Attending conferences pertaining to your field is definitely one of the best ways to supplement your education and network with people from the industry. However, planning the finances behind attending conferences can seem daunting. After deciding on a conference that you would like to attend, it’s time to begin planning and saving for the trip. Here are a few ways that I cut costs when planning my trip:
1. Register to Volunteer
Conferences require a large number of people working behind-the-scenes in order to make everything run smoothly. Luckily for attendees looking to save a bit of money, some conferences, like ClarinetFest, cover your registration fee in exchange for a few hours of volunteer work throughout the conference. My first time volunteering at a conference was actually this past summer at ClarinetFest in Orlando, Florida. I was able to get a taste of what it was like to run a conference through helping with stage management, door monitoring, and working registration. Plus, I was able to network with a bunch of other clarinetists from around the world that I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise! In exchange for less than 12 hours of volunteer time during the conference, my registration fee was paid for (and I got a free t-shirt)!
2. Student Organizations (NAfME, CMS, Band Fraternities, etc.)
Many college and universities have a Student Activities Board that has a set of funds that are allocated to them via student activity fees. If you are a member of a student organization, it is possible that your school may have a system set up so that student organizations can apply to get some of the funds distributed to their group to use for conference attendance. For example, the NAfME Chapter at my undergraduate institution was able to earn enough allocated funding from our Student Activities Board in order to send 8 students to The Midwest Clinic for just $100 out of pocket per person. Using the funding provided by our Student Activities Board for travel purposes made the trip a lot more affordable for each student.
3. Planning Meals
One of the biggest expenses when traveling can be eating out for every meal. Typically, I try to either stay at a hotel that has a continental breakfast or I bring something back to my room to eat in the morning before heading out to the conference for the day. In the past, I have even gone to Walgreen’s or CVS to pick up some peanut butter and bread to make sandwiches with, so that I can eat those for breakfast instead of paying to go out.
If I am driving to the conference, I typically bring some granola bars, apples, and some almonds with me in the car (I also add these items to my Walgreen’s shopping list if I fly to the conference), so that I can munch on them while I’m spending the day at the conference. This way when I’m ready to eat a meal, I don’t overeat and spend more money than I need to. By eating breakfast at the hotel before heading out for the day and bringing snacks, I am able to save money on my meals while at a conference.
4. Make Plans with Your Friends!
As soon as you have decided on a conference that you might like to attend, start asking around to see if any of your peers may be interested in attending the same conference. Going to a conference in a group can be a great way cut the costs of attending. Sharing the costs of renting a hotel room, gas, Lyft rides, and potentially some meals minimize the expenses for all parties involved.
However, this can take some communication to make sure that everyone understands what he or she is financially responsible for. In the past when I traveled in a car with a group of people, we calculated the estimated amount of gas (plus about $50 extra for emergencies) that we would need use on our trip using AAA’s trip calculator. After calculating that, we divided the total by the number of people riding in the car. Then on the day of the trip, everyone is expected to bring that much cash and it goes in an envelope that stays in the car and is only used for gas (and tolls if necessary). At the end of the trip, if there is any money leftover it is equally split between all parties involved. As far as splitting the cost of hotels, I find it easiest to pay the person who booked the hotel back on an individual basis. However, I know some hotel front desks allow you to split the bill up during checkout.
These are just a few of the things that I have done to cut the costs of attending a conference. Volunteering, asking for funding through your school, planning out meals in advance, and going with some friends have all helped me to save some money at conferences I have attended in the past.
Stay tuned for my next post about putting together a conference budget!