#SuperFrugalCongressFood Guide – Make Your Own – High Protein Fruit Smoothies

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or employed by any other company whose services I mention in this article.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. No statements regarding the health and effectiveness of food or supplements have been evaluated by the FDA. 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. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

Another day, another year, another new series here on #FrugalCongressLife.

This new series is called #SuperFrugalCongressFood.

People have rightly pointed out to me that such “convenience” items as protein bars and fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches are not truly frugal foods regardless of where you buy them, because you pay a premium for the portability and convenience.

While this is certainly true, my #FrugalCongressFood profiles were never intended to be about the most frugal foods overall… these profiles are about frugal DANCE CONGRESS foods. In the busy on-the-go travel-experience environment of a dance congress, portability, shelf stability, convenience, and non-perishability are all major selling points for the ideal food. I always try in my #FrugalCongressFood profiles to find a good balance between frugality and saving money, and the time-saving benefits of portability and convenience. One is already being more frugal by not eating out or going to convenience stores for every meal, which can really add up over time.

But, for the benefit of those who want to be frugal to the absolute max and are willing to put some elbow grease in, I will in this new series give a recipe for a low cost meal that has to be prepared in some way, and give tips for how to prepare it on the go if possible.

One caveat to keep in mind is that money saved by using #SuperFrugalCongressFood recipes at a dance congress is offset with time and effort, itself another valuable commodity in the go-go-go environment of a dance congress. You may miss a workshop shopping to make a fruit smoothie and cleaning up the mess, or may have to skip an hour of social dancing to get up early and clean up after that meal you made in your George Foreman Grill before you check out of your hotel. There is a trade-off with everything and the big money/time tradeoff is one every frugal congress attendee must consider.

These food strategies, needless to say, work best if you are commuting from home, staying at an AirBNB with kitchen privileges (not a feature of every AirBNB listing), or staying at a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette such as the Extended Stay America. If you are doing the latter, be sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize the kitchen or kitchenette before preparing food there – do not count on the hotel staff to have done this, especially in a 3 star or less hotel like the Extended Stay.

These recipes will also really only work well if you are local or traveling by car, as lugging the required gadgets onto a train, plane, or bus is not very feasible and may even add checked baggage fees that would offset whatever money you save making your own food.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for this edition: a delicious high-protein fruit smoothie with chocolatey undertones and a bit of greens mixed in.

Equipment required:

Shaker cup

Blender – the Magic Bullet and the BlendJet are good inexpensive portable blenders

Dish soap

Water

A refrigerator in your hotel is mandatory for this recipe.

Ingredients:

– 1-2 cups frozen fruit of any kind (I recommend pineapples be one of your frozen fruits, as the bromelain in pineapples has anti-inflammatory properties good for aching knees and shoulders)

– 2 cups any kind of milk (cow, almond, whatever)

– 1 cup spinach or kale (frozen or fresh)

– 1-2 scoops chocolate protein powder of any kind (Body Fortress and Optimum Nutrition Performance Whey are both good inexpensive brands of whey protein)

– Stevia or honey to taste

– OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon coconut oil for healthy fats

– OPTIONAL: 1 scoop Barlean’s chocolate greens powder for some extra servings of fruits and vegetables)

Blend all ingredients together in blender and pour into your shaker cup. To clean blender, pour water into blender, add a few drops of dish soap, and blend until clean, then rinse anywhere you can or with more bottled water.

The base recipe provide 1-2 servings of fruit, 1 serving of vegetables from the kale, and anywhere from 25-60 grams of protein depending on how many scoops of protein powder you use and what kind of milk you use. Adding the coconut oil adds some healthy fats, and adding the Barlean’s powder adds about 3-5 extra servings of fruits and vegetables.

It tastes like a chocolatey fruit smoothie, and you won’t even be able to taste the greens if you add enough fruit to offset their flavor.

Personally, I find making food at dance congresses to be more trouble than it is worth – cooking and preparing food is one thing I travel to get away from – but for those who want to save the maximum amount of money on food (or want the additional health benefits of preparing whole foods) and are willing to put in some time and effort to do so, I am here to help with that as well. As always, hit the comments if you have anything to add and I hope this helped!

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Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas Day here in the US where #FrugalCongressLife is based. We hope all our readers are having a joyous and festive Christmas holiday with your families and loved ones, whether you are celebrating the Christmas holiday today or celebrated on the 24th!

#FrugalCongressLife Super Survival Guide: DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DCBX other than being a loyal yearly attendee of both the DC Bachata Congress and Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve and Lee and Kat being personal friends of mine. I have not been hired by them to promote DCBX in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies 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.]

Happy Holidays #FrugalCongressLife fam! The holiday season is in full swing here in the US where #FCL is based, and we hope everyone is having an excellent holiday.

We’re also getting ready for New Year’s Eve, and for many of us in the Latin dance world, the event we have been choosing to ring in the new year at for these past few years has been the DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve super-celebration!

The creation of DCBX organizers Lee “El Gringuito” Smith and Katherine “Kat La Gata” Aguilar-Smith in collaboration with different organizers around the US, DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve is a massive Latin-dance themed New Year’s Eve celebration offering a wide variety of workshops and parties in THREE different locations: Washington DC, Chicago, and Orlando. Live video feeds including DJ sets from each location are simulcast on an Internet television circuit at all locations.

DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve is an epic NYE celebration for the ages and the NYE party of choice for #FrugalCongressLife for the last two years running!

For the final proper entry of 2018, we offer a big blowout super survival guide to EVERY DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve party across all three locations!

For up-to-the-minute info on DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve including workshop schedules and other new additions, and to buy your pass for each event, visit http://www.tropicalnye.com or look for each city’s corresponding event on Facebook.

BUYING YOUR PASS IN ADVANCE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A VERY LIMITED NUMBER OF TICKETS WILL BE SOLD AT THE DOOR FOR EACH EVENT AND EACH EVENT IS LIKELY TO SELL OUT. IF YOU MUST BUY AT THE DOOR, GET THERE VERY EARLY.

Early bird passes for each event usually go on sale during the month of November – this is a good thing to keep in mind for next year and all subsequent years if you enjoyed the event this year. We will update the guide and notify our Facebook and Twitter followers when early bird passes go on sale.

If you were following us on Facebook (@frugalcongresslife on FB) or Twitter (@frglcngresslife) you knew about the early bird specials already. If you are not following us on Facebook or Twitter, why not?

There are some small discounts on passes of anywhere from $5 to $50 still available if you text the word NEWYEARS to 64600. Your phone carrier’s standard messaging and data rates apply to any texts you receive.

DC and Chicago are cities supported by both Citymapper and Via at the time of this writing. Orlando is unfortunately not supported by either Citymapper or Via at the time of this writing.

FIRST, A GENERAL HEADS UP FOR UBER/LYFT RIDERS:

As many of you are aware, fares for UBER and Lyft are notorious for surging into the stratosphere during prime hours on New Year’s Eve. Prices can surge as high as 9.9 times the normal fare at prime hours and horror stories such as that of one man who paid $1100 for a 21 minute UBER ride are a regular part of the pre-New Year’s Eve news cycle in the 2010s and beyond.

If using UBER or Lyft to go to and from Tropical New Year’s Eve, the best way to avoid these surges is to instead use public transportation when possible (Citymapper comes in very handy for navigating public transportation), travel to the venue in the morning or afternoon, avoid using UBER or Lyft between the hours of 8pm-11pm and 12am-3am, and travel from the venue after sunup (#TeamNoSleep). Alternately, if you must travel to or from the venue during the aforementioned prime hours, hailing a traditional taxicab may for once be the more economical, if not the fastest, option. Remember taxicabs? They’re still around. #Throwback

Via, who we just covered last week, is another new rideshare option for people celebrating the DC and Chicago New Year’s Eve parties. I just started using it in DC this year and have therefore not used it on New Year’s Eve yet but am making Via my New Year’s Eve transportation of choice for the first time in 2018!

Don’t be the next person to pay $1100 for an UBER ride this New Year’s Eve.

With that said, on to the guide.

WASHINGTON, DC:

In 2017, Washington, DC’s Tropical New Year’s Eve party picked up from its previous location at the Hilton Doubletree in Crystal City and moved to its permanent new home at the Renaissance Downtown DC, also the home of DCBX’s massive world-famous flagship bachata congress in August.

Therefore, rather than reiterate everything we have already covered in our DCBX guide, we will just link it here:

https://frugalcongresslife.blog/2018/07/18/frugalcongresslife-survival-guide-dcbx/

Almost all general information in the above guide including travel and food tips is relevant to DC’s Tropical New Year’s Eve event as well!

Washington DC’s Ultimate Tropical NYE celebration promises to be the biggest yet, having expanded from one day into an ENTIRE WEEKEND. This year’s event truly has the feel of a winter edition of DCBX with a touch of New Year’s Eve extravagance and a lot of other cool extras.

The large selection of dance workshops offered in the afternoon and early evening each day feature such local, national, and international instructors as Leo Cato & Ivonne Pronovich, Kim Rottier, Mauricio and Deny, Kat Arias, Irving & Martha, Terrisa Widener, Julissa Ju, Jerry Lai, Ashley Kent, Go Go Earl Rush, Adrian Lorenzo, Bianca Chapman, Willem Engel-Holland, and Jenna Marie.

The parties feature such heavyweight Latin DJs as DJ Soltrix, DJ Selo, DJ Chuky, DJ Steve Greene, DJ Tico, DJ Jodey, DJ Enemy, and DJ Philly Boy, as well as live concerts by Los Hermanos Galvan, Los Hermanos Moreno, saxchata juggernaut Antonio Bliss, and Lola Jane performing her sultry smash hit “Kiss Me” live with bachata guitarist and singer Melvin War.

The festivities begin with a workshop and a bachata/zouk party in the Grand Ballroom at the hotel on Friday, December 28th. Activities jump off again at the hotel on Saturday the 29th with a sensual bachata/zouk day party from 3pm-6pm, workshops from 7pm-8pm, and 3 ballrooms (salsa, bachata, and zouk) of dancing from 8pm-4am. This same schedule repeats on Sunday the 30th, with the addition of a party at long-running DC salsa/bachata venue Lucky Strike nearby as well as at the hotel, and then the big New Year’s Eve blowout jumps off at the hotel with the final Latin dance workshops of 2018 happening from 12pm-6pm, followed by a dinner break (dinner menu available at the hotel) from 6pm-8pm (VIP dinner for from 9pm-10pm) and a dizzying array of parties in 10 different ballrooms including salsa, bachata, zouk, reggaeton, EDM, and Persian music, the aforementioned live concerts, comedy shows, karaoke, a four hour open bar from 10pm-2am for VIPs (VIP pass required), a champagne toast at midnight, live internet feeds from the other two DCBX NYE parties, and seemingly everything but the kitchen sink from 9pm until 8AM ON NEW YEAR’S DAY.

For the especially hearty party-to-breakfast New Year’s Day survivors, brunch will be served in the hotel lobby restaurant after the party on the morning of January 1st, 2019.

At press time, a full weekend workshop and party pass goes for $124, a general admission pass goes for $79, a table seat only pass goes for $99, and a VIP Dinner table pass goes for $199 and includes the VIP dinner and open bar. The “Pa’Riba Baller Package”, available to one person/group only for a staggering $4,995, includes an exclusive terrace suite overlooking downtown DC, a seated three course dinner and table for 10, first row seats, exclusive VIP lines and entrance, gifts and party favors, an ultimate VIP roped off section, and general admission passes for 10 friends or employees. The “Ultimate Pa’Riba Baller Package”, also available to one person/group only for an even more staggering $9,995, is similar, but offers the dinner and table for 20 and a 3000 square foot presidential suite overlooking downtown DC for your lodging. I can’t imagine visitors to this blog will widely consider these last two options.

LODGING:

At press time, rooms at the hotel or still available to DCBX group rate of $155 per night. Rooms sell out every year and they sell out fast, so jump on it now! Book your room here or mention discount code DCB if you call the hotel.

Purchasers of the early bird pass also had the option of booking rooms for the 31st or the 30th and the 31st free of taxes and fees as an add-on – this is not likely to still be an option at press time, but is something to keep in mind if DCBX does it again next year, which is likely. As we have said before, it pays big time to buy your pass early!

CHICAGO:

Surprisingly, Chicago’s Ultimate Tropical NYE celebration, a collaboration between DCBX, Dance Center Chicago and Chicago Loves Bachata, takes place at a dance studio rather than a hotel. Dance Center Chicago, hereafter referred to as DCC, a gorgeous, expansive second floor dance studio located at 3868 N Lincoln Ave in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago, is the host of DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve in this city.

Artists teaching the workshops include Matthew Owen, Jorge & Maria, Kimberly Rivera, Nadia Alvarado, Reynaldo Sanchez, Douglas Ortiz & Terri Ann Atkinson, Jeremy Feliciano, and Angel Cruz. DJs at the parties include DJ Freddy Fresh, DJ JO-Z, DJ Kimani Rashad, DJ Eric, DJ Julian, DJ Earl, and DJ Mambo Lu. The parties will also feature a four hour open bar from 10pm-2am for VIPs (VIP pass required), a champagne toast at midnight and live feeds from DJ Soltrix’ set in DC and the DC Antonio Bliss concert as well as every other Ultimate Tropical NYE party.

The celebration jumps off on the 31st with the final Latin workshops of 2018 from 2pm-6pm and parties in four different ballrooms (salsa, bachata, kizomba/zouk, reggaeton) from 9pm to 8am on New Year’s Day with dance performances at 11pm.

At press time, full passes (workshops+GA) are available for $59, workshop-only passes for $34, general admission for $39, and VIP general admission for $49.

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

Fly in to O’Hare International Airport. Unlike the Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival’s hotel venue, DCC is a significant distance from O’Hare and will require some travel. Expect a 23 minute UBER/Lyft/Via ride or 50 minutes on the Chicago Blue Line and the 80 bus.

BLUE LINE/80 DIRECTIONS FROM O’HARE:

Take the Chicago Blue Line towards Forest Park to the Montrose stop. From there take the 80 bus toward Broadway to Irving Park and Damen/Lincoln and DCC is a three minute walk south on N Lincoln Avenue from there.

TRAIN:

DCC is about a 40 minute trip from Chicago Union Station on the brown line. Head east on W Adams Street toward S Wells Street, make a right on S Wells Street andget on the brown line toward Kimball at the Quincy stop. Take the brown line to Addison and DCC is a 7 minute walk northwest on N Lincoln Avenue up.

BUS:

Take Megabus to W Polk Street between S Clinton Street and S Canal Street. Walk west on W Polk Street toward S Clinton Street and make a right on S Clinton Street. Take the Blue line to O’Hare from the Clinton Stop to Clark/Lake and get on the brown line toward Kimball and follow the train directions from there.

Information on the Blue Line, Brown Line, and the 80 bus here: http:// www.transitchicago.com/

LODGING:

Lodging here is readily available, but expect to pay somewhat of a premium for staying in a major city on New Year’s Eve.

Your cheapest nearby options appear to be hostels. The Wrigley Hostel, located at 3514 N Sheffield Avenue, goes for $121 per night on NYE and has mostly good reviews. The Chicago Getaway Hostel, located 16 minutes away at 616 W Arlington Place, goes for $80 per night and has mostly good reviews as well.

The closest chain hotel is the Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace, located at 3434 N Broadway and going for $160 per night on New Year’s Eve.

The historic Inn At Lincoln Park, located 16 minutes away, goes for $149/night and also has good reviews.

Expect a commute of at least 10 minutes by UBER/Lyft/Via for all of these options.

FOOD:

For your grocery shopping needs, Trader Joe’s is located a block down at 3745 N Lincoln Avenue.

You have several meal out options directly nearby. Wasabi Cafe, C’est Bien Thai, Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro, Xurro – Churro factory, and Spicy Mexican Grill are all located on the block of Lincoln Ave directly north of DCC, and it’s pretty self explanatory by their names what types of restaurants these are. Bricks Pizza and Barbecue is located a block south.

Portillo’s, Lou Malnati’s, and the Weiner’s Circle, three notable Chicago restaurant landmarks detailed in our CSBF guide, are all 18 minutes or less away from DCC by Uber/Lyft/Via.

ORLANDO:

Orlando’s Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve, a collaboration between DCBX, FADE, and O-Town Social, takes place at the Avanti Palms Resort and Conference Center (hereafter APRCC), located at 6515 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819.

The final Latin workshops of 2018, featuring a mix of national, international, and local instructors including De’Jon Polanski & Clo Ferreira, one of Latin dance’s newest power couples, take place between 2pm and 6pm, and a party featuring multiple ballrooms, a four hour open bar from 10pm-2am for VIPs (VIP pass required), a champagne toast at midnight, and live internet broadcasts of DJ Soltrix’ set and the Antonio Bliss concert from DC, and as well as the other Ultimate Tropical NYE parties, takes place from 9pm-6am on New Year’s Day.

At press time, general admission passes are going for $34, general admission+workshops for $59, general admission+open bar for $89, and VIP passes for $99.

APRCC’s amenities include resort-wide WiFi, pet-friendly rooms with wood floors (so you can practice your dance moves in your room), a state of the art video arcade, a beach area with volleyball, a 24 hour fitness center, and a large pool complex with a poolside bar and grill, and even a grocery shopping service.

The hotel shuttle service goes to University Studios, Universal CityWalk, Sea World, and Aquatica, but unfortunately does not go to the airport.

TRAVEL:

TOLL ROADS:

One unfortunate characteristic for drivers of the Orlando area is an overabundance of toll roads. Expect tolls to figure into pretty much all of your UBER/Lyft rides as well as any driving you do if you are local or you rent a car.

FLYING:

Orlando International Airport (MCO), located at 1 Jeff Fuqua Blvd, Orlando, FL 32827, is the closest airport to APRCC. Expect an approximately 19 minute UBER/Lyft ride including tolls directly from the airport, or about an hour and a half on public transportation.

BUS DIRECTIONS FROM THE AIRPORT TO APRCC:

Exit the airport on the north side near Copa Airlines, walk under Jeff Fuqua Blvd and make a right and you will see the 42 Destination Parkway Superstop. Take the 42 to the International Dr and Carrier Dr stop. APRCC will be visible from this stop.

This is about an hour and a half trip at a cost of $2.

BUS:

Megabus drops off at 902 N Semoran Boulevard. The stop is about an 22 minute UBER/Lyft ride from the hotel, but it being Orlando, there are tolls on this route that will figure into your costs.

PUBLIC TRANSIT DIRECTIONS FROM MEGABUS TO APRCC:

– Walk 3 minutes southwest on FL-436 to E Colonial Dr and N Semoran Blvd.

– Take the 104 Lynx Central Station – Sunrail 17 minutes to Lynx Central Station

– Transfer to the 08 toward Regency Village Dr and Vineland Avenue

– Take the 08 69 stops to International Drive and Carrier Drive

– APRCC will be visible from this stop

This will be approximately a one hour and 38 minute trip at a cost of $4.

For information on the 42, the 104, and the 08: http://www.golynx.com/

LODGING:

A room block exists for this event at APRCC at the rock-bottom rate of $69 per night plus resort fees of $12 per night. Book your rooms here.

If the block sells out, rooms should still be available for $115 per night plus resort fees off the block.

There are other hotels nearby but you already know, I don’t talk about that. You’re on your own there.

FOOD:

Dining options at the resort include the unfussy, cafeteria-like Market Place Cafe and Grill, the idyllic and gorgeous Pool Side Bar & Grill, and the sleek, futuristic Lobby Lounge & Bar.

There is also a Starbucks in the hotel for that all-important coffee fix.

For those who want to do their own grocery shopping, you have a few different options located within a 3 minute drive of APRCC. The International Drive Supermarket and Disney Gifts store is two minutes away at 6500 Carrier Drive. JNM Super Market is right down the road at 7521 International Drive. J Food Mart, a Japanese grocery store, is two minutes away at 7452 Universal Boulevard. E Z Food Mart is across the street from APRCC for your last minute shopping needs.

Some of the staggering selection of meal out options located within walking distance or a five minute drive include Buffalo Wild Wings* (7004 International Dr), Cafe Mineiro Brazilian Steakhouse* (6432 International Drive), Sushiology* (6400 International Dr), Fit Bistro (7733 Turkey Lake Rd), Chili’s (7021 International Dr), CiCi’s (7437 International Dr – BUFFET ALERT), Oreganatta (6320 International Dr – ALSO A BUFFET), Japan Food Aki Restaurant (7460 Universal Blvd), Ararat Euro Food and Bistro (7540 Universal Blvd), Halal Food Express (6227 International Dr), Aashirwad Indian Food and Bar (7000 S Kirkman Rd), Del Taco (6855 Grand National Dr), and, notably, IHOP (7661 International Dr), which may be open 24/7 on New Year’s Eve. Starred options are in walking distance.

CONCLUSION:

DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve is going to be the #1 Latin dance party in DC, Chicago, and Orlando for ringing in 2019 and beyond! Skip the overpriced and overrated nightclub parties and come dance your way into the new year with your dance friends at DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve! I hope everyone going to all three NYE parties found this super-survival guide helpful and if you are going to the DC edition of the Ultimate Tropical NYE party, I will see you there!

#FCL Resource Spotlight: Via

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by Via Transportation, Inc. (creators of the Via app and rideshare service) or any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies 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.]

Rideshare services such as UBER and Lyft have changed the way we get around cities exponentially for the better since UBER was introduced in 2012. Calling a taxi was very costly and took a lot of advance planning back in the dark ages before UBER’s introduction; now in 2018 a ride anywhere is a few taps on a smartphone app away in most cities.

It is evident that the seismic changes in transportation introduced by UBER and Lyft have also changed the way dancers navigate dance festivals, especially when they are flying or taking the train or bus and do not have a car on hand to navigate their city of choice. However, as I have discussed before, UBER and Lyft can be a bit on the expensive side, even with less expensive options such as UBER ExpressPOOL and Shared Lyft, and those costs can add up.

This is where Via comes in. Via is a newer ride-share company positioning themselves as a low-cost up-and-coming alternative to UBER and Lyft, and they will definitely be an asset to those living the #FrugalCongressLife in the few cities in which they are currently available at press time.

At the time of this writing Via is only available in New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, and the Arlington, VA suburbs of DC. If you try to use Via to go from these areas to anywhere outside of these areas or vice versa (for example, to the MD suburbs of DC from anywhere in DC), the app will tell you your desired pickup of dropoff is out of zone and force you to choose a pickup or dropoff that is in their available zone. Via may expand to other cities at a later time.

Via’s pricing is competitive with or slightly less expensive than UBER and Lyft for equivalent service and there are ways to save money with Via that are not possible with UBER or Lyft.

For more information on Via visit http://www.ridewithvia.com

For those who have UBER ExpressPOOL in their city and are familiar with how it works, Via works very much like UBER ExpressPOOL. Instead of being picked up right at your requested pickup point, you are picked up on a designated nearby street corner – called a “virtual bus stop” by Via – to keep the driver on a more direct route and save time and money.

Like UBER ExpressPOOL and UBERPOOL, you will also be carpooling with other riders and may not be put on the most direct route to your destination as a result. Private rides, Via’s equivalent of UberX, can be booked for a higher fee that usually ends up competitive with or slightly less expensive than UberX and will take you and only you door to door from your pickup to your dropoff as UberX does, as long as it is within the bounds of Via’s zones.

If you cancel a ride after booking or do not make it to your pickup point in time, you will be charged a $2 cancellation fee in DC and a $3 cancellation fee in NYC and Chicago.

As far as I can tell, Via does not at the time of writing accept Venmo or Paypal as payment methods as UBER and Lyft do; a credit, debit, or gift card must be used as a payment method.

Via Ride Credits, Via’s proprietary transaction currency which acts as their equivalent of UBER Cash, can also be purchased with your card in $15, $20, or $50 increments. Major holidays, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday are frequently accompanied by Ride Credit deals offering a small percentage off the purchase of Ride Credits, otherwise one dollar gets you one ride credit. Additionally, Via frequently runs new user promotions offering free ride credits to new users – be on the lookout for those.

Via offers various levels of ride passes, called ViaPasses, that are a steal for regular users of the service.

Here is a breakdown of the types of ViaPass offered in each city:

NYC:

1-week Manhattan 24/7 ViaPass – $63 + tax – up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

4-week Manhattan 24/7 ViaPass – $229 + tax- up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for four weeks

4-week Manhattan Commuter ViaPass – $179 + tax – up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

Unlike DC and Chicago, shared rides of any value are free with a ViaPass, but are limited to the borough of Manhattan. SharedTaxi rides are excluded from ViaPass discounts.

DC/Arlington:

1-week All-Access ViaPass – $69 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

[update 12/11/18 – price for a one-week ViaPass has gone up to $69, but ViaPass users prior to 12/11/18 will be grandfathered in at the previous $49 rate]

4-week All-Access ViaPass – $179 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for four weeks

4- week Commuter ViaPass – $109 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

Chicago:

1-week All-Access ViaPass – $55 – up to 4 free shared rides up to a $7 value (you pay for any overages after the $7) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

4-week Commuter ViaPass – $139 – up to 4 free shared rides up to a $7 value (you pay for any overages after the $7) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

There is a $5 Ground Transportation Tax Charge for rides to/from Navy Pier and McCormick Place.

YOU MUST STILL TIP YOUR DRIVERS ON THE “FREE” RIDES. VIA DRIVERS MAKE A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF THEIR MONEY FROM TIPS. DO NOT STIFF YOUR DRIVERS. (assuming you have received proper service of course)

Also, you will still be charged the full cancellation fee if you cancel a ride or can not make it to the pickup point in time, even with a ViaPass. Additional fees apply for additional passengers with any ViaPass. ViaPasses for any city are only good in that city, for example, your DC ViaPass won’t be valid in NYC or Chicago.

ViaPasses are set to auto-renew by default, but this can be turned off.

Even with all these caveats, the ViaPass represents incredible savings for regular users.

One key disadvantage with Via aside from the restricted area is that, at least from my experience using Via in DC, you can expect longer wait times for pickups due to less people driving for the service at this time. I will touch on this theme again in the future, but usually anytime you do something to save money, you end up paying for those monetary savings in time and effort, and Via is certainly no exception here.

Even so, as I have said, Via is an incredible asset to those living the #FrugalCongressLife who reside in or are visiting any of the three metropolitan areas in which Via is currently available. I hope this article was helpful to somebody and, as always, hit the comments if you have anything to add!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I, the author of this guide and current sole proprietor of this blog, am a member of the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress Social Media Promotional Team, otherwise known as the “BSBC Social Butterflies”. However, the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress has been one of my top five favorite congresses for two years prior to me joining the team in October 2018, and the bulk of this article was written in the summer and early fall of 2018 before I joined the team. Although I admittedly have some inherent biases from being on the promo team, this was a congress I could get behind 100% before being on the team, and what you read in this article IS my objective advice. All advice is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

The time has come to cover another entry in the hallowed list of my top five favorite congresses in the USA – the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress!  In 2016, local promoters and DJs Raj More and Dola Ige took over the operations of this congress from its previous management, and have since been growing it into a world-class salsa and bachata festival for the ages.

The Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress takes place at the Hilton Baltimore, a massive, sprawling, gorgeous multi-level modern conference hotel located at 401 Pratt Street right in the heart of downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. The venue is more than capable of handling this large-scale dance festival, and includes clean, modern rooms and such amenities as the region’s only Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop, a heated pool, a fitness center, and stunning views of Oriole Park at Camden Yards from the suites as well as a select handful of standard rooms.  This year, the festival is happening from April 18th to April 22nd, 2019, and close to 500 attendees from all over the country are expected if previous years are any indication.

Visit http://www.baltimorecongress.com for up-to-date information, schedules, and a link to book your hotel room!

Your days at the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress will be filled with workshops from some of the best salsa and bachata instructors doing it right now, and your nights will be filled with performances, live concerts, and some of the most consistently outstanding and memorable social dancing you will have the entire year in expansive salsa, bachata, and kizomba/zouk ballrooms.  This congress is one of my favorites and I can’t recommend it enough!  Today’s blog entry is your guide to doing this truly superlative congress as frugally as possible!

But first…

A NOTE ABOUT BALTIMORE CITY IN GENERAL:

Being careful where you go is important in Baltimore. While the area of Baltimore City around the event hotel is a touristy area and very safe, neighborhood safety varies further away from the hotel and some neighborhoods can be high-crime.

I am not saying this to fearmonger or to try and discourage anyone from going to this congress – it is one of the best congresses on the east coast and well worth going to – but I have to keep it 100 for the safety of my readers, especially those who may be coming to Baltimore for the first time and may not know which neighborhoods are safe or not.

Again, the area around the hotel is very safe and you need not worry there.

Since I know some dancers are adventurous and like to explore, for those who want to explore other parts of Baltimore City, neighborhoods I recommend are the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Ridgeley’s Delight, and Federal Hill.

With that note out of the way, on to the guide…

PASS:

You know what to do by now. Buy early, use discount codes, volunteer.

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

If flying to the congress, your best option is good old Spirit, which flies directly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). BWI is located about 15-17 minutes from the Hilton Baltimore by UBER/Lyft or 30-40 minutes by light rail.

Important: the Hilton Baltimore on Pratt Street in downtown Baltimore, which is the congress hotel, is not to be confused with the Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport, a smaller hotel located near the airport. Two entirely different hotels. If you go to the Hilton Baltimore BWI and ask where the congress registration desk is, all you will get is a blank stare most likely.

If you take a non-Spirit airline, make sure you fly into BWI, as DCA and IAD are both too far away from the congress to be practical. If you must fly into IAD or DCA, take Metro to Union Station and take the bus, MARC train, or Amtrak to BWI from there. Our DCBX guide has more detailed info on navigating Metro.

Heads up – no form of UBER Pool or Shared Lyft are available in Baltimore at the time of this writing (September 2018 for this particular section, but I wrote large parts of this post this past summer). Your absolute cheapest rideshare options in Baltimore at this time are UberX or regular Lyft, which can get expensive, so figuring out the bus and light rail systems is, as always, your best frugal idea.  Of course, UberX and Lyft can be split with fellow congress attendees with some coordination and planning.

Light RailLink Directions to the Hilton Baltimore from BWI Airport:

The light rail leaves BWI from the southeastern side of the airport in between the entrance/exit for Spirit/Delta (BONUS FOR THE MAXIMALLY FRUGAL) and the entrance exit for CES Airport/British Airways/Condor.

Get on the light rail north toward Hunt Valley | Timonium Fairgrounds and take it 11 stops to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station.  From there, walk three minutes west on Pratt Street and the hotel will be on your left.

This will be a 37 minute trip one way at a cost of $1.80.

To return to BWI, walk back to the Light Rail station and get on the southbound light rail toward BWI Airport, and ride 11 stops back to the BWI Airport Stop next to the Spirit/Delta entrance.

This will be a 42 minute trip one way at a cost of $1.80.

The last northbound light rail train on the Friday schedule leaves BWI at 12:40am Saturday morning.

The first Saturday train leaves BWI at 5:10am Saturday morning, and the last one leaves at 12:40am Sunday morning.

The first Sunday train leaves BWI at 10:40am Sunday morning and the last one leaves at 8:40pm.

The first southbound train leaves from Pratt Street at 4:36am Saturday and the last one leaves around 12:05am Sunday morning.

The southbound trains don’t begin running on Sunday until around 10am, so light rail use will not be possible between midnight and 10am Sunday, and the last southbound train leaves at 8:06pm on Sunday.  The first southbound train of weekday service leaves Pratt Street around 4:15am on Monday morning.

The above times are current as of the time of writing in September 2018.

For more info on the light rail including fares and schedules: https://mta.maryland.gov/light-rail

DRIVING:

I do not recommend driving directly to this particular congress as it is located in downtown Baltimore and parking is expensive and spottily available. If you are driving to this congress, I recommend parking in BWI’s long-term parking ($8-12 per day) and taking UBER/Lyft or the light rail to the hotel.

Otherwise, I recommend taking the bus or train to BWI and going to the hotel from there as described above.

BUS/TRAIN:

Both the Amtrak Northeast Regional and the MARC trains go directly to Baltimore Penn Station and the directions from Penn Station to the Hilton (see below) can be followed from there.  If you prefer, Amtrak and MARC both go to BWI, and the above light rail directions can be followed from there.

Bolt Bus stops at 1578 Maryland Avenue, only one block west of Penn Station, and Baltimore City’s 51 bus (see below) picks up from there as well.

Directions from Penn Station to the Hilton Baltimore:

– Walk south on Charles Street and make a right on Oliver Street

– Walk over to Maryland Avenue to the 51 bus stop at Maryland Ave and Oliver Street (SB 2172) [this is half a block south of where BoltBus drops off so if you took BoltBus walk south on Maryland Avenue to the 51 stop]

– Take the 51 Downtown 10 stops to Hopkins Place and Pratt Street

– Walk west on Pratt Street for two and a half blocks and the hotel will be on your left.

This is about a 26 minute trip one way and costs $1.80.

Directions from the Hilton Baltimore to Penn Station:

– Exit the side facing Pratt Street

– Walk about a block and a half east on Pratt Street to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station

– Get on the Light Rail northbound toward Hunt Vally | Timonium Foregrounds | Penn Station

– Ride 5 stops to the Mount Royal & Lt Rail Station

– Walk southeast on Mount Royal Avenue, swing a left on Mount Oliver Street, and walk east two blocks to Charles Street

– Make a left on Charles Street to return to Penn Station

This is about a 27 minute trip one way and costs $1.80.

More info on the 51 bus including fares and schedules here: https://mta.maryland.gov/share-bus-overview?bus_service=Local+Bus&route=Route+51

Penn Station is also an 8 minute UBER/Lyft ride away from the hotel.

The area around Penn Station is pretty safe, but use your best judgement.  If you’re going 100% public transit, the light rail route from BWI is probably your absolute safest option if you have a choice.

As excellent as Megabus normally is, taking it to the Baltimore Congress is not recommended, as Megabus stops in White Marsh, which is a considerable distance northeast of downtown Baltimore, which will add considerable time and expense to your trip.

Depending on where you’re coming from it may be more efficient if Megabus is your best or only option to go to Union Station in DC, take the MARC to Baltimore Penn Station or BWI and follow the relevant directions to the Hilton from there.  It will honestly take just as much time as trying to get from White Marsh to downtown Baltimore using exclusively public transportation.  UBER/Lyft from WM to downtown Baltimore will be stupidly expensive, especially in light of Pool/Shared not being an option.

Baltimore and all surrounding areas are supported by Citymapper as of the time of this writing, so the app’s combined DC/Baltimore package can be used to easily navigate transit in Baltimore including real-time schedules and multiple routes.

LODGING:

UPDATE 3/11/19 – the Hilton Baltimore is COMPLETELY SOLD OUT for the 2019 congress.  An overflow block has been added at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor At Camden Yards across the street from the Hilton Baltimore at 110 South Eutaw Street.  Book your room at the overflow hotel here. If you still desire to stay at the event hotel and could not get a room, there most likely will be people looking for roommates there.

Your best and safest option is to stay at the event hotel or, if the event hotel sells out, (as it did in 2018 and 2019) before you can get a room, the nearby overflow hotel.

As with most congresses, but to even more of a degree with this one due to the varying nature of neighborhood safety in Baltimore, your best option is to stay onsite.

The Baltimore Congress team offers a room block at the event hotel at a heavily discounted rate for both one-king and two-double rooms.  This is almost guaranteed the best deal you will find on this hotel or any other four-star hotel in the immediate vicinity; rooms at the event hotel normally go for close to $200 per night outside of this room block.

Of course, a roomshare of up to four people can bring the cost per room as low as $35 per night once taxes are figured in.

If you are going to insist on staying at any other offsite location, which I do not recommend, do extensive research beforehand on the neighborhood you are staying in and make sure it is a safe neighborhood.

FOOD:

For the grocery shoppers, I recommend doing your food shopping before the congress if you are doing anything other than flying. If you are driving from points north there’s a Walmart in Aberdeen, MD, or if you’re coming from points south there’s one in Laurel, MD.

If you can’t get your shopping in beforehand for any reason, Price Rite of Baltimore, located on 1205 W Pratt Street near the B&O Railroad Museum (9 minute UBER/Lyft one way), is your best bet, and is in a safe part of Baltimore.

The aforementioned Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is the most convenient option for your coffee fix, but be warned that they close at 4:00pm on Friday and Saturday and 6:00pm on Sunday, and were not taking credit or debit cards at the time of 2018’s festival per some attendee reports, but this may change in 2019.

The closest Starbucks is located about a 5 minute walk east (one way) at 1 W Pratt Street in the nearby Baltimore Convention Center, and Heavenly Manna Coffee House is located across the street.

Walk a little further east and you will find two more Starbucks shops, both across the street from one another at 100 and 200 East Pratt Street respectively.  According to comedian Lewis Black, two Starbucks coffee shops across the street from one another is the End Of The Universe, so we can put the End Of The Universe down as one more cool spectacle to see in downtown Baltimore.

Alternately, Peace & A Cup Of Joe, a cozy local independent coffeehouse, is located about a 8-10 minute walk west (one way) in the Ridgley’s Delight area of Baltimore at 713 W. Pratt Street.

These are all safe parts of Baltimore.

As far as places to eat out go, there’s Jimmy John’s, Subway, and Chipotle near the hotel, and you can also find a Shake Shack, Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Hard Rock Cafe, Fogo de Chao, Johnny Rockets, and Phillip’s Seafood near The End Of The Universe at the Inner Harbor as well.

The congress also features a taco truck right outside the hotel between 10pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday night. This is an excellent food option, but it tends to sell out by 1am or thereabouts, so jump on it early in the night. Hopefully the truck’s operators bring double the supplies that they have in previous years this year, because their food is quite good, and it will be a popular option.

That’s all for this survival guide, holla in the comments if you have anything else and I’ll see you at BSBC!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States where #FrugalCongressLife is based. We hope all of you who are celebrating this holiday have an excellent Thanksgiving with your family and/or friends and loved ones and have much to be thankful for! We will be back on December 3rd with our survival guide for one of our favorite US congresses, the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress! Stay tuned!