The Future Of Social Dance During And After COVID-19: One Blogger’s Perspective

[DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a doctor or a health expert. This article is purely my opinion and speculation based on what I know right now, which could change rapidly. Do not base any of your short or long-term actions on any of my speculation and go by what the CDC recommends. I have no affiliation with any news organizations or other organizations cited in this article.]

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (otherwise known as SARS-COV-2 or novel coronavirus, commonly known as just coronavirus for short) burned through the world in March and April of 2020 leaving hundreds of thousands dead, ravaged economies, record unemployment, and overwhelmed medical systems in its wake, and continues to do so at the time of this writing on April 17th, 2020.  State-wide lockdowns and social-distancing measures have completely upended our way of life as we know it, forcing all but the most essential workers inside and away from each other for the time being. These measures, while critical for public health, have had the obvious but painful side effect of all but eliminating social dancing (the polar opposite of social distancing) for the foreseeable future.  I haven’t written much for this blog lately, because, frankly, there hasn’t been much to write about. All congresses and social dance events are cancelled for quite some time.

There has been a lot of speculation on social media as to what social dancing is going to look like moving forward. I figured I would offer up my thorough, rational perspective as one blogger who admittedly is not a scientist, doctor, or health professional, both to avoid typing the same Facebook post ad nauseum and to have some content for this blog for probably the only time for a while.

What We Know Now: A Broad View

This information is current as of 4/17/2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is a constantly developing situation and there could literally be a new development tomorrow that changes everything.

COVID-19, a respiratory virus, is known to spread through close person-to-person contact (6 feet apart or less), via micro-droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even talks loudly.  COVID-19 is also known to spread via touching an infected surface, including the hands of an infected person, and then touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth.

There have been known cases of pre-symptomatic and even asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.

Stay-at-home orders, mass quarantine, and social distancing (staying 6 feet apart or more from other people) have to date been the main measures taken to slow the spread of the virus and avoid overburdening hospitals and healthcare systems with a massive influx of cases.

The CDC has begun recommending the use of non-medical-grade face masks or other alternative face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible.  These recommendations are not a replacement for social distancing at this time.

According to data from the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a very influential model relied upon by the White House and many individual American citizens, we appear to be hitting the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations and will slowly ramp down to zero deaths/hospitalizations per day between late May (as early as then in some states) and late June (the entire country/some states have longer tail ends of the graph). The lockdowns and social distancing measures appear to have been effective in reducing the spread of the virus and keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed by a flood of new cases, but we are far from out of the woods as of now.

If the current COVID-19 pandemic follows a similar pattern to the 1918-1919 “Spanish Flu” pandemic and other similar coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, we may see a reduction of cases when the weather gets warm and therefore at least a temporary reprieve from some of the strictest quarantine and social distancing measures. There is already evidence from new government tests that sunlight and high heat and humidity accelerates the death of the virus. Scientists are warning that this data is inconclusive as of now, and that even in best cases high heat and humidity won’t completely stop transmission of the virus. Even if it becomes conclusive and becomes the basis for a reprieve from the strictest lockdown measures, a complete return to normalcy including large social dance events during such a reprieve is unlikely.

The combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, a common antibiotic, is a pharmaceutical combo heavily touted by President Trump as a therapeutic and prophylactic for COVID-19.  So far, this combination appears to have, at best, dubious anecdotal evidence of improvement in non-severe cases, and, at worst, crippling side effects that outweigh the positives of use.

An experimental drug called remdesivir is currently in phase three clinical trials as a therapeutic for severe cases of COVID-19 and is showing a lot of promise.  

There are at least two candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine currently in phase one clinical trials.  If all goes well, one very promising candidate is targeted for health care workers and other emergency personnel and essential workers in Fall 2020, and for the general public in Spring 2021.  These dates are of course fluid and are contingent on the vaccine being proven safe and effective without any serious issues or side effects. The general consensus among scientists, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and White House Coronavirus Task Force advisor Anthony Fauci, is that it will take 12-18 months for a vaccine to be available to the general population if all goes well.

President Trump is hoping to begin opening the United States again in three phases starting in early May 2020.  Whether this plan is executed statewide is up to the governors of each individual state.

The United States lags behind other countries such as South Korea in both testing and contact tracing.  Apple and Google are working on contract tracing solutions using cellular phone data.  Reliable testing and contact tracing will be critical to a safe and effective reopening of the country.

There are currently experimental tests for antibodies to the virus underway that may be able to determine who has already had the virus and has built up antibodies to the virus making them immune.  This testing is inconclusive at this time, but could be a game changer. If immunity in certain parts of the population can be proven, we may be able to issue immunity cards for those who are immune, allowing them to work and go about life without having to quarantine themselves, effectively instituting more targeted quarantines and social distancing instead of blanket quarantines and social distancing for everyone. 

The Bad News: Social Dance As We Knew It Probably Isn’t Coming Back For A Long Time

The sooner we accept this reality, the better for all of our sanity.

Yes, I miss social dance.  We all do. But large social dance events are the polar opposite of what needs to be done to stop the spread of the virus for the time being.  Social dance is done in close contact with many people in one night, less than 6 feet apart and touching hands continuously. Without reliable testing or contact tracing to identify and isolate known positive cases of the virus, large social dance events are too powerful a vector for unchecked community spread of the virus to even contemplate risking at this time.

This is particularly true of dance congresses and festivals, the largest scale of social dance events there is.

While I understand the desire of dance congress organizers to not owe $250,000+ to a hotel, the reality is that dance congresses tend to be petri dishes of illness in normal times, and a currently-incurable pandemic of a novel virus would not only spread like wildfire at the event, but then would spread widely in the communities of traveling attendees upon their return.  I can’t tell anyone what to do, but all I can say is that if someone insists on holding a dance congress in 2020 and you insist on going, I would highly, highly advise a two-and-a-half-week strict self-quarantine afterwards (meaning don’t leave your house for ANY reason including and especially the grocery store).

Very likely, we shouldn’t expect social dancing to return as anything approaching normal until, at the earliest, the summer of 2021, likely not until the fall of 2021 — and that’s if all goes according to plan and schedule in the search for a vaccine.  Even then, it will be a new normal; lots of people will be hesitant to return to social dance for quite some time. Face masks, other face coverings, and gloves will be common social dance accessories for quite a while once social dance returns, just to name one example.  We may also see mandatory breaks for hand washing/sanitizing every few songs rather than a long blending of songs for several hours straight. Social dance isn’t returning for quite a long time and will not be the same again once it does.

So How Do We Cope In The Meantime?

Virtual Dance Classes

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an explosion of online virtual classes for every style of dance including all styles of salsa and bachata, zouk, west coast swing, and others. This is a trend that will continue throughout the next year at least. While not a great substitute for in-person dance classes and instruction, these virtual classes at least have the positive effect of helping individual dancers keep their technique sharp pending the return of social dance and in-person dance instruction and guiding dance-monagamous couples (see below) in their dance training.

Feel free to post any links to virtual dance classes you recommend in the comments.

Dance Monogamy?

If this goes on long enough, we may see a rise in couples that agree to only dance with each other until all is clear or even moving in together to do so, as dance couples already established prior to the rise of the virus are already doing. These “dance-monogamous situationships” likely will end quickly when the virus ends, as wanting someone to dance with is a very superficial foundation for a relationship (especially a live-in relationship), but it may help some people cope with not only the lack of social dance but also extended isolation for the time being.

Dance “Quaranteams”

As an alternative, we may see a rise of group houses where groups of dancers shack up together and only dance with each other.  Whether these arrangements will become prevalent and stand the test of time remains to be seen, but this practice is already playing out outside the dance community and it could become a more palatable alternative to dance monogamy for the commitment-phobic dancer who wants to avoid dance-starvation and extended isolation in quarantine.

Private Parties

Once we have reliable testing and contact tracing in place, the first returning manifestation of anything resembling social dancing we will see, and probably the dominant manifestation for the foreseeable future, will be private invite-only social dance house parties. These small invite-only parties of 10-14 people or less will come with mandatory temperature checks, use of protective equipment such as face masks and gloves, handwashing and sanitizing breaks, and, if immunity cards become a widespread phenomenon, immunity cards as a prerequisite for even being invited. While private house parties do not quite match the experience of large socials or congresses, they do have an intimate charm to them, and they will be the closest thing to a real dance social that we will see for quite some time yet.

Other Hobbies

Of course, most dancers do have other hobbies, and this would be a good time to more deeply explore or cultivate other hobbies that are more in line with social distancing guidelines.  Hiking, running, cooking, fishing, gardening, video games… just to name a few examples. Now may also be a good time to enter an intense immersive accelerated learning program for education or new job skills, such as a computer programming bootcamp or other type of accelerated job training.  After all, what else are you doing for the foreseeable future?

Conclusion

Of course, this all could change. We may come up with an effective therapeutic/prophylactic that changes the game entirely and allows us to get back to normal faster. I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m just offering my perspective based on the information I have now. Like everyone else, I will be following this entire situation closely.

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Viva La Bachata Weekend

The Baltimore area’s newest bachata event is officially here in the form of the Viva La Bachata Weekend!

Viva La Bachata, the collaborative brainchild of DC-based international sensual bachata instructor Vladi Aragon and world-renowned bachata DJ Emerson “Emerzive” Morales, has so far produced an outstanding and wildly successful monthly Saturday night bachata social held in Tysons Corner, VA on the first Saturday of every month.

This coming February, the Viva La Bachata crew is expanding onto the congress/festival/weekend stage with this brand new weekend event as their first multi-day offering, which they hope to expand into a full festival starting in 2021.

In the search for a venue that will accommodate a larger crowd, the Viva La Bachata experience is, for this event only, shifting an hour and a half northeast from its usual Tysons Corner location to the northern Baltimore County suburb of Timonium, Maryland. The weekender will happen from February 22nd-24th, 2020 at Towson Dance Studio (hereafter abbreviated as TDS), a gorgeous, classy, and expansive studio named for the adjacent town of Towson, MD, and located next to the Maryland State Fairgrounds at 9486 Deereco Rd in Timonium.

Confirmed artists so far include Vladi & Ximena, Kat Arias, and Spain’s Luis & Andrea, with more to be announced.

Confirmed DJ’s for the evening parties include DJ Soltrix, DJ Emerzive, DJ Manuel Citro, and DJ York from Germany. The schedule so far for the weekend consists of a party on Friday night and workshops in the morning and afternoon followed by performances and a party at night on Saturday and Sunday.

PASS:

If you didn’t jump on any of the pass deals at this year’s New Jersey Bachata Festival, full passes are still available for a very low price (around $70-80) at the time of this writing. The sooner you buy the better, as always!

TRAVEL:

Baltimore City and the surrounding areas, including Towson and Timonium, are supported by Citymappervia their DC/Baltimore package at the time of this writing. Via is not supported in the Baltimore area at the time of this writing. UBERPool and Shared Lyft are not supported in the Baltimore area, making UberX and Lyft your cheapest ride hailing options.

CAR:
Timonium is accessible by public transportation, but is located quite some distance from most of the airports, train stations, and bus stops in the area. Additionally, the closest hotel is a nine minute walk, and it goes up from there, and this festival is at the end of February where temperatures are in the 30s and 40s on average. Therefore, if you are able, driving and/or ridesharing are the most practical options for this festival. There is a good amount of parking near TDS itself, and an even greater abundance of overflow parking at the Park and Ride a stone’s throw away. All the hotels, food options, and grocery stores have abundant parking as well.

Rush hour traffic in both the DC and Baltimore areas are very bad on Friday afternoon and can add multiple hours to your trip (not kidding) – be mindful of this if coming from points south of Towson/Timonium.

FLYING:

BWI is your airport for this festival whether you’re flying a budget airline or balling out in first class. From there you have a couple of transportation options. The baller option, and the time-saver option, is to take an Uber or Lyft directly from the airport to the studio or your hotel of choice. TDS is located about a 37 minute drive from the airport, so this is bound to be staggeringly expensive (about $40-50 one way on average), especially given the lack of shared/pool options. Coordinating a share with other attendees landing at or around the same time as you shouldn’t be hard to pull off, and should ease some of the financial pain of this option. If you’re stuck going it alone, I honestly would recommend renting a car at the airport if you can – it would cost roughly the same as UBER or Lyft both ways and would give you some very helpful extra mobility during the festival.

Your extreme budget option if you are willing to tack an extra 105 minutes (not a typo) on to your trip is the Baltimore LightRailLink. From BWI Airport, head to the light rail platform (about a 3 minute walk up the road from the Spirit and Frontier concourses) and take the light rail north toward Hunt Valley. From there, ride 25 stops to the Timonium Fairgrounds Light Rail station. From there, TDS is either about a 6 minute walk northwest up Deereco Road or a shorter and much less expensive UBER ride. The entire trip will take you 90-110 minutes on average, but will cost you only $1.80 one way. Light rail and UBER can also of course be mixed for a balance of saving money and saving time.

TRAIN:

Amtrak to Penn Station in downtown Baltimore. The area around Penn Station is fairly safe, but as with just about anywhere in downtown Baltimore, it’s a good idea to keep your head up and look alive.

From there you have similar options to the trip from the airport. TDS is about an 18 minute drive/UberLyft ride from downtown Baltimore and will probably be about $20-30 one way on average. I can’t imagine as many people will be taking the train or bus as flying so coordinating a shared Uber or Lyft could be tougher.

The light rail will be about 50-60 minutes from downtown Baltimore, but as with BWI, it will cost you only $1.80 one way. Make a left on Charles Street out of the station and a right onto Oliver Street, walk about 8 minutes then make a right onto Mount Royal Avenue to the Mount Royal & Lt Rail Stat stop. Ride 9 stops to the Timonium Fairgrounds light rail station and walk 6 minutes northwest up Deereco Road to TDS.

BUS:

While Megabus’ Baltimore-area stop at the White Marsh Mall is wildly impractical for the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress’ downtown location or the Zouk Heat Festival’s BWI location, it is only about a 20 minute UBER ride from TDS and UBER will be about $20-25 one way.

If you have an extra 155 minutes to space there is a public transportation route from White Marsh. Walk about 8 minutes east to the BROWN bus stop toward Br Um Medical Center, then take it 17 stops to Belair Rd & Overlea Loop SB – 6553, and transfer to the 33 bus toward Mt. Washington LR. Ride 27 stops to Kelly Ave & Sulgrave Ave WB – 5049. Walk 3 minutes northeast to the Mt. Washington & Light Rail Stat and follow the light rail directions from there.

A more practical route for Megabus, especially if coming from points south of Washington, DC, is to take it to Union Station, then take the Marc Penn Line to Penn Station and follow the train directions from there. Bolt Busstops downtown a block east of Penn Station on Maryland Avenue. Walk west toward Penn Station and follow the train directions to TDS from there.

Greyhound stops closer to the stadiums on the south end of downtown Baltimore. Take an UBER or Lyft to the Pratt Street Light Rail Station and then follow the light rail directions to TDS from there.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT OPTIONS FROM THE DMV AREA:

There are three different specific public transportation options local to the DC Metro area that will take anyone in the DC/MD/VA area to BWI for a very low price, and the light rail route from BWI can be taken to TDS from there.

The MARC Penn Line is an excellent option for getting to BWI from anywhere in the Washington, DC city limits. It picks up at Washington Union Station and will take you the BWI Rail Station for around $6-8.

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

For residents of Prince George’s County, MD, including the College Park/University of Maryland area, the WMATA B30 bus goes from the Greenbelt Metro station at the northern end of the green line to BWI for $7.50 one way (exact change required). This bus isn’t really practical for anyone outside of PG County, however, as it is located further away from either of the DC airports than the 201 stops above. Additionally, the B30 does not run on Saturday or Sunday, so anyone leaving for PG County on Sunday evening will have to take the 201 back to Shady Grove, then return to PG County via the red line and the green line, which will take close to three hours total.

LODGING:

Since this event is taking place at a studio and not a hotel, I will freely discuss a multitude of lodging options.

There are several hotels located very close to the festival at a variety of price ranges. An official hotel for the weekend has not been announced as of the time of writing.

Your best logistical bet is the Holiday Inn Timonium (9615 Deereco Rd, Timonium, MD 21093) located just up the street from TDS. The hotel is currently going for $111 per night at the time of this writing and is located a 2 minute drive or 9 minute walk from TDS. The hotel was recently renovated and reviews are mostly positive. It will likely be the most popular option for those looking to roomshare as it is closest to the event. Amenities include free high-speed wireless internet, a refrigerator, HBO, and “Refresh” bedding.

Additionally, there is at the time of this writing a cyber sale going on for members of Holiday Inn’s IHG Rewards Program where if you book your hotel room between November 11th and December 17th, 2019 and stay between November 14th, 2019 and May 31st, 2020 (which includes the weekend of the festival), you can save up to 25% on your room, making the Holiday Inn a better bet for this festival.

Another good alternative is the Hampton Inn and Suites Baltimore North/Timonium (11 Texas Station Ct, Timonium, MD 21093) going for about $97-100 per night. It is further from TDS, located about a 4 minute drive or 15 minute walk away, but it has a higher rating on Google and more positive reviews than the Holiday Inn. Amenities include free breakfast, free wifi, a fitness center, a business center, digital key entry, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a 42 inch TV.

Your closest budget option is the Extended Stay America Baltimore North/Timonium located about an 3 minute drive or 12 minute walk away from TDS at 9704 Beaver Dam Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093 and going for about $80 per night on average, as well as featuring kitchenettes. Some reviews of this hotel complain of cleanliness issues and all are quick to point out that the Ritz this hotel ain’t. Bring the bleach wipes and caveat emptor, as with any budget hotel.

Located about a 7 minute drive up the road in the adjacent town of Cockeysville at 10100 York Rd is your budgetiest budget option, the Ramada Limited Cockeysville, which goes for about $55-60 per night for the VLB Weekend’s dates. Reviews describe not only cleanliness issues similar to the Extended Stay but bulletproof glass in the lobby and “sketchy characters” hanging out in the parking lot. I wouldn’t recommend this particular option for dancers planning on returning from the VLB socials late at night, but it is the cheapest option.

AirBNB is decidedly not an option for the 2020 edition of the VLB Weekend, as only 19 listings are left in the area for the festival’s dates, and only two of them (averaging $50-60 per night) are located within commutable distance of the studio.

FOOD:

Your closest Wal-Mart is located about 8 minutes up the road at 1 Frankel Way, Cockeysville, MD 21030. Target is located slightly closer, at 9901 York Rd, Cockeysville, MD 21030. If you happen to have a Sam’s Club membership, they are located much closer, about a 5 minute drive or 17 minute walk away at 15 Texas Station Ct, Timonium, MD 21093. Giant is located abouat a 7 minute drive away at 2145 York Rd, Timonium, MD 21093.

Green Valley Market Place, a local organic supermarket, is located about a 4 minute drive or 20 minute walk away at 15 E Padonia Rd, Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093.

The nearest coffee spots to TDS are a Starbucks located a 5 minute drive away at 2129B York Road and a Dunkin’ a short walk south from there. My plan is to stock up on iced coffees and Bulletproof cold brews at Wal-Mart (yes, Bulletproof cold brews are available at Wal-Mart now) before the weekend.

You have quite a few options for your meal out. If you want your baby back baby back baby back baby back ribs with your bachata, there’s a Chili’s right next to the Holiday Inn at 9615 Deereco Rd, Timonium, MD 21093. If you want your comfort food to be more local, Mother’s North Grille is located about a 4 minute drive or 18 minute walk away at 2450 Broad Ave, Timonium, MD 21093. Hightopps Backstage Grille is another comfort food spot located near the fairgrounds at 2306 York Road and Gibby’s Seafood & Gourmet Market is right next door. Located in the shopping center near the Hampton Inn and Sams Club is a Japanese restaurant called Umi Sake (9726 York Road), an Italian pasta and pizza joint called Fazzini’s Taverna (9811 York Road), and, most important to the frugal congress-goer, and all-you-can eat Indian buffet called Royal Kitchen (9832 York Road). Located further up the road from Royal Kitchen are Taco Bell, Popeyes, IHOP, Wawa, and Chik-Fil-A. The Wits End Saloon (9603 Derreco Road), a whiskey-and-burgers joint, and Liberatore’s Ristorante and Catering, a family-run Italian chain (9515 Deereco Road), are good options for the Holiday Inn and the Extended Stay crowd as bpth are a short walk from both of those hotels. There is also a 7-Eleven located near the Hampton Inn, the Holiday Inn, and the Extended Stay America at 9709 Beaver Dam Road.

That’s it for this guide; hit the comments if you have anything to add and I’ll see you in Timonium this February!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Interfusion Festival

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Interfusion Festival other than being a loyal attendee.  I have not been hired by Interfusion Festival to promote that organization in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

For this #FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide, it is my pleasure to cover the one and only Interfusion Festival, a unique, enigmatic, and surely soon to be legendary (if it is not already) dance and healing movement festival that is like no other in the US.

Interfusion Festival offers an unparalleled mix of African and Latin dance workshops (including bachata, zouk, tango, and kizomba), pole dance workshops, and a wide variety of spiritual and healing workshops including such topics as meditation, essential oils, daily self-care, Thai massage, intimacy and sexuality, tantra, yoga, and acroyoga, as well as daytime acroyoga jams and nighttime dance socials for bachata, zouk, ecstatic dance, kizomba, and EDM.

Interfusion Festival started as a small two-day local studio festival with the purpose of bringing together dance, spiritual, and healing movement topics in early 2016, and the very first Interfusion Festival was held over two days at the Dance Loft On 14 Studio in Washington, DC on August 6th and August 7th, 2016.

Interest in the festival grew rapidly from there and Interfusion Festival quickly expanded into a full weekend festival and moved in the winter of 2017 to the legendary event-tested Westin Alexandria hotel, also the site at the time of DC’s long-running Capital Congress. This new incarnation of the Interfusion Festival, called Interfusion Festival: Unleash Your Dreams, was a full three-day festival at the hotel that happened on February 10th-12th, 2017, and offered the eclectic mix of dance and spiritual workshops and night parties for which Interfusion is now well known. A second fall edition of the festival, dubbed Interfusion Festival: Awakening, happened at the Westin utilizing the same format as the previous winter’s festival on Labor Day weekend in the fall of 2017.

After Interfusion Festival: Awakening, the festival went on hiatus for over a full year before returning successfully to the Westin Alexandria on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in January 2019 for Interfusion Festival: Rebirth.

Interfusion Festival will return once again on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in 2020 for Interfusion Festival: Evolution.

Part of Interfusion’s evolution in 2020 is a new, bigger, more accessible hotel. While we here at #FrugalCongressLife are sad to see the festival leave its longtime location at the Westin Alexandria, as the Westin’s wellness theme and spiritually inspired design elements complemented the spirit of the festival perfectly, I remember commenting to my roommates at the 2019 festival how quickly the festival was growing and that it would soon outgrow the Westin. This move to a bigger and more convenient and central location is ultimately best for the festival’s continued growth and development.

Starting in 2020, Interfusion Festival will take place at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, located at 1700 Richmond Highway (formerly Jefferson Davis Highway) in downtown Crystal City, VA, hereafter referred to as the CGM. Billed as an urban oasis getaway near the city, this hotel is simultaneously visually stunning, enormous in size, packed with luxurious amenities, and conveniently located near Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA), as well as the Washington DC Metro system and the hustle and bustle of downtown Crystal City, soon to be the location of Amazon’s second headquarters. The Crystal Gateway Marriott, a newcomer to the Afro-Latin scene as well as the healing movement sphere, but already event-tested by large-scale dance events in the Lindy Hop world, is well equipped and ready to handle Interfusion Festival as it continues to grow.

As our above linked multi-congress hotel guide for the Westin Alexandria now no longer applies to Interfusion Festival, this inimitable dance and healing arts festival gets its own survival guide today!

PASS:

Tier 1 full passes to Interfusion Festival: Evolution are available now for $150 at InterfusionFestival.com. A group rate of four full passes for $140 per pass is also available. Prices for a full pass will go up to as high as $350 for one pass in the weeks before the festival… buy today!

TRAVEL:

The entire DC area, including Crystal City and all major DC-area airports including BWI, is supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing.

The DC area is supported by all of UBER and Lyft’s shared/pool options, but the BWI/Baltimore area is not, so keep that in mind if coming from BWI. Via is available in the DC city limits, Arlington (including Crystal City) and, as of June 2019, Alexandria. Via is not available anywhere in Maryland, including the BWI area.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus/train line into Union Station in Washington, DC. From there, get on the DC Metro red line toward Shady Grove, and transfer at Gallery Place-Chinatown to the yellow line toward Huntington. Take the yellow line to Crystal City, and there will be an underground tunnel connecting the Crystal City metro station directly to the CGM. Expect the Metro ride to cost about $4 one way.

UBER or Lyft will be about a 20-30 minute ride from Union Station to the CGM at a cost of about $15-20 one way for those who will have too much luggage for the metro or prefer the convenience.

DC TRAIN AND METRO INFO:

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 located at any Metro station, 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 MARC trains can be found here.

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here.

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here.

FLYING:

Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) is the recommended airport for anyone flying to the new Interfusion location. The CGM is located minutes from DCA and a complimentary shuttle for the hotel goes back and forth from the hotel to DCA on call day and night.

If you are flying Spirit or need to fly into BWI for any other reason, try to arrive early in the day while the MARC train is running. Take the MARC to Union Station and follow the bus/train directions from there.

If you are coming from IAD, take an UBER or Lyft to the Wiehle-Reston East metro stop and from there, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, transfer to the blue line toward Franconia-Springfield, and take the blue line to Crystal City, where an underground tunnel at the station directly serves the CGM.

CAR:

One thing to keep in mind if driving to this festival is to account for the DC area’s infamous rush-hour traffic in your travel times. The DC area ties with the Los Angeles area for the worst rush-hour traffic in the US in various surveys, and can add as much as an extra two hours to your travel time on the DC area’s major highways from 6am-11am, 12pm-1pm, and 2pm-9pm on weekdays. I wish I was kidding but this is the DC area’s actual average rush hour timeframe on any given weekday.

Nonetheless, using the major highways to get to Crystal City (located in Virginia about 10 minutes south of DC) is recommended for those coming from out of town, as the streets within Washington, DC’s city proper, designed by Pierre L’Enfant in the 1700s to confuse and deter invading armies, are very confusing and difficult to navigate for anyone unfamiliar with the area, even with today’s GPS apps (although those apps certainly help).

Parking is available at the hotel for $39 per day, but our recommended frugal overnight parking option is to park in DCA’s economy lot for $17 per day and take an UBER or the free airport shuttle to the CGM.

There is an uncovered 24/7 surface lot run by Colonial Parking at 2000 S Eads Street about a 10 minute walk from the CGM that is a good option for locals commuting to and from the festival and may work for overnight parking with some due diligence (and sacrificing some sleep). This lot costs $12 per day on weekdays ($8 after 5pm) and a flat rate of $8 on weekends. Payment for this lot is handled by purchasing a ticket at an automated pay station which you display on your dashboard. If you use this option for overnight parking, you must be diligent about going back to the pay station to re-up as required (every 8 hours if I recall) or risk being ticketed or towed. Mobile parking apps such as MobileNow and ParkMobile are not supported by this lot at press time, but this may change. All the inherent risks of parking in an uncovered, unsecured public lot apply to this lot as well. Still, it is the cheapest parking option nearby. Be warned that some Google reviewers complain of being ticketed at this lot despite paying the fees, but I have used this lot a couple times myself with no issue.

The absolute cheapest overnight parking option, if you can find parking there and have a small enough amount of luggage to make this work, is to park at one of the Metro lots with overnight parking and take Metro to the CGM. 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.

Expect this option to add considerable travel time. Huntington and Franconia-Springfield are the closest Metro stations to this lot with overnight parking; Greenbelt and Wiehle-Reston are located on opposite ends of the Metro and will add about 30 minutes of travel time to your trip if you park there.

DIRECTIONS TO THE HOTEL FROM METRO LOTS:

From Franconia-Springfield/Huntington: blue/yellow line toward Largo/Fort Totten to Crystal City

From Greenbelt: green line to Branch Avenue, transfer to yellow line toward Huntington at L’Enfant Plaza and take yellow line to Crystal City

From Wiehle-Reston East: silver line toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, transfer to the blue line toward Franconia-Springfield, and take the blue line to Crystal City

LODGING:

You already know, the event hotel is where it’s at.

Interfusion’s organizers have a large room block reserved at the CGM starting at $117/night for a standard room, a jaw-droppingly incredible deal for a hotel of this caliber in a location like this. With taxes you’ll pay about $35 per night for a four-person roomshare in a standard room. No word on whether suites and M-Club Lounge rooms (see below) are part of the room block at this time.

Book your room here or call the CGM directly at (703) 920-3230 and mention the Interfusion group rate.

The CGM’s amenities include, but are not limited to, modern rooms featuring modular furniture and abundant natural light, a fitness center with on-demand digital classes, PURE allergy-friendly rooms, and spectacular views of the city.

Rooms offering access to the exclusive M-Club Lounge are available for an extra fee, or free for Platinum-level Marriott Bonvoy members. The M-Club Lounge offers a breakfast buffet, 24 hour access to snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, free premium Wi-Fi, a hydration station offering flavored water, a single-brew coffee machine, evening hors d’oeuvres dinner service, and a concierge on duty.

There are several other hotels around the area, but most of them are much more expensive than the group rate at the CGM, and you already know, I don’t talk about alternate lodging publicly unless it’s absolutely necessary.

I will detail alternate lodging options in a separate temporary post if the hotel completely sells out and no overflow block is available.

FOOD:

The M-Club Lounge access, detailed above, may be worth purchasing for the breakfast buffet (especially for the early risers and party-to-breakfast crowd), the snacks, and the hor d’oeuvres service.

The in-hotel restaurant, 15th & Eads, offers farm-to-table cuisine in a modern space.

For your grocery shopping needs, the nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about a 23 minute drive from the CGM at 6303 Richmond Highway in Alexandria. Target is considerably closer, located right in Crystal City about an 8 minute drive away at 3101 Richmond Highway. Both Wal-Mart and Target have abundant lot parking nearby. In the case of this festival, whatever you save going to Wal-Mart may be spent on the extra cost of transporting yourself there. A Whole Foods is also located about a 15 minute walk from the CGM at 520 12th St S, suite 100.

The same Metro tunnel connecting the Crystal City Metro station to the CGM also connects the Metro station directly to the Crystal City Shops mall, which features Dunkin’ Donuts, Perfect Pita, Sushi Garden, Lily Bubble Tea and Smoothie, Subway, San Antonio Bar & Grill, Schakolad Chocolate Factory, and Atia Kabob Place. The CC Shops also features a Dollar Plus, where some additional frugal shopping may be done.

Jumping on the Metro and going one stop over to the Pentagon City stop will take you to Fashion Center at Pentagon City, where you can find Extreme Pizza, California Pizza, Shake Shack, Panera Bread, Matchbox Pizza, Sine Irish Pub, Lebanese Taverna, and Bonefish Grill.

Rite Aid can also be found at both the CC Shops and Fashion Center at Pentagon City.

Located about an 8 minute walk south of the CGM behind Crystal Plaza apartments is another mall featuring McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks, Cosi, Chick-Fil-A, Plaza Gourmet, Sweetgreen, Deli Works, Kora, Jaleo, Chipotle, and Starbucks among others. Right next to that mall is Bar Louie, Mezeh Mediterranean Grill, Jimmy John’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Ruth’s Chris, Legal Sea Foods, Pizza Autentica, and Cafe 59.

One other noteworthy dining establishment located about a 9 minute walk or 2 minute drive south of the CGM at 539 23rd St. S is Bob & Edith’s Diner, the Crystal City location of a well-known and highly respected regional chain of diners in Northern Virginia. The food here is excellent and reasonably priced and they are open 24 hours a day.

One notable restaurant at Reagan National Airport, for those who are flying, is a franchise chain outpost of famed DC institution Ben’s Chili Bowl, although I’m sure as a DC-area native that this airport chain is at most a respectable imitation of the U Street original. Still, even a respectable imitation of this legendary restaurant is well worth checking out.

CONCLUSION

The Interfusion Festival is truly a unique and magical experience. The festival’s calming, spiritual atmosphere is good for the soul of any dancer, yogi, acroyogi, or anyone else interested in healing movement. I look forward to witnessing its growth in its new location. For anyone going in 2020, I will see you there!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Capital Congress

[DISCLOSURE: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Capital Congress other than being an attendee and have not been hired to promote Capital Congress in any way. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding both the festival and the above companies is my objective advice and is presented as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

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

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

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

PASS:

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

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

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

TRAVEL:

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

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

DRIVING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLYING:

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

FROM BWI:

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

From IAD:

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

TRAIN/BUS:

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

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

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

LODGING:

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

The hotel’s amenities include:

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

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

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

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

– Fitness center

– Pool

– Blackout curtains

– 42-inch widescreen TV with Complimentary HBO

– Self laundry available

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#FrugalCongressTourism: Washington, DC – The Monuments At Night

[DISCLOSURE: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or sponsored by any companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GENERAL INFO

CITY: Washington, DC

ATTRACTION: The Washington, DC Monuments at the National Mall

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

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

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

TRAVEL TIMES (ONE WAY)

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

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

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

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

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

DIRECTIONS FROM THE METRO:

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

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

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

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

See our DCBX guide for information on the Metro system.

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

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

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

A map of the National Mall can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#FCL Resource Spotlight: The Power Bank

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by any of the companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information about these policies here:

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

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

SOME SAFETY AND CARE TIPS FOR ALL POWER BANKS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Zouk Heat Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Zouk Heat other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Terrisa being a personal friend of mine. I have not been hired by Zouk Heat to promote that organization in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASS:

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

LODGING:

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

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

Link to book your room coming shortly.

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL:

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

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

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

DRIVING:

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

FLYING:

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

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

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

BUS/TRAIN:

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

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

Your bus routes are slightly trickier, but still doable.

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER LOCAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#SuperFrugalCongressFood Guide – Make Your Own – High Protein Fruit Smoothies

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with or employed by any other company whose services I mention in this article.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. No statements regarding the health and effectiveness of food or supplements have been evaluated by the FDA. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

Another day, another year, another new series here on #FrugalCongressLife.

This new series is called #SuperFrugalCongressFood.

People have rightly pointed out to me that such “convenience” items as protein bars and fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches are not truly frugal foods regardless of where you buy them, because you pay a premium for the portability and convenience.

While this is certainly true, my #FrugalCongressFood profiles were never intended to be about the most frugal foods overall… these profiles are about frugal DANCE CONGRESS foods. In the busy on-the-go travel-experience environment of a dance congress, portability, shelf stability, convenience, and non-perishability are all major selling points for the ideal food. I always try in my #FrugalCongressFood profiles to find a good balance between frugality and saving money, and the time-saving benefits of portability and convenience. One is already being more frugal by not eating out or going to convenience stores for every meal, which can really add up over time.

But, for the benefit of those who want to be frugal to the absolute max and are willing to put some elbow grease in, I will in this new series give a recipe for a low cost meal that has to be prepared in some way, and give tips for how to prepare it on the go if possible.

One caveat to keep in mind is that money saved by using #SuperFrugalCongressFood recipes at a dance congress is offset with time and effort, itself another valuable commodity in the go-go-go environment of a dance congress. You may miss a workshop shopping to make a fruit smoothie and cleaning up the mess, or may have to skip an hour of social dancing to get up early and clean up after that meal you made in your George Foreman Grill before you check out of your hotel. There is a trade-off with everything and the big money/time tradeoff is one every frugal congress attendee must consider.

These food strategies, needless to say, work best if you are commuting from home, staying at an AirBNB with kitchen privileges (not a feature of every AirBNB listing), or staying at a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette such as the Extended Stay America. If you are doing the latter, be sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize the kitchen or kitchenette before preparing food there – do not count on the hotel staff to have done this, especially in a 3 star or less hotel like the Extended Stay.

These recipes will also really only work well if you are local or traveling by car, as lugging the required gadgets onto a train, plane, or bus is not very feasible and may even add checked baggage fees that would offset whatever money you save making your own food.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for this edition: a delicious high-protein fruit smoothie with chocolatey undertones and a bit of greens mixed in.

Equipment required:

Shaker cup

Blender – the Magic Bullet and the BlendJet are good inexpensive portable blenders

Dish soap

Water

A refrigerator in your hotel is mandatory for this recipe.

Ingredients:

– 1-2 cups frozen fruit of any kind (I recommend pineapples be one of your frozen fruits, as the bromelain in pineapples has anti-inflammatory properties good for aching knees and shoulders)

– 2 cups any kind of milk (cow, almond, whatever)

– 1 cup spinach or kale (frozen or fresh)

– 1-2 scoops chocolate protein powder of any kind (Body Fortress and Optimum Nutrition Performance Whey are both good inexpensive brands of whey protein)

– Stevia or honey to taste

– OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon coconut oil for healthy fats

– OPTIONAL: 1 scoop Barlean’s chocolate greens powder for some extra servings of fruits and vegetables)

Blend all ingredients together in blender and pour into your shaker cup. To clean blender, pour water into blender, add a few drops of dish soap, and blend until clean, then rinse anywhere you can or with more bottled water.

The base recipe provide 1-2 servings of fruit, 1 serving of vegetables from the kale, and anywhere from 25-60 grams of protein depending on how many scoops of protein powder you use and what kind of milk you use. Adding the coconut oil adds some healthy fats, and adding the Barlean’s powder adds about 3-5 extra servings of fruits and vegetables.

It tastes like a chocolatey fruit smoothie, and you won’t even be able to taste the greens if you add enough fruit to offset their flavor.

Personally, I find making food at dance congresses to be more trouble than it is worth – cooking and preparing food is one thing I travel to get away from – but for those who want to save the maximum amount of money on food (or want the additional health benefits of preparing whole foods) and are willing to put in some time and effort to do so, I am here to help with that as well. As always, hit the comments if you have anything to add and I hope this helped!

#FCL Resource Spotlight: Via

[Disclosure: As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been sponsored or hired by Via Transportation, Inc. (creators of the Via app and rideshare service) 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.]

Rideshare services such as UBER and Lyft have changed the way we get around cities exponentially for the better since UBER was introduced in 2012. Calling a taxi was very costly and took a lot of advance planning back in the dark ages before UBER’s introduction; now in 2018 a ride anywhere is a few taps on a smartphone app away in most cities.

It is evident that the seismic changes in transportation introduced by UBER and Lyft have also changed the way dancers navigate dance festivals, especially when they are flying or taking the train or bus and do not have a car on hand to navigate their city of choice. However, as I have discussed before, UBER and Lyft can be a bit on the expensive side, even with less expensive options such as UBER ExpressPOOL and Shared Lyft, and those costs can add up.

This is where Via comes in. Via is a newer ride-share company positioning themselves as a low-cost up-and-coming alternative to UBER and Lyft, and they will definitely be an asset to those living the #FrugalCongressLife in the few cities in which they are currently available at press time.

At the time of this writing Via is only available in New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, and the Arlington, VA and Alexandria, VA suburbs of DC. If you try to use Via to go from these areas to anywhere outside of these areas or vice versa (for example, to the MD suburbs of DC from anywhere in DC), the app will tell you your desired pickup of dropoff is out of zone and force you to choose a pickup or dropoff that is in their available zone. Via may expand to other cities at a later time.

Via’s pricing is competitive with or slightly less expensive than UBER and Lyft for equivalent service and there are ways to save money with Via that are not possible with UBER or Lyft.

For more information on Via visit http://www.ridewithvia.com

For those who have UBER ExpressPOOL in their city and are familiar with how it works, Via works very much like UBER ExpressPOOL. Instead of being picked up right at your requested pickup point, you are picked up on a designated nearby street corner – called a “virtual bus stop” by Via – to keep the driver on a more direct route and save time and money.

Like UBER ExpressPOOL and UBERPOOL, you will also be carpooling with other riders and may not be put on the most direct route to your destination as a result. Private rides, Via’s equivalent of UberX, can be booked for a higher fee that usually ends up competitive with or slightly less expensive than UberX and will take you and only you door to door from your pickup to your dropoff as UberX does, as long as it is within the bounds of Via’s zones.

If you cancel a ride after booking or do not make it to your pickup point in time, you will be charged a $2 cancellation fee in DC and a $3 cancellation fee in NYC and Chicago.

As far as I can tell, Via does not at the time of writing accept Venmo or Paypal as payment methods as UBER and Lyft do; a credit, debit, or gift card must be used as a payment method.

Via Ride Credits, Via’s proprietary transaction currency which acts as their equivalent of UBER Cash, can also be purchased with your card in $15, $20, or $50 increments. Major holidays, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday are frequently accompanied by Ride Credit deals offering a small percentage off the purchase of Ride Credits, otherwise one dollar gets you one ride credit. Additionally, Via frequently runs new user promotions offering free ride credits to new users – be on the lookout for those.

Via offers various levels of ride passes, called ViaPasses, that are a steal for regular users of the service.

Here is a breakdown of the types of ViaPass offered in each city:

NYC:

1-week Manhattan 24/7 ViaPass – $63 + tax – up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

4-week Manhattan 24/7 ViaPass – $229 + tax- up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for four weeks

4-week Manhattan Commuter ViaPass – $179 + tax – up to 4 free shared rides per day WITHIN MANHATTAN (10% off rides to other boroughs) OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

Unlike DC and Chicago, shared rides of any value are free with a ViaPass, but are limited to the borough of Manhattan. SharedTaxi rides are excluded from ViaPass discounts.

DC/Arlington/Alexandria:

1-week All-Access ViaPass – $69 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

[update 12/11/18 – price for a one-week ViaPass has gone up to $69, but ViaPass users prior to 12/11/18 will be grandfathered in at the previous $49 rate]

4-week All-Access ViaPass – $179 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for four weeks

4- week Commuter ViaPass – $109 – up to 4 free shared rides up to an $8 value (you pay for any overages after the $8) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

Chicago:

1-week All-Access ViaPass – $55 – up to 4 free shared rides up to a $7 value (you pay for any overages after the $7) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) 24/7 for one week

4-week Commuter ViaPass – $139 – up to 4 free shared rides up to a $7 value (you pay for any overages after the $7) per day OR up to 4 10%-off airport rides and private rides per day (can mix and match) Monday through Friday 6am-9pm for four weeks

There is a $5 Ground Transportation Tax Charge for rides to/from Navy Pier and McCormick Place.

YOU MUST STILL TIP YOUR DRIVERS ON THE “FREE” RIDES. VIA DRIVERS MAKE A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF THEIR MONEY FROM TIPS. DO NOT STIFF YOUR DRIVERS. (assuming you have received proper service of course)

Also, you will still be charged the full cancellation fee if you cancel a ride or can not make it to the pickup point in time, even with a ViaPass. Additional fees apply for additional passengers with any ViaPass. ViaPasses for any city are only good in that city, for example, your DC ViaPass won’t be valid in NYC or Chicago.

ViaPasses are set to auto-renew by default, but this can be turned off.

Even with all these caveats, the ViaPass represents incredible savings for regular users.

One key disadvantage with Via aside from the restricted area is that, at least from my experience using Via in DC, you can expect longer wait times for pickups due to less people driving for the service at this time. I will touch on this theme again in the future, but usually anytime you do something to save money, you end up paying for those monetary savings in time and effort, and Via is certainly no exception here.

Even so, as I have said, Via is an incredible asset to those living the #FrugalCongressLife who reside in or are visiting any of the three metropolitan areas in which Via is currently available. I hope this article was helpful to somebody and, as always, hit the comments if you have anything to add!

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress

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

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

The Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress takes place at the Hilton Baltimore, a massive, sprawling, gorgeous multi-level modern conference hotel located at 401 Pratt Street right in the heart of downtown Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. The venue is more than capable of handling this large-scale dance festival, and includes clean, modern rooms and such amenities as the region’s only Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop, a heated pool, a fitness center, and stunning views of Oriole Park at Camden Yards from the suites as well as a select handful of standard rooms. 

The 2020 Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress, also the 10th edition of the congress, takes place from April 9th-April 12th, 2020. Over 500 attendees from all over the country are expected if previous years are any indication.

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

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

But first…

A NOTE ABOUT BALTIMORE CITY IN GENERAL:

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

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

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

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

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

PASS:

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

We will post all early bird full and VIP passes and price changes to this congress on our Facebook and Twitter pages, as always.

TRAVEL:

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

FLYING:

If flying to the congress, your best option is good old Spirit, which flies directly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). BWI is located about 18 minutes from the Hilton Baltimore by UBER/Lyft or 30-40 minutes by light rail.

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

If you take a non-Spirit airline, make sure you fly into BWI, as DCA and IAD are both too far away from the congress to be practical. If you must fly into IAD or DCA, take Metro to Union Station and take the bus, MARC train, or Amtrak to BWI from there. Our DCBX guide has more detailed info on navigating Metro.

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

UBER or Lyft from BWI to the Hilton Baltimore is about $20 one way.

Light RailLink Directions to the Hilton Baltimore from BWI Airport:

The light rail leaves BWI from the southeastern side of the airport in between the entrance/exit for Spirit/Delta (BONUS FOR THE MAXIMALLY FRUGAL) and the entrance exit for CES Airport/British Airways/Condor. To get to the light rail, as well as the shuttles to long-term parking, you’ll have to go downstairs to the lower level of the airport.

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

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

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

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

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

DRIVING:

I do not recommend driving directly to this particular congress as it is located in downtown Baltimore and parking is expensive and spottily available.

If you are driving to the congress, I recommend parking in BWI’s long-term or daily parking ($8-12 per day) and taking UBER/Lyft or the light rail to the hotel.

BWI’s long-term parking lots ($8 per day) are two large open-air surface parking lots (Long Term A and Long Term B) located on the far outskirts of the airport. These lots, run by SP+ Parking, feature 10,000 parking spaces between them, and the availability of spaces in each lot is tracked in real-time on the above-linked site. The lots are not walking distance from the airport, but a shuttle picks up reliably every 5-10 minutes from various spots around the lot 24 hours per day. These unstaffed lots are somewhat desolate and isolated, so use caution if alone there at night.

Fast Park & Relax is a 24/7 staffed slightly-higher-end open-air alternative to SP+’s surface parking also located a short shuttle ride from the airport. This lot starts at $8.40 per day and features the ability to reserve spots in advance and other amenities not found at the SP+ lot, but some reviews complain of inconsistent shuttle pickups, so keep that in mind.

If you prefer, BWI’s daily parking garage ($12 per day) is a less isolated covered parking garage with more activity much closer to the airport – although still not walking distance, and a fast and reliable shuttle to the terminal is offered here as well.

As a reminder, all shuttles to the parking lots and garages depart from the downstairs level of the airport.

The parking garage next to the hotel costs $30 per night, but there have been discounted rates for attendees of past congresses; it will be announced if this is possible again this year.

BUS/TRAIN:

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

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

Directions from Penn Station to the Hilton Baltimore:

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

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

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

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

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

Directions from the Hilton Baltimore to Penn Station:

– Exit the side facing Pratt Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We do not generally recommend Greyhound as a travel option, but if you can catch them on a day when they are actually reliable, they stop near the stadiums, a 5 minute UBER/Lyft ride from the hotel. In our opinion, you use them at your own risk.

OTHER LOCAL PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:

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

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

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

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

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

LODGING:

Your best and safest option is to stay at the event hotel or, if the event hotel sells out (as it did in 2018 and 2019) before you can get a room, the nearby overflow hotel.

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

The Baltimore Congress team offers a room block at the event hotel at a heavily discounted rate for both one-king and two-double rooms.  This is almost guaranteed the best deal you will find on this hotel or any other four-star hotel in the immediate vicinity; rooms at the event hotel normally go for close to $200 per night outside of this room block.

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

Be advised that you need a room key to access certain elevators, especially when going to upper floors, so staying in the hotel is recommended for that reason as well.

The hotel has sold out consistently every year I have gone so booking your room as early as possible is recommended. A nearby overflow hotel will be announced when the event hotel inevitably sells out for 2020.

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

FOOD:

For the grocery shoppers, I recommend doing your food shopping before the congress if you can. If you are driving from points north there’s a Walmart in Aberdeen, MD (645 S Philadelphia Blvd) or if you are coming from points south there’s one in Laurel, MD (3549 Russett Green E). There are also three Walmarts located near BWI airport in the Glen Burnie/Linthicum Heights area, at 3601 Washington Blvd, Arbutus, MD, 406 George Clauss Blvd, Severn MD and 6721 Chesapeake Center Drive, Glen Burnie, MD.

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

The aforementioned Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is the most convenient option for your coffee fix, but be warned that they close at 4:00pm on Friday and Saturday and 6:00pm on Sunday. On the upside, they now take debit and credit cards after being cash-only in previous years (per attendee reports).

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

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

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

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

Another noteworthy spot near the harbor is Sajhoma Restaurant, a cozy Dominican restaurant located on Fleet Street in Fells Point. If you get a ticket for the Baltimore Congress’ infamous party bus (sold separately from all passes), a stop here for food and dancing will be part of the trip.

All locations mentioned are safe areas of Baltimore.

Closer to the hotel, there’s always the hotel’s in-house dining option, an upscale American restaurant called The Diamond Tavern.

Of course, I can’t discuss food at the Baltimore Salsa Bachata Congress without mentioning their flagship taco artist, the Mexican On The Run food truck, which can be found parked outside the hotel’s ground floor down the escalator from the registration desk between 10pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday night. This is a top-notch food option, especially late at night, but it tends to sell out by 1am or thereabouts, so jump on it early in the night. Hopefully the truck’s operators continue bringing a larger and larger supply every year, because their food is quite good, and it will be a popular option.

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