#FrugalCongressLife Resource Spotlight: The Virtual Private Network (VPN)

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any 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.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this article; I will specify if this is the case.]

I’m going to start this article off by stating the obvious.

Going to dance congresses is travel, or at the very least, some form of travel.

I consider this blog to be a dance travel blog, ultimately. Even when attending a local dance congress, one is often simulating various aspects of travel, albeit close to home, such as staying in hotel rooms and being away from home for extended periods of time.

Most modern travelers want to stay connected to the Internet via their smartphones, tablets, or laptops, and dance travel is no different.

What is the modern dance congress experience for most people without being able to hit up the group chat for details about the preparty, make your friends at home jealous by tweeting about how litty the event is, or go live from the ballroom? This is to say nothing about catching an UBER from the airport to the hotel or using Citymapper to navigate an unfamiliar train system.

Most people with smartphones are on limited monthly data plans as of the time of this writing, with overages being very costly. If you aren’t on WiFi when doing the above activities (particularly going live, which involves uploading large amounts of video), you will burn through your allotted data quickly.

Fortunately, most congress hotels (as well as many coffee shops and restaurants) offer either free or paid public WiFi.

There’s just one very dangerous problem with that: hotel Wifi is usually unsecured.

Chances are, your home WiFi has some type of encryption, which serves the purpose of both keeping outside users from connecting to your WiFi and hackers from stealing your information.

Public WiFi offers no such protection from the latter. That is pretty scary when you consider how much of ourselves we have tied up in our phones these days. Work, intellectual property, financial information, passwords and active logins, social media (which is a part of our identity in and of itself in 2018 and beyond)…. its all there and can all be easily stolen by enterprising cyber criminals while on unsecured public WiFi.

So what is a savvy dance traveler and mobile internet user to do about this conundrum? This is where the subject of today’s profile comes in: the Virtual Private Network, known commonly by its initials: the VPN.

According to Microsoft TechNet, a VPN is an extension of a private network across shared or public networks. In layman’s terms, you connect to the private network of your choice through the public WiFi and to the Internet through that network. The effect of this is, even though you are using the physical bandwidth or your hotel’s WiFi (or whatever you’re using), since you are actually connecting to the Internet through the private network, you benefit from the private network’s encryption and security to protect your data from opportunistic “man in the middle” attacks and other low-level cyberattacks and possibly connect at a slightly higher speed.

There is a lot more technical info in the above post, but this layman’s description of what a VPN is is the absolute most that casual Internet users need to know.

Actually all you really need to know is “use VPN, protect data from hackers”. It really is a must have if you travel frequently or are otherwise on unsecured public WiFi a lot.

The way you connect to a VPN service is through a low cost subscription plan with one of several VPN providers. Usually you connect to the VPN through your provider’s phone, tablet, or computer app.

On iPhones, which is primarily what I use my VPN with, you’ll know you’re connected to the VPN when the “VPN” icon in the below screenshot appears in the upper left corner of your phone next to all the others.

VPN plans average $3-10 a month and I’d say that paying the cost of a latte or two every month to protect your priceless data from cyber criminals while you travel is absolutely worth it.

Granted, a determined hacker can get around anything including a VPN, but 99% of hackers and identity theives are opportunists who don’t want to put in a large amount of effort. Using a VPN will absolutely deter these crimes of opportunity.

My VPN provider of choice is NordVPN. 3-year plans with them run about $11.99 per month, although there is currently a two year deal for a limited time offering plans for $95 every two years (a value of about $3.99 per month). Jump on this deal before it goes! Setup could not be more intuitive. Once you sign up with them, you download the app and hit the Quick Connect button to connect to the fastest and closest VPN server. Either that, or you have the option to manually choose a server. NordVPN has more than 4,800 servers all over the world and allows for six simultaneous connections per account. Another key feature of NordVPN is the “kill switch” option, which automatically kills your connection to the WiFi network if you lose connection to the VPN server, a very valuable bonus for those dedicated to protecting their privacy and their data at all times.

StrongVPN, available for $10 a month or $69.99 for one year, is another excellent contender, notable for their no-logging policy and their entirely company-owned-and-operated network infrastructure.  StrongVPN gives you access to 689 servers in 70 locations.

IPVanish VPN has a similar no-logging policy, and gives you access to 900 servers across 60 locations for $7.50 per month or $58.49 per year.   They also allow for five simultaneous connections and have a kill switch similar to NordVPN’s.

Also notable is the amusingly named Hide My Ass VPN service, boasting hundreds or servers around the world and a user-friendly interface, but also a comparatively higher price tag at $11.99 per month.

On the opposite side of both the price and name creativity spectrum is Private Internet Access VPN, with plans available for as low as $3.33 per month for a two year commitment and access to 3,274 servers in 28 different countries. The interface is very basic and new VPN users may find it offputting, but it is a very good service for the price.

In this age where big parts of our life and identity are tied up in our online activities and hackers and identity thieves lurk around every corner, a VPN is an essential tool for the savvy connected traveler. I never use public WiFi or any unsecured WiFi without it, and you should not either.

As always, hit the comments with suggestions and I hope this helped someone!


#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote CSBF in any way. As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Island Touch Events other than being a fan. I have not been hired by Island Touch Events to promote them 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.]

Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival is an excellent salsa and bachata event put on by Island Touch Events and is one of their many regional salsa and bachata dance festivals.  CSBF is one of the Midwest’s top salsa and bachata festivals as well as one of the first festivals of the congress season (generally running from early spring until late fall), alongside Atlanta’s Salsa Bachata Festival at the beginning of March.  CSBF is happening March 22nd-25th in 2019.

The festival takes place in the town of Rosemont, IL, about 30 minutes outside of Chicago proper, at the Hilton Rosemont/Chicago O’Hare, a world-class conference hotel located near Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

CSBF features workshops by local, national, and international instructors, a series of unique bootcamps (priced separately), evening performances, and nighttime social dancing across two different ballrooms.

Today’s entry is your comprehensive #FrugalCongressLife guide to CSBF!


Early bird passes are on sale now and are very inexpensive at about $135, snag one quickly if you want to go to this congress for the best possible price!



Spirit is where it’s at.  Spirit flies directly into ORD, and the Hilton Rosemont is a brief 1.5 mile ride on the free hotel shuttle away.  If you take a non-Spirit airline, make sure you fly into ORD, as it is the only practical airport option.


Your most practical and frugal option if driving is to park in O’Hare’s economy parking Lot G ($10 per day) and take the free airport shuttle to the Hilton.

Parking directly at the Hilton is $30 per day for self-parking.


Megabus goes from Cleveland (most people will have to take Greyhound to Cleveland also) to West Polk Street between S Clinton Street and S Canal St in Chicago, which is about a 22 minute UBER ride or about 40 minutes on the Chicago Blue Line.


– Walk to the back of the stop to N Kilpatrick Avenue

– Make a left on N Kilpatrick Avenue

– Follow the road as it hangs left past the Mayfair station

– Make a right on Montrose Avenue and the Chicago Blue Line Montrose stop will be on your left

– Take the Blue Line to O’Hare

– Ride 4 stops to Rosemont

– Exit the station on the N River Road side, make a left and walk south on N River Road and the hotel will be on your right


Amtrak’s Capitol Limited goes to Chicago Union Station, which is about a 22 minute UBER ride or an hour on the Chicago Blue Line from the hotel.


– Exit the station at S Clinton Street, make a left and walk south on S Clinton Street 2 blocks to the Chicago Blue Line Clinton stop

– Take the Blue Line to O’Hare

– Ride 20 stops to Rosemont

– Exit the station on the N River Road side, make a left and walk south on N River Road and the hotel will be on your right

Flying or driving/rideshare are probably your best, least complicated, and most economical options for this congress.

Chicago is a city supported by Citymapper at the time of writing.


CSBF’s hotel arrangement is very unique as far as congress hotels go.  In addition to the Hilton Rosemont, the congress hotel where all the action occurs, there are two other Hilton-branded hotels in the same general area, and all three are attached to each other (and the nearby Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) via skywalk.  The other two hotels are the Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago O’Hare, and the Doubletree by Hilton.

The Hilton Rosemont itself is, comparatively, the baller option, at around $140-150 per night for a room, although there may be a congress room block for this hotel offering a lower price. Either way, the convenience of being able to just take the elevator upstairs to your room after a night of dancing and forego even the brief walk to the other two hotels is worth the price of admission to many dancers.  Amenities include a pool, fitness center, digital keys, floor-to-ceiling bay windows with stunning views in all rooms, and in-room massage services.

The Embassy Suites is the slightly less expensive middle option, at around $120-125 per night.  Amenities include a unique open-tiered layout that has the hallway outside the front door of every single room looking down on the lobby below, a complimentary made-to-order breakfast and evening dinner reception featuring light snack food, a heated indoor pool, and a fitness center.

Finally, we have the budget option, the Doubletree by Hilton, priced at around $100-110 per night.  The Doubletree is no budget motel, however, as it sports clean modern rooms with large luxurious showers, and amenities including a breakfast buffet (warning: not complimentary, expect to spend money for this), specialized fitness rooms featuring a Precor trainer and yoga equipment, a pool, a full fitness center, and a complimentary chocolate-chip cookie upon check-in.

You can’t go wrong with any of these hotels; they are all clean, beautiful, recently renovated, 4-star hotels that offer excellent amenities and a comfortable experience.  I also have no ethical qualms with outlining all three of these options, since they are all Hilton properties that stand to do well off this congress and since the Embassy and the Doubletree become the official overflow hotels when the Hilton Rosemont sells out, as it did last year.

Of course, you can reduce your expenses at each hotel by doubling, tripling, or quadrupling up in a room-share.  Even the two technically-offsite options are close enough so that they are a popular option with congress attendees.

If a room block exists for the main hotel, I would encourage you to support the organizers and use the room block first and foremost.

The skywalk connecting the hotels is a godsend for those not staying at the Hilton, but it’s worth noting that it is very labyrinthine and includes an outdoor section.  You enter the skywalk through an elevator in the lobby of the Hilton marked “To Skywalk” and follow the signs from there to your respective hotel. For those staying at the DoubleTree, there is a short outdoor section through the convention center’s attached parking garage.

Walking door to door from the entrance of the Hilton to the entrance of the Doubletree outside will save you about a minute of walking over taking the skywalk (yes, I timed it), but there are little if any time savings going door to door from the Hilton to the Embassy over the skywalk.  Regardless, late at night and when the weather is cold the skywalk is the best and most practical option.  One highlight of Friday night/Saturday morning at this past year’s CSBF for me was watching the sun rise from the skywalk with other attendees of the congress on the way back to my room at 6am after closing down the bachata room.


Wal-Mart shoppers are out of luck here, as the closest Wal-Mart is located over an hour away from the Hilton Rosemont.

The closest discount grocery store is ALDI, which is located about an 8 minute (one way) UBER ride south in Schiller Park at 9310 Irving Park Road.  Almost all of ALDI’s stock is off-brand, and do not expect to find Quest Bars or protein powder here.  It is, however, possible to find off-brand versions of such #FrugalCongressFood staples as peanut butter, jerky, and coconut oil (good for Bulletproofing your coffee for the workshops!) at this store.

Butera Market and Produce World on Cumberland Avenue, both located about 8-10 minutes one-way from the hotel on Cumberland Avenue, are also good alternatives.

There’s a Starbucks in the Hilton Rosemont’s lobby where you can get that all-important coffee to keep you awake through it all, as well as an informal sandwich table selling cold sandwiches for a low cost outside.

If you are up early enough or staying up late enough to catch the hotel breakfasts, those are very good too.  Both the Embassy’s breakfast and evening dinner reception are complimentary; those who are frequently up for hotel breakfast may consider the Embassy the most ultimately economical lodging choice for this reason.

The Doubletree’s breakfast is around $17-20 for a full buffet, and the Hilton Rosemont’s Liberty Tavern, their in-hotel dining option, charges $24.75 for a full buffet and $19.75 for a continental buffet.  Both the Doubletree and the Hilton’s buffets are all-you-can eat – eat your fill then go back to sleep for a couple hours!

Your in-hotel eating options for your meal out are the aforementioned Liberty Tavern (Hilton Rosemont) and Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (Doubletree), but both are a bit on the pricey side.

Located about a 5 minute walk from the hotel on Park Place is Adobe Gilas, Kings Dining & Entertainment, Five Roses Pub, Sugar Factory Chicago-Rosemont, and Park Tavern.

There are three eating options that I could consider making the 30 minute or so (one way) UBER ride from Rosemont into Chicago proper to be worth doing for if doable.  The first is Portillo’s, an excellent casual restaurant serving hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and other American staples.  Lou Malnati’s, a storied and legendary deep dish pizza restaurant, is the second option making the trip into Chicago worth it.

If you like a little bit of low-end theater with your meal out, the infamous Weiner Circle is definitely worth the trip on Friday or Saturday night before the parties begin.  A quiet, unassuming hot dog stand for most of the week, the place lights up on Friday and Saturday nights when patrons from the nearby bars flood into the stand and exchange seemingly-hostile-but-good-natured insults and trash talk with the staff, who return it in kind.  This is not an option for the easily offended or those with fragile sensibilities – there are four-letter words in abundance, and you should expect some verbal abuse from the staff when you order – but for those with thick enough skin, it is a spectacle that would be fun to witness in person.  Sadly, I did not get to go there this past year, but I have heard good things about the food also.

That’s all I got for this guide.  Feel free to hit the comments section with your suggestions or to fill in any gaps in my knowledge.  Not sure if I’m making it to CSBF this year at this time (it’s very far away for me) but I’ll see you all there if I do!

#FCL Resource Spotlight: Citymapper App

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

For this new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be profiling resources that are anywhere from handy to potentially game-changing in navigating the particulars of dance congresses both local and out of state in the most frugal manner possible. The first such resource I will be covering is Citymapper, a free app for iPhone and Android designed from the ground up to help users navigate walking, bicycling, and public transportation in the city in which they are currently traveling.

Let’s face it, ladies and gentlemen, you can’t drive everywhere, and that is a reality of travel. Your first handful of dance congresses will be local or in reasonable driving distance, but the more dance congresses you go to and the further into the dance congress lifestyle you get, you will begin to attend more dance congresses in far away locations where driving simply is not a feasible option. Furthermore, not every dance congress has a location in walking distance of an airport or train station with abundant food or supply options nearby.

At congresses where transporting yourself extensively is required, your most practical and frugal mode of transportation will be walking and mass transit. You can certainly use UBER or Lyft to get around, but UBER and Lyft are relatively expensive and the costs add up quickly. Your most practical #FrugalCongressLife option would be to figure out that city’s mass transit and use it to get around.

Waze or Google Maps will more than do the job of getting you around by car, but are oddly lacking at the task of helping you figure out walking, bicycling, and mass transit and using those options to get around. Enter Citymapper.

Billed as “the ultimate transport app” by its creators, Citymapper is a sleek, colorful, and intuitive smartphone app designed from the ground up to help its users successfully navigate every form of non-solo driving transit imaginable, including walking, bus, bicycle, subway, rail, light rail, Uber/Lyft, other rideshare services, and even ferry and scooter transit.

Only certain cities are available on Citymapper and the way it works is you select the city you want to navigate in the app, and you get instant access to a massive wealth of real-time data for your selected city including not only walking directions and routes for bus/rail/light rail/subway, but also departure times including delays, wait times, bikeshare and scooter availability, real-time charge data for scooters and Car2Go rideshares, and even bicycle routes.

The cities available on Citymapper at the time of this writing at the end of August 2018 are:

DC/Baltimore (combined), New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Mexico DF, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco, Manchester, Lisbon, Birmingham, London, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam (Randstad), Brussels, Cologne Dusseldorf Ruhr, Hamburg, Lyon, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Milan, St. Petersburg, Rome, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Istanbul, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, and Melbourne.

A very impressive list already, and I would love to see more cities added. Pittsburgh, Richmond, and San Diego are three missing cities that come to mind readily for me.

Navigation using the app couldn’t be easier, you input your starting point and destination into the app and when you want to leave or arrive and you get options for walking, bicycling, Uber, Lyft, or suggested combinations of walking and public transportation (rail/bus), as well as projected travel time and cost of each option and even calories burned for walking and bicycling.

Pictured: Citymapper options for the trip from Ferocity Dance Company‘s studio in Falls Church, VA, to the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, DC, the site of DCBX and Tropical New Year’s Eve

Select an option and hit the go button and Citymapper takes you through each step of the journey, with separate screens for each leg of the journey involving a different mode of transport.

For example, your first screen will likely be a walk with turn by turn directions. Your next screen after that may be a guide to the subway train you’re getting on showing wait times, alerts, and even the best section of the train to sit in, with a separate screen after that showing what how many stations you will be riding through, what station to get on at and what station to get off at. Your next screen after that may be a similar screen for the bus showing wait times, alerts, fares, and the exact street corner to wait at, as well as a subsequent screen showing exactly how many stops to take and what stop to get off at. Your final screen will invariably be a turn-by-turn detail of the walk from your bus stop or subway stop to your destination.

Pictured: step-by-step Citymapper directions for shortest route on the aforementioned trip from Ferocity to the Renaissance

What you see depends on how complex your trip is and how many different forms of transportation you are using, but it is all very intuitive and easy to use and makes the formerly stressful and involved task of navigating a city’s public transportation system into an almost effortless poetically smooth experience.

Additionally, you can save routes offline in advance and use it without needing to go online if the Internet gets spotty on your actual trip.

I have been using Citymapper extensively lately since moving back to the DC proper to navigate DC’s metro system, particularly the bus system, which I was less familiar with than Metro’s subway system, and Citymapper has been doing an excellent job in that area.

I also used Citymapper to navigate the New York City Subway system, with which I have extensive previous experience, when I was there for the New York Loves Bachata Weekender at the end of July this year.  My routes there were a mix of walking and subway, and my only complaint with Citymapper in NYC was that it did not specify whether the subway trains I was supposed to get on were Uptown or Downtown trains.  Luckily I knew the NYC subway system well enough so that I did not get lost in NY like Kevin McCallister off of that detail, but distinction between uptown and downtown trains is a necessary addition to Citymapper’s NYC package in my opinion.  Otherwise Citymapper did an excellent job in NYC as well.

[UPDATE: Since this section was written, Citymapper has added distinction between uptown and downtown subway trains to their New York City package in a recent software update.]

As an additional bonus, Citymapper is very good with bicycle routes. I do not bicycle anymore, but as a test and out of my own curiosity I switched to the bicycle route features (using the “personal bike” option rather than the “bikeshare” option, an important distinction especially if you are in an area with no bikeshares available) and punched in the start and end addresses from a few of my favorite bicycle rides from my days as a bicycle commuter in College Park, MD.  Each time, the app gave me three possible options, a “quiet” option (bicycle paths and low-speed/low-traffic roads only), a “regular” option (mix of bicycle paths, low-speed/low-traffic roads, and a small amount of high-speed/high-traffic roads), and a “fast” option (as many high-speed/high-traffic roads as possible).  I found each route presented by Citymapper to be very accurate to my own personal experience with these routes.  Citymapper does bicycling very well too!

In conclusion, Citymapper is a very handy and almost essential addition to any frugal traveler’s tool belt, both for dance congresses and life outside of dance congresses. I look forward to more cities being added and to using it to navigate my way around more in the future.

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Masters Of Bachata Takeover

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Masters Of Bachata Takeover or Ferocity Dance Company, except that I am a loyal yearly attendee of this event and Kat Arias is a favorite dance instructor and personal friend of mine. I have, however, not been hired by her or anyone else to promote the event at the time of this writing (as much as it probably is going to sound like it), nor have I been hired by or am affiliated with any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and advice. Parts of this entry will sound like a love letter to the event, but they do constitute my actual opinions. 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.]

[The Masters Of Bachata Takeover was set to conclude for good after the 2018 festival, but per Kat Arias’ Facebook Live announcement of 11/12/18, Masters Of Bachata will remain in Virginia Beach until at least 2020, and possibly longer than that if the event continues to grow in attendance! Let’s all come out strong and keep this excellent event going!]

Maybe I have a soft spot for this outstanding weekender because its 2016 edition was my very first dance festival-type event, but the Masters of Bachata Takeover, a weekend-long mini-dance congress created by the inimitable Kat Arias of Ferocity Dance Company, a championship-winning dance school whose reputation speaks for itself, remains my favorite dance event of all time despite, or maybe because of, its smaller size and more intimate nature compared to other larger dance congresses.

The Masters Of Bachata Takeover is located for the foreseeable future in the breezy, laid-back beachfront community of Virginia Beach, Virginia, at the Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront Hotel (5700 Atlantic Avenue), a uniquely laid-out but clean and beautiful two-tower hotel ensconced in a breathtakingly gorgeous beachside setting. The event features a variety of local and international artists, instructors, performers, and DJs.

Following a Thursday night pre-party at the Mambo Room Cultural Dance & Event Center in the nearby town of Norfolk, VA, the weekend’s main events begin on Friday night at the hotel with an evening workshop from 9pm-10pm and social dancing from 10pm until 4am in the hotel’s lone ballroom (a unique aspect in itself in contrast with the multiple ballrooms at most dance events). Saturday begins with dance workshops in the ballroom from 10am-4pm, followed by an incredible day party on the hotel’s outdoor deck right by the beach (weather permitting) from 4pm-7pm, and nighttime social dancing in the ballroom from 10pm-4am. The music for all parties is mostly all subgenres of bachata with a few short blocks of salsa, kizomba, zouk, and reggaeton, and performances happen at midnight on both Friday and Saturday night. Sunday picks up anew with workshops in the ballroom from 10am-4pm and the weekend’s official events conclude with another amazing day party from 4pm-7pm, again located on the hotel’s beachside deck if outside temperatures haven’t dropped too far south by this time.

If the outdoor temperature is too cold for an outdoor day party, as it was on Sunday in 2016 and on Saturday in 2018, the day party is moved to the not-as-spectacular yet usable and aesthetically pleasing event hallway directly outside the ballroom.

In addition to being a top-notch event, Masters of Bachata is one of the single most affordable dance events on the east coast for those within driving distance. With the right logistics, it is possible to have the full congress experience for less than $250 for the entire Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses, and even for less than $200 if you got the super early bird full pass.

This is one of the most affordable dance events out there today, in addition to being one of my personal favorites. Below is an extensive guide for navigating the particulars of this top-shelf event and having an amazing time #FrugalCongressLife style!

The Masters Of Bachata Takeover takes place on the weekend before Thanksgiving every year.  Since the month of November has five weekends in 2019, putting Thanksgiving on the 28th, the 2019 Masters Of Bachata Takeover will take place the weekend of November 22nd-November 24th, 2019.  Confirmed artists and DJs for 2019 include Fausto & Kate, Luis & Andrea, DJ Emerzive, DJ Selo, and DJ Soltrix.


Early bird and super early bird full passes become available in the days after the festival for a very low price, usually about 2/3 of the regular pass price. We advertise any flash sales or promotions for passes on our Facebook page.

Party-only passes become available at a much lower price in the weeks before the festival and include both the day and night parties. Obviously the full pass is the preferred option – the workshops at this festival are always amazing and the international artists won’t be here again for a long time so learning from them while they’re here makes sense. However, if you’re hard up enough so that it’s between you buying a party pass or not going, I’m sure Kat will gladly take you buying a party pass over not going.

If you enjoyed yourself at this year’s event, then get yourself a super early bird pass for next year’s event. Personally, if I miss this event it’s because I’m dead or in jail and I hope neither of those things happen ever so me getting my super early bird pass is a no brainer!


Without question, no matter how frugal you are or what your specific comfort levels are, the event hotel is where its at for this Congress. I have scarcely even looked at any other options… I briefly checked out AirBNBs once right before attending my first year, but they are literally just as expensive or more so than the event hotel. Every year, Ferocity reserves a massive room block at the event hotel with prices as low as $69 per night for a non-oceanfront room, $89 for an oceanfront room, and $115 for a partial oceanfront suite. Staying at the event hotel is a no-brainer at these prices; this is one of the rare congresses where I always get a solo room at the event hotel because of how inexpensive a room is, but a four person roomshare can be as low as $18 per night for a non-oceanfront room. Despite these rock-bottom prices, the Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront is no budget motel — it is a clean, comfortable, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing place to lay your head after a long day and night of dance.



Driving or ride-share is your best best, period.

Parking is a bit scarce on Atlantic Avenue itself, but there is a lot at the event hotel with abundant off-street parking, more than enough for all of the hotel’s guests, and they give you a paper permit that you put on your car dashboard for the duration of your stay showing that you are a hotel guest and permitted to use their lot. If you are in a roomshare, you may be able to get an extra permit from the hotel if your name is on the room; if not, there is some street parking on the side streets around the hotel.


The closest airport is Norfolk International Airport, which is about a 25 minute drive/Uber ride from the hotel, which will undoubtedly be a very expensive trip, but one that can probably be split with attendees who are also flying, with some coordination. There sadly does not seem to be any public transport options from the airport. Also, sorry Spirit heads, but Spirit Airlines does NOT go to Norfolk, so you’ll have to look to another airline that does go there.


Megabus is your best bus option for getting to Virginia Beach.  There is a Greyhound Route, but it is complex and staggeringly long (7.5 hours from DC) so I am not including it.  Also, good luck catching Greyhound on a rare day when they are actually reliable. I am also not including the Amtrak route in this post as it is just as long and complex.

Take Megabus to the Virginia Beach stop at 19th Street and Pacific Avenue.  From there, the hotel is about a 6-14 minute UBER ride away, or about a 16 minute trip on the 035 Hampton Roads Transit bus toward Shore & Pleasure House.  To get to the 035 stop, walk about 5 minutes down 19th Street toward Pacific Avenue, turn right on Arctic Avenue and the top will be on the left.  Take the 035 toward Shore & Pleasure House to Atlantic Avenue & 56th Street, and the hotel will be visible from the station.

To get back to the Megabus stop, go back to Atlantic and 57th and take the 033 bus to Arctic and 19th.  From there, head south on Arctic Avenue toward 19th Street, make a left on 19th Street and walk to the Megabus stop from there.

For more info on Hampton Roads Transit, visit https://gohrt.com/

This will be close to a 6 hour trip from the DC area and longer from points further away, but if you have no other way to get there and time to kill, this is your option.  Book soon if you are going this route, buses are limited and spots will fill up.


There are several Wal-Marts located up and down I-95 that you can stop at for pre-event frugal shopping. I personally usually go to the one in Ashland, VA (145 Hill Center Parkway) as it is nearby and usually comes up around two and a half hours into my drive when the need for a break starts to come up. Avoid the DC Wal-Marts; in addition to being inconvenient to get to, they are a bit more expensive than the suburban and small-town Wal-Marts by virtue of being in DC and having higher operating costs. There are also several Food Lions and an ALDI in Virginia Beach, all within a 15 minute drive of the Wyndham.

For your emergency caffeine and food needs, the hotel has a vending machine located on the walkway between the rooms and the event lobby that takes cards and cash. The walkway vending machine received an impressive upgrade in 2018 and now also carries a wide variety of drinks and food items including kale chips!

For your one daily meal out, the Surf Club Ocean Grille, the hotel’s attached restaurant, is a solid option. I highly recommend this restaurant for its relaxed and calming beachside atmosphere, friendly staff, convenience to the hotel, and excellent interpretation of comfort food staples, particularly the fish and chips if they are serving them, or the smokehouse burger otherwise. The hotel restaurant’s only downside is that it also operates as the hotel’s room service hub, so expect fairly sizable wait times for food despite a dearth of people physically in the restaurant. Despite this, the food is very good when it arrives. The fish and chips are some of the best I have ever had.

If you are looking for a top-notch lunch spot in the area, Citrus Breakfast and Lunch, at 357 N Great Neck Road, is an excellent casual sit-down restaurant serving breakfast and lunch staples in a light, airy, pleasant atmosphere. I go to this place every year for a friend’s birthday brunch and it is very enjoyable. The food is amazing and extra little touches like truffle flavoring in the burgers and pumpkin pie spice on the sweet potato fries bring it to the next level.

An excellent buffet option near Citrus that I had the privilege of checking out at the 2018 festival is Yukai Japanese & Seafood Buffet, located at 1952 Laskin Road in the Regency Hilltop Shopping Center.  This buffet has been voted by Yahoo Travel as the best buffet in the state of Virginia, and I can see why.  $15.99 will get you all the food you can eat at this Japanese seafood buffet offering over 40 different kinds of sushi, chicken and pork dishes, American comfort food staples, and a wide variety of fruits and desserts.

Both of the above places are about a 15 minute drive from the hotel, but are well worth the drive.

If you want to stay closer to the hotel, there are various fast food chains, most notably a Dairy Queen, along Atlantic Avenue. Keep in mind that parking is scarce along Atlantic Avenue, so you may want to UBER to any food spots along that road.

Finally, there is a 7 Eleven located at 3908 Atlantic Avenue that I can’t not mention, because it is where I get the all-important smorgasbord of caffeine that has fueled my drives home on Sunday night after a long and tiring-in-the-best-way weekend at Masters of Bachata. I got home from Masters in one piece in 2016 mostly thanks to this 7-Eleven.

You can see that having an unforgettable experience at this magical weekender without burning holes in your wallet is entirely possible. If I’m not there, something has happened to me… I make sure not to miss this one otherwise. See you there!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: The FTLOB Experience

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing I am not directly affiliated with For The Love Of Bachata other than Jessica Taylor being a personal friend of mine. 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.]

If you are a fan of traditional bachata straight from the Dominican Republic, the FTLOB Experience, formerly known as the FTLOB Festival, needs to be at the top of your list of events to attend. Promoter, blogger, and DJ Jessica “DJ Tay” Taylor has turned the city of Pittsburgh, PA into one of the #1 strongholds in the US for traditional bachata under the banner of her company, For The Love Of Bachata (FTLOB). The FTLOB Experience, named for the aforementioned company, is a bi-annual weekend festival with a fall and spring edition that delivers for fans of this style of bachata, with workshops featuring national and international traditional bachata artists in the afternoon and socials at night. This excellent event has a much smaller intimate family feel compared to a larger dance event, and is one of the few high-profile events in the US to be held at a dance studio rather than a hotel.

Each event follows a smaller “weekender” format, beginning with a Friday night kickoff party, workshops and guided social dance practice on Saturday afternoon and a party at night from 10pm-2am, and concluding with workshops on Sunday afternoon. The music format for the parties is mostly traditional bachata with a small amount of salsa, urban bachata, and kizomba.

Both the fall and spring editions of the FTLOB Experience take place in two locations in Pittsburgh for the immediate future. Friday night’s kickoff party happens at the Cabaret Theater, located at 655 Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. Saturday and Sunday’s workshops and party take place at Art & Style Dance Studio, a large and inviting dance studio with an excellent wood floor located at 318 Butler Street about 30 minutes north of the downtown area. This fall’s edition of the FTLOB Experience takes place September 28th-September 30th, 2018, and the next spring edition will take place sometime in May 2019.


A full pass for this festival is very inexpensive. The full pass for this year’s Fall Edition is only $100-112 three weeks out from the event (depending on whether or not you get the lunch package – see food section for details), and ramps up from an early bird amount of $70, so get your pass for the spring festival as soon as it goes on sale. A student discount is available for $55-67 for full-time students with ID, and if you purchase three or more passes together, you get a $30 discount on the total cost of your passes.



Driving or rideshare is a solid way to get to this festival. You will most likely be using the Pennsylvania Turnpike if you are coming from the east coast, so expect to pay about $15-20 in tolls. Fair warning: parking around the studio is limited (street parking), so parking at your place of lodging and using UBER or Lyft to get to the studio or arriving very early in the morning or evening is recommended.


Good news Spirit heads, Spirit goes to Pittsburgh International Airport! The bad news is the airport is about half an hour from the studio by car (no doubt a very expensive UBER ride) or about 1 hour and 38 minutes on public transportation at a cost of about $5.50.

Directions from Pittsburgh International Airport:

Take the 28X Inbound-AIRPORT FLYER TO DOWNTOWN & OAKLAND [Stop ID: 4405] to Liberty Ave at 7th St. (Clark Building)

Cabaret Theater is a one minute walk from this stop. Make a right on 7th Street and a left on Penn Avenue and the theater is on your left.

Take the 1 Outbound-FREEPORT ROAD TO TARENTUM [Stop ID: 180] to Butler St. at Center Street

Walk about a block northeast and the studio will be on your right

Directions back to the airport:

Walk about a block southeast to the Butler St. opp Center St. bus stop

Take the 1 Inbound-FREEPORT ROAD TO PITTSBURGH [stop ID: 3369] to Liberty Ave at Smithfield Street

Walk about 5 minutes east on Liberty Avenue toward Smithfield Street (two slight lefts to stay on Liberty Avenue) to the Pittsburgh Greyhound stop

Take the 29 north to the airport


Greyhound and Megabus are both great ways to get to this festival, as they both stop downtown in the Cultural District about a 10 minute UBER ride or 24 minutes on public transportation (about $2.75) away from Art & Style and right down the street from the Cabaret Theater. The Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian Amtrak trains also stop at the Amtrak station in the same area.

Directions to the Cabaret Theater from bus and train stops:

To get to the Cabaret Theater from the Megabus stop, walk up 10th Street, make a right on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 7 minute walk.

To get to the Cabaret Theater from the Greyhound stop, walk up 11th Street, make a left on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 9 minute walk.

Directions to Art & Style from bus and train stops:

Walk to the corner of 9th Street at Penn Avenue

Take the P13 Outbound-MOUNT ROYAL FLYER [Stop ID: 179] to Butler St. at Center St.

Walk about a block northeast and the studio will be on your right

Directions back to bus and train stops from Art & Style:

Walk about a block southeast to the Butler St. opp Center St. bus stop

Take the 2 Inbound-MOUNT ROYAL-FERGUSON DOWNTOWN VIA MILLVILLE [stop ID: 3369] to 9th Street at Penn Ave and walk to your respective bus stop or train station from there


Port Authority of Allegheny County – http://www.portauthority.org/paac/

PAAC Ticket information – http://www.portauthority.org/paac/FareInfo/FareInformation.aspx

(412) 442-2000

Mountain Line Transit – WV – http://www.busride.org/

MLT Ticket information – http://www.busride.org/Fares-Programs



Since this event is at a dance studio and no hotel room block exists, I will freely discuss a multitude of lodging options.

The closest hotel physically to the studio is the Morning Sun Inn, located about an 8 minute drive one way from the studio at 1156 Portland Street. The Morning Sun Inn is unique in that it provides the amenities and structure of a hotel, but with the homey down-to-earth feel and personal decor of a traditional bed and breakfast. They have also given each room a woman’s name (The Karen Room, The Sarah Room, The Anna Suite, etc.), which is an interesting if somewhat peculiar touch. At around $140-170 per night on average, this is not what I would call a frugal option, but it will be popular with attendees due to its proximity to the event, so you may be able to find a roommate or two to offset the costs. Maximum number of guests is 2 for the rooms and 4 for the suites (3rd and 4th guests are each $25 extra and the hotel provides deluxe air mattresses for extra guests).

Your closest budget hotel is the Comfort Inn, located at 180 Gamma Drive Building B about a 9 minute drive one way from the studio and averaging about $90-110 per night. Reviews online are a mixed bag, but I am told rooms here are generally clean.

Those are really your two best and most realistic hotel options for the immediate area. If you don’t mind going further out, the Days Inn by Wyndham Pittsburgh and the Super 8 Pittsburgh are both about an 18 minute drive one way from the studio at 6 Landings Drive and both go for about $65 and $78 per night, respectively. Be warned, guests complain in reviews about cleanliness issues at both hotels. They do have Sheetz nearby, so that’s a bonus.

Honestly, I got a bit of sticker shock looking at general hotel prices in the Pittsburgh area as they are easily on par with DC and even approaching New York in terms of cost. I was going to do a section on hotels near the Cabaret Theater to stay at Friday night, but there is literally not one hotel there under $200 a night… it makes more financial sense to use your transportation mode of choice to go back to your hotel near the studio.

Of course on that note, I gotta playfully mention the extreme baller options real quick – the Omni William Penn, located at William Penn Place and averaging about $449 per night (which gets you afternoon tea service, among other luxurious amenities), and Townplace By Bridge Street, a luxury apartment complex inexplicably doubling as a hotel located on Stanwix Street near Market Square at $507 per night… for this staggering cost you get a fully furnished apartment room with a full kitchen, dimmable mood lighting, a basketball court, electric car charging stations, a game room, a movie/cinema room, and the ability to cast Netflix to any TV. These places are close to the Cabaret Theater (making them a doable Friday night option for the big ballers I guess) but about a 30 minute drive one way from Art & Style and are anything but frugal, but hey if you want balling out in style to be part of your FTLOB Experience (you’re on the wrong blog if that’s the case) then these are the hotels to check out!

Back to frugal Earth…

Your very best frugal lodging option for this festival is AirBNB, and I must admit, this is the route I went when I attended the Spring 2017 FTLOB Festival. AirBNBs in the immediate area average around $50-70 per night. There are about 33 AirBNB listings left for this fall’s FTLOB Experience about 3 weeks out from the festival, but AirBNBs are available in abundance averaging between $40-80 per night further out from both the fall and spring festivals. Neighborhoods recommended by FTLOB to look for your AirBNB include Etna, Aspinwall, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Bloomfield, Shaler, Northside, and Millvale. I stayed in Shady Side, located about a 10 minute drive one way from Art & Style, in 2017 and can personally recommend this town as well.


First and foremost, lunch is provided at this festival! For a mere $10 extra with your pass, you can get a two day lunch bundle that typically includes some type of meat sandwich, chips, fruit, and a drink. I’m sure there are also vegetarian and vegan options as well. The lunch is very good and this is, in my opinion, a must-do add-on for frugal festival goers. Lunch is served during a designated break time denoted on the schedule in the middle of workshops.

Wal-Mart is located about a 9 minute drive from Art & Style, at 877 Freeport Road. Shop ’n SAVE is located at 450 56th Street and ALDI is located at 880 Butler Street, both about a 10 minute drive away on average.

There’s quite a few options nearby for your one meal out. E-Town Bar & Grill is located steps away from the studio and serves a solid menu of comfort bar food such as subs and wings. For those looking for Chinese, Hong Kong Taste is located a couple blocks away at 366 Butler Street, or if Polish food is your thing, Cop Out Pierogies is located nearby at 350 Butler Street. For Italian sandwiches and pizza, Amato’s Sandwich Shops is located a short walk away at 376 Butler Street.

That’s all I got. I enjoyed the Spring 2017 FTLOB Festival very much and highly recommend this event. I can not make it to the fall edition, but I do plan to go to at least one day of next spring’s FTLOB Experience!

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: The Westin Alexandria

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have I been hired by Interfusion Festival, DC Fall Salsa Bachata Festival or Victory Inspired Events, aside from being a personal friend of these organizations’ respective proprietors, and a loyal attendee of both Interfusion and DC Fall Salsa Bachata Festival. At the time of this writing I am not directly affiliated with nor have I been hired by the Westin Alexandria or any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and 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.]

For my second multi-congress #FCL hotel guide, I am covering one of my top five favorite congress hotels in the US, The Westin Alexandria, located at 400 Courthouse Square in Alexandria, VA, a nearby suburb of DC.  The Westin Alexandria was designed as a “wellness hotel”, a hotel that makes the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of its guests its top priority, and this is evident throughout in its gorgeous, meditative, spiritually inspired design and luxurious amenities.

The Westin Alexandria is currently home to the one and only Interfusion Festival, an eclectic mix of not only Latin and African dance workshops, but also workshops for meditation, yoga, pole dance, tantra, ecstatic dance, acro-yoga, essential oil, and other spiritual topics, in addition to all-night dance socials featuring ballrooms for salsa, bachata, zouk, EDM, and acro-yoga jams.

The festival’s creators, Christian Rodriguez and Umka Pele, could not have picked a more fitting location, as the hotel’s design and amenities complement the spirit of the festival perfectly.

After a year-long hiatus following Winter 2017’s Interfusion Festival: Unleash Your Dreams and Fall 2017’s Interfusion Festival: Awakening, this unique festival returns in the winter of 2019 with the very appropriate title Interfusion Festival: Rebirth.  Interfusion Festival: Rebirth happens at the Westin Alexandria between January 18th and January 21st, 2019.

The Westin Alexandria also recently became the new home of DC-based promoter and DJ Parker Cocolo’s DC Fall Salsa & Bachata Dance Festival, also known as DCSB Fest or DCSBF and sometimes lovingly referred to as “Parker’s Joint” by local dancers in DC. After some technical difficulties with the festival’s previous location in Crystal City, Parker has found a permanent new home for this excellent brand new up-and-coming dance festival, currently in its third year, at the familiar congress-tested Westin Alexandria location, which will provide the Westin’s atmosphere and amenities, as well as larger ballrooms, a greater variety of workshops, and social dancing until 6am.  The DC Fall Salsa & Bachata Dance Festival happens this fall from September 27th to October 1st, 2018 at the Westin Alexandria.

Up until this year, the Westin Alexandria was also the location of the Capital Congress, DC’s longest-running salsa congress (since 2005!), organized by Shaka Brown and also including workshops and ballrooms for bachata, kizomba, and zouk.  For its 2019 incarnation, the Capital Congress has picked up and moved to the Hilton Mark Center Hotel located about 16 minutes west of the Westin.  I will be researching transportation and food options for this hotel and dropping a survival guide to the new Capital Congress location on the blog around April of next year when we are closer out to that particular congress.

To my knowledge, The Westin Alexandria is the only congress hotel on the east coast and possibly in the US to have hosted three separate Latin dance-related congresses or festivals within a two year period.  Feel free to correct me if you know of any others.

With the Westin Alexandria’s credentials out of the way, on to the definitive #FCL guide to this storied congress hotel.


Passes to DCSBF are still available for $169… buy now before they go up again!

Early bird passes to Interfusion Festival: Rebirth are available for $175 until September 10th, 2018.  Jump on it now! Prices for this festival will jump up to around $300 closer to the event. Any price is definitely worth it for this truly one of a kind festival, but if you didn’t get a $120 super early bird pass at the end of 2017, you missed the boat on the cheapest possible passes.



Driving and ride-share is a solid way to get to this hotel if able.  Street parking is tight around the hotel and the hotel has no garage of its own to speak of.  However, the hotel basically has an unofficial garage in the form of the West Parking Garage, located at 550 Elizabeth Lane. This garage costs $5-10 all day on weekends and is free after 7PM.  Located right around the corner from the hotel and boasting multiple levels of abundant off-street parking at a low cost and 24-hour access, this garage is your best parking option for the Westin, whether you are staying or commuting.


Try to fly into Reagan National Airport (DCA) if you can – it is the closest airport to the Westin Alexandria by a longshot; BWI is too far away to be practical and you will eat into your Spirit savings a bit getting from BWI to the hotel.  IAD is also too far away to be practical.

FROM DCA: Take the DC Metro yellow line toward Huntington from Reagan National to Eisenhower Avenue.  Once there, follow walking directions from Eisenhower Avenue.

FROM IAD: Take an UBER from IAD to the Wiehle-Reston Metro stop on the silver line, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to L’Enfant Plaza and transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and go to Eisenhower Avenue.  Once there, follow walking directions from Eisenhower Avenue.

FROM BWI: If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station.  Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the yellow line toward Huntington and go to Eisenhower Avenue.  Once there, follow walking directions from Eisenhower Avenue.


Take any bus or train line to Union Station in DC and follow the above Metro directions from Union Station from there.

From Eisenhower Avenue metro to the Westin: Walk out of Bay E to Eisenhower Avenue and make a right.  Make a left onto Elizabeth Lane, hang a right at Courthouse Square/The Carlyle Club and you will see The Westin Alexandria from the square, you can’t miss it.  This is about a 10 minute walk.

Information on the MARC trains can be found here: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system and parking at Metro lots (see below). A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting DC again in the future.


The Westin Alexandria is where it’s at, period.

There are a few offsite budget options, but when taxes, room fees, and cost of transporting yourself between these offsite locations and the Westin are taken into account, they will save you a grand total of $0-20 per night over both congress’ room blocks at the Westin and may even cost a bit more – hardly worth it.

Stay at the Westin, both to support this outstanding hotel and because it is objectively the best option for any congress or festival held there, period.

Book your room for DCSBF here. You have until September 3rd, 2018. Jump on it!

I will add a link to the Interfusion room block in a later update.

A solid between-workshop-and-party showering option for the brokest of local commuters who can’t even swing a room-share and don’t want to double back home is the Park Center XSport Fitness at 4300 King Street, located about 14 minutes from the Westin at 4300 King Street.  This gym offers $10 day passes and $5 garage parking and full shower facilities as well as a wide variety of free weights, machines, and cardio equipment for your workout.  This option is as frugal as it gets and not really an option for out of towners.  I have done this option sometimes when I was very low on money and lived close enough to the Westin to do it feasibly.


For your frugal grocery shopping, the closest Walmart Supercenter is about 11 minutes south of the Westin at 6303 Richmond Hwy.

As far as other grocery stores go, there is a Whole Foods about an 8 minute walk from the Westin at 1700 Duke Street, a Safeway about a 9 minute drive away on 500 S Royal St., a Harris Teeter about 15 minutes away at 735 N. Asaph Street, and a Balducci’s near Safeway at 600 Franklin Street.  Keep in mind parking around many of these stores could be tight.

The Starbucks located immediately next door is the most convenient option for your coffee needs.

However, as a fan of Bulletproof Coffee, I can’t not mention the presence of Bon Vivant Cafe + Farm Market, one of the only coffee shops in the US at the time of this writing that sells pre-made Bulletproof Coffee, about a 10 minute drive one way from the Westin in the nearby Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, at 2016 Mount Vernon Avenue.  For time and logistical reasons I still usually choose to save myself the trip and make my own Bulletproof coffee with my own ingredients at Starbucks, but Bon Vivant’s interpretation of Bulletproof Coffee is exceptionally good and worth the extra effort to get it if you can swing it.

As for your meal out options, The Westin’s restaurant, Trademark Drink and Eat, sometimes has special deals for festival guests and it is definitely worth a shot to ask them as their food is quite good.  Pasra Thai, a Thai food bar, is also a very excellent dining option nearby.  More casual options in walking distance include Quiznos, Dunkin’ Donuts, Panera Bread, and Potbelly.  All options I’ve mentioned outside of the hotel can be found by making a right out of the hotel’s main entrance, making a right onto Jamieson Avenue, and walking along that street.

A 7-Eleven can also be found at 504 John Carlyle Street near Potbelly.

That’s all I got, hit the comments if you have any other suggestions and I’ll see you all at both DCSBF and Interfusion!

– Owen

#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Bulletproof Coffee – The Brain Elixir

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not affiliated directly with or employed by Bulletproof, I am merely a loyal user of their products.  At the time of this writing, I also 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.]

Anyone who knows me knew this profile was coming at some point.  For those who don’t know what Bulletproof Coffee is, it is coffee with some form of dietary fat in it, usually a combination of grass-fed butter or ghee and MCT or coconut oil, with an optional addition of collagen powder for joint and skin health and usually stevia and cinnamon for sweetness and flavor. I sometimes like to add chocolate greens powder as well, but this isn’t considered an official ingredient of Bulletproof coffee.

Although I will be using Bulletproof Coffee as a Xerox/Kleenex-like catch-all term for any coffee with butter and oil in it, there is actually a company called Bulletproof, started by entrepreneur and butter-and-oil-coffee pioneer Dave Asprey, which sells its own Bulletproof-branded coffee products (beans, grounds, and pre-brewed coffee), ghee, MCT oil, and collagen powder and markets their offerings as technically superior to more generic similar products. The jury is out on this to me, but I will be conducting a comparison experiment between Bulletproof’s products and generic alternatives at a later time and will chronicle this experiment on the blog.

As I have alluded to in previous posts, I am a fan of Bulletproof Coffee for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost is the cognitive benefits.  The proven “brain food” ketone-synthesizing cognitive benefits of dietary fat combined with the wakefulness and energy of caffeine combine in Bulletproof Coffee to increase mental alertness, clarity, focus, and concentration.

Let’s face it: congress workshops are an exceptionally tough learning environment.  Many workshops are crowded, you’re fatigued from a long night, there’s a lot to learn in a relatively short time and time for review and practice is limited, you’re managing many different partners’ individual skill and comfort levels while trying to learn complex turn patterns and/or body movements at the same time, lead to follow ratios are frequently askew, people don’t know how to rotate, people have conversations while the instructor is talking making it hard to hear them, that one f**king dude is trying to get every girl’s number and disrupting the class (he’s in every damn workshop it seems), and so on.  It is understandably hard to learn under such conditions, so anything that gives a mental edge will help a lot with learning in the typical congress workshop environment.  I frequently drink a large cup of Bulletproof coffee right before beginning workshops for the day at a dance congress and it helps. It’s not a magic bullet, but it helps.

Another benefit is that dietary fat is proven to be filling and dull the appetite throughout the day, which prevents overeating and has obvious benefits in that regard at a frugal congress.  Additionally, the fat in the butter and the MCT oil has the effect of smoothing out the caffeine buzz and making it last longer, rather than a sharp spike and crash.

Clearly, this is a good drink to have for dance congresses overall for a variety of reasons.

There are a smattering of restaurants and cafes that sell pre-made Bulletproof Coffee around the US, such as Bon Vivant Cafe+Farm Market in Alexandria, VA, but these places are few and far between and tend to sell their Bulletproof Coffee at a high mark-up, so mostly you will be purchasing the various ingredients of Bulletproof coffee and making it yourself.  Alternately, Bulletproof has just begun selling a cold-brew grab-and-go ready-to-drink version of Bulletproof Coffee, but it is very expensive, at almost $60 for a 12-pack online, or $4.99 per individual container at Whole Foods, so making Bulletproof Coffee yourself is still the optimal #FCL strategy (although I’ll indulge in a few containers of Bulletproof Cold Brew every so often).

In this post, I will take a look at Bulletproof Coffee’s different ingredients in depth and offer some more frugal alternatives to Bulletproof’s official offerings, which can be a bit on the expensive side.  All these ingredients are shelf-stable and do not need to be refrigerated unless otherwise noted.

Bulletproof’s branded ingredients as well as their more frugal substitutes can be found locally at Whole Foods or online on Amazon or various online retailers.


The most obvious component.  Bulletproof offers their own grounds, beans, and instant coffee. They claim that their coffee has a reduced amount of the mycotoxins supposedly found in regular coffee.  As someone who has lived and worked in mycotoxic environments and had some mild ill health effects as a result, I can intimately appreciate the dangers of mycotoxins, but the jury’s out on whether paying the premium for Bulletproof’s coffee products makes an appreciable difference in performance.  To be honest, I usually get the coffee component of Bulletproof Coffee I make at congresses from the nearest Starbucks or from the hotel’s free coffee dispensers, if they exist in that particular hotel.


Ghee is a type of clarified butter prepared by churning, simmering, and preserving the clear liquid fat from butter or cream, and is composed of almost entirely fat, most of which is saturated fat (Wikipedia).

Bulletproof’s ghee, which Bulletproof advertises as coming from grass-fed cows, comes in a 13 ounce jar that lasts for close to a month with normal daily usage in Bulletproof Coffee and averages about $25 for a jar.

If you use Bulletproof’s Ghee, be sure to regularly clean the lid of the jar and don’t fasten it too tight.  The ghee in Bulletproof’s jar can harden and make the lid very difficult to get off (even for a longtime weightlifter) if there is ghee on the lid or the lid is fastened too tightly.

Organic Valley also sells 7.5 ounce jars of ghee that last about 2 weeks with normal daily usage in Bulletproof Coffee for about $8 on average, and its lids don’t have the hardening issue that Bulletproof’s ghee jars do and are always easy to get off.

You can also use grass-fed butter purchased from a grocery store for about $3 as a substitute for ghee, and that will last you about a week of normal usage, but keep in mind that butter, unlike ghee, is much more perishable and needs to be refrigerated.

MCT oil:

Medium-chain triglyceride oil is a fatty oil that is frequently distilled from coconut oil and is a concentrated and high-potency form of the essential fatty acids found in coconut oil.  These are many of the fatty acids that drive ketone synthesis and are therefore an essential component of Bulletproof Coffee. (Wikipedia)

Bulletproof’s MCT oil offering is called Brain Octane Oil, and a 16 oz bottle sells for about $25 and will last for about a month and a half of normal daily usage in Bulletproof coffee.

Do not use Bulletproof’s MCT oils without butter or ghee – using the oils by themselves will cause gastrointestinal distress, why I do not know exactly.  Pairing MCT oil with butter or ghee seems to alleviate the GI distress caused by MCT oil by itself.

There are other less expensive MCT oils averaging around $15-25 for a 16-32 ounce bottle.  I can not comment on their effectiveness as I have mostly stuck with Bulletproof’s MCT oil.  Sometimes MCT oil causes gastrointestinal distress in some people, so start with a little bit and go up from there until you figure out what you can or can’t handle, and always pair it with butter or ghee.  Eating a lot of other healthy fats, such as avocado, salmon, and almonds, in your diet is recommended as making MCT oil your only source of fats will amplify negative side effects.

Coconut oil is an acceptable substitute for MCT oil in Bulletproof coffee and you can include it by itself without gastrointestinal distress, unlike MCT oil.  Make sure you use unrefined extra virgin coconut oil.  A jar that will last you for close to two months with normal use in Bulletproof Coffee can be purchased for as low as $10-15.  It is not as concentrated or potent as MCT oil, but it still gets the job done.

If you are trying to pack light, Kelapo sells coconut oil and ghee mixed together in one jar, or in packets.  The packets are pretty expensive, at $25 for four packets, but they are convenient on the go.  A 13 ounce jar that will last you about 3-4 weeks can be found for about $20, but keep in mind the jar has the same issues as Bulletproof’s ghee jar and should be cleaned regularly and not put on too tight.

Bulletproof also sells “InstaMix” packets containing a mixture of their ghee and Brain Octane oil for on-the-go mixing in coffee at a cost of about $35 for 14 packets.

Collagen powder:

Collagen is a structural protein found in animal bodies, skin, and tissue, and collagen powder is a purified form of collagen extracted from the body, skin, and tissue of animals, usually cows.  When collagen in this form is ingested by humans, it has the effect of helping to rebuild joint tissue and cartilage, making it an excellent cure for aching knees and shoulders, and also has the added benefit of rebuilding skin, nails, and hair, providing anti-aging benefits.  (Wikipedia)

I like to add a few tablespoons of collagen powder to my Bulletproof coffee to help alleviate joint pain and as part of a regular anti-aging regimen, but this is optional.

One of my favorite collagen powders is Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate, which comes in a 16 oz container that lasts you a little over a month with normal daily usage in Bulletproof Coffee for about $25.  It has a slightly beefy flavor to it in its raw form, but this can barely be tasted if at all once it is in the coffee.  You can only find this brand of collagen online as far as I know.

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides can be found at Whole Foods or online for about $25 for a 10 ounce container that will last you about 2-3 weeks, and is completely flavorless.

Bulletproof also sells their own collagen powder for $39.95 for a 16 ounce container. I recently got a tub of their chocolate collagen powder on sale and it adds a very pleasing chocolate flavor to Bulletproof coffee, and is very effective as a collagen supplement as well.


Cinnamon in Bulletproof Coffee is strictly for flavor.  Not much that needs to be said about cinnamon, it’s cinnamon.  If I am getting my coffee at Starbucks, they provide cinnamon for free, as well as chocolate, vanilla, and nutmeg powder.  Otherwise, cinnamon can be found at any grocery store for about $2 and will last you a very long time.


I like to add sweeteners to taste to sweeten my coffee, and stevia, derived naturally from a plant of the same name, is the sweetener I favor.  Boxes of about 50 packets of stevia can be found at any grocery store for around $2-3.

Optional – Chocolate protein or greens powder:

I like to add some kind of chocolate powder to my Bulletproof coffee for chocolate flavor, but this is entirely optional.

Barlean’s Chocolate Greens powder, which provides a concentrated dose of several essential green vegetables and has a sweet, rich dark chocolate flavor, would be a good addition to your Bulletproof coffee.  Add one small scoop of this powder.

Any chocolate protein powder would work well for this purpose as well.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 of a scoop to taste.

How to make Bulletproof coffee:

Warning: do not prepare Bulletproof Coffee in a styrofoam cup or attempt to drink it out of a styrofoam cup.  The MCT oil has some kind of chemical reaction with styrofoam that causes the styrofoam to dissolve quickly and spray your drink all over the immediate vicinity.  MCT oil melts styrofoam, avoid putting Bulletproof Coffee in a styrofoam cup.  This reaction does not occur with any other material.

When it comes to making Bulletproof coffee, the common wisdom is that a blender is the best method for mixing the ingredients, but I personally do not do this as I frequently do not have a blender on hand and do not recommend putting hot coffee in a blender, particularly a high-end one.

My favorite method for making Bulletproof coffee without a blender is as follows:

– Put cinnamon, collagen powder, optional chocolate protein/greens powder, and ghee in bottom of coffee mug first

– Add MCT/Brain Octane oil

– Stir vigorously until mixed together into sludge

– Fill cup to about 1/4 full and stir vigorously until mixture is fully mixed with coffee

– Fill cup to top with coffee and stir until fully mixed

I find this method is the best way to mix the ingredients and yields the best-tasting and most potent Bulletproof coffee, and that if you pour the coffee and mix the ingredients in after, some of the powders (particularly the cinnamon) end up on the bottom of the drink and it doesn’t taste as good nor is it as potent.

Obviously, this will not be the optimal method if you are buying coffee from, for example, a hotel coffee shop on the go where you get the cup with the coffee already in it.  One possible workaround for this is to mix the Bulletproof ingredients in another small paper or plastic cup (as long as it isn’t styrofoam) and bring the mix down to the coffee shop to add to their coffee.

Here is a picture of a cup of Bulletproof coffee I made using this method:

That’s it for this food profile. Look for my Bulletproof experiment where I compare my performance in a dance class after drinking coffee made with Bulletproof’s products vs coffee made with generic ingredients at a later time. Hit up the comments if you have anything to add and happy coffee drinking!

– Owen