Monday Mailbag – Frugal Tips for Travelers

Perhaps you could post on how a thrifty, frugal teacher could save to attend the MTNA Conference? Do you put aside a little each month?

I decided to bump this question to the top of the Monday Mailbag list because of its relevance. Plus, I was able to solicit the advice of my frugal traveling companion, Lisa, and we compiled a list of ideas together:

  • Consider all transportation options. You can drive, catch a plane, travel by train, maybe even bus. The last couple years I’ve found it to be significantly cheaper to take the train than to travel by air. Plus, the train is just fun!
  • Consider all lodging options. The conference hotel may be the most convenient, but it is rarely the most cost-efficient. Not everyone is up for this, but I usually try to stay with friends in the area. In fact, last year when the conference was in Albuquerque, I didn’t know anyone there, so I asked my pastor if he happened to have any connections in that area. He had a friend who was the pastor of a church there, so he got in touch with him and asked if anyone in his congregation would be interested in housing me. A sweet elderly couple gladly opened their home to me and we had a wonderful week getting to know each other! If that’s a little too far outside your realm of comfort, you can at least shop around with other hotels in the area to find a good deal. And if you can share a room with a colleague (or two or three!), that makes it even more affordable.
  • Pack a collapsible cooler and take your own snack food that you can use for breakfasts and lunches. I try to only eat out one meal a day when I travel and usually dinner is the best option because it’s a great time to visit with other conference attendees. This year a big ziplock bag of homemade granola and a carton of yogurt lasted me the whole week. A fruit and nut mix, plus some pretzels and peanut butter were great for lunches.
  • If you don’t want to pack snacks, try stopping at a grocery store to stock up once you get to your destination.
  • If you eat a meal out, order something a bit more substantial than you need and take half of it to go. This can be used for lunch the next day if you want more than some simple snacks.
  • If you don’t have the desire or means to store leftovers, find a friend who will split an entrée with you at dinner.
  • Take a collapsible cooler and empty ziplock bags that you can fill with ice from the hotel ice machine to keep items cold. This is much more economical than renting a refrigerator for your room!
  • If you are eating with a group, try negotiating for a better price. For example, at our Monday evening get-together at this year’s conference, one of the ladies talked to the restaurant staff and they agreed to give us the buffet at a cost of $9.95/person instead of the regular $14.95/person.
  • Be prepared and budget for miscellaneous expenses that can add up (tips for the doorman and bellhop, taxi fare, parking meters and/or garages, tolls, etc.). These can add up, but if you think about them and plan ahead, it won’t throw your budget out of whack when they come up. I didn’t do this this year and almost choked when I had to fork over $30 for a 10-minute taxi ride!
  • Sign up for various internet deal sites in advance to see if you can snag some special offers on restaurants or attractions in the area. Restaurant.com, LivingSocial.com, and Groupon.com are a few of the big ones.
  • Check to see if the hotel and conference facility will have wi-fi and if there are charges for it. Determine whether it will be necessary to take a laptop to use during the conference.
  • Make a list of studio needs or items to purchase and stick to it when going through the exhibit hall and when planning which exhibitor showcases to attend.
  • Set a budget of how much you are willing to spend on extra materials and music that you find out about at the conference. There will be some great deals that you’ll want to take advantage of; you just don’t want to go crazy spending money that you’ll later regret!
  • Keep close track of all your expenses and store your receipts together. Be sure to include them as business expenses for tax reporting purposes.
  • If you feel the need to perk up your wardrobe a bit for a professional conference, shop the local thrift stores. You can find some super cute clothes at very affordable prices.
  • Plan as many things in advance as possible – meetings and meals with friends/colleagues, local attractions to visit, etc. Do your research ahead of time. Send for travel guides and scour the internet looking for ideas, deals, and coupons. Familiarize yourself with the area and all there is to do and see. As they say…time is money! You don’t want to waste time trying to figure out things that you could have figured out from home. For example, I noticed that ING has a café in New York City. I’ve always wanted to go to one of their cafés and they just happen to have a coupon on their website for a free coffee at the café. I printed one out and will drop it in my New York folder so that I can keep it in mind for planning purposes. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for a new bank and want to try ING, let me know and I can send you a referral link that will get you a bonus deposit of $25 – and me a bonus of $10! J)
  • Decide early to attend so that you can benefit from the early bird registration discount. Plus, you can start keeping your eyes open now for great deals instead of scrambling at the last minute to pull everything together.
  • Pray for good deals! I do this all the time as I’m searching on-line for car rentals, lodging, area attractions, etc. It’s amazing to see the care God takes even in providing for the little details of our lives.

Typically, my total conference cost falls between $500-$1,000 (not including items I purchase in the Exhibit Hall). I just account for that at the beginning of the year when I am figuring out my income and expenses and setting my monthly operating budget so that money is allocated toward the conference each month. Obviously, there are lots of variables involved, but just figure out which things are important to you and where you want to spend your money. Come up with an estimated total cost and figure out how much to set aside each month. Regardless of the situation, some serious planning and saving will pave the way for pretty much any music teacher to attend the conference!

I’d love to hear from any other seasoned travelers and/or conference-goers. What tips do you have for making a trip to the conference affordable?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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