#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Capital Congress

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Capital Congress other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote Capital Congress in any way. As of the time of this writing, I am not 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 both the festival and the above companies is my objective advice and is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

It is a great honor to cover the oldest and longest-running salsa festival in Washington, DC for this #FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide. The Capital Congress, established in 2005 by promoter Shaka Brown under its original name, the DC Salsa Congress, has been drawing dancers to the DC area for the last 14 years for workshops, performances, parties, and socials in four dedicated ballrooms for not just salsa, but also bachata, zouk, and kizomba.

In 2019, Capital Congress is picking up and moving about 10 minutes northwest from its longtime location at the legendary Westin Alexandria to its larger and even better permanent new home at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, a breathtakingly gorgeous lakeside hotel located near a botanical preserve! Therefore, rather than applying our Westin Alexandria guide to this congress, we will cover the ins and outs of the brand new Capital Congress location in this guide!

Capital Congress happens from June 20th to June 24th in 2019.

PASS:

Capital Congress passes get very expensive (up to $350) the closer you get to the event. Buy as soon as possible for the best prices! We have been advertising super-low early bird prices for this event on our Facebook page in the past few months so hopefully some of you were able to jump on that!

If you are in the DC area or nearby, the Capital Congress lineup reveal party happens at Mr. Mambo’s Salsa Bachata Social at Hollywood Ballroom in Silver Spring, MD on Saturday, March 23rd, 2019 at 8:00pm. In addition to the full artist lineup being revealed for the first time, there will be raffles to win free full passes and heavily discounted full passes will also be sold. $100 full passes were sold at the lineup reveal last year. Will they be this year? Come and find out.

Party and single-day passes are sold closer to the event. A party pass is currently only $60 for all four days a week out from the 2019 event!

TRAVEL:

One very important amenity that sets the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center (hereafter referred to as the HAMC) apart from many other DC area hotels is a complimentary shuttle servicing both Reagan National Airport (DCA) as well as the Pentagon and King Street metro stations. This shuttle, needless to say, will be an immense help with travel logistics.

After some looking around online, I was able to find a shuttle schedule and itinerary courtesy of the National Jewish Retreat. Take a look here.

DRIVING:

Driving or rideshare is a decent option. If coming from points north of DC, be sure to account for the DC/Northern Virginia area’s infamous rush hour traffic (6am-11am, 12pm-8pm on weekdays, not kidding) in your travels.

Self-parking at the hotel is $28 per night and valet parking is $34 per night.

A less expensive and very secure parking option for those who are staying at the hotel and don’t need to get to their cars at a moment’s notice is to park in DCA’s economy lot for $17 per day.  Once at the lot, take the economy lot shuttle (which picks up reliably at regular intervals from various points in the lot) from the lot to the terminal, and then take the free hotel shuttle from the terminal to the hotel from there.

Your most frugal parking option if you don’t have a lot of luggage is parking at one of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station’s overnight spots for $4.75 per day (first come, first served, about 15 spots available). From there take the yellow line toward Fort Totten to the Pentagon, King Street, or National Airport stop and take the shuttle to the HAMC from there.

There are also two third-party 24-hour daily garages run by Colonial Parking located near the HAMC at 4825 Mark Center Drive ($8.50 per day) and 1500-2000 N Beauregard Street ($10 per day).  There are also garages located at 1581 N Beauregard Street and 4660 Kenmore Avenue, but these garages are NOT open 24 hours and close at 5PM and 6PM respectively, so be mindful of this.  The garage at 2001 N Beauregard Street is monthly parking only, so be mindful of this as well.  

It is not clear at press time whether or not overnight parking is allowed at these garages, so for the time being, parking at DCA or the Metro as outlined above is probably your safest bet for those staying at the hotel.  Inevitably, some intrepid frugal adventurer is going to be the guinea pig for overnight parking at these garages and we will know more soon, but for now, our conservative advice is go to with other methods for parking overnight.

These garages DO work very well for local commuters driving to the congress from home — that we can say with confidence at this time. 

Colonial Parking’s online parking locator has up-to-the-minute information on current capacity (including percentage full) and daily rates for each of the garages in the surrounding area.

FLYING:

Fly into DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from DCA.

FROM BWI:

Try to fly in during the day. Take the MARC or Amtrak to Washington Union Station and follow the train/bus directions from there.

From IAD:

Take an UBER or Lyft to the Wiehle-Reston Metro station. From there, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, transfer to the blue line toward Franconia-Springfield to the Pentagon City, King Street, or National Airport metro stations and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from any one of those stops.

TRAIN/BUS:

Take any train or bus line to Washington Union Station. From there, take the Metro red line to Gallery Place/Chinatown, then transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and take the yellow line to the Pentagon City, King Street, or National Airport metro stations and take the complimentary shuttle to the HAMC from any one of those stops.

See our DCBX guide for in-depth info on the DC metro as well as the MARC and Amtrak trains.

DC and the surrounding Virginia suburbs, including Alexandria, are supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing as part of their combined DC/Baltimore package.

LODGING:

There is presently an active room block for the HAMC; book your rooms for $130 per night here.

The hotel’s amenities include:

– Gorgeous lakeside setting that is also near the Winkler Botanical Preserve.

– Incredible views of Washington, DC in suites and select standard rooms

– Shuttles to and from the airport as well as the Pentagon City and King Street metro stations

– Pet-friendly policies (pets up to 75 pounds allowed with $50 deposit)

– Fitness center

– Pool

– Blackout curtains

– 42-inch widescreen TV with Complimentary HBO

– Self laundry available

Rooms in the secluded lakeside “retreat room” are also available at a lower cost (around $125 per night) for AAA members and Hilton Honors members.

As always I will provide no info on offsite options until the event hotel fully sells out. Really, the event hotel is so gorgeous and available at such a relatively low price for the area that you want to stay there anyway.

The HAMC is located at 5000 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA.

FOOD:

The closest Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about a 20 minute drive from the HAMC in the Belle Haven neighborhood at 6303 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, VA 22306.

Target is located a considerably shorter distance away at 5115 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041. This is about an 8 minute drive from the HAMC. Whatever you save going with Wal-Mart over Target, you may spend on gas in this case. AL-AMAL Super Market is located nearby at 3817 – G S George Mason Dr, Falls Church, VA 22041 as an alternative.

There is also a Giant and a Global Food located in the nearby Shops at Mark Center at 1476 N Beauregard St, Alexandria, VA 22311. This Giant is about a 3 minute drive or 12 minute walk from the HAMC and probably the best bet for people not driving.

For your meal out, the in-hotel options include Finn & Porter, a contemporary surf and turf restaurant, as well as a sushi bar.

Food options nearby include a McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Sardi’s Pollo A La Brasa, Subway, Noodles, Starbucks, and CVS in the same shopping center as the Giant.

Clyde’s At Mark Center and the Mark V Deli are also located about an 8 minute walk or 3 minute drive from the HAMC at 1700 N Beauregard Street and 1900 N Beauregard Street #100, respectively.

Restaurants located near Target include McDonald’s, Five Guys, District Taco, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Popeye’s, TGI Fridays, Potbelly, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, China Delight (Chinese food), Stone Hot Pizza,

Those craving some Habesha food will be pleased to find THREE Ethiopian restaurants in the same shopping center as AL-AMAL. These restaurants are Nazret Ethiopia Restaurant, Abay Market, and Balagger Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar.

That’s it for this survival guide! Hit the comments if you have any additional info and I’ll see you all at Capital Congress!

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#FrugalCongressTourism: Washington, DC – The Monuments At Night

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or sponsored by any companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me 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.]

Another new series? Yes, another new series. Last new one for a while, promise.

I got in a comfortable groove in the final months of 2018 with congress survival guides, food guides, and resource guides but in 2019 I want to shake it up a bit and do some new things whenever I find a need, and there is a need for this new series.

Why? Because dance travel is travel, as I have said before, and frequently it is the only travel the dedicated hardcore attendee of dance congresses does. While dance congresses are fun, fulfilling, transformative, and memorable experiences in and of themselves, does anyone really want their only travel memories to be one big blur of hotel ballrooms and lobbies? This could feasibly happen if you stay exclusively around the dance congress hotel doing dance congress things.

What I’m saying is, get out of the hotel for at least a few hours (in the downtime between workshops and shows, for example) and see something else in the city you are visiting. After all, you are in another part of the country and who knows when you’ll be there again?

The dilemma is that tourism and sightseeing can be at odds with living the #FrugalCongressLife and saving as much money as possible so you can do more of these dance trips.

That is where our new #FrugalCongressTourism series comes in. In this new series, I will be detailing a tourist attraction or off-the-beaten-path thing to do in a city hosting one or more dance congresses that is either free or costs less than $30 to participate in and can be reached and seen in a relatively small amount of time.

I will provide information and a review on the attraction as well as its cost, its proximity to the area’s major congresses, public transit directions from all the city’s nearby major congresses to the attraction, and other miscellaneous info.

For organizers and volunteers tasked with entertaining artists while they are in your city, these are good ideas for you as well.

For today’s #FrugalCongressTourism attraction, we are going to my current city of Washington, DC, to look at the monuments along the National Mall… after dark.

GENERAL INFO

CITY: Washington, DC

ATTRACTION: The Washington, DC Monuments at the National Mall

COST: FREE (if you do not film professionally there – see below)

HOURS: Open 24 hours, but best experienced from sundown on

MINIMUM TIME NEEDED TO SEE: about 2 hours depending on transportation and distance

TRAVEL TIMES (ONE WAY)

FROM DCBX/RENAISSANCE: 10 minutes UBER/Lyft/car, 20 minutes Metro

FROM SAWA SAWA KIZOMBA FESTIVAL/UNION STATION: 12 minutes UBER/Lyft, 22 minutes Metro

FROM SENSUAL DAY/DIW: 18 minutes UBER/Lyft, 32 minutes Metro

FROM WESTIN ALEXANDRIA: 44 minutes Metro (only realistic option, parking is nonexistent near there and UBER would be too expensive)

Not readily accessible from the Dulles location of DC Zouk Festival or Zouk Heat Festival. Would have to be a Metro/UBER combo about 1 hour and 33 minutes there one way.

DIRECTIONS FROM THE METRO:

Red line: take the red line to Metro Center and take the orange line toward New Carrolton or the blue/silver line toward Largo to Smithsonian.

Green line: take the green line to L’Enfant Plaza then take the orange, blue or silver line toward Vienna/Franconia-Springfield one stop to Smithsonian.

Orange/blue/silver lines: Take any one of these lines to Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian station is right on the National Mall and right next to the Washington Monument; you can see the Monument from there.

See our DCBX guide for information on the Metro system.

DC and all surrounding Maryland/Virginia suburbs are supported by Citymapper as part of their combined DC/Baltimore package.

The monuments can, of course, be seen at all times of the day, but as the sun goes down and after dark is really when the true spectacular glory of these iconic buildings really shines. The break between workshops and performances is the ideal time to experience the monuments as the sun goes down, but make sure you are back in time for performances.

Start with the Washington Monument at sunset, walk around to Constitution Gardens, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the MLK Jr. Memorial, Ash Woods, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and maybe end at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

A map of the National Mall can be found here.

The atmosphere of these majestic monuments at night is untouchable. As an added bonus, the National Mall and the monuments, at its busiest between 10am and 7pm, tends to be less crowded at night as well, although don’t expect to have the entire Mall to yourself, that just will not happen as the Monuments are a very popular attraction and there are bound to at least be some people there at any time of the day.

This is also a proven and tested activity to take your significant other or romantic interest on. I may or may not have taken a few dates here.

The National Mall is located in a very safe area, but use due diligence and be aware of your surroundings, especially late at night.

The Monuments would also be a good place, of course, to film a dance video if you can pull it off without attracting too much attention or getting in anyone’s way, and taking videos with a handheld consumer-level camera (such as a DSLR or phone camera with a lens adapter, which can still capture great images) does not require any permits. However, if you wish to use ANY professional video equipment including tripods, stabilizers, or high-end cameras, you need to cough up for a film permit and that’s upwards of $150 per day and will take weeks to process. There are also areas where filming is forbidden with or without a permit. Read all about the rules and the permit process here. I can not advocate any illegal activity on this blog. Make sure you are following all park rules and regulations if you decide to film a dance video here.

That’s all for this edition of #FrugalCongressTourism… this was a fairly straightforward easy frugal tourist attraction to cover, but can make for an unforgettable experience for those visiting DC for the first time or anyone who has never experienced seeing these monuments in person.

As always, hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I hope this helped someone!

#FrugalCongressLife Knowledge Bank: Hotel Roomshare Safety

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or sponsored by any companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me 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.]

This new series, the second of three new series we are starting in the opening months of 2019, is called #FrugalCongressLife Knowledge Bank, and covers general tips and tricks for making your frugal congresses experience better or more fruitful that do not fit under the heading of a congress survival guide or a resource spotlight.

In less than two weeks, the 2019 US dance congress season will begin anew with the Atlanta Salsa Bachata Festival the first weekend of March and Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival the third weekend of March, and will continue until about the end of November with the Masters Of Bachata Takeover and NC Zouk Festival closing out the season. Between the end of November and the following March, the weather is generally too unpredictable and holiday activities too prevalent to realistically plan a dance congress, although outliers such as DCBX Ultimate Tropical New Year’s Eve, Orlando Bachata Kizomba Festival, and Interfusion Festival (which just happened at the Westin Alexandria last month) do happen during the winter. However, the majority of the US’s staggeringly abundant selection of dance congresses take place between March and November.

As the upcoming dance congress season kicks into high gear, many of you will be going to a lot of congresses, and most of you will be staying in hotel rooms. Staying in a hotel room by yourself can be very expensive and the costs can add up quickly. Lodging is easily the largest of the four major dance congress expenses, and while there are a number of different ways to mitigate lodging costs, the one that is publicly recommended by most people including me is a shared hotel room at the event venue (hereafter, “roomshare” – the vaguely Newspeakish term for this practice widely adopted by dance congress attendees in the US). As I have discussed many times, I recommend this option over others because it supports the event hotel and by extension, the event organizer, and is the most convenient frugal option, as well as a good way of potentially building friendships and camaraderie with fellow dancers.

The tricky thing about roomshares is that they are a short-term financial and living arrangement with one or more people that you may or may not know that well. This is a situation that requires a lot of trust, and as much as we would all love to treat the dance scene like a beautiful safe-space utopia where you can just blindly trust everyone, that would be extremely naive. Although most of the dance community’s people are good and well-intentioned, there are bad apples, even in our relatively calm, peaceful, and loving community. Additionally, there are financial predators in the dance scene who specifically target hotel roomshares to try and get something for nothing at YOUR expense.

Safety is a big concern for anyone who participates in congress hotel roomshares. With this in mind, this first edition of the #FCL Knowledge Bank is all about doing congress hotel roomshares as safely and effectively as possible.

Laura Riva’s guide on how to Be A Better Congress Roommate is required reading for the rest of this entry and a good general guideline for how to navigate hotel roomshares in any capacity.

This article is meant as a supplemental guide to Laura’s article detailing further good safety practices for hotel roomshares, and is mainly aimed at what I call “roomshare admins”, that is, people who book the rooms, put up the initial money for the rooms, the people who are generally in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly, and the people whose names and credit card numbers are first on the hotel room’s folio. In the context of hotels, a “folio” is a fancy term for the master bill detailing all charges attached to the stay for all guests in a particular room.

While this article is aimed at roomshare admins first and foremost, it is good reading for non-admins as well.

SAFETY TIPS FOR CONGRESS ROOMSHARES

BE SELECTIVE

Try to seek out people who you know are going to be calm and respectful and pay in a timely manner. Only room with random people as a last resort. First, try to room with people you have had good experiences with in the past or ask for recommendations from trusted friends. Rooming with close friends is certainly a safer bet than with people you don’t know, but I can tell you from experience that close friends are just as capable of screwing you over as anyone else — always use and trust your intuition when judging the character of people with whom you are entering into short-term (or long-term for that matter) living and financial arrangements. If you see any red flags, find someone else to room with.

LIMIT NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN ROOM

You must limit the number of people in your room to a comfortable level. It seems tempting to save more money by cramming 6-7 people into a standard hotel room, but this introduces not only safety issues, but logistical issues as well. Can you find a place for everyone to sleep? How will bathroom use be coordinated? More people in the room also means more people not on the folio – I will detail why this could be a safety issue later.

Cap it at 3 people for a standard one-king room, 4 people for a standard two-double room, and 5-6 people for a suite.

USE GROUP CHATS TO COMMUNICATE

Set up a group chat for the roomshare through text, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger two weeks before and add ONLY people who have paid in full (see below) to this group chat. Use the group chat to communicate anything related to the roomshare such as information on the room itself (room number), and logistical information such as when you will meet for exchange of room keys etc.

#NOPAYNOSTAY

The best practice when dealing with roomshare money is to make up-front pre-payment a non-negotiable prerequisite for securing a spot in the room for everyone involved.

Last fall, I conducted a poll on my personal Facebook page that was answered by dancers from all over the US asking whether or not you should ask your congress hotel roommates for their share of the room costs up front. The general consensus on the poll was almost unanimous: 93% of respondents agreed that room payments should be made up front and that should be non-negotiable. #NoPayNoStay, period (credit to Tim Currier for coming up with that hashtag).

Simply put, this practice weeds out flakes and financial predators almost instantly, and enforcing it establishes you as someone who won’t be walked on or put up with any BS.

The poll also confirmed that it is a common practice, so don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t. Make sure you figure taxes and fees into the total cost as well.

Anyone who can even think about attending dance congresses consistently (especially if this attendance includes extravagant super-expensive events like Aventura Dance Cruise) can afford not to give you funny business over $60-100 or whatever relatively trivial amount of money we’re talking about.

A good system to use is to ask for a 50% refundable deposit prior to two weeks before the congress to secure the individual’s spot in the room and the remaining 50% within two weeks before the congress, after which the money becomes nonrefundable.

ON BARTERING

I would say it’s ok to do barter (wherein someone pays for the cost of their room stay with a non-sexual service of some sort such as private dance lessons or business consulting) in emergency situations with people you know and trust. I would not do barter with randoms and would encourage payment with money first and foremost for everyone.

Also, this should go without saying, but never ask for or accept sexual favors of any kind as payment for a hotel roomshare. In addition to being a sleazy and morally bankrupt thing to do, it is personally risky for you in this day and age of heightened awareness around sexual impropriety. A handful of prominent dancers have been taken down by sex scandals recently – don’t you be the next one.

SET GROUND RULES EARLY

It is not an easy discussion to have, but setting ground rules and expectations early, as Laura Riva alluded to in her article, is critical for a safe and enjoyable hotel room share experience.

Here are my standard ground rules for roomshares I‘m in charge of:

1. Anyone who sleeps or showers in the room chips in for room cost somehow ($$$ or barter).

2. Quiet hours 4am-9am.

3. No big parties (for safety reasons)

4. Ask people before touching/moving their things or sitting on their bed.

5. Keep time spent in bathroom reasonable.

6. Don’t break or mess up anything in the room.

7. No room service or restaurant charges on the room.

8. Use space in room wisely.

9. Be excellent to each other.

Make agreeing to ground rules a prerequisite for securing a spot in the room and being added to the rooms group chat.

Some of these rules seem uptight, but there are good safety reasons for all of them that I will go over, starting with…

AVOID HOSTING PARTIES OR LARGE GATHERINGS IN YOUR ROOM

There is always going to be an inherent risk with party rooms, especially with your name and payment details on the folio. If something gets broken or stolen from the room during a room party, you will be charged money for it and that could add up to hundreds of dollars depending on what is broken or stolen, so the safest practice is to avoid hosting parties in your room. Make it clear in your room’s rules that parties are not to be hosted in your room, go to the party rather than having it come to you, and seek out roommates who will do the same. There are dance organizations out there (at least in the Latin scene but probably everywhere else also) with the resources, social clout, and wherewithal to take on the risk of hosting room parties; leave the party hosting to them.

Needless to say, YOU be respectful at any room party you attend yourself, whether it’s put on by an organization or an individual. Don’t be an ass… you are NOT a rock star and trashing stuff in a hotel room will have dire consequences for both you and others.

NO FREELOADERS

Anyone who sleeps and/or showers in the room must chip in their fair share toward the cost of the room, period.

It is unfair to everyone else in the room who paid to have anyone using the room for free. Additionally, allowing people to freeload off of you also makes you a target for financial predators who want something for nothing both at that time, as well as in the future once the word gets around that you are a weak chump who is willing to let people walk all over you. That’s probably the harshest thing I have ever said on this blog, but it’s real. People might not explicitly say it about you, but they will be thinking it.

If somebody is bringing their significant other into a not-at-full-capacity room they need to let you know beforehand so the money can be divided fairly in some fashion, whether they pay their SO’s share or not.

NO ROOM SERVICE OR RESTAURANT CHARGES

While this has thankfully never happened to me, I have heard horror stories of hotel roommates charging restaurant meals and room service to the room and sticking the roomshare admin with the bill. In addition to pre-screening for respectful roommates who are not inclined to steal from you, one extra measure of protection you can take is to inform the hotel upon check-in that no room service or restaurant bills are to be charged to the room and to inform you immediately if anyone tries to. You’ll have to give up room service yourself by taking this measure of protection, but this is worth protecting yourself against an unscrupulous individual getting room service on your dime potentially.

GET AS MANY NAMES ON THE FOLIO AS POSSIBLE

Try and have as many people legitimately on the room’s folio as possible. If this means having to pay an extra $25 or whatever to have more than two people on the folio, that extra protection may be worth the extra $10-15 dollars per night.

Bottom line, the more people whose names and credit cards are on the folio, the more people who own the situation in the room and therefore have that much more extra incentive to be respectful and act right.

ONE ADDITIONAL POINT

The above are all things that any reasonable person should agree to and you should take any objections as a red flag. Full stop. There’s always someone else looking for a room at a congress.

CONCLUSION

These ugly matters are hard to talk about and hard to think about when all we want to focus on is the beauty and happiness of our dance congress scene, but these are discussions that have to happen. The dark side of dance has to be brought into the light in order to be fixed.

I hope you all have a safe congress season in your hotel roomshares, hit the comments if you have anything to add, and as always, I hope this was helpful to someone!

#FCL Resource Spotlight: The Power Bank

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any of the 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.]

Most people who have been alive in the last 11 years know how dependent on smartphones the vast majority of us have become today.

Many of our lifelines to the world are tied up in them, particularly text messaging and social media.

Our financial information and means of purchasing is often tied into them these days. Our means of getting around smoothly and navigating the vast majority of transportation options (other than our own cars of course) are tied into them as well — particularly car-sharing services such as UBER and Lyft that are called up and tracked using our phones. Your phone is more often than not the device you use to record the recaps and demonstrations at the end of congress workshops on video so that you can practice and retain the material.

All of this and more is tied up in a battery-powered phone that has to be kept charged, and in a lot of ways, you’re stranded if your phone’s battery dies and you don’t have immediate access to a power source to recharge it. This is particularly amplified if you’re away from home, away from your car, or otherwise out and about for most of the day, and access to wall outlets or other external power sources is not guaranteed. Enter the power bank.

The power bank is essentially a portable external lithium ion battery with a micro USB input that you plug into any computer, USB outlet, or USB wall charger that charges the battery, and the battery has a USB output that you plug any standard USB phone cable into. With your phone plugged into the power bank as it would be plugged into a standard USB charger, computer, or wall outlet, the power bank charges your phone until the battery runs out, after which it must be charged again. The vast majority of power banks include 4 light-up LED “dots” that visually show how much battery power the bank has left, with 4 dots indicating a fully charged power bank and one dot indicating an almost fully depleted power bank. Power banks are portable and can charge your phone on the go when you do not have access to a wall outlet or other power source, effectively giving you a second battery for your phone.

Some people like to charge their phones during workshops using one of the ballroom’s wall outlets. I am not a fan of this approach; while thefts from dance workshops are extremely rare, they could still happen, and in that case I would rather lose a relatively inexpensive power bank than my phone, which costs considerably more and has much of my life tied up in it. I would rather charge the power bank during the workshop and then use the power bank to charge my phone. This strategy is particularly handy if you’re staying offsite or are at a non-hotel event and do not have ready access to wall outlets in your room or power outlets in your car.

Some power banks come pre-charged but many do not – do not count on a newly-bought power bank to be pre-charged in an emergency. Buy and charge your power bank in advance.

The amount of charge a power bank has is measured in “mAh”, which stands for milliampere hours, an International System of Units measurement of the electrical capacity of small batteries. Yes, it is capitalized that way, that isn’t a typo. Basically all you need to know about mAh is that the higher the mAh, the more hours of use and full charges to your phone or other device you will get out of your power bank.

WARNING: DO NOT use Amazon’s AmazonBasic power bank models. Amazon has voluntarily recalled several of their power bank models because of overheating, which caused chemical burns. You have been warned. Stay away from Amazon’s models. This one paragraph probably cost me hundreds of potential affiliate marketing dollars but I care about your safety that much. Amazon does a lot of things well but power banks are not one of them from the looks of it.

TRAVEL WARNING: For those of you flying with power banks, the TSA prohibits all lithium ion batteries, including power banks, in checked luggage. All power banks must be carried on your person or in carry-on luggage.

More information about these policies here:

https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/power-banks

https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/hazmat_safety/more_info/?hazmat=7

SOME SAFETY AND CARE TIPS FOR ALL POWER BANKS:

– Carry your power banks in a protective case. This will certainly add bulk, but will protect your power bank and greatly extend its life, especially if you carry it around in your pocket or bag from day to day. Protective cases for the Anker Powercore and other batteries with a similar profile that also include pockets for the cables are available online for about $10.

– Always use the original charging cable that came with your power bank to charge the power bank itself

– Use original or certified cables and wall outlets to connect your phone to the power bank always… going el cheapo on wall outlets and cables may cost you in the long run by destroying or shortening the life of your power bank, this is not an area to be frugal!

My phone at the time of this writing (September 2018) is an Apple iPhone 7 so charge provided to an iPhone 7 is the benchmark by which I’m measuring all of these power banks. Your mileage may vary.

The model of power bank with the best reviews, as well as the one I personally use as my primary power bank and recommend using, is the Anker PowerCore 10000, available online for about $29.99. As the name suggests, it is a 10000 mAh battery that is capable of providing about 3 full charges to an iPhone 7 with some battery power to spare. It is very light and low profile, but has a very durable and solid construction and is good for transporting regularly.

The Powercore 10000 uses Anker’s PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technologies to charge devices as fast as possible up to 2.4 amps and supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. I was able to charge an iPhone 7 from 10% to 100% in about 2 hours while using the phone normally. The battery itself charges fully in about 6 hours when hooked up to a 2.4 amp charger. The Powercore 10000 also boasts a wide array of safety features such as temperature control, surge protection, and short circuit protection.

Another highly rated alternative that I admittedly have no personal experience using is the Mophie Powerstation Plus XL, a 10,000mAh battery designed mostly for the iPhone and iPad and available online for about $70-100 . It’s standout features are a built-in Lightning cable for charging your iPhone or iPad, a Lightning input connector so you can use your iPhone’s regular charger to charge the power bank, and the ability to use any Qi-compatible wireless charger to charge the power bank. It has a slightly larger physical profile than Anker’s offerings, and I haven’t been able to find anything about safety features online other than triple-testing and stringent quality control.

The high-capacity Cadillac of power banks is the RAVPower 22000mAh, available for about $39.99 online. This battery comes with 3 USB ports and can charge two iPads and an iPhone simultaneously. It is reported to be able to provide an iPhone 7 with 8 full charges and has a multitude of safety features including a fire-resistant shell, temperature control, and short circuit protection. Its only disadvantage is that it is very heavy at about 14 ounces, but that is to be expected of a high capacity battery.

For those wanting maximum portability and the smallest profile, Anker also offers a “lipstick-sized” power bank called the Powercore+Mini, available online for about $12.99. It has a capacity of 3,350 mAh, can be fully charged in about 3-4 hours, and can provide one full charge to an iPhone 7 and have some capacity left over afterwards. The PowerCore+Mini also includes all the quick charging and safety features of its larger relatives.

Now that I’ve reviewed a few of the highest quality power bank options, here are a couple budget options for all you maximally frugal power bank buyers:

Walgreens sells its own Infinitive 10000mAh power banks that provide about 2-3 full charges to an iPhone 7 for around $15. Target also sells its own heyday(tm) 4000mAh power banks that provide anywhere from 1-2 full charges to an iPhone 7 for around $10.

The big caveat with Walgreens’ power bank is that it’s a “slim model” which has a slimmer profile than most power banks, but makes it more physically fragile and less durably constructed as a result. After about 3 months of regular use including daily transport in my bag (albeit not in a protective case, which I have learned my lesson on) the parts on my Infinitive 10000mAh came loose in the housing, and while it still works, it doesn’t charge as reliably as it did when I got it. Still, it would make a decent inexpensive backup backup option as long as you treat it with kid gloves, carry it in a protective case, and don’t make it your regular workhorse.

Target’s power bank works reliably, although both the battery and phone charging are fairly slow, but it is much more durable than the Walgreens models and makes a decent regular workhorse and backup option for the price.

I haven’t found anything on the Walgreens and Target models’ safety features and we can assume that they aren’t as extensive as those found in the higher-end models.

In my opinion, I’d rather spend the extra $10-30 on an Anker or similar higher-quality model, ESPECIALLY for the better construction and safety features that aren’t necessarily present in budget power banks, but I recognize some people are on budgets and it’s either the $10 power bank or nothing. Still, I would suggest those on a budget go with the Powercore+Mini and keep it charged as regularly as possible.

In our connected, phone-reliant world, power banks are an essential accessory for any frugal traveler on the go. If you have anything to add, please do not hesitate to hit the comments and I hope this helped!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Zouk Heat Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Zouk Heat other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Terrisa being a personal friend of mine. I have not been hired by Zouk Heat to promote that organization in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not 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 and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

[Originally published 1/22/19, updated rewritten for the 2020 festival 4/14/19 and 5/21/19]

The Zouk Heat Festival is a brand new Brazilian Zouk festival organized by former DC Zouk Festival co-organizer and DC-based zouk instructor Terrisa Widener that happens every year at the beginning of April. The 2020 edition of the Zouk Heat Festival will take place April 3rd-April 6, 2020. 2019 headliners Pedrinho & Linda will return to the festival in 2020, joined by Carlos & Fernanda, Kadu & Larissa, Leo & Thayna, and many others to be announced.

You will be busy all weekend with workshops in the morning and afternoon and performances and socials at night on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The artist and DJ lineups are both a veritable who’s who of national and international zouk instructors and DJs every year!

Zouk Heat is also a #FrugalCongressLife standout for its affordability, with a full pass very competitively priced for an event of this caliber and a hotel room block priced at only $109 per night, which is very affordable for a good event hotel in the area.

For the 2020 festival, Zouk Heat is picking up and moving northeast from its previous Dulles Airport location to the BWI Airport Marriott Hotel, located a short ride on the free airport shuttle from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. This is a very good move for this new festival’s continued growth as not only is this hotel larger with more food options, but it is convenient to a more accessible airport, as well as the only airport in the DC/Baltimore area served by budget air travel stalwart Spirit Airlines.

Zouk Heat is the move for fans of Brazilian Zouk on the east coast in the first weekend of April! This guide, originally our first published survival guide in 2019 and now updated for 2020 and rewritten completely for the new location, is your one-stop guide to this rapidly growing new festival!

PASS:

Even if you didn’t get one of the 15 $100 full passes sold in person at the 2019 festival, it is still early enough to get your full pass at a very good price. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all updates on artist and DJ lineups and early bird passes!

LODGING:

Last year’s hotel was very affordable and this year’s hotel continues this positive trend. Terrisa has negotiated a block of rooms for $109 per night at the BWI Marriott, the same price as last year’s Dulles location. A four-person room-share will cost the budget-minded about $30-35 per night with taxes included. Even in two—double rooms, roll-away beds are available at an extra cost of $15 per room! This is a huge and rare benefit as most hotels (including many other Marriott properties) do not supply roll-away beds to two-double rooms. There is a maximum limit of one roll-away, so one person will still have to bed-share or bring the Airlite.

If you do the offsite congress grind regularly, take a break from it at this festival and get yourself an affordable room right in the center of the action at the event hotel.

Link to book your room coming shortly.

The hotel’s amenities include, but are not limited to, a well-equipped fitness center, a heated indoor pool, safe deposit boxes at the front desk, a free airport shuttle that takes you directly to the hotel from BWI and vice versa, and an onsite coin-operated laundry room. Room amenities include, but are not limited to, bottled water, a coffee maker, individual climate control, alarm clocks, an ironing board, foam pillows, and cable TV.

The size and usability of the laundry room is unknown at press time (the laundry room at last year’s hotel consisted of exactly one washer and one dryer that was in constant use all day and night). For this reason I recommend bringing enough clothing to last the weekend just in case. If you do need to do laundry, and the hotel’s laundry room is full, there are three laundromats located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel: the Crystal Laundromat (7446 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd, Glen Burnie), the DCA Laundromat (704 Crain Highway S, Glen Burnie), and Suds R Us (7420 E Furnace Branch Road, Glen Burnie).

For members of Marriott’s new Bonvoy rewards program (a merger of the old Marriott Rewards program, Starwood Preferred Group, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards) which is free to join and a no brainer for dance congress attendees and anyone who stays in hotels regularly, certain Marriott hotels offer 500 rewards points to the person on the hotel room’s folio for every night of refused housekeeping services. It is unclear at press time if the BWI Marriott offers such an incentive, but if they do, that’s an easy 500-1500 extra points (depending of course on how long you stay) that can go toward free or discounted hotel stays in the future for going a relatively short time without housekeeping services. Ask about this program at the front desk when you check in.

The immediate area around the BWI Marriott is a cluster of airport hotels, so there are many other alternate lodging options located nearby, but you know me by this time — I will not be discussing any other lodging options unless the BWI Marriott fully sells out (both the room block and all other rooms outside the block) and there is no official block at an overflow hotel. You’re on your own if it’s offsite options you seek.

TRAVEL:

The entire Washington DC and Baltimore area, including the area around BWI, is supported by the Citymapper app’s DC/Baltimore package, including all of their public transportation.

Via is not supported in the Baltimore/BWI area at this time.

UberPOOL and Shared Lyft are not available in the Baltimore/BWI area at this time. The cheapest UBER/Lyft options are UberX and Lyft; these of course can be split with fellow festival attendees with some planning and coordination.

DRIVING:

Driving or a shared ride with other attendees is an excellent way to get to the BWI area. Parking around the hotel is free! No need to pay to park at the airport!

FLYING:

Whether you are flying Spirit or any other airline, fly into BWI if you can. The hotel is located about a mile away from BWI and there is a free hotel shuttle that takes you directly to and from the hotel’s front door. All shuttle buses from BWI, including the Marriott’s courtesy shuttle, pick up from the LOWER level of the airport.

If you must fly into DCA, you have two options to avoid paying close to $70 one way for an UBER from DCA to BWI. Your first option is to take the DC Metro to Washington Union Station and take the MARC Penn Line from there to BWI ($8 for the MARC and $3-4 for the Metro one way). See the public transportation section for info on the DC Metro system. Your second option is to take the Metro to the Shady Grove stop at the northwestern end of the red line and take the MTA 201 bus from Shady Grove to BWI ($5 for the 201 and $3-4 for the Metro one way). See the bus/train and public transportation sections for more info on these options.

Avoid IAD if you can as not only is it the furthest airport from the festival, but it is also not served directly by a Metro station. If you must fly into IAD, take an UBERPool (available in the Dulles area) from the airport to the Wiehle-Reston stop on the silver line, take the silver line to the red line, and follow the above directions from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

The Amtrak Northeast Regional train picks up at various locations in the northeast and stops right at the BWI rail station; it is relatively more expensive than your other options, but more comfortable.

The MARC Penn Line is your best train option for getting to BWI from anywhere in the Washington, DC city limits. It picks up at Washington Union Station and will take you the BWI Rail Station for around $6-8. A shuttle runs from the rail station to the terminal where you can catch the Marriott’s courtesy shuttle downstairs which will take you to the hotel. The MARC does not run on Sundays, so those returning on Sunday night will have to take Amtrak back to Union Station, which will cost about $16 for an economy trip.

Your bus routes are slightly trickier, but still doable.

Bolt Bus stops in downtown Baltimore two blocks west of Penn Station. Walk up Maryland Avenue to W Lanvale Street, make a right onto Lanvale and a right onto Charles Street and walk south a block on Charles Street and the station will be on your left. The area around Penn Station is reasonably safe, but staying alert, walking quickly, and being street smart is recommended.

From Penn Station, you have two options. You can take the MARC Penn Line to BWI Rail Station and then take the shuttle to the terminal as described above. Alternately, take the Light Rail Link toward BWI Airport 16 stops south from Penn Station (Penn’s light rail platform is located in the northwestern corner of the station) to the airport, where the terminal and the courtesy shuttle to the hotel are a short walk away. The light rail route takes slightly longer than the MARC, but at $1.80 one way, is 3 times cheaper.

Megabus’ Baltimore stop is at the White Marsh Mall, which is nowhere near BWI (close to 45 minutes northeast), and getting to BWI from White Marsh will be a long, expensive, and cumbersome trip. If Megabus is your best or only option, take it to Union Station in DC and take the MARC Penn Line to BWI.

If you take Greyhound, it stops in downtown Baltimore near Camden Yards. Take an UBER or Lyft about three minutes to Hamburg & Lt Rail Station and take the light rail south to BWI. This will be about $8 one way.

An UBER or Lyft directly to BWI from downtown Baltimore will be about $17-20 one way. This can, of course, be split with fellow attendees of the festival.

OTHER LOCAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

General information about the Washington DC Metro system can be found at http://www.wmata.com, and a map of the system can be found here. The Metro trains and buses require a SmarTrip card; info about how to purchase one can be found here.

There are two different specific public transportation options local to the DC Metro area that will take anyone in this area, as well as any travelers who find themselves in this area (because they flew into DCA or IAD or whatever other reason) to BWI for a very low price.

For residents of Montgomery County, MD, the MTA 201 bus will take you from the Shady Grove metro station (northwestern end of the red line), the Gaithersburg Park & Ride, or the Georgia Avenue Park & Ride in Aspen Hill to BWI for $5 one way. This trip will take a little over an hour. The 201 accepts debit and credit cards for the current trip’s one-way fares only or cash in exact change (no change given if you overpay). This is also a good practical option for anyone who flew into DCA or IAD and can catch it from the Shady Grove metro station.

For residents of Prince George’s County, MD, including the College Park/University of Maryland area, the WMATA B30 bus goes from the Greenbelt Metro station at the northern end of the green line to BWI for $7.50 one way (exact change required). This bus isn’t really practical for anyone outside of PG County, however, as it is located further away from either of the DC airports than the 201 stops above.

Additionally, the B30 does not run on Saturday or Sunday, so anyone leaving for PG County on Sunday evening will have to take the 201 back to Shady Grove, then return to PG County via the red line and the green line, which will take close to three hours total.

FOOD:

You have two in-hotel dining options. Champions Sports Bar & Restaurant is a newly remodeled sports bar serving American food and a large selection of beer and wine all the way up to a half hour before the restaurant closes for the night. Chesapeake, as its name suggests, is a comfort seafood restaurant that serves a variety of seafood items including authentic Maryland crab cakes (or as we call them here, “crehhhb cakes”).

Your coffee fix will likely be supplied by the hotel’s Day/Night Bar, which serves Starbucks coffee.

For the frugal grocery shoppers, the closest Walmart Supercenter is located 11 minutes away at 3601 Washington Blvd, Arbutus, MD. Two other Walmart Supercenters are located 13 and 14 minutes away at 406 George Clauss Blvd, Severn MD and 6721 Chesapeake Center Drive, Glen Burnie, MD respectively.

If you prefer, the Linthicum Market is located 6 minutes from the hotel at 421 S Camp Meade Road, Linthicum Heights, MD. Additionally, the Good Day Gourmet is also located 6 minutes away at 700 S Hammonds Ferry Road, Linthicum Heights. Finally, Dollar General is located 9 minutes away at 7077 Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard, Glen Burnie, and Food Lion is located next door.

Restaurants located in walking distance of the hotel include: Maiwand Kabob (839 Elkridge Landing Road #110), McDonald’s (717 Nursery Road), Chili’s Grill & Bar (1715 W Nursery Road), Chick Fil A (1610 W Nursery Road), Potbelly (1622 W Nursery Road), NY Halal Food Court (1007 Main Avenue), and Adamm’s Airport Deli (891 Elkridge Landing Road – closes at 2:30pm).

Restaurants located slightly further away but still less than a 10 minute drive include: 700 South Deli and Cafe (1190 Winterson Road – closes at 3pm), Wendy’s (1589 W Nursery Road), Ruby Tuesday (950 International Drive), Cracker Barrel (1520 W Nursery Road), Bob Evans (996 Corporate Blvd), Urban Bar-B-Que (802 Pinnacle Dr. #100), Burger King (500 Progress Drive), El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant (529 S Camp Meade Road), and Matsu Japanese Restaurant (517 S Camp Meade Road).

Your food options directly at BWI airport are Potbelly, Chipotle, Dunkin’, Kraze Burgers, The Greene Turtle, McDonald’s, and Phillips Seafood.

Of course I can’t write about food options in the Linthicum Heights/Glen Burnie area without mentioning Crabtowne. This combination seafood restaurant and vintage video arcade, detailed in full in the above linked blog entry, is located only 15 minutes from the BWI Marriott, so if seafood and old-school arcade games are your thing, this is a can’t-miss attraction located close by!

That’s all for this entry. Hit the comments if you got anything to add and I’ll see you all at the BWI Marriott in April!

#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!

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!