#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: New Jersey Bachata Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESSENTIAL WALKING INFORMATION FOR MOUNT LAUREL:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PASS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy now!

TRAVEL:

CAR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUS/TRAIN:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIRECTIONS FROM 30TH STREET STATION:

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

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

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

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

– Take PATCO toward Lindenwold.

– Take PATCO 6 stops to the Haddonfield station.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one said the #FrugalCongressLife would be entirely easy.

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

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

FLYING:

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

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

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

LODGING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Owen

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: Hyatt Regency Dulles

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

For yet another new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be writing a guide to specific hotels that are home to two or more dance congresses or festivals as of the time of writing.

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

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

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

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

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

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

FLYING:

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

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

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

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

FROM DCA:

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

FROM BWI:

If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station.  Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Owen

Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses #3: Lodging

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

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

But first…

PSA that shouldn’t be necessary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AirBNB: ($/$$ – varies)

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

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

Commuting from home: ($)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

– Owen