#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: 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.]

[IMPORTANT NOTE: Starting in 2019, the FTLOB Experience has changed locations from Art & Style Dance Studio to the Arthur Murray Dance Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Therefore, I have rewritten all relevant sections of the original article from the ground up for the new location, leaving only the opening and closing paragraphs and any other still relevant info from the original article intact.

Original article published 9/3/18

Re-written for new location 3/5/19]

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 at the Cabaret Theater ($5, not included in the full pass), then moving a block west to Arthur Murray Dance Center of Pittsburgh for workshops and guided social dance practice on Saturday afternoon and a party at night from 10pm-2am, and concluding with workshops at Arthur Murray on Sunday afternoon. The music format for the parties is mostly traditional bachata with a small amount of salsa, urban bachata, and kizomba.

Starting with the Spring 2019 event, the FTLOB Experience has changed the location of its Saturday and Sunday workshops and party from Art & Style Dance Studio to the Arthur Murray Dance Center of Pittsburgh, located on 136 6th Street in downtown Pittsburgh. The Friday night kickoff party remains at the Greer Cabaret Theater (655 Penn Avenue). As much as I liked the festival’s previous location at Art & Style, the location change is ultimately for the best, as Arthur Murray’s downtown location is much more convenient and accessible than A&S (located about 30 minutes northeast of downtown), particularly for those traveling by non-car means (plane, bus, train), and will help this festival’s growth in the long term.

The Spring 2019 edition of the For The Love Of Bachata Experience will take place from Friday, May 3rd, 2019, to Sunday, May 5th, 2019, and will feature returning artists Maria and Alex of BailaMar.

PASS:

A full pass for this festival is very inexpensive. The full pass for this year’s Spring Edition is only $100-112 about two months 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 fall festival as soon as it goes on sale. A student full pass is available for $50-62 for full-time students with ID. A loyalty pass for the 2019 festival is also available at a cost of $80 for the no-lunch pass or $92 for the lunch option for those who attended the Fall 2018 festival.

Again, the kickoff party is a separate $5 cover which is not included in any full pass. Even with this extra charge, the weekend is very competitively priced.

TRAVEL:

All travel directions go to the festival’s kick-off party location at the Cabaret Theater. Arthur Murray Dance Center of Pittsburgh, where Saturday and Sunday’s activities take place, is a one block walk west on Penn Ave from the theater.

Pittsburgh is unfortunately not supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing.

CAR:

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.

The best place to park downtown near Arthur Murray and Cabaret is the PPA Ft. Duquesne & Sixth Garage, located steps from both FTLOB venues at Fort Duquesne Boulevard and 6th Street, and is open 24/7 at a cost of $8 a day on Friday after 4PM and all day on Saturday and Sunday.

FLYING:

Good news Spirit heads, Spirit goes to Pittsburgh International Airport!

Public transit directions from Pittsburgh International Airport:

Take the 28X bus toward Downtown – Oakland – Shadyside – Bakery Square – North Point Breeze to the Downtown Liberty Ave at Wood Street station.

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.

UBER/Lyft from the airport will be about 23 minutes. UberPOOL and Shared Lyft are not available in Pittsburgh, so this could get expensive. Of course, splitting with other festival attendees is an option, with some coordination.

BUS/TRAIN:

Megabus is a great way to get to this festival, as it stops downtown right down the street from the Cabaret Theater. If you can catch Greyhound on a rare day when they are actually reliable, they stop around the same area as well. 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 and the Amtrak station, walk up 11th Street, make a left on Penn Avenue, and the theater is on your right. Expect about a 9 minute walk.

LODGING:

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

Honestly, I got a bit of sticker shock looking at general hotel prices in the Pittsburgh area and particularly downtown Pittsburgh, as they are easily on par with DC and even approaching New York City in terms of cost.

All of the hotels located nearby with available rooms for the 2019 festival are charging upwards of $200-300 per night. The Renaissance Pittsburgh, the closest hotel, to the event, is charging upwards of $300 per night, but that pain can be eased somewhat with a four-person roomshare for about $75 per night

Ironically, one of the places I listed as an extreme baller option in the previous edition of this article might be one of your budget options this time around. Townplace By Bridge Street, a luxury apartment complex inexplicably doubling as a hotel located on Stanwix Street near Market Square about a 10 minute walk from the festival locations which normally goes for a staggering $507 per night, is being offered for $256 per night on Booking.com for the Spring 2019 festival’s dates. For this, 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. Townplace is close to the Cabaret Theater and Arthur Murray, and 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 this is the hotel to check out, particularly for the comparatively cheaper price at which it is being offered for the Spring 2019 festival.

The Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Downtown, located about three blocks from the festival location, is going for about $250 per night at press time.

Your absolute cheapest local option outside AirBNB is the Fineview Inn at 419 Catoma St., a bed and breakfast located about a 9 minute drive from downtown, which goes for $86 per night that weekend.

At press time FTLOB still recommends as a budget hotel the Comfort Inn located at 180 Gamma Drive Building B, despite this hotel now being located about half an hour from the festival’s location. This hotel averages about $90-110 per night. With UBER or driving costs this hotel may still come out to being cheaper than downtown Pittsburgh’s offerings. A rental car from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car near the Greyhound and Amtrak stations may be slightly cheaper than UBERing back and forth if you go this route. Reviews online are a mixed bag, but I am told rooms here are generally clean.

But most likely, your best frugal lodging option for this festival is AirBNB. At press time, there are about 100 AirBNBs under $100 per night located in a 10 minute driving radius of Cabaret Theater and Arthur Murray for the Spring 2019 festival; you would be advised to book now before they fill up!

Likely, there will be cheaper and more expansive lodging options further out from the Fall edition of the FTLOB Experience; I will rewrite this section as soon as dates for the fall festival are announced and I can do the research.

FOOD:

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 on each day. 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 on Saturday and Sunday during a designated break time denoted on the schedule in the middle of workshops.

For your coffee fix, there is a Starbucks located directly across the street from Arthur Murray.

Wal-Mart is located about a 13 minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh, at 877 Freeport Road. The Giant Eagle Supermarket is located about a 5 minute drive from downtown on 320 Cedar Avenue and Market St. Grocery is located right in Market Square a block south of the studio. The closest Whole Foods is located an 18 minute drive one way away from downtown at 5880 Centre Avenue.

The food options for your one meal out near the new downtown location are quite expansive. Here is only the options located directly around Arthur Murray: Fu Lai Chinese, Cafe Milano, Giovanni’s Pizza and Pasta, Indian Spices, Meat and Potatoes, Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room, V3 Pizza, and täkō (as you may have guessed, a taqueria).

Market Square houses McDonalds, Chipotle, Noodles, Bruegger’s Bagela, Nola on the Square, Dunkin’ Donuts, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Bluebird Kitchen, another Starbucks, Five Guys, Primanti Bros, City Works Pittsburgh, Las Velas (Mexican), Jimmy John’s, Sienna On The Square (Italian), Prantl’s Bakery, and Vallozzi’s Pittsburgh.

Also located nearby at Liberty Avenue & Wood Street is another McDonald’s, Qdoba, and Arby’s.

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 this festival in 2019, but hopefully I can make it at least one day next year!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Classé Dance Company 2nd Anniversary Party

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Classé Dance Company aside from being a sometime student of their classes and Linda being a friend of mine and one of my favorite dance instructors. I have not been hired to promote this event at the time of this writing 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. 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.]

Classé Dance Company, a new DC-based dance school started by Korke and Judith-certified sensual bachata instructor Linda Saenz in 2016, is celebrating their second anniversary on September 8th, 2018 with a huge party at Tysons Ballroom & Dancesport Center, located at 8032 Leesburg Pike #201, Vienna, VA in the heart of VA’s new development in Tysons Corner.

This party will have the feel of a short one-day dance congress.  From 4pm to 8pm, full pass holders have the opportunity to take workshops by a mix of local and international instructors including Linda Saenz, Mario Adame, Spain’s own Truji y Gloria, and one of the creators of sensual bachata himself, Korke.

A dance social with DJ Emerzive and DJ Selo follows at 9:30pm after a short break, and goes until 3:30am with performances by Classé’s teams, Zafire DC, Latin Swag, and many more at midnight.

Look up Classé Dance Company on Facebook for general info.

Since I thought some people may be coming from out of town, today’s post is a comprehensive survival guide for this event!

PASS:

Get your early bird full pass for only $58 until August 18th! The price will go up by an unspecified amount after the 18th.

For those who just want to do the party, a party pass is $25.

Get your pass here.

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving or rideshare is a good overall way to get to this event.  There is some limited free parking around the ballroom, and a garage nearby.  If you are staying in a hotel, parking is free around any of the hotels in the area.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus or train route into Union Station in DC and from there, take the DC Metro red line towards Shady Grove and transfer to the silver line towards Wiehle-Reston East to the Tysons Corner metro station.  Follow directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station to the ballroom.

DIRECTIONS FROM TYSONS CORNER METRO STATION TO THE BALLROOM:

From the Metro station, take the pedestrian bridge across Chain Bridge Road to Tysons One Place, make a right on Tysons One Place, a left on International Drive, and a left on Leesburg Pike, and the shopping center with the ballroom will be on your left (look for May Jewlers).

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.  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 the DC metro area again in the future.

FLYING:

Just in case anyone is flying of course…

FROM BWI:

Try to arrive during the day while the MARC train is still running

Take MARC from BWI to Union Station DC

Follow bus/train directions from there

FROM DCA:

Take Metro blue line from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport toward Largo Town Center

Transfer at Rosslyn to the silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East to Tysons Corner Metro station

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

FROM IAD:

Take UBER to Wiehle-Reston East metro station

Take silver line toward Largo Town Center to Tysons Corner Center metro

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

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

LODGING:

Most of this event’s crowd (including me) is expected to be local, but for those coming from out of town, there are some lodging options nearby, and I took the time to research some of these options for any out of town guests.

The best overall option is the Tysons Corner Marriott, located directly across Towers Crescent Drive from the ballroom (about a 2-3 minute walk) and averaging around $89 per night for a one-king, $109/night for a 2 double, and $119/night for a larger one-king room on an upper floor.  Booking through the hotel’s website and pre-paying for your room will get you a discount of around $4-5 per night on average.  Amenities include a pool, fitness center, dishes from the Chesapeake region served by Shutters Bar and Kitchen, the hotel’s in-house restaurant, clean and comfortable contemporary rooms and suites, and a $20 breakfast buffet.  This is a 3-star hotel and reviews are generally positive.

The budget option is the Extended Stay America Washington DC Tysons Corner, located about a 10 minute walk from the ballroom at 8201 Old Courthouse Road.  This is a casual 2-star hotel offering suites with full kitchens plus on-site coin-op laundry machines, free Wi-Fi, and free grab-and-go breakfast.  Rooms here average around $68-75 per night.  Reviews are wildly mixed, many complain of cleanliness issues, and many are quick to point out that this is a no-frills hotel.  Expect to get what you pay for if you go this route, but it is the most frugal option.

The Courtyard by Marriott and the DoubleTree by Hilton McLean Tysons are both located next to each other about a 14 minute walk from the ballroom at 1960 Chain Bridge Road and are $98 and $87 per night respectively.  Both are 4-star hotels with mostly favorable reviews.

You have two baller options, although I obviously won’t spend a lot of time discussing these on #FrugalCongressLife.  The Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center at 7901 Tysons One Place goes for around $158 per night and includes a business center, ultramodern rooms, massage services, and pet friendly policies (25lbs and under).

The ultimate platinum baller option for this area is the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, located at 1700 Tysons Corner Boulevard about a 20 minute walk from the ballroom and priced from $199 per night.  Amenities for this 4-star luxury hotel include an espresso bar, a spa and fitness center, town-car service, shoe shine service, a wine bar and lounge, and suites nicer than most of our apartments.  Obviously not a frugal option.

A search of AirBNB listings for the date of this event revealed about 30 available listings around the event location about a month out from the event, with prices ranging from $60-130 on average, many of them a considerable walk from the event.  It looks like AirBNB is not much of an advantage for this particular event, unless you can snap up one of the $60 listings.

FOOD:

The closet Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about an 8 minute drive/UBER ride or 34 minute walk one way up VA-7 at 1500B Cornerside Boulevard.  This Wal-Mart is also Metro-accessible; take the Metro silver line two stops toward Wiehle-Reston East to the Spring Hill station, and the Wal-Mart will be visible from that station.

The Market at Tysons Corner, a specialty grocery store similar to Whole Foods, is located in the nearby Tysons Corner Center shopping mall at 1961 Chain Bridge Road.

For that all-important coffee fix, Tyson’s Corner Center houses a Nespresso boutique, a Turkish Coffee Lady, and, incredibly, two Starbucks shops in the same mall.  Also located about a 2 minute walk up Leesburg Pike from the ballroom past the parking garage is a Peet’s Coffee (8150 Leesburg Pike) and a Dunkin Donuts (8119 Watson Street).

7-Eleven and Vitamin Shoppe are located directly across Leesburg Pike from the Marriott at 1931 Old Gallows Road and 1927 Old Gallows Road, respectively.

Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods are located about a 5 minute drive one way from the ballroom at 7514 and 7511 Leesburg Pike, respectively.

Your options for your meal out are very abundant as well.  Right next to the ballroom is Lei’d Hawaiian Poke and a bubble tea shop called Teas’n You.  Tysons Corner Center houses a Panda Express, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Seasons 52, Wasabi, Subway, Shake Shack, Barrel and Bushel, Coastal Flats, and La Sandia.

Further up Leesburg Pike near the Peet’s is Paddy Barry’s, Roll Play Vietnamese Grill, Silver Diner, with an Olive Garden and Tyson’s Bagel Market across the street.

McDonald’s, Nostos, Chef Geoff’s Tysons, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and Neisha Thai are right across Leesburg Pike from the ballroom near the Vitamin Shoppe.  For anyone staying at the Extended Stay, these will be your closest eating options.

That’s all I got, hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I’ll see you at Classé’s 2nd Anniversary Party!

– Owen

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: New Jersey Bachata Festival

[Originally published 8/6/2018, re-written with updated info 10/15/2018]

[10/15/2018 – Travel and pass sections re-written entirely, minor updates to lodging and food sections, tips for pedestrians added, dates changed to reflect dates of 2019 festival]

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with New Jersey Bachata Festival, Mike Gil, or Pura Vida Dance Company, other than being a loyal yearly attendee of NJBF. I have not been hired by them to promote NJBF in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

New Jersey Bachata Festival is an excellent mid-size bachata festival held at the Hotel ML and Coco Key Water Resort in the township of Mount Laurel, NJ, on the Philadelphia side of New Jersey. The festival, organized by Mike Gil of Pura Vida Dance Company, and happening from October 10th-October 14th of 2019, features 4 days of workshops by world class national and international instructors and 4 nights of social dancing including the Thursday night pre-party and Thursday evening workshops.

With the right logistics, those living the #FrugalCongressLife within a 6 hour driving or bus radius of Mount Laurel can do this excellent congress covering the entire Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses for under $200 — that’s with an early bird individual pass, 4 person rideshare from anywhere in a 3-4 hour radius, 4 person roomshare, and ~$50 worth of total personal food expenses.

You can save even more with this festival’s unique pass/hotel room combos. If you are fortunate enough to jump on the cheapest early bird room/pass combo you can do the entire weekend with the above logistics for as little as $170!

This all makes NJBF one of the frugalest congresses on the east coast giving attendees the maximum bang for their bucks. Don’t confuse “frugal” with cheap or lacking in experience – this congress is one of my top five favorite congresses on the east coast and y’all know I don’t say things like that lightly!

Below are the particulars on how to do this excellent festival with maximum frugality while still having an amazing and unforgettable congress experience, covering all four sides of the Quadforce.

ESSENTIAL WALKING INFORMATION FOR MOUNT LAUREL:

One thing to keep in mind about Mount Laurel, and particularly the area of Mount Laurel directly around the Hotel ML, is that it was not designed with pedestrians in mind. It was likely built as a hub for motor vehicle traffic coming off the turnpike (with an assortment of restaurants and hotels to cater to road-weary travelers) and walkability almost certainly wasn’t a factor in Mount Laurel’s design or planning.

Fellowship Road is a high-speed six-lane road located between the Lukoil station and Miller’s Ale House – use caution when crossing this road and do not jaywalk.

The Hotel ML is located on NJ-73, hereinafter referred to as 73, a high-speed high-traffic divided state highway with no crosswalks. Crossing 73 on foot is very dangerous and is forbidden by local laws. If you didn’t drive and want to go to Wal-Mart, Bob Evans, or any other business located across 73 from the hotel, your best course of action is catching a ride with someone who drove. Safety first! Live to see another edition of NJBF!

Additionally, sidewalks along 73 are mostly un-paved. It’s still possible to walk on them, but it’s not ideal – be prepared for this.

See food section for info on all of the above businesses.

Looking at street views of the area in detail on Google Maps or an equivalent service, a good idea in general, is especially helpful for this particular location.

PASS:

Of course, the earlier you buy, the cheaper you get your pass, but there are some other options for passes for this festival that are definitely worth mentioning.

Unique to New Jersey Bachata Festival are pass/hotel packages offering two full passes and two nights at the event hotel for one price, an arrangement with the potential for big savings, especially for those who don’t mind sharing a room.

Package deals for 2 full passes and 2 nights at the Hotel ML for the 2019 festival were sold cash-only in person at the 2018 festival on Saturday and Sunday to the first 20 people to jump on each deal for $250 and $300, respectively. I am not sure if they are offering this deal again in 2019, but come prepared and save big if they are!

If you were fortunate enough to jump on the Saturday deal or if you know someone who is, you can knock out your pass and two nights of lodging right at the event hotel with only one roommate for $125 all in (or reduce costs even further by bringing 1-2 more people into your room). Amazing deal!

Individual full passes were also sold in-person cash-only at this year’s festival for $69.

10/18/18 – Early bird full passes are available online now for $89 for the first 50 passes and $99 after that at http://www.njbachatafestival.com … prices for a full pass will go up to as much as $159 in the weeks before the festival and will be even more at the door.

Buy now!

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving and/or ridesharing is the most ideal way to get to this festival, as there is abundant off-street parking all around the event hotel and pretty much everywhere else in Mount Laurel, and also because Mount Laurel is very un-walkable and you will need a car or access to one to go even to places across the street.

A few particulars about driving in Mount Laurel and NJ in general:

– Some of you will be taking the New Jersey Turnpike to get to Mount Laurel. Expect to pay a lot of money in tolls… the 2.5 hour trip from the DC area to ML for example costs about $25 in tolls each way.

DO NOT MISS YOUR EXIT ON THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE. I can not emphasize this enough. The exits on the turnpike are spaced as much as 25 miles apart and you can spend upwards of an extra 40 minutes turning around and getting back to your exit if you miss it and probably will have to pay more in tolls too. Be extra vigilant as you approach your exit on the Turnpike and be in the right lane well in advance of your exit. You should generally not daydream while driving as a rule, but the New Jersey Turnpike is an especially bad place to do so.

– Be careful driving on 73 as well; because of the way it is laid out, turning around if you miss a turn or get lost can add upwards of 10 extra minutes to any car trip you take. Follow your GPS directions *EXACTLY* and do not daydream or go into autopilot while driving here. You really shouldn’t be doing that anyway, but you especially want to avoid it here. Also, there are exits to the turnpike located at various points on 73. Avoid these exits at all cost; for the reasons noted above, you are really screwed if you end up on the turnpike unintentionally and can spend upwards of 40 minutes turning around and getting back to Mount Laurel and likely will have to pay a toll as well.

– New Jersey is one of two states where full-service gas stations are the prevailing norm and it is actually against state law for people to pump their own gas. If you go to a gas station, expect to be approached by a full-service attendant and let them pump your gas. Make sure you tip your attendant as well. If you do not like this rule, make sure you get gas in another state and don’t do so in NJ.

BUS/TRAIN:

IMPORTANT UPDATE: #FrugalCongressLife no longer recommends Greyhound as a travel option for this festival.

Long story short, I attempted to use them to travel to NJBF in 2018, enticed by the allure of a slightly cheaper pre-payable trip to and from a location a short walk from the event and being able to relax and watch movies on the trip up instead of driving. I bought a ticket online to and from to the Mount Laurel station, located a three minute walk from the Hotel ML, in July 2018. My destination was abruptly changed from the Mount Laurel station to the Philadelphia station about a 30 minute drive away (one way) on the day of departure (10/12/18) without advance warning or explanation and I had to take a combination of public transportation and an UBER to the hotel for an extra $20 (most of that was the UBER though) and another hour or so added to my trip.

On the return trip, delays of over an hour and a resulting missed transfer in Baltimore extended my four hour trip to over 6 hours. Several other buses were delayed as well. I am definitely driving next year.

That said, if you’re lucky enough to catch them when they’re on point, Greyhound might save you about $10 each way vs. the cost of gas and tolls from anywhere in a four hour driving radius and will drop you a short walk from the Hotel ML, but you really take it at your own risk. In my experience, Greyhound has been one of the most inconsistent, unreliable, and capricious private companies I have ever dealt with and I know I’m not alone – using them is a gamble.

If you try to take Greyhound to ML, there’s a good chance your inbound destination will change to Philadelphia forcing you to find another way from Philly to ML and completely negating Greyhound’s one advantage over the other cheaper AND better bus lines.

If you are riding the bus to NJBF, I recommend saving yourself a lot of potential headaches and taking Bolt Bus or Megabus to Philly and using a combination of Philly and NJ public transit and UBER to get to the hotel, as convoluted and impractical as these options seem on paper. If Greyhound was actually reliable, it would be your de facto option for this congress, but sadly it is not.

Those riding Bolt Bus from NYC have the option of stopping in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is a 14 minute Uber/Lyft ride from the Hotel ML. Otherwise, Philly is your best option for Bolt Bus and MegaBus, both of which will drop you at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. 30th Street Station is also your best destination for Amtrak trains.

DIRECTIONS FROM 30TH STREET STATION:

Try to arrive during the day when PATCO and the El are still running. You will have to take an UBER if you arrive late at night when they stop running and this can get very expensive.

IMPORTANT: there are separate ticket machines for PATCO and SEPTA (the El is a SEPTA train); make sure you are buying your tickets from the proper machine for each train as SEPTA tickets are not honored by PATCO and vice versa. PATCO tickets are red cards that say “PATCO Freedom Pass” on them. A station employee can direct you to the proper gate for Lindenwold and the proper ticket machine for PATCO. A one-use one-way ticket for PATCO is about $3 and about $2 for the El.

– Exit 30th Street Station at Market Street and walk to the 30th Street Trolley station at Market Street and S 31st Street

– Take the El toward Frankford Trans Center 4 stops to 8th Street Station

– Take PATCO toward Lindenwold.

– Take PATCO 6 stops to the Haddonfield station.

The Haddonfield station is personally where I threw in the towel and jumped into an UberPOOL at a cost of about $10 in 2018, but if you’re a determined and enterprising frugal traveler with another 83 minutes to spare and exact change for the 457, read on…

– Take the NJ Transit 457 bus toward MOORESTOWN MALL-Exact Fare. Yes, as the name indicates, it’s cash-only and you have to have the EXACT fare. This is an old-school bus. If you decide to go this route be prepared and have dollar bills and quarters on you.

The fares are determined by a “zone” system measuring how many “zones” your bus travels through. Trying to figure it out is giving me a headache, so I’m going to just list all the fares and advise you to be prepared to pay any one of these fares in cash with exact change: $1.25 for one zone, $1.75 for two zones, $2.10 for three zones and $2.55 for four zones.

From what I can gather from the map, the route from Haddonfield to Mount Laurel appears to be a two-zone route, but be prepared for any one of those four payments.

– Take the bus 35 stops to Fellowship Road and Century Parkway – 14647, and you’re about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, but for safety reasons, have a driving friend pick you up or call an UBERPool rather than attempting to cross 73 on foot.

Follow the reverse of these directions (457 toward Camden to Haddonfield, PATCO toward Philadelphia to 8th Street, to get back to 30th Street Station.

No one said the #FrugalCongressLife would be entirely easy.

Philadelphia is a city supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing. Philadelphia’s surrounding New Jersey suburbs, including Mount Laurel, Haddonfield, and Cherry Hill, and all public transportation infrastructure from these areas, are part of Philadelphia’s Citymapper package.

If you took Greyhound against my advice and had the misfortune of being dumped in Philly instead of taken to Mount Laurel, you will be dropped at the Greyhound station at 10th Street and Filbert Street. To get to the 8th Street Station, make a left out of the station onto Cuthbert Street, make a right onto 10th Street, make a left onto Filbert Street, walk two blocks to 8th Street and make a right, and the 8th Street station will be on your right; follow the above PATCO directions from there.

FLYING:

Fly into Philadelphia International Airport (PHL); that is your most practical option for this festival.

The Rapid Rover shuttle service picks up from PHL and goes to the Hotel ML at a cost of about $22-30, which can be split with other attendees coming from the airport. You should have no problem coordinating a Rapid Rover share as this will be the most popular and the most economical option from the airport.

Uber/Lyft directly from the airport or train/bus stations is not recommended as prices start in excess of $35 one way and can even go as high as $99 one way (!!!!) during a surge.

LODGING:

A big plus for NJBF is the relatively inexpensive cost of lodging, especially if you got one of the aforementioned pass/hotel packages.

Even if you didn’t, the Hotel ML only costs about $100-120 per night for a room depending on when you book. Book far in advance for cheapest rates!

Whatever you pay for your room, it can of course be brought down even further by room sharing with other attendees.

Although there are some other offsite options near by, as always, per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage people to support the event hotel, I will offer no info on offsite options until the Hotel ML fully sells out for that weekend, if that happens.

A pass/hotel package will put you right in the center of the action at the event hotel for a lower price per night than all the budget options nearby anyway.

If the Hotel ML fully sells out before the festival (that means all rooms completely filled), and there is no official overflow block available, I have a separate post detailing the various offsite options nearby written and ready to go. It will go up when the hotel sells out and disappear right after the festival. You are on your own until then if you seek offsite lodging.

The only advice regarding offsite lodging that I do have at this time is that if you are going to insist on staying offsite, seeking only hotels located on the same side of 73 as the Hotel ML is highly recommended for safety reasons if you are not driving to the festival, due to the aforementioned dangers of crossing 73 on foot.

FOOD:

One relatively new addition to the landscape directly around the festival that will be an utmost boon to those living the #FrugalCongressLife is the new Walmart Supercenter across the street from the Hotel ML. This brand new Wal-Mart, built in the spring of 2018 and opened the following summer, is your de facto grocery shopping option in Mount Laurel due to its proximity to the hotel, but walking there isn’t recommended due to the aforementioned safety issues with crossing 73 on foot. Drive there or have someone with a car drive you there.

For your coffee needs, there is a Starbucks a short walk down 73 on the same side as the hotel and across Fellowship Road, as well as a Lukoil gas station with a convenience store nearby for last minute food staples that also houses a Pita Pocket.

As for your one meal out, Miller’s Ale House is located about a 2 minute walk from the event hotel at 554 Fellowship Road and serves American comfort food staples, as well as some Mexican dishes. For me, Miller’s is the dining option I most look forward to, and not just because of how close it is to the hotel. The food is excellent and service is very fast – I was in and out in about 40 minutes on Saturday evening in 2018. Although it’s a chain, I personally do not have one in my area, so eating there is a different experience for me. Because it is so close to the hotel, it is a very popular food option with congress attendees, so if you want to make your meal out a social experience, you will likely have no problem finding someone to go with you.

There is also a Bob Evans located across 73 next to the Wal-Mart. As with Wal-Mart, attempting to go there on foot is ill-advised.

Popeye’s, Burger King, Uno Pizzeria, 7-Eleven, and Dunkin’ Donuts are all located further down the road if you have a car or access to one.

That’s all I got for this survival guide, hit up the comments if you got any other info or can fill in any gaps in my personal knowledge, and I’ll see you at NJBF!

– Owen

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: Hyatt Regency Dulles

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DC Zouk Festival other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Sami being a personal friend of mine. As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DC Swing Fling. I have not been hired to promote either festival in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by the Hyatt Regency Dulles 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 yet another new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be writing a guide to specific hotels that are home to two or more dance congresses or festivals as of the time of writing.

The first such hotel I will be covering is the Hyatt Regency Dulles, a beautiful and large-scale airport conference hotel located near Dulles International Airport in Herndon, VA, an outer suburb of Washington, DC located about an hour’s drive northwest of the city.  The Hyatt Regency Dulles is home to both this year’s DC Swing Fling (8/9/2018 – 8/12/2018), a swing dance festival coming up in about three weeks, and the 2019 DC Zouk Festival (6/6/2019 – 6/10/2019), the DC area’s flagship Brazilian zouk festival, which also features kizomba, bachata, and, new for 2019, west coast swing.  The DC Zouk Festival, organized by DC-based promoter and DJ Sami Selo Ahmed, is returning to Dulles in 2019 after outgrowing its new downtown DC venue this year.  The Hyatt Regency Dulles will be home to the largest dedicated Brazilian Zouk ballroom in the US and will assuredly be more than enough room for the swing crowd as well.  Both of these events are well-run massive scale congresses featuring daytime workshops and all-night social dancing covering each of their respective dances.

As always, per my personal code of ethics and to encourage people to support this hotel, I will be including no information on offsite lodging options.  Offsite lodging options are plentiful and varied due to the airport location, but you are on your own for the time being if that is what you seek.  Relatively inexpensive room blocks at the Hyatt Regency Dulles are available for both DC Swing Fling 2018 and DC Zouk 2019, and rooms are clean and comfortable, as one would expect rooms at an airport hotel catering primarily to business travelers to be.

As for your pass, the usual advice of buying early or volunteering applies.  It is decidedly too late to buy early for Swing Fling, as the festival is in three weeks, but early bird passes for the 2019 DC Zouk Festival are on sale at the time of this writing in July 2018 for about $100. Buy now, the price will go up later.

As will be the case for most multi-congress hotel guides, the bulk of this guide will be on travel and food options.

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

Driving or ride-sharing is the preferred option if possible for this hotel as there is abundant free parking around the hotel and the hotel does not have many food options within walking distance.  Be advised that the fastest road to Dulles from DC and points east is a toll road, charging anywhere from $2.50 for a 2-axel vehicle up to $8.75 for a 6+-axel vehicle in tolls to go from the DC area to Dulles, but if you have some extra time to spare and set your GPS to avoid toll roads, you can get around the toll road by using parallel local roads instead.  Prepare to add an extra 30-65 minutes on average to your trip if you go this route.

FLYING:

This goes without saying, but try to fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) if you can.  The hotel is located a very short distance from Dulles Airport, and the other two airports are too far away from this particular venue to be practical.

IAD is also at the time of this writing the only airport to not be served directly by a DC Metro station.

Any money you may save by taking Spirit or any other airline to BWI or DCA will be offset at least somewhat by the cost of transporting yourself there, particularly from BWI.

Once you land at IAD, the Hyatt Regency has a free shuttle that will transport you the 4.5 miles from the airport to the hotel.

FROM DCA:

From DCA, take the DC Metro blue line (make sure you are on a blue line train as the yellow line will add extra time and transfers) toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

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 Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

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

See my DCBX Survival Guide for detailed info on both MARC and the DC Metro.

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

There will undoubtedly be multiple private rideshares going from the DC area to the Hyatt Regency for both Swing Fling and DC Zouk – I will post info on groups that can connect you with these rideshares as I get it.

FOOD:

There are some food options close by this hotel, but many of them are decidedly driving distance from the hotel, with the exception of the hotel restaurant and the Reston Town Center options, which can be reached via the Hyatt’s airport shuttle.

For your frugal grocery shopping, Walmart Supercenter is located about 12-16 minutes up route 28, at 45415 Dulles Crossing Plaza.  A Giant (1228 Elden Street, Herndon, VA), Harris Teeter (12960 Highland Crossing Dr, Herndon), and Safeway (413 Elden St, Herndon) are all located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel.

Whole Foods is located about 20 minutes east (no tolls but the toll road is faster) at 11660 Plaza America Dr, Reston, VA.

Aside from the hotel restaurant, an upscale bar eatery called Elements On Level One, a Spices & Beyond located right next to the hotel (which also doubles as a convenience store for last-minute staples), and Padella, the nearby Westin Dulles’ hotel restaurant, most of your immediate food options for your daily meal out are located in the airport, and include a Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Smashburger, District Chophouse, Wendy’s, Au Bon Pain, Bar Symon, Pei Wei (Chinese), Chef Geoff’s, and two different Subways.  Elements On Level One is a bit pricey but good, and will be a popular option given that it is the only one you don’t have to drive to.

A 15 minute or so drive into the nearby town of Reston, VA (whose town center can also be reached via the Hyatt’s free airport shuttle) yields several other options, including Pollo Peru, a casual Peruvian-style chicken place (1675 Reston Parkway), Hibiscus Thai Cuisine, a Thai eatery (11790 Baron Cameron Avenue), and a Silver Diner (11951 Killingsworth Avenue).  Also to be found in Reston is Midtown Kabob (11990 Explorer Street), Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food and Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Drive), Big Bowl (11915 Democracy Drive), and sweetgreen (11935 Democracy Drive), among others.

Parking is a little tighter at Reston Town Center, but there are several parking garages located directly nearby that are all free after 5pm on Friday and all weekend.  Info here: https://restontowncenter.com/parking/parking-rates/

That’s all the info I have for this guide, let me know in the comments if you have anything else to add and happy dancing!

– Owen

#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Quest Bars – The Realest Protein Bars Out There

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not affiliated directly with Quest Nutrition, I am merely a loyal user of their products.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate marketing 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. 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.]

For this new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be profiling a specific food that I bring to congresses as a staple food item for daily eating on a budget outside of my one restaurant meal.

Since I promised y’all a Quest bar profile in this post, my first #FrugalCongressFood profile will be on Quest bars.

When we think of food we buy beforehand to be frugal and bring to a dance congress where time to eat may be limited if you are trying to do a lot, portability and non-perishability are two very important qualities we look for.  We want food that won’t spoil and that we can eat on the go.  Nutrition bars and protein bars fit this bill perfectly, but the problem with this is, from an actual nutritional standpoint, most nutrition bars and protein bars are terrible.  The vast majority of protein bars on the market are basically candy bars with a little bit of low-grade soy protein sprinkled on to up the protein content.  So are there any good nutritionally sound protein or nutrition bars?

Now, I lift weights, as most of you should for a multitude of reasons, but that’s a different post probably for a different blog.  But since I lift weights, I aim for a daily protein intake of at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass (muscle and tissue minus body fat) in order to grow and maintain lean mass.  I have a lean mass of about 175 pounds, so I go for about 175 grams of protein daily.

Obviously, it’s hard to get all of this protein from what we traditionally think of as “real” food without eating every second of every day, so I have been eating protein powders and bars in addition to my regular meals to hit my necessary daily protein numbers for years now.  Obviously, protein powder is not the most portable food ever and takes some preparation to make into a drinkable protein shake, and sometimes a more portable and on-the-go protein solution is called for.  Enter Quest Nutrition‘s flagship product, Quest bars.  I was eating Quest bars long before dance and dance congresses came into the picture, but they make perfect sense as portable and non-perishable dance congress food too.

Quest bars are available in various flavors including but not limited to chocolate chip cookie dough, s’mores, mint chocolate, double chocolate brownie, white chocolate raspberry, apple pie, and, more recently, birthday cake.

What sets Quest bars apart from the legions of other protein bars is their ingredients.  I often say Quest bars are the realest protein bars out there, and the ingredients are why.  The protein used in Quest bars is high quality whey protein isolate.  Whey protein isolate is a processed form of whey protein, a fast-digesting protein favored by weightlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes for its fast delivery of protein to the muscles and originating from whey, a liquid material created from milk as a byproduct of cheese production.  Whey protein isolate is processed to remove the fat and cholesterol and is 90% protein by weight.

Quest bars also contain soluble corn fiber, which is a form of prebiotic fiber that helps digestion, as well as giving the bars their trademark pleasing chewy texture.  They are also low in sugar and are sweetened with sucralose, and stevia, two of the best types of artificial sweeteners.  Various natural ingredients and flavors (such as unsweetened chocolate and sea salt) form the basis of each bar’s individual flavor.  The fiber and the sugar alcohols work in tandem to give Quest bars an average of only 4-6 grams of net carbohydrates per bar, making them an ideal portable food choice for those on low-carb diets as well.

To sum it up, unlike the “candy bars with protein” out there, Quest bars are essentially huge chunks of whey protein and fiber that are made pleasing to the palate by natural sweeteners and ingredients.

Quest bars are available at 7-Eleven and CVS, but are very expensive there at close to $3 per bar.  The best place to get Quest bars offline is Wal-Mart, where they sell for $1.77 per bar or $7 for a box of six bars.  Online, they sell on Amazon for $22.37 for a 12 count box or on Bodybuilding.com for $24.99 per 12 count box.  Yes this is still a lot and foods you have to prepare are much less expensive, but this is portable on-the-go food we’re looking at here and that always comes at some sort of premium cost-wise.

Now, obviously, you don’t want to eat nothing but Quest bars.  Protein and fiber are the only daily nutrients they cover, and a balanced diet that does not make.  You still need to eat some fat and at least a small amount of carbs, and you’ll need to get fruits and vegetables in your diet too.  However, as a filling and nutritionally sound portable food item to eat on the go in between workshops and provide some of your daily protein and fiber on the fly, you would do very well indeed to pack a handful of these bars into your dance bag.

– Owen

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: DCBX

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DCBX other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Lee and Kat being personal friends of mine. I have not been hired by them to promote DCBX in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

For the very first survival guide covering a specific dance congress on the #FrugalCongressLife blog, we are covering one of the very best dance congresses out there – DCBX!

DCBX, or the DC Bachata Congress, is, if not the single largest dance congress in the United States, one of the largest dance congresses in the United States, with attendance of 7,000-10,000 people expected if previous years are any indication. The event, held at the gigantic, beautiful, and upscale Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel located at 999 9th Street NW in Washington, DC, is a massive-scale dance congress featuring international artists for a variety of Latin and African dance genres (including zouk, kizomba, and salsa – DCBX is not just a bachata congress!) teaching a variety of workshops, the biggest bachata ballroom in the US playing a mix of all bachata styles as well as two other dedicated bachata ballrooms for traditional and sensual bachata, along with separate ballrooms for salsa, kizomba, and zouk, several concerts, social dancing from midnight to 8AM each night, and even such unheard-of-elsewhere additions as a food festival and a film festival.

DCBX, the brainchild of husband-and-wife DC Latin event promotion juggernauts Lee “El Gringuito” Smith and Katherine “Kat La Gata” Aguilar-Smith, and further supported by an outstanding team handling everything from social media to artist relations, is a massive festival and the top choice of many dancers who can only go to one or two festivals a year.

DCBX 11, the 2019 edition of DCBX, takes place from August 22nd-August 26th, 2019 at the Renaissance.  New to the festival this year is a staggering THREE different bachata ballrooms!  A mix of urban, sensual, and traditional bachata will be played in the grand ballroom, and there will also be a dedicated sensual bachata ballroom and a dedicated traditional bachata ballroom!  Additionally, there will be salsa, zouk, and kizomba ballrooms.  

A partial and in no way complete list of the featured artists for 2019 includes Alien Ramirez, Maxi Solis, Bri Jones, Jonathan and Jorge (as seen on World Of Dance), De’Jon and Clo, Leo & Jomante, Ivonne Pronovich, Ferocity Dance Company, Codari Pro, Kadu & Larissa, Ry’el and Jessica, and many others.  A partial list of featured DJs for 2019 includes DJ Emerzive, DJ Soltrix, DJ Chapa, DJ Alejandro, and DJ Manuel Citro, among others.  The 2019 festival will also feature live concerts by Los Adolecentes, Los Cantantes Originales, and Luis Vargas!

More general info on DCBX can be found at http://www.dcbachata.com, and more info on the DCBX company and other DCBX events can be found at http://www.dcbx.org.

The festival is located in the very heart of downtown DC, and DC, being a coastal metropolitan city, is very expensive by every possible metric. It’s not as expensive as NYC, but all the same, those of you coming from anywhere other than a metropolitan city should be prepared for everything costing much more than you are used to as a matter of course.

Fear not, for we at #FrugalCongressLife are here to help you attend this congress, have an outstanding time, and leave with your wallet intact.

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:

Buy early, that’s your best option. A VIP early bird pass goes for $150 and an early bird full pass goes for $125 when passes first go on sale about a year out from the festival.

Otherwise, follow the standard #FCL procedures for getting your pass as cheap as possible legitimately. The passes become more expensive closer to the festival.

TRAVEL:

The city of Washington, DC and all surrounding areas are supported by Citymapper via their DC/Baltimore package. Additionally, UBERPOOL, UBERPOOL Express, Shared Lyft, and Via are all available in DC. Via is currently available only within the DC city limits, Arlington, VA, and Alexandria, VA.

DC METRO INFORMATION:

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

FLYING:

For those of you flying, your most frugal travel option for this congress is, naturally, Spirit Airlines. The closest airport served by Spirit Airlines to the congress is Baltimore-Washington International airport (BWI) in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, about 40 minutes north of DC.

An UBER/Lyft or cab from BWI to the hotel is VERY expensive, around $60-70 or possibly even higher than that, so try to avoid this if possible or split the costs with another festival attendee if you must go this route. Although UBER and Lyft’s pool/shared options are available in DC, they are NOT available in the Baltimore area, including the area around BWI, making UberX and regular Lyft your only options for travel to and from BWI.

Directions from BWI:

If you are able, try to get into BWI during the day when the MARC train is still running. Take the MARC train’s Penn Line from BWI to Union Station in DC. Tickets for the MARC train can be purchased at a kiosk at the BWI train station near the airport for about $8.

Directions to the hotel from Union Station: Once in Union Station, take the DC Metro red line towards Shady Grove two stops to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop and the hotel is a short walk away. Exit the Metro station from the Gallery/9th & G St. NW side; you will see signs around the station pointing out which exit is which. Once out of the station, walk down G Street NW toward 9th Street NW (if you see 7th Street NW you’re going the wrong way, turn around) then make a right on 9th Street NW and the hotel will be on your right two blocks up at 999 9th St NW. It’s hard to miss.

If you’re taking any airline other than Spirit, you will either fly into BWI, DCA (Reagan National Airport), or IAD (Dulles). DCA is the closest airport to the congress and therefore the most practical if you are flying any airline other than Spirit. Try to avoid flying into IAD if you can; not only is IAD far from the congress without the benefit of being serviced exclusively by a budget airline, but there is no Metro stop or train that services IAD directly as yet, which will force you to take UBER/Lyft, a cab, or a bus part of the way.

Follow the above directions if you are flying into BWI.

DIRECTIONS FROM DCA:

If coming from DCA, take the Metro yellow line from the Ronald Reagan National Airport station at the terminal towards Greenbelt/Fort Totten to the Gallery Place-Chinatown metro stop and follow the above directions from there. The yellow and blue lines share the same track and the blue line’s route is very different and will add extra time and transfers to your trip, so be sure the train you are getting on is a yellow line train. Follow the walking directions from Gallery Place once you get there.

DIRECTIONS FROM IAD:

If you must come from IAD, take an UBER, Lyft, or cab to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro stop on the silver line, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Metro Center, then transfer to the red line towards Glenmont, take the red line one stop to Gallery Place, and follow the above directions from Gallery Place.

BUS/TRAIN:

Megabus, Bolt Bus, Greyhound, and Amtrak all go to Union Station and the above directions to the Renaissance from Union Station can be followed from there.

CAR:

The Washington, DC area is unfortunately home to some of the most notoriously relentless rush hour traffic in the nation, and this must be accounted for when planning any car trip using the highway system, as it can add anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to your trip.  Rush hour in Washington, DC takes place on Mondays and Fridays from 5am-11am and noon-9pm (not kidding), and at various completely random intervals on Saturday and Sunday.

The streets with in the DC city proper itself, built in the late 1700s by Pierre L’Enfant with the express purpose of confusing and deterring invading armies, are very confusing and difficult to navigate for out-of-towners, even with a navigation system.  Use of a good GPS and concentrated focus is recommended if driving in DC.  

Parking is, as you would expect, very tight as well.  Do not count on street parking to be available, especially overnight.  

You have a few different options for overnight parking.

The first, closest, and most obvious option is your baller option, which is parking directly at the hotel at a cost of $35 per day for self-parking or $53.10 per day for valet parking, which some people may want to do for convenience, but which is definitely not the most frugal option.

A slightly less expensive option close by is the parking garage at Union Station, which offers overnight parking at a cost of $72 for a 48-72 hour period (about $24 per day), and is a short trip from the hotel via the directions from the station listed earlier in this entry.

DCA’s economy lot, at $17 per day with no hourly rate, is a good frugal option reasonably close to the Renaissance.  Park in the economy lot, take the free shuttle to the terminal, and hop on the Metro from the terminal and follow the metro directions from DCA to the hotel.  Make sure you keep your economy lot ticket with you and do not lose it if you utilize this option.

BWI’s economy lot, at $8 per day, could also work if you came from points north and have some time to spare.  Arrive during the day before the MARC stops running, take the free shuttle to the terminal, then take the MARC from the terminal to Union Station as described above (another $8 one way).  This will cost you about $50 total for three days and is the cheapest airport parking option.  Again, keep your ticket if you use this option.

The absolute cheapest option, if it is available, is parking your car at a suburban Metro lot and taking Metro to the hotel.

Overnight parking is available at four area Metro stations: Greenbelt (green line), Wiehle-Reston East (silver line), Huntington (yellow line), and Franconia-Springfield (blue line).  Each of these stations have 15-17 parking spaces allotted for overnight parking for up to 10 days available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Parking is $4.75 per day on weekdays and free on weekends and is charged to your SmarTrip card on exit.

You can take the green line toward Branch Avenue from Greenbelt or the yellow line toward Fort Totten from Huntington directly to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop.

From Wiehle-Reston East, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Metro Center,  transfer to the red line toward Glenmont and take the red line one stop to Gallery Place-Chinatown.

From Franconia-Springfield, take the blue Line toward Largo Town Center to the Pentagon station and transfer to the yellow Line toward Fort Totten/Mount Vernon Square to Gallery Place.  Do not miss your transfer at Pentagon, otherwise your trip will take much longer and you will have to transfer at Metro Center to the red line per the above directions.

Expect your Metro ride to be about 20-30 minutes.  Once at Gallery Place-Chinatown, follow the above walking directions to the hotel from there.

LODGING:

Your best frugal bet is, of course, a room share at the event hotel. DCBX currently has an active room block at the event hotel featuring rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people for as low as $155 per night, or about $45 per person per night for a four person room-share when taxes and fees are included. A link to book your hotel room online can currently be found here or at DCBachata.com under the hotel section if that link doesn’t work. Rooms at the event hotel are clean, comfortable, luxurious, and aesthetically pleasing, and are well liked by the festival’s regular attendees.

Per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage attendees to support the event hotel, I will be posting no information on offsite lodging options until the event hotel fully sells out, if that happens. If the event hotel fully sells out and no DCBX room block is available at an overflow hotel, I will write a separate entry detailing offsite options then.

FOOD:

For the frugally-minded traveler wanting to get groceries near the congress, you have many options. The closest is Walgreens, located at 7th & H Street NW near the Gallery Place Metro stop, but this is not the most frugal option.

There is also a Safeway (east coast chain grocery store similar to Vons on the west coast) located at 490 L Street NW, a 5 minute UBER/Lyft ride or 9 minute walk each way from the hotel.

If you want to grocery shop as frugally as possible, the Walmart Supercenter at 99 H Street NW is your best bet. It is a 9-10 minute UBER/Lyft ride or 15 minute walk each way from the hotel. Expect the DC Walmart stores to be slightly more expensive than suburban and small-town Walmarts, because they have higher operating costs due to their location. However, Walmart will still be your most frugal option in the immediate area of the congress for staples.

For those wanting to go to Whole Foods for specialty items, the Logan Circle Whole Foods at 1440 P Street NW is a 9 minute UBER/Lyft Ride or 20 minute walk each way from the hotel.

There is also a Smoothie King located near the Gallery Place metro station at 703 7th St. NW. A good #FCL strategy for those who don’t want to grocery shop at the congress but still want to save some money on food is to walk to Smoothie King in the morning (about a 5 minute walk) and get a 40 oz Strawberry Hulk smoothie for $9.99. The Strawberry Hulk, as I discussed in my NYC survival guide, is a 1000+ calorie meal replacement smoothie which provides a large portion of most people’s daily calorie and macronutrient requirements and should last you until dinner. I would allow some time to digest before being active in any way if you go this route. [Disclosure: Smoothie King has been a DCBX sponsor in past years and may be again this year, but this has no bearing on my recommendation, I honestly think the Hulk smoothies are a quick easy way to knock out a good chunk of the day’s calories and macros in one fell swoop for a relatively low cost.]

For your coffee needs, the Starbucks located directly in the event hotel’s lobby is your best bet.

As far as options for your one restaurant meal, there are hundreds of restaurants directly around the hotel, most of them chains, and writing about all of them would be at least one whole separate article.

The restaurant I’m looking forward to having at least one of my daily meals out at is New Big Wong, an underground Chinese restaurant located at 610 H Street NW, a short walk from the hotel. They have some of the best General Tso’s Chicken in the city in my opinion.

Located directly next to the Renaissance at 777 Eye Street is Taco Bamba, a delicious and excellent rock-and-roll-themed taqueria owned by chef Victor Albisu that is a favorite among DCBX attendees.  

Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar, the former site of area Latin event promoters the Bachata Brothers’ now-defunct Viva Fridays event, is a solid option for Cuban food located just down the street from the hotel.  

I’ve also heard good things about Oyamel Cocina on 401 7th Street NW, which I have never been to but which was featured on a TV show I worked on several years ago. They serve grasshopper tacos (no kidding) for those of you with adventurous palates.

For those of you with less adventurous palates looking to eat out frugally, good old McD’s can be found at 601 F Street NW near the Metro, with Chipotle located right next door.

A small selection of some of the other restaurants located a stone’s throw from the hotel include City Tap House, Nando’s Peri-Peri, Farmers & Distillers, DBGB, Fig & Olive, Fruitive, Capitol City Bewing Company, and Zaytinya DC.  

Otherwise, like I said, I could write a whole other article on the staggering amount of food options located a short walk from the hotel – this is just some of the highlights!

That’s all the info I have… sound off in the comments if you got anything else to add and I’ll see you at DCBX!

– Owen

The #FCL New York City Survival Guide

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with any of the businesses whose services I mention in this post. Everything you read 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.]

Ok, with two amazing sensual bachata weekenders coming up in NYC soon and another one happening next month I think now is as good a time as any to write a survival guide for NYC in general that can be applied to most weekenders, congresses, or events in the city.

To an even greater degree than even any of the east coast’s other metropolitan cities including my home city of Washington DC, NYC is an E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E city all around, and most dance events take place in Manhattan, the most expensive part of NYC.  Even I get shocked by NYC’s prices sometimes and I am hardened to an expensive cost of living by DC already.  It all adds up and being in NYC for any period of time longer than a few hours can cost more money than you would think. However, fear not, because your #FrugalCongressLife practitioner is here once again to help you and your wallet weather the costs of being in NYC and maximize your experience.

Brief NYC geography lesson:

Native New Yorkers and anyone who has been to New York in their life are going to roll their eyes at this basic geography lesson but I’m including it for the benefit of people who are getting ready to go to NYC for the first time ever for a dance event or any other reason, some of whom may be reading this blog.

New York city is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.  Usually when people say they’re going to NYC for the first time at least, they mean that they’re going to Manhattan specifically.  Manhattan is the smallest but most densely populated borough and the location of many of NYC’s major tourist attractions, such as Times Square and Broadway.  The various neighborhoods of the other four boroughs have also made seismic contributions to American culture – most fans of hip hop are aware that hip hop had its beginnings at block parties in the Bronx, just to name one example — but most people visiting NYC from other parts of the country, particularly for the first time, will be spending most if not all of their time in Manhattan, unless they are visiting friends or seeing a specific landmark in the other boroughs (such as Coney Island in Brooklyn).

Manhattan is further divided into uptown Manhattan, midtown Manhattan, and downtown Manhattan.  Each of these areas has distinct neighborhoods with their own flavor and feel.  Uptown and downtown, as the beginner’s guide to the subway linked further down in this article points out, are also directional designations, with uptown being north and downtown being south.

The vast majority of NYC’s dance events that I have heard about so far take place in Manhattan, so this survival guide will largely be focused on Manhattan.  Should a dance event in one of the other four boroughs cross my radar, I will write a specific survival guide for that event that covers the particulars of both that event and the surrounding area.

With the basic geography out of the way, on to the meat of this article, weathering the three parts of the Quadforce Of Dance Congress Expenses not specific to any one event.

TRAVEL:

Do.  Not.  Even.  Bother.  Driving.  To.  Or.  In.  NYC.  Unless you absolutely have to, of course (because you’re transporting equipment or some other reason).  I am in my 30s and have been driving for over 15 years and have never driven in NYC in my life despite having been there countless times… I have simply never needed to.  Of course, I have ridden in cars of all types in NYC (including a limo and an old-school Cadillac), and my native New Yorker father, who spent the first part of his adult life driving in NYC, described it in much detail.  Driving in NYC is an exercise in nerves and patience to the highest degree.  NYC’s gridlock is infamous, and walking is frequently faster than driving in NYC depending on where you are going.  NYC’s drivers (both professional and otherwise) are fearless — they will fill any gap in traffic any way possible regardless of viability or safety — and many drivers in NYC are also very impatient and aggressive — the symphonies of extended seconds-long blaring car horns echoing up and down NYC’s streets will be something your ears just get used to the longer you’re in NYC.  Parking on the street in NYC is a virtual impossibility and parking garages are ghastly expensive beyond your wildest imagination.  Do your wallet and your nerves a favor and don’t drive in NYC unless you really REALLY have to.

[Fun bit of trivia for those who don’t know already: the famous “I’m walkin’ here!” moment in the movie Midnight Cowboy was completely unscripted… they were filming on-location on NYC streets open to the public and the iconic line was Dustin Hoffman’s actual on-the-spot (in-character) reaction to actually almost being hit by an actual NYC taxicab on camera.]

Luckily for those not driving, New York City is the single most walkable city in America and has the best public transportation system in America, so the need to drive to or in NYC is virtually non-existent unless you do it for a living or are transporting a lot of heavy equipment.  The famous New York City Subway (MTA) runs 24 hours a day and goes virtually anywhere in the city and much of the surrounding areas and can take you anywhere you need to go for a very low price.

Info on New York’s Subway here: http://web.mta.info/nyct/subway/

If for whatever reason you can’t walk or take the subway somewhere in NYC one of NYC’s equally iconic taxicabs or an UBER will get you there.

Sitting down and figuring the subway out before you get to NYC is worth it though, as the cost of cabs or UBER will add up quickly and the subway is a much better frugal option. The biggest thing to remember about the subway is to take an uptown route if going north and a downtown route if going south. A complete beginner guide to the NYC Subway can be found here.

If an app is more your speed, there are several apps available for both iPhone and Android for navigating NYC transit. Also, Citymapper is a very promising new app that I have just discovered that helps with navigating transit in a variety of cities including DC and NYC. I will be profiling Citymapper in a future post after I have used it more.

The thing that is most mind boggling about NYC is that frequently, walking to your destination will take only a few minutes more than the subway and, as I have pointed out, even less time than driving at times.

Your best frugal option for traveling to NYC is the bus.  Greyhound will go straight to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan and you can take the subway anywhere in the city from there, and Greyhound picks up from the Port Authority too.  The two budget bus lines, Megabus and Bolt Bus, also go to NYC, but they go to and pick up from various outdoor street corners in Manhattan (specified on your ticket), so be prepared for this if you go that route… dress for the weather, have your phone charged and/or have a backup battery, etc.  I have had to wait for Megabus on a freezing outdoor street corner at 5am in the dead of winter after an NYC dance social with my phone on 10% before… thank heaven I was dressed warmly for that and my phone stayed charged long enough for me to show my ticket and get on the bus.

Depending on the time of your outbound trip, you can get a Bolt Bus to NYC from points within 4-5 hours of NYC on the east coast for as little as $15 one way… that price point will largely be available in the mid-afternoon if you can leave then.  Keep in mind also that if you are going the route of returning home from NYC right after the social lets out (see below), that BoltBus’ earliest bus leaves NYC at 7:00am, whereas MegaBus has buses out of NYC at 5 and 6am.  Taking Bolt Bus there in the mid afternoon (around $15 one way) and taking Mega Bus back in the early morning (around $22 one way) is your best frugal option in that case.

If you do not have a train or bus station near you, driving to your nearest train or bus station and parking there is worth it.

Pack for the bus as if you were packing for Spirit Airlines.  Spirit bag (or an even smaller backpack), compression cubes, all that.  Room for your bag, indeed, room in general, will be very scarce.  The budget buses in particular are short on legroom, especially if you are riding a packed bus and need to have a seat mate, which is bothersome to me as a big dude, but something I can put up with for a few hours.  Compression travel socks are good for preserving your circulation in these situations, as I have said before.

The Amtrak Northeast Regional train is also a good option for those on the east coast who want to ball out a little bit, and it goes straight to New York Penn Station on 34th Street in Manhattan, which also has a subway station of its own.  Sometimes I will go this route when times are good, money is less of an object, and I want a bit more comfort.  You get a lot more legroom, there’s a dining car and the views are almost always gorgeous.  As the old commercials used to say, there truly is something about a train that’s magic.  This will also of course be the default option for those who need to bring a bit more than a Spirit bag’s worth of luggage for whatever reason.  Train tickets average around $100 one way from points within a 4-5 hour radius of NYC.

I have never had to fly to NYC since I am within bus and train distance, but I’ve looked into it for you my readers. Good old Spirit Airlines goes right to LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in Queens, and you take the Q48 bus to the 7 train which takes you right into Manhattan.  That’s about a 45-50 minute trip. The non-Spirit airlines go to either JFK Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International (EWR) or LGA.  There’s an air train from JFK which goes to the E train which you can take into Manhattan from there, about an hour trip for $7.75.  If flying into EWR, you’ll have to take the Northeast Regional to 34th Street/Penn Station, which is extra $$$, so try to avoid flying into EWR if you can help it.

LODGING:

Honestly, my personal #1 frugal strategy for lodging in NYC is to not do it.  If I am only going up for one night for a Friday or Saturday night dance social or one night of a weekender or congress (which is frequently the move for me for NYC due to me being a four-hour bus ride away and NYC being expensive af to be in for an extended period of time), I’ll schedule my return bus trip an hour or two after the social ends, find something to do in the two hours or so before my bus leaves (there’s always something to do in the City That Never Sleeps at any time of the day or night), then catch a nap on the bus and crash out hard when I get home.

However, many of you will want to stay in NYC for more than one night, and if you are attending multiple days of a festival at the full pass level or live further than 4-5 hours away, you pretty much have to.  I really don’t know how frugal you can get here… hotels in NYC are as expensive as you would imagine.  Expect to pay around $175-250 a night for an average hotel room in the city, as much as $400-600 a night if you want to get really fancy and stay in a luxury hotel, and even as high as $845 a night (!!!!) if you want to recreate Home Alone 2 in real life and stay at The Plaza.  If you’re reading a blog called #FrugalCongressLife, I’m assuming that this is definitely not the route you want to go.

Only real way you can mitigate these hotel prices is room share, room share, room share.  Four people in a room.  Even with these conditions, expect to pay around $50-70 per night for four people in an average hotel room.  Not much you can do about that.

If the event you’re going to NYC for is at a hotel, I will publicly encourage you to support the event hotel as I always do, and if the organizer has somehow reserved a room block it will be the best hotel deal in NYC period, but many NYC dance events, such as the two sensual bachata weekenders this month, are held at dance studios and other non-hotel locations, so I do feel comfortable discussing all lodging options in this post. Going offsite makes little if any difference in Manhattan unless you want to go much further out from your event location.

The closest thing to budget motels you will find around Manhattan are out in Queens or Long Island City, which will put you around half an hour on the subway one way from a dance event in Manhattan on average, considerably outside the #FCL optimal commute time window of 15 minutes one way, but if you are willing to deal with this, it is an option.  Budget motels in Queens average around $130-160 per night. As always, check online reviews thoroughly if you go this route.

AirBNB is scarcely an option in NYC as AirBNBs are subject to some very strict laws specific to New York regarding short term rentals, and it is against New York state laws outright for tenants to operate AirBNBs out of rented apartments.  If you go the AirBNB route, make sure your host owns their listing and is on the up and up.  I can not advocate any illegal activity on this blog.

Hostels can be a good budget option if you can withstand often loud, cramped, and sometimes less-than-perfectly-clean hostel conditions.  Some hostels are located right in Manhattan and can be had for as low as $30-70 per night, an almost unheard of price in NYC. The Broke Backpacker wrote a very comprehensive guide to NYC’s hostels here.

FOOD:

All I can really say is buy as much food outside of NYC for your staples as you can beforehand.  Any grocery store in NYC is going to be more expensive than you are used to anywhere else.  Bring as many nonperishables purchased elsewhere as you can fit into your bag comfortably.  Protein bars and tuna packets are very good options here as they don’t take up much space in a bag.  If you have a Smoothie King or Jamba Juice near your airport, train station, or bus station (we have the latter at Union Station in DC), buying a large meal replacement smoothie right before your train or bus leaves to work on on the ride up is a good frugal eating strategy for that particular day (the Hulk smoothie from Smoothie King in particular is a large super-high-calorie meal replacement smoothie that will knock out a good chunk of most people’s daily calorie and macronutrient requirements in one fell swoop for about $10).

As for your one meal out… food options in NYC are at least two separate articles by themselves.  NYC’s food options are famously comprehensive… no matter what you like, you WILL be able to find something you like in the Big Apple.  Diners are a good choice late at night (most diners in Manhattan are open 24/7) or if you are trying to be somewhat frugal with your night out.

If you go to NYC and eat at a chain restaurant of any kind… well, I’ll reserve judgement, at least publicly anyway.  Do you, I guess, but in my opinion there is such a staggering level of good unique local options in NYC that you really shouldn’t even give chain restaurants a second look until well after you leave NYC.

Anyone else got any good strategies for going to dance in NYC and leaving with your wallet’s screams for mercy as minimal as possible?  Can you fill in any informational gaps left behind by my own personal experience and research?  You know what to do already, sound off in the comments.  For anyone going to the New York Loves Bachata Weekender at the end of July, I’ll see you Saturday night!

– Owen

Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses #4: Food

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with any of the businesses whose services I describe in this post nor have I been hired to advertise for any of them. Anything written in this post is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Food is a congress expense that a lot of people underestimate and it can really add up, especially if you are trying to eat healthy and have dietary requirements such as eating a certain amount of protein per day lest you lose your hard-won gym gainz, as I do. Hotel convenience stores are overpriced on a ghastly level, and even convenience stores outside the hotel are very expensive. Stocking up on non-perishable food staples at a lower-priced grocery store will help mitigate your food costs tremendously while still keeping yourself well-nourished enough to get through the weekend. Obviously you can’t bring a lot of food on a plane or bus with you, so this is not much of an option for congresses you have to fly or take the bus to, but if you are local or you’re driving, taking the train, or ride-sharing to the congress, this is a very good option indeed. For events you fly or take the bus to, it may be worth going to a grocery store nearby and stocking up after you land.

PSA: EAT HEALTHY – FOR THE MOST PART.

A few unhealthy meals are ok but don’t eat only junk. Eating nothing but junk will make you tired and sick and drastically affect your ability to learn in the workshops and dance the night away at the socials, and will overall hamper your congress experience. Now that I’m done being your dad for a minute…

Non-perishable staples that I stock up on before a local or driving congress:

Protein bars (Quest is my favorite, they are the realest protein bars on the market, I will profile Quest bars in a future post), nonperishable non-refrigerated protein shakes (such as offerings from EAS or Premier Protein), jerky (beef, turkey, bacon), tuna/salmon packets, peanut butter, dried fruit (yeah I know dried fruit isn’t the best nutritionally, but real fruit is generally very perishable), maybe some easy to transport and reasonably nonperishable real fruit such as oranges and bananas, almonds, 5-Hour Energy 4-packs (late-night dance social fuel), Bulletproof Ghee, Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil, Onnit Alpha Brain packets, and Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate (collagen offers joint support benefits that are very good for aching knees, shoulders, etc).

Everyone who talks to me knows I love me some Bulletproof Coffee in order to have the mental focus and clarity for difficult workshops and keep the caffeine buzz going longer (coffee with fat in it has a slower and more drawn out caffeine buzz rather than a “spike and crash”). As a reminder, I am not affiliated with or sponsored by BulletProof or Onnit at the time of this writing, but I am a regular user of their products. I will also profile Bulletproof Coffee in more detail in a future post.

To maximize savings, I get only the Bulletproof and Onnit ingredients from my local Whole Foods or from Amazon and the rest from a discount grocery store such as Wal-mart, Aldi, or Dollar General.

Hotel breakfasts:

This almost goes without saying, but many hotels, including most congress event hotels, provide free breakfast for guests between 6:30am and 9:30am or some similar block of time, so for those who are somehow able to get up early or stay up late enough to catch the hotel’s free breakfast (unlikely in my case and probably for many other people too), this is a no-brainer frugal congress option for getting some of those calories and macronutrients in.

Additional reader suggestions:

Reader and dance enthusiast Karen Swavely Clark, of State College, PA, chimed in with a few other suggestions on food. Her first suggestion was using your hotel room’s coffee maker to make hot water for instant oatmeal, and to buy or bring frozen microwavable meals if you have a microwave in your hotel room. I would add to this, be sure to clean the coffee maker and microwave with antibacterial wipes before using them if you go this route, as you can not necessarily count on the hotel cleaning staff to have done so, even in otherwise clean and reputable hotels – hotel cleaning staff generally gets a very limited window of time to clean and turn over rooms and are likely to pass over things like the coffee maker, the microwave, and the TV remote to save time. Karen also suggests tuna kits with crackers as a food option, which is also very good.

A note about tuna, onions, garlic, or any other stinky food:

I would generally advise against eating stinky food in your hotel room. If you’re in a room-share your roommates will probably hate you for stinking up the room. If you’re by yourself, you may hate yourself later for stinking up the room. Just eat it outside.

There Can Be Only One:

For my sanity, unless my budget is really that tight, I will allow myself one meal out per day even at the frugalest of frugal congresses, preferably as a social occasion with friends and preferably at a restaurant I really want to eat at. This can either be the hotel restaurant (throwing the hotel establishments some extra business is never a bad thing) or a restaurant in town that you like or have heard good things about. I generally avoid chain restaurants for the most part as I can eat at chain restaurants anywhere else and at any other time, and try to find a cool local spot that I won’t always get to eat at.

That’s all I got for food, sound off in the comments if you have other suggestions or insights!

– Owen

Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses #3: Lodging

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with any of the businesses whose services I describe in this post nor have I been hired to advertise for any of them. Anything written in this post is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Now for the big king daddy of the Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses. Lodging. Hotel… Motel… Holiday Inn. While attending a dance congress, you will need a place to sleep (for a few hours most likely), shower (you had better be showering regularly at a dance congress!), and keep your stuff after all, especially if you are out of town, but even if you are local. Dance congresses are basically weekend-long dance camps for adults and having a place to lay your head and keep your stuff will make or break the experience. However, lodging will probably be your single biggest expense while attending a dance congress. Fear not, however, for I, your #FrugalCongressLife practitioner, am here to help you mitigate this gargantuan expense as much as legitimately possible and have a frugal dance congress that is still a good experience. This is going to be a long post with considerable meat on it, so be ready.

But first…

PSA that shouldn’t be necessary:

Don’t sleep or nap in the common areas of the hotel — this means the lobby, hallways, or any other public area that is not a paid-for hotel room. It’s seriously a bad look and could actually hurt the event. People sleeping in hotel common areas has caused at least one local salsa/bachata festival here in DC to lose its original hotel. In addition to being a bad look and hurting the event, it is extremely dangerous to sleep in public, as you could be robbed, kidnapped, or worse (do I even have to say what “worse” is?) while taking leave of all of your senses in public. Safety first!

A word about commuting, whether from home or an offsite hotel/motel:

Commuting to dance congresses, whether from home or from an offsite hotel/motel, is certainly the most frugal option, but it honestly is not the best or most optimal one. Commuting can cause you to miss workshops you wanted to take, be inconvenient on many other levels (you’ll have to go home or travel to and from your offsite location to shower between workshops and night activities), seriously take you out of the immersive dance congress experience, and may even be dangerous if you’re driving home or back to your offsite location tired after a long night of social dancing.

Any offsite options, including commuting from home, will ideally be a maximum of 15 minutes driving one way from the event hotel or less – the less the better, preferably walking distance. A commute any longer than a 15 minute drive one way will throw a serious logistical monkey wrench into your operations, spoil the congress experience at an unacceptable level, and add extra expense that will offset your savings on the room. This is a theme I will repeat when describing offsite options.

Also a philosophical/ethical point to consider – staying offsite (whether at home or another hotel/motel or AirBNB) is withdrawing financial support from the event on some level, as you are not staying at the event hotel, and sometimes the event organizers promise (explicitly or implied) the event hotel management a large amount of people staying in rooms at the event hotel. Additionally, much of the time, the event organizers reserve a block of rooms in the event hotel at a lower cost just for congress attendees. For these ethical reasons alone, staying offsite is not the best option. Event organizers, let me know in the comments how people staying offsite impacts your event if it does at all.

With that said, some people’s specific circumstances, which I will get into later in this post, call specifically for offsite lodging, and this IS the #FrugalCongressLife blog after all, so it makes sense to take an honest look at ALL major dance congress lodging options. Much like buying a party pass to the event, as I discussed in a previous post, I’m sure any event organizer would rather you commute to the event from an offsite location than not attend the event at all if you are really that up against it. With that said, in the rare occasions that I do stay offsite at a dance congress, I do not advertise this publicly or advise others to do so out of respect to the event organizer and the event hotel, unless the event hotel is completely sold out. Staying offsite should really be considered a last resort for those with a specific set of circumstances. Supporting the event as much as possible by staying at the event hotel, whether by yourself or in a room share, should always be your first resort.

With that PSA that really REALLY should go without saying and that important note about commuting from offsite locations out of the way, I’m going to discuss the various congress lodging options in order from generally most desirable to generally least desirable (#2 and #3 may be switched around based on individual space/privacy preferences) with a $ rating of 1-4 indicating its level of frugality (1 most, 4 least):

Solo room at the event hotel: ($$$$)

This is the platinum option, and the one that will likely be quickly discounted out of hand by #FrugalCongressLife practitioners. It is exactly as it sounds, a room to yourself at the event hotel, and will easily be the most expensive option, often well into the hundreds of dollars per night. If you are really particular about your living conditions (even your temporary ones for a weekend) and/or you want the maximum level of privacy and (at least a feeling of) security, are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a room with your fellow dancers for any reason (people have different comfort levels, don’t judge), or are likely to clash with roommates for any reason, but you also want the immersive dance festival experience, a “home base” to shower, sleep, and keep your stuff, and for your “commute” to and from the festival to be a simple elevator ride or walk up the stairs to your room, then this is your option. Sometimes I have done this option, particularly when times are good and rooms at the event hotel are $80 or less per night, but it makes the least financial sense from a cold economic standpoint for anyone who wants to be frugal.

Room-share with roommates at the event hotel: ($)

This is the most popular option with the majority of dance congress attendees and can be a very effective frugal option. Many dance events even have dedicated pages and group chats for helping prospective congress roommates find each other. You get all the advantages of having a “home base” to shower, sleep, and keep your stuff a short elevator ride away from the congress proper, while spending as little as $20-40 per night for your room. However, obviously you will be sharing a small space and a single bathroom with 1-4 other people you may or may not know all that well and may even be sharing a bed with someone you don’t know well depending on how many people you are in a room with. Not everyone is comfortable with this for a litany of reasons (again, don’t judge, different comfort levels for different people). Some people like privacy and a feeling of security too much to share a small space with casual acquaintances, some people are very particular about room conditions, and some people aren’t good at sharing space with others. If this is you, consider other options. Also, not everyone wants their hotel room for the same purpose – some people want a party room, some people want a quiet sanctuary to retreat to after going TO the party, and it is best to room with people who want the same things out of a congress hotel room. If you can navigate the challenges and pitfalls of a congress room-share, you can save a lot of money while still having the best logistics possible and possibly make some new friends as well. To read about how to navigate the particulars of congress room-shares in more detail, see Laura Riva’s post on how to Be A Better Congress Roommate here.

Solo room at a nearby budget hotel or motel: ($$/$$$ – varies)

This is the primary budget option for those who are particular about privacy/security, are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a hotel room with fellow dancers for any reason, or are likely to clash with roommates for any reason. How much money you save depends on how much cheaper a room at the hotel or motel you choose is than an equivalent room at the event hotel would be. This option will provide you with the “home base” for showering, sleeping, and keeping your stuff as described above, albeit a bit farther from the event hotel for a reduced price, but will introduce a litany of other logistical issues, not the least of which is an extended commute between your “home base” and the event, as well as some removal from the immersion of the dance event and some social isolation from your fellow dancers (not a good thing), as well as the philosophical/ethical issues I described earlier. If you are out of town or not driving for any other reason, the obvious extra expense of public transport or UBER will offset your savings to some degree. To have this option hamper your festival experience as little as possible, look for budget options that are no further than a 15 minute drive one way from the event hotel and preferably as close to the event hotel as possible. Needless to say, check online reviews thoroughly for your chosen budget location before booking, as many budget motels in particular are dirty and sketchy places where you could be robbed or assaulted, get very sick, or other possible negative outcomes.

Room-share with roommates at an offsite hotel or motel: ($)

This is kind of a “worst of both worlds” option, but it is potentially one of the most frugal options on this list if you can find an offsite location that is significantly cheaper than the event hotel and close enough to not have too much of a commute (15 minutes away one way or less), as well as roommates willing to also deal with offsite location issues. You get all the upsides and downsides of living with roommates alongside the logistical/ethical downsides of staying offsite, although having a roommate can offset the social isolation aspect of staying offsite somewhat. Also, honestly, good luck finding someone to do this with you as it’s not a popular lodging option for dance congresses.

[NOTE: per my personal code of ethics, when profiling specific dance events in future posts, I will provide no information on offsite lodging until the main event hotel fully sells out, if that happens at all. You’re basically on your own if looking for offsite budget lodging.]

AirBNB: ($/$$ – varies)

This could be a good last resort option depending on the circumstances – particularly for smaller dance festivals and weekenders happening in non-hotel locations such as dance studios. It is easy and convenient to book – all booking is done through a smartphone app – and unlike hotels or motels, you can pre-pay in advance for an AirBNB which is honestly very good peace of mind to have. I still would only recommend AirBNB as a extreme last resort, and with much caution. I have done AirBNB for dance congresses a few times, mostly early on in my congress life, and most of my experiences were either pretty good or passable, and one of them was very bad. For those curious about the very bad incident, I stayed with an individual whose landlord did not know they were hosting AirBNB guests in their apartment, he found out during my stay and kicked me out, and I had to leave the congress early. The host apologized profusely and refunded my money in full, but the incident ruined that congress for me and greatly eroded my trust in AirBNB as a platform.

Even if your host is fully on the up and up, there are issues with any AirBNB you will stay at. All the logistical and philosophical/ethical issues related to staying at an offsite hotel or motel apply to AirBNB as well. Keep in mind also that an AirBNB is somebody’s home and your ability to continue using AirBNB is directly tied to how well your hosts rate you based on a number of factors including cleanliness and quiet, so unlike a hotel or motel, you have to clean up after yourself and you can’t be as fast and loose with throwing parties, leaving towels on the bathroom floor etc. Make sure your AirBNB is no more than a 15 minute drive one way from the event hotel as you would with any other offsite option. Be aware that AirBNB’s vetting system is very easy to get around with fake information, and make sure you only book with Superhosts (a status designation assigned by AirBNB denoting an experienced and established host) or hosts with a large number of positive reviews… some unscrupulous AirBNB hosts have their friends write them fake positive reviews, but positive reviews in the hundreds or more and/or an official Superhost designation from AirBNB are very hard to fake.

Commuting from home: ($)

Honestly this is a last resort for those who are really up against it preceding a local congress and can not justify even a room share due to budget, or those with ideal logistics for commuting to a dance congress from home and wanting to save the most money. Obviously this is the most frugal option if you live nearby, but it is also the worst option logistically and obviously not even an option at all for out-of-town congresses. Ideally your conditions for commuting from home would be as follows: you live 15 minutes or less one way from the congress location, you don’t plan to take many workshops and/or are willing to sacrifice some morning workshops or social dancing time, you are ok with being somewhat removed from the immersion of a dance congress, and you can realistically walk or take public transportation or UBER to and from the event (not having to drive yourself after social dancing all night).

Best practices for booking hotels frugally, if you are booking a room yourself:

– Most dance congresses have their own reserved room block at the event hotel with a heavily discounted rate that is booked through their website or Facebook event page. This is generally your least expensive and best option at the event hotel, but you generally have a limited time to do it and once the block is sold out you’re out of luck.

– If booking outside of the congress room block or offsite, call the hotel or motel directly to get the best possible rate. If you are a member of AAA, ask for the AAA rate, it is generally the best room rate outside of the congress block or at an offsite hotel/motel, and you have the best chance of getting the best rooms and perks such as early check-in and late check-out.

– Become a member of as many hotel rewards programs as you can… most of them are free to join and it is absolutely worth it given how often you will be staying in hotels as a regular attendee of dance congresses. You can earn free hotel stays as you accumulate membership “points” and as you elevate to higher levels of membership by staying at participating hotels frequently, you begin to get the perks of such higher levels of reward membership, which can include but are not limited to food and beverage amenities, free WiFi, guaranteed late checkout, and even experiential rewards such as free private tours of a local landmark.

– Using a third party booking site such as Trivago or Booking.com is not recommended. Hotel staff know when you are using such sites to book and the treatment you receive, while not outwardly terrible, will be quietly less than preferential… you will get the worst rooms and getting perks such as early check in or late check out will be an uphill battle.

Conclusion:

That’s all I got for lodging. You know what to do by now, if you got anything else to add, sound off in the comments! Next up… FOOD!

– Owen