#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 #2: Travel

[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.]

Once you have your pass, travel to the congress is the next major expense you must consider. Obviously, if you are going to a local congress your only cost will be the cost of gas or transit, but as you get more into the dance congress scene, you will also want to go to out of town congresses that you will have to drive, take the train/bus, or fly to.

Driving:

Gas and tolls can cost more than you think. For me here on the Maryland side of DC, just getting out of the state of Maryland to points north is about $15 in tolls by itself. The best frugal practice for any congress in driving distance, particularly on the higher end of driving distance, is to ride-share with as many people as possible and split the cost of gas and tolls. If you’re willing to add an extra hour or two to your drive, any GPS app such as Waze also has an option for avoiding toll roads and tollbooths.

http://www.tollguru.com is a good resource for calculating the cost of gas and tolls for a car trip that I use frequently.

Train/bus:

If the congress is on a train or bus route, this is a good option to consider. If your congress is in flying distance, taking the train is less expensive, but will take much longer (north of 10 hours). A bus such as Greyhound, Bolt Bus, or MegaBus is way less than the train (as little as $15-20 one way depending on your destination and travel time), but comfort and legroom are sacrificed for this lower cost, particularly on a crowded bus (MegaBus in particular has very small seats). Compression socks are a good clothing accessory to look into for comfort and healthy circulation when traveling in cramped conditions such as a bus or plane for an extended period of time.

Flying:

Everything I’ve said so far has been pretty obvious and self-evident: ride-share to save money on gas and tolls, the bus is cheaper than the train, simple enough right? Flying is a little more involved and there’s more to it than what is obvious. Flying is the most expensive form of travel, but it is necessary when driving or taking the train/bus just isn’t a realistic option.

The most frugal way to fly is to use a budget airline such as Spirit Airlines or Frontier. To supplement my own personal experience, I will be borrowing a good amount of information from Keven Alvarado’s guide to flying Spirit Airlines for this section, which helped me a lot when I booked my first Spirit flight. I will link this guide in a future update to this article if I can find it anywhere online outside of FB or Messenger.

The most crucial thing one must understand about the new wave of budget airlines like Spirit is that the flight you get with your ticket is “un-bundled”… for the relatively low ticket price, you get the seat you sit in, transportation to your destination, and that is it. You get no food or in-flight entertainment with your ticket; all of that is charged separately. Make sure you have movies, games that you can play offline, music, and whatever else downloaded to your phone or tablet along with a good pair of noise-canceling headphones, because whatever is on your phone or tablet WILL be your in-flight entertainment. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it at an airport water fountain after you get through TSA.

Any checked bags are charged separately.

You get ONE “personal item” for free on a Spirit flight – your personal item is a small bag that you can carry on for free and that carry on item has to fit all the way inside of a bin at the gate that looks like this:

Yes, it has to fit in that little bin, so you have to have a bag that will fit in that bin to begin with and you can’t overstuff it to the point where it won’t fit. If it doesn’t fit, you have to check it, period, and that’s extra $$$. Any other checked bags are also extra $$$.

Here is the bag I use for Spirit flights. It conforms to Spirit and Frontier’s size requirements for personal items as long as you don’t overstuff it. A search for “Spirit bag” on Amazon will reveal abundant others that also meet Spirit and Frontier’s requirements.

If you have a lot of bags that you’ll need to check for any reason Spirit won’t be for you as with the checked bag fees it will work out to the cost of one of the major non-budget airlines anyway.

Check out Laura Riva’s post on how to pack efficiently for travel to a congress here. I would add to her post that compression cubes are a very effective way to pack down your rolled up clothes and other such items even further and fill the space even more efficiently – buy some here.

Flying Spirit is overall best for weekend or 4-5 day trips where you can fit everything you need into a Spirit bag without overstuffing it excessively. Keep in mind that Spirit does not go to every airport either, this is also something that must be researched.

Spirit also has a “big front seat” that you can purchase for an extra $35 each way that is their equivalent of “first class”. Since I’m a pretty big dude, I’ll likely be doing this when I go to Dallas Bachata Festival in November, as cramming into their small seats for 8+ hours is not very comfortable for a big dude, even with compression socks.

The best time to buy plane tickets at their cheapest is 1-2 months out from your flight date. Flying out on a weekday is optimal if you can swing it as flying out on Friday and back on Sunday adds $50-90 to your ticket price on average. Research prices for your desired flight on spirit.com in an incognito or private window (very important that the window you do your research in be incognito or private because otherwise it will be tracked with cookies and the price will go up) until you are happy with the price. Then, go directly to the airport and buy your ticket there to save the $15-30 you would be charged for online processing fees if you bought online. Ticket prices literally change day to day – if the price seems too high, try another day. I got a Friday AM flight from Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) out to this year’s Chicago Salsa Bachata Festival (near O’hare International Airport [ORD]) and return flight the following Sunday evening late last March for $250 total by purchasing my tickets directly at the airport in early February, and I’m sure it would have been even less if I had flown on weekdays, but the missed work would have offset any savings too much. Anything under $200 round trip is a good deal, but some people have been able to go as low as $40-50 round trip (I may have to have those people teach me their ways before I go to Dallas).

Here’s another thing you should know about Spirit that isn’t in most guides to Spirit. They’re late. Frequently. Delays and cancellations are even more of a fact of life on Spirit than they are on any other airline. The money you save can make dealing with this fact worth it, but make sure you schedule your flights well in advance of any workshops or bootcamps you want to take or parties you want to attend. If flying out Friday, an early AM departure is very advisable. Of course, always assume your flight is going to be on time and arrive with enough time to get through TSA and be at your gate a minimum of 2-3 hours before your flight.

If you’re taking a non-budget major airline that isn’t Spirit or Frontier, a lot of the non-Spirit-specific info for packing efficiently etc. applies also. For these airlines, Google Flights or Cheapflights.com are good resources for finding the cheapest flights possible. Scheduling your flights on a weekday, if at all possible, will get you the cheapest flights on any airline.

That’s all I got for travel. I know most of this was pretty obvious stuff outside of the specifics of flying, but it’s relevant to lay everything out there when planning for a frugal congress is concerned. My next post on the big daddy of the Quadforce of Congress Expenses, lodging, will have considerably more meat to it (I can make this promise with confidence because I actually wrote this post last after completing the other three Quadforce of Dance Congress Expense posts). If you have other suggestions or insights regarding congress travel, post it in the comments.

– Owen