[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with any of the businesses whose services I describe in this post nor have I been hired to advertise for any of them. Anything written in this post is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]
Now for the big king daddy of the Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses. Lodging. Hotel… Motel… Holiday Inn. While attending a dance congress, you will need a place to sleep (for a few hours most likely), shower (you had better be showering regularly at a dance congress!), and keep your stuff after all, especially if you are out of town, but even if you are local. Dance congresses are basically weekend-long dance camps for adults and having a place to lay your head and keep your stuff will make or break the experience. However, lodging will probably be your single biggest expense while attending a dance congress. Fear not, however, for I, your #FrugalCongressLife practitioner, am here to help you mitigate this gargantuan expense as much as legitimately possible and have a frugal dance congress that is still a good experience. This is going to be a long post with considerable meat on it, so be ready.
PSA that shouldn’t be necessary:
Don’t sleep or nap in the common areas of the hotel — this means the lobby, hallways, or any other public area that is not a paid-for hotel room. It’s seriously a bad look and could actually hurt the event. People sleeping in hotel common areas has caused at least one local salsa/bachata festival here in DC to lose its original hotel. In addition to being a bad look and hurting the event, it is extremely dangerous to sleep in public, as you could be robbed, kidnapped, or worse (do I even have to say what “worse” is?) while taking leave of all of your senses in public. Safety first!
A word about commuting, whether from home or an offsite hotel/motel:
Commuting to dance congresses, whether from home or from an offsite hotel/motel, is certainly the most frugal option, but it honestly is not the best or most optimal one. Commuting can cause you to miss workshops you wanted to take, be inconvenient on many other levels (you’ll have to go home or travel to and from your offsite location to shower between workshops and night activities), seriously take you out of the immersive dance congress experience, and may even be dangerous if you’re driving home or back to your offsite location tired after a long night of social dancing.
Any offsite options, including commuting from home, will ideally be a maximum of 15 minutes driving one way from the event hotel or less – the less the better, preferably walking distance. A commute any longer than a 15 minute drive one way will throw a serious logistical monkey wrench into your operations, spoil the congress experience at an unacceptable level, and add extra expense that will offset your savings on the room. This is a theme I will repeat when describing offsite options.
Also a philosophical/ethical point to consider – staying offsite (whether at home or another hotel/motel or AirBNB) is withdrawing financial support from the event on some level, as you are not staying at the event hotel, and sometimes the event organizers promise (explicitly or implied) the event hotel management a large amount of people staying in rooms at the event hotel. Additionally, much of the time, the event organizers reserve a block of rooms in the event hotel at a lower cost just for congress attendees. For these ethical reasons alone, staying offsite is not the best option. Event organizers, let me know in the comments how people staying offsite impacts your event if it does at all.
With that said, some people’s specific circumstances, which I will get into later in this post, call specifically for offsite lodging, and this IS the #FrugalCongressLife blog after all, so it makes sense to take an honest look at ALL major dance congress lodging options. Much like buying a party pass to the event, as I discussed in a previous post, I’m sure any event organizer would rather you commute to the event from an offsite location than not attend the event at all if you are really that up against it. With that said, in the rare occasions that I do stay offsite at a dance congress, I do not advertise this publicly or advise others to do so out of respect to the event organizer and the event hotel, unless the event hotel is completely sold out. Staying offsite should really be considered a last resort for those with a specific set of circumstances. Supporting the event as much as possible by staying at the event hotel, whether by yourself or in a room share, should always be your first resort.
With that PSA that really REALLY should go without saying and that important note about commuting from offsite locations out of the way, I’m going to discuss the various congress lodging options in order from generally most desirable to generally least desirable (#2 and #3 may be switched around based on individual space/privacy preferences) with a $ rating of 1-4 indicating its level of frugality (1 most, 4 least):
Solo room at the event hotel: ($$$$)
This is the platinum option, and the one that will likely be quickly discounted out of hand by #FrugalCongressLife practitioners. It is exactly as it sounds, a room to yourself at the event hotel, and will easily be the most expensive option, often well into the hundreds of dollars per night. If you are really particular about your living conditions (even your temporary ones for a weekend) and/or you want the maximum level of privacy and (at least a feeling of) security, are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a room with your fellow dancers for any reason (people have different comfort levels, don’t judge), or are likely to clash with roommates for any reason, but you also want the immersive dance festival experience, a “home base” to shower, sleep, and keep your stuff, and for your “commute” to and from the festival to be a simple elevator ride or walk up the stairs to your room, then this is your option. Sometimes I have done this option, particularly when times are good and rooms at the event hotel are $80 or less per night, but it makes the least financial sense from a cold economic standpoint for anyone who wants to be frugal.
Room-share with roommates at the event hotel: ($)
This is the most popular option with the majority of dance congress attendees and can be a very effective frugal option. Many dance events even have dedicated pages and group chats for helping prospective congress roommates find each other. You get all the advantages of having a “home base” to shower, sleep, and keep your stuff a short elevator ride away from the congress proper, while spending as little as $20-40 per night for your room. However, obviously you will be sharing a small space and a single bathroom with 1-4 other people you may or may not know all that well and may even be sharing a bed with someone you don’t know well depending on how many people you are in a room with. Not everyone is comfortable with this for a litany of reasons (again, don’t judge, different comfort levels for different people). Some people like privacy and a feeling of security too much to share a small space with casual acquaintances, some people are very particular about room conditions, and some people aren’t good at sharing space with others. If this is you, consider other options. Also, not everyone wants their hotel room for the same purpose – some people want a party room, some people want a quiet sanctuary to retreat to after going TO the party, and it is best to room with people who want the same things out of a congress hotel room. If you can navigate the challenges and pitfalls of a congress room-share, you can save a lot of money while still having the best logistics possible and possibly make some new friends as well. To read about how to navigate the particulars of congress room-shares in more detail, see Laura Riva’s post on how to Be A Better Congress Roommate here.
Solo room at a nearby budget hotel or motel: ($$/$$$ – varies)
This is the primary budget option for those who are particular about privacy/security, are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a hotel room with fellow dancers for any reason, or are likely to clash with roommates for any reason. How much money you save depends on how much cheaper a room at the hotel or motel you choose is than an equivalent room at the event hotel would be. This option will provide you with the “home base” for showering, sleeping, and keeping your stuff as described above, albeit a bit farther from the event hotel for a reduced price, but will introduce a litany of other logistical issues, not the least of which is an extended commute between your “home base” and the event, as well as some removal from the immersion of the dance event and some social isolation from your fellow dancers (not a good thing), as well as the philosophical/ethical issues I described earlier. If you are out of town or not driving for any other reason, the obvious extra expense of public transport or UBER will offset your savings to some degree. To have this option hamper your festival experience as little as possible, look for budget options that are no further than a 15 minute drive one way from the event hotel and preferably as close to the event hotel as possible. Needless to say, check online reviews thoroughly for your chosen budget location before booking, as many budget motels in particular are dirty and sketchy places where you could be robbed or assaulted, get very sick, or other possible negative outcomes.
Room-share with roommates at an offsite hotel or motel: ($)
This is kind of a “worst of both worlds” option, but it is potentially one of the most frugal options on this list if you can find an offsite location that is significantly cheaper than the event hotel and close enough to not have too much of a commute (15 minutes away one way or less), as well as roommates willing to also deal with offsite location issues. You get all the upsides and downsides of living with roommates alongside the logistical/ethical downsides of staying offsite, although having a roommate can offset the social isolation aspect of staying offsite somewhat. Also, honestly, good luck finding someone to do this with you as it’s not a popular lodging option for dance congresses.
[NOTE: per my personal code of ethics, when profiling specific dance events in future posts, I will provide no information on offsite lodging until the main event hotel fully sells out, if that happens at all. You’re basically on your own if looking for offsite budget lodging.]
AirBNB: ($/$$ – varies)
This could be a good last resort option depending on the circumstances – particularly for smaller dance festivals and weekenders happening in non-hotel locations such as dance studios. It is easy and convenient to book – all booking is done through a smartphone app – and unlike hotels or motels, you can pre-pay in advance for an AirBNB which is honestly very good peace of mind to have. I still would only recommend AirBNB as a extreme last resort, and with much caution. I have done AirBNB for dance congresses a few times, mostly early on in my congress life, and most of my experiences were either pretty good or passable, and one of them was very bad. For those curious about the very bad incident, I stayed with an individual whose landlord did not know they were hosting AirBNB guests in their apartment, he found out during my stay and kicked me out, and I had to leave the congress early. The host apologized profusely and refunded my money in full, but the incident ruined that congress for me and greatly eroded my trust in AirBNB as a platform.
Even if your host is fully on the up and up, there are issues with any AirBNB you will stay at. All the logistical and philosophical/ethical issues related to staying at an offsite hotel or motel apply to AirBNB as well. Keep in mind also that an AirBNB is somebody’s home and your ability to continue using AirBNB is directly tied to how well your hosts rate you based on a number of factors including cleanliness and quiet, so unlike a hotel or motel, you have to clean up after yourself and you can’t be as fast and loose with throwing parties, leaving towels on the bathroom floor etc. Make sure your AirBNB is no more than a 15 minute drive one way from the event hotel as you would with any other offsite option. Be aware that AirBNB’s vetting system is very easy to get around with fake information, and make sure you only book with Superhosts (a status designation assigned by AirBNB denoting an experienced and established host) or hosts with a large number of positive reviews… some unscrupulous AirBNB hosts have their friends write them fake positive reviews, but positive reviews in the hundreds or more and/or an official Superhost designation from AirBNB are very hard to fake.
Commuting from home: ($)
Honestly this is a last resort for those who are really up against it preceding a local congress and can not justify even a room share due to budget, or those with ideal logistics for commuting to a dance congress from home and wanting to save the most money. Obviously this is the most frugal option if you live nearby, but it is also the worst option logistically and obviously not even an option at all for out-of-town congresses. Ideally your conditions for commuting from home would be as follows: you live 15 minutes or less one way from the congress location, you don’t plan to take many workshops and/or are willing to sacrifice some morning workshops or social dancing time, you are ok with being somewhat removed from the immersion of a dance congress, and you can realistically walk or take public transportation or UBER to and from the event (not having to drive yourself after social dancing all night).
Best practices for booking hotels frugally, if you are booking a room yourself:
– Most dance congresses have their own reserved room block at the event hotel with a heavily discounted rate that is booked through their website or Facebook event page. This is generally your least expensive and best option at the event hotel, but you generally have a limited time to do it and once the block is sold out you’re out of luck.
– If booking outside of the congress room block or offsite, call the hotel or motel directly to get the best possible rate. If you are a member of AAA, ask for the AAA rate, it is generally the best room rate outside of the congress block or at an offsite hotel/motel, and you have the best chance of getting the best rooms and perks such as early check-in and late check-out.
– Become a member of as many hotel rewards programs as you can… most of them are free to join and it is absolutely worth it given how often you will be staying in hotels as a regular attendee of dance congresses. You can earn free hotel stays as you accumulate membership “points” and as you elevate to higher levels of membership by staying at participating hotels frequently, you begin to get the perks of such higher levels of reward membership, which can include but are not limited to food and beverage amenities, free WiFi, guaranteed late checkout, and even experiential rewards such as free private tours of a local landmark.
– Using a third party booking site such as Trivago or Booking.com is not recommended. Hotel staff know when you are using such sites to book and the treatment you receive, while not outwardly terrible, will be quietly less than preferential… you will get the worst rooms and getting perks such as early check in or late check out will be an uphill battle.
That’s all I got for lodging. You know what to do by now, if you got anything else to add, sound off in the comments! Next up… FOOD!