#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!

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#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!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress

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

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

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

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

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

But first…

A NOTE ABOUT BALTIMORE CITY IN GENERAL:

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

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

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

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

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

PASS:

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

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

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

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

If you take a non-Spirit airline, make sure you fly into BWI, as DCA and IAD are both too far away from the congress to be practical.

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

Light RailLink Directions to the Hilton Baltimore from BWI Airport:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRIVING:

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

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

BUS/TRAIN:

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

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

Directions from Penn Station to the Hilton Baltimore:

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

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

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

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

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

Directions from the Hilton Baltimore to Penn Station:

– Exit the side facing Pratt Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LODGING:

Your best and safest option is to stay at the event hotel.

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

The Baltimore Congress team is currently offering a room block at the event hotel at a cost of $130 per night for both one-king and two-double rooms.  This is the best deal you will find on this hotel or any other hotel in the immediate vicinity; rooms at the event hotel normally go for close to $200 per night outside of this room block.

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

In 2018 the hotel sold out entirely and that is anticipated to happen again in 2019; the sooner you book your room, the better!

Book your hotel room HERE.

Incredibly, all two-double rooms on the block are sold out at the time of this writing in October 2018, but the Baltimore Congress team is negotiating to add more. More updates to come at a later date.

There will be an overflow block at a nearby hotel if the Hilton fully sells out as it did last year. The overflow hotel will be announced if the Hilton does sell out.

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are all safe parts of Baltimore.

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

The congress also features a taco truck right outside the hotel between 10:30pm and 3am. This is an excellent food option, but it tends to sell out by 1am or thereabouts, so jump on it early in the night. Hopefully the truck’s operators bring double the supplies that they have in previous years this year, because their food is quite good, and it will be a popular option.

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

#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Fruit/Vegetable Squeeze Pouches

[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.]

I know what some of you are thinking. “You’re telling me to eat baby food out of a fricking squeeze pouch?” Indeed, when I looked up fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches on Google as part of my initial research for this article (how did you think I did research for this blog?), the very first hit was this article. “Adults, please stop eating baby food out of squeeze pouches,” scolds Emily Johnson of Epicurious.com, “you have teeth for a reason.”

I kind of see your point, Emily Johnson, but here is the thing: my readers and I are very busy people who travel a lot and live very active, on-the-go lifestyles. This is a blog for dance travelers, after all.

We all know eating a certain daily allotment of fruits and vegetables is essential to a healthy, balanced diet, and in previous discussions of how to eat at dance congresses, I have stressed the importance of eating healthy. There’s a lot of activity involved in dance congresses and many of you are letting sleep fall by the wayside (all the #TeamNoSleep hashtags and jokes about how the bed is quicksand have much truth behind them), so eating well is doubly important.

Solid fruits and vegetables are not always ideal on-the-go foods though. They’re perishable. They’re messy. Some of them have to be refrigerated. There is preparation necessary with some of them, and they take a relatively long time to actually eat. This is all well and good when you’re at home in your kitchen but in a hotel or dance studio far from home, in some cases without the solid base of a hotel room, or even on a plane, bus, or train, it becomes more of a problem. The squeeze pouch is a very handy and convenient solution here.

Squeeze pouches are exactly as the name would suggest they are. They are shelf-stable small pouches with a small spout and a twist-off cap and once the cap is off you squeeze the food inside into your mouth through the spout. The food itself is usually a sweet and palatable fruit and vegetable puree that provides all the nutrients and minerals of the respective solid fruits and vegetables with no added sugar (sweetened exclusively by the sugar in the fruits) and both natural and added fiber (to offset the loss of natural fiber from the pureeing process).

Squeeze pouches aren’t limited to delivery of fruit and vegetable puree, of course. They can also be delivery systems for almonds, protein, sunflower and chia seeds, espresso, oatmeal, and even meat products. For the sake of keeping this article at a reasonable length, and because I personally usually use squeeze pouches as an on-the-go fruit-and-vegetable delivery system, that is the capacity in which I will be examining them.

I’m going to examine a few of the more visible and well-known brands of adult fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches in the next few paragraphs. I’m mostly limiting my reviews to squeeze pouches marketed specifically to adults, to remove the stigma of “eating baby food” as much as possible.

One very prevalent, fast-rising brand in this market is Fruigees, whose name is a portmanteau of “fruits” and “veggies”. Fruigees was first conceived by two cousins in Los Angeles, CA and their flagship squeeze pouches are now widely available online and in grocery stores all over the US. Fruigees is currently available in three flavors: “24 Carrot Orange” (orange and carrot), “Kaleifornia Grape” (grapes and kale), and “Nothing Beets Cherry” (beets and cherry). Each flavor is very pleasing to the taste buds, and amazingly you can not taste the kale in the “Kalefornia Grape” flavor at all. Fruigees squeeze pouches are all organic as well as GMO and BPA free, and are essentially a mix of fruit and vegetable juice concentrates with tapioca starch and carob bean gum giving them their pleasing pudding-like consistency. Fruigees pouches are available on Jet and Amazon in 26-count boxes for about $27 or about $1.03 per pouch, and offline in stores such as Safeway, Whole Foods, and CVS at a slightly higher markup.

Noka is another solid brand of these pouches. They are available in blueberry/beet and sweet potato/goji flavors, both of which amazingly manage to retain the sweet fruity flavors of their respective fruits, at Whole Foods for around $2.85 per pouch. Each flavor also contains vegan protein and flax seeds.

Mamma Chia, the makers of their flagship eponymous chia-seed-infused beverages, also have recently expanded into their own squeeze pouch offering called Chia Squeeze Vitality Snacks, a mix of fruit juice concentrates and chia seeds.

Target sells Go Gourmet’s Organic Slammers brand of pureed superfood snacks filled with bananas, apples, blueberries, strawberries, beets, acai, and amaranth (a nutrient-rich grain that is also high in protein) for $3.79 for a 4-pack or about 94 cents per pouch.

7-Eleven also makes their own fruit squeeze pouches under their 7-Select brand, but these are not available at every 7-Eleven.

If packaging and marketing aimed at children doesn’t bother you, GoGo SqueeZ pouches are available at Wal-Mart for about $6 for a three-pack and at Harris Teeter for a slightly higher price.

Once the stigma of “eating baby food” is gone, squeeze pouches can be a very easy and palatable way to get some fruits and vegetables into your congress diet easily. Granted, they will always cost more than regular solid fruits and vegetables and juices; that is a given. The key aspects of squeeze pouches that make them attractive to active on-the-go people such as dance congress attendees are shelf-stability, portability, and non-perishability, and those three traits always come at some kind of premium.

That’s all I got for this profile. As always, hit the comments if you have any suggestions or additions and I hope this helps someone!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Sensual Day

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Sensual Day other than being a loyal attendee and Sami being a personal friend of mine. I have not been hired to promote Sensual Day 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. All content in this article is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

The newest addition to the Washington, DC area’s massive abundance of dance events is Sensual Day, a tri-annual one-day bachata/kizomba/zouk mini-festival conceived by DC Zouk Festival organizer and DC-based DJ Sami “Selo” Ahmed as a celebration of sensual dance.

This intimate, personal, and high-quality new dance event has separate winter, spring, and fall editions that take place on one Saturday in January, April, and September every year, and is located for the foreseeable future at the Dance Institute of Washington (3400 14th Street NW), hereafter referred to in this article as DIW.  DIW is a unique, aesthetically pleasing second-floor dance loft boasting three studio rooms with vinyl dance floors and ballet poles, an expansive lobby and hallway, a kitchen in the back, and two water fountains.  DIW is located right in the heart of DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood right next to the neighborhood’s Metro stop, several restaurants (detailed in the food section), a new shopping mall, and a few different bars.

Afternoon workshops featuring a variety of national and international instructors begin at 3pm and go until 7pm.  Bachata, zouk, and kizomba workshops happen concurrently in their respective rooms.  After a two hour break, additional bachata and zouk workshops both take place at 9pm (again, both workshops happen concurrently in their respective rooms), followed by social dancing from 10pm until 3am in separate bachata, zouk, and kizomba rooms.

As with most DC dance events, the main Sensual Day event is flanked by an abundance of pre and post parties.  Pre-parties take place at revered Arlington Latin dance haunt The Salsa Room on Wednesday (as part of their famous Passion Bachata Wednesdays event), former Fusion Thursdays location Meze Restaurant in Adams Morgan (about 5-7 minutes from Columbia Heights) on Thursday, and again at The Salsa Room on Friday.  Sensual Day’s post party happens at the world-famous DC Bachata Brunch, a Sunday afternoon DC mainstay that everyone going to DC must experience for themselves at least once. Sadly, Stanton & Greene, Bachata Brunch’s longtime Capitol Hill venue, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closed its doors, but Bachata Brunch will continue in the neighborhood by the DC Convention Center at the 1230 Afrofusion Restaurant and Champagne Lounge, located at 1230 9th Street NW, Washington, DC.

The Winter 2019 edition of Sensual Day takes place on Saturday, January 26th, 2019 and the Spring 2019 edition takes place on Saturday, April 27th, 2019. All pre and post parties happen on the corresponding days surrounding the main event.

For up-to-the minute information on Sensual Day, check out Sensual Day’s Facebook page.

This survival guide will help you navigate this excellent new event #FrugalCongressLife style!

GOOD TO KNOW:

DIW does not allow street shoes in their studios, so a pair of suede-sole dance shoes is a must for this event (and is a good idea for most dance events in general).  A good pair of frugal dance shoes is Sansha’s jazz sneakers (about $30) with a pair of stick-on suede soles from Soles2Dance (about $25), for a combined price of $55.  Both products are available on Amazon as well.

A NOTE ABOUT DC STREETS:

DC often has two or more streets with the same name, each located in the northeast (NE), northwest (NW), southeast (SE), or southwest (SW) quadrants of the city, and distinguishes between the streets by putting NE, NW, SE, or SW at the end of the name to identify which quadrant of DC it’s in.

Pay special attention to the quadrant initials at the end of street names when planning trips or consulting your GPS for directions — if you accidentally type in L Street NE when you meant to go to L Street NW or 7th Street SE when you meant to go to 7th Street NW etc., you could wind up in an entirely different part of the city from your intended destination.

This is something us DC natives take for granted from living here for so long but can really trip up those unfamiliar with the area.

PASS:

The price for a pass is very reasonable, and the earlier you buy the less expensive it is.

TRAVEL:

DIRECTIONS TO DIW FROM THE COLUMBIA HEIGHTS METRO:

DIW is located two blocks north of the Columbia Heights Metro stop.  Exit the station at 14th Street (you’ll see Target, Best Buy etc.) make a right and walk north on 14th Street (if you see CVS, the Sprint Store, or Chipotle you’re going the wrong way) and the Dance Institute will be on your left.

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.

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

DRIVING:

First thing you have got to realize about Columbia Heights is this: there is no parking.  Street parking is so hard to find it’s practically non-existent and the few garages in the area are very expensive. Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan are both considered two of the most difficult DC neighborhoods to park in by locals.

If driving from out of town I recommend parking at one of the Metro stops where overnight parking is available (preferably Greenbelt or Franconia Springfield) and taking Metro to Columbia Heights.  If  parking at Greenbelt or Franconia Springfield, Columbia Heights is a straight shot down the green line to Branch Avenue or the yellow line to Huntington, and you can follow the walking directions to DIW from there.

TRAIN/BUS:

Take the train or bus to Union Station in DC and follow the below directions to DIW.

DIRECTIONS TO DIW FROM UNION STATION:

Get on the Metro red line towards Shady Grove, and transfer at Gallery Place-Chinatown to the green line to Greenbelt, then take that to the Columbia Heights stop and follow the walking directions from the Metro stop from there.

FLYING:

Try to fly into DCA if you can, it will be the closest airport to this event.

DIRECTIONS FROM DCA:

Take the Metro yellow line toward Fort Totten to the Columbia Heights metro station and follow the walking directions to DIW from there.  If the yellow line is only going to Mount Vernon Square/7th Street Convention Center, get off there, transfer to the green line to Greenbelt and take that to Columbia Heights.

DIRECTIONS FROM BWI:

Try to get in early enough so that the MARC train is still running.  If no MARC train is running, see if there’s an Amtrak train that goes from BWI to Union Station, as it will be far less expensive than an UBER (about $16 for Amtrak vs. over $50 for an UBER).  Take MARC or Amtrak to Union Station and follow the directions from Union Station from there.

DIRECTIONS FROM IAD:

Take an UBER to the Wiehle-Reston stop on the silver line, take the silver line to L’Enfant Plaza and transfer to the green or yellow lines toward Greenbelt/Fort Totten to Columbia Heights and follow the walking directions to DIW from there

DC is, of course, supported by Citymapper at the time of writing.

LODGING:

I am local to this event, so lodging has never been an issue for me, but for the benefit of my readers, I did some research into Sensual Day’s lodging options.  I’ll mainly be covering lodging fairly close to DIW for the sake of keeping this article at a readable length, as I expect most of the pre-parties’ attendees will be local.

There are a handful of AirBNBs available near the event averaging at a cost of about $60-90 per night.  This may be your best and most frugal overall option for this particular event, but book quickly and in advance because they are going fast, at least for the January 2019 event.

BEWARE: The “DC Trekker” hostel is reportedly a scam and does not exist in real life.

The closest hotel is the Asante Sana Inn (1207 Kenyon Street NW), a bare-bones B&B type place averaging about $128 a night that has wildly mixed reviews with some reviews complaning about having difficulty checking in, which is inexcusable for a $128 per night hotel.  AirB&B honestly seems like a better bet than this place, as at least an AirB&B has clear check-in procedures usually (depending on your individual host of course).

Adam’s Inn (1746 Lanier Place NW) is the next closest lodging option in the nearby Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, where Meze is located. It is a B&B style hotel in a historic building near 18th Street, about a 7 minute UBER ride or 18 minute walk from DIW. It averages $75 per night, is described as “unfussy” and “quaint” and reviews are generally positive.  Caveat: some rooms have communal bathrooms shared with other guests, which will definitely be an issue if other guests want to shower at the same time you want to take your pre-social shower.  Also, this hotel is very close to one of DC’s main nightlife centers, 18th Street in Adam’s Morgan, and the area is a loud and wild circus on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Washington International Student Center, a long-operating hostel, is close by on 18th Street.  Google reviews describe a filthy and shoddily-run hostel and many of the owner’s responses to negative reviews are less than professional (“Perhaps go join a drama class somewhere”, “Nice hatchet job”), but at $53 per night, it is probably the cheapest non-AirBNB place nearby.

The closest semi-affordable chain hotel with good reviews and no cleanliness or safety issues is the Cambria Hotel and Suites (899 O Street NW), located about 9 minutes from DIW by UBER and 19 minutes walking/Metro and averaging about $150 per night.  This hotel was the site of the excellent but now-sadly-cancelled BKS Rooftop Wednesday salsa/bachata/kizouk socials, and although I have never stayed in the rooms because I’ve always lived 20 minutes or less from any event at or near there as of the time of this writing, the hotel overall is clean, modern and beautiful and I have good memories of dancing under the stars on their gorgeous rooftop.  Reviews are generally favorable and most complaints are about parking (which is bound to be an issue in downtown DC). Honestly if you’re gonna stay at a hotel for Sensual Day this is the one I recommend… most clean and well run hotels in a 5 mile radius of DIW are well over $200 per night making the Cambria your best bet.

The Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC (815 14th Street NW), the Holiday Inn Washington DC-Central/White House (1501 Rhode Island Avenue NW), are both good well-rated budget options at around $116 per night, but are much further away from DIW (15 minutes via UBER or 20 minutes via Metrobus).

BALLER OPTIONS:

For all you history buffs, the Washington Hilton (1919 Connecticut Avenue NW, $308 per night), also known as the Hinckley Hilton, is the site of John Hinckley Jr.’s 1981 assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan, as well as 100+ presidential visits. I was there for a work gig in 2010 and I remember it being very large and expansive, but a fairly normal Hilton hotel. It would make a pretty good congress hotel if there weren’t already five million congresses in DC (maybe if Sensual Day grows enough it could be there one day?). The hotel’s history is not emphasized in its decoration or design, to the point that I didn’t even remember it was the Hinckley Hilton until the guy who got me the gig called it by that name.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for DCBX or Tropical New Year’s Eve, the Renaissance DC is about 15 minutes away from DIW by UBER or 20 minutes by Metro. This legendary congress hotel speaks for itself, but without the subsidy of DCBX’s room block, a room there goes for about $289 per night normally.

Finally, The Jefferson (1200 16th Street NW, $355/night) is an upscale 1920s-style hotel with 24 hour butler service and a spa.

FOOD:

Lodging and parking may be sparse around the immediate area, but food options around DIW are insanely abundant.

Your best bet for grocery shopping staples is the Target (3100 14th Street NW) in the shopping mall next to the Columbia Heights metro two blocks south of DIW. There is a Wal-Mart about 15 minutes away on Georgia Avenue, but in the case of this event, whatever you save buying at Wal-Mart over Target, you will spend getting there. This Target’s grocery section sells all the #FCL staples and anything else you need at comparable prices. If you prefer, there is also a Giant (1345 Park Road NW) right across the street from DIW next to the UPS Store.

Your coffee fix, if you are getting it near the venue, will likely be provided by Coffy Cafe (3310 14th Street NW), a 60s-themed cafe that also serves smoothies, crepes, and baked goods, located about 2 blocks south of DIW. That’s not a misspelling by the way, their name is actually spelled like that.

If the familiar comfort of Starbucks appeals to you more, there is one a block south at 3107 14th Street NW.

The options for your one meal out are also staggeringly abundant.

Directly across the street from DIW is Gloria’s (3411 14th Street NW) a simple no-nonsense eatery that serves traditional Mexican and Salvadorean dishes.  Be advised that Gloria’s is cash-only.

Lourdes Bakery (3419 14th Street NW) is right next door to Gloria’s.

If you desire a burger, fries, and a shake, Z-Burger is located a mere block south of DIW at 3301 14th Street NW.  If pollo is more your bag, Pollo Campero is located across the street at 3229 14th Street NW near the Civic Plaza.  Vegan and vegetarian dancers will be drawn to Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats (1370 Park Road NW), an all-vegan bakery and cafe serving salads, sandwiches, pastries, and cupcakes.

Those in the mood for Tex-Mex have El Tio Tex-Mex Grill (3345 14th Street NW), and those after some Dominican food have Los Hermanos (1428 Park Road NW), a small Dominican eatery featuring traditional dishes.  Alternately, get some pho next door from Los Hermanos at Pho 14 (1436 Park Road NW). Similarly if you want Cuban food you can go to Mi Cuba Cafe (1424 Park Road NW) or those craving some injera and doro wat can hit up Letena Ethiopian (3100 14th Street NW #121).  Vietnamese food can be found at Vietnamese Chelsea Restaurant (1413 Park Road NW).

If you want to get your drink on before the parties (SERIOUSLY, DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL AT DIW) you have a few options.  First and foremost is Zeba Bar, a hookah bar featuring drinks and upscale pub food located half a block up from DIW at 3423 14th Street NW.  Zeba Bar’s second floor is also the site of DC-area Latin event promoters the Bachata Brothers’ eclectic and long-running weekly Latin Wednesdays event.  Lou’s City Bar (1400 Irving Street NW) is a nearby alternative.

CVS (3031 14th Street NW) and 7-Eleven (3012 14th Street NW) are both located on the same block on 14th Street between Irving Street NW and Columbia Road NW just south of the Metro station should you need emergency supplies from there.

Here are some national chain restaurants located in the area, mostly near the Metro station: Subway (next to Coffy Cafe), Chipotle, Chick Fil-A, CAVA, and Panda Express.  Why anyone would go to a national chain restaurant with all of these good local and regional options in the area I do not know, especially if you’re following the standard #FCL “one meal out” guideline, but they are there.  One noteworthy chain nearby is IHOP (3100 14th Street NW), noteworthy because it is the only place open 24/7 in the area, making it your only post-social eating option at 3am besides 7-Eleven.

That’s it for this guide… be sure to hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I’ll see you all at the next Sensual Day event!

#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!

PASS:

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!

TRAVEL:

FLYING:

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.

DRIVING:

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.

BUS:

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.

DIRECTIONS TO THE HILTON ROSEMONT FROM THE POLK AVE MEGABUS STOP:

– 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

TRAIN:

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.

DIRECTIONS TO THE HILTON ROSEMONT FROM CHICAGO UNION STATION:

– 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.

LODGING:

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.

FOOD:

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.