough time - I’d say a minimum of 4 days if you’re there buying just a few bits for yourself, more if you’re buying wholesale. We did a week the first time we went and it wasn’t enough time, we generally allow for around 10 - 14 days. 
Take time to check out the information for each gem show and see which ones might be of interest - this website is invaluable: https://tucsongemshow101.com/schedule-2023
There are shows for every niche in the crystal, rock and fossil world in Tucson, and you won’t need to visit all of them. Some are purely gemstone and jewellery shows, some focus exclusively on fine minerals, some are straight up fossils, and the majority are a bit of a mixture. Plan ahead of time which ones you want to visit otherwise your time will quickly disappear.

6. Shipping is easier than you think

One of our main concerns before we went to the gem show for the first time was how difficult it would be to ship everything back. If you’re there buying for yourself and flying in from outside the US, I would advise to probably stick to just what you can fit in your suitcase - shipping a small parcel from the US to the UK is expensive. If you’re travelling within the US, you can make use of the normal USPS service at post offices to send yourself some extras back. If you’re buying wholesale, then you can build a pallet and send it back to wherever in the world you like. It’s all done through UPS/Titan, and although there are specific UPS stations at some of the larger shows where you can build a pallet, we find it easier to consolidate everything at our hotel and then build the pallet on the last day and ship it back. Make sure to have your tariff codes for import, and don’t forget you’ll be paying 20% UK VAT when it lands back in the UK, so budget for that. Shipping since Covid got a lot more expensive, in 2020 we paid about $2/kg for a 400kg pallet, in 2022 it was $5/kg, so budget for that when considering prices from vendors.

7.  Bring water and snacks!

Although it’s chilly at night, it can get warm in the day, so make sure to bring water as it’s easy to get dehydrated - especially with so much walking! We also make sure to have a stash of sugary snacks to keep our blood sugars up - decision fatigue is real and the shows will tire you out mentally as well as physically! There are food vendors at most of the shows, and the quality isn’t bad, but they are expensive as they have a captive audience. Also, if you’re not from the US, I would highly recommend the iced coffee you get in US gas stations, it’s a great pick me up on the way to your first show of the day (French Vanilla is our guilty pleasure!)

8. Pre-register for shows where you can

This one isn’t essential, but it’s a good idea as it saves time. Some of the shows, especially the jewellery focused ones like Jogs and JG&M require you to register in order to get a pass, which you can do ahead of time and print it out, this will speed up your entry.

9. Bring more money than you think you need

There can’t be anything more upsetting than spending your entire budget, and then seeing that absolute dream piece you have to have (and no I don’t think any vendors would take returns at the shows, but I can’t say I’ve ever tried!). I’d always advise taking a little extra money than you think you’re going to need. Don’t forget that as well as crystals, you’ll need to pay for car hire & fuel, food and parking whilst you’re there. Also, and very importantly - bring cash! Although some vendors will accept cards, they are in the minority.

10. Explore outside Tucson

This last one I think is often overlooked in the excitement of the gem shows, especially if you’re from outside the US. Tucson and the surrounding areas are absolutely packed full of very gem show appropriate history and activities. To the south you have Bisbee, an old Turquoise mining town, to the west you have the town of Ajo, where Ajoite was first discovered in the New Cornelia Mine, and to the north and east there are several rockhounding possibilities. 

This year we'll be doing a behind the scenes video diary of our trip to Quartzite, Tucson and our crystal hunting inbetween on TikTok, follow us here: https://www.tiktok.com/@thecitrinecircle
If you fancy tuning into our live sales and stories whilst we're at the Gem Shows, you can find us on FB & IG:

One last thing to add - don’t just buy the first thing you see! It is incredibly tempting to get overwhelmed and fall in love the moment you walk into your first show, but take a moment before you dive in and blow your entire budget in the first few hours. Prices will vary a lot across different vendors and across different shows. Having said that, if you find something super unusual, chances are it might not be there when you circle back a few hours later, so sometimes you have to make a tough call! All I can say is enjoy the whole experience, it truly is a bucket list destination for anyone who loves crystals, minerals and fossils, and you get to meet a lot of amazing people along the way who love to share their stories.

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