January through March is Conference season for me and I get the opportunity to go to (and speak at) a great selection of educational conferences for my industry. I really, really enjoy attending conferences, but it can be difficult for me both from a financial standpoint and the time commitment. Last year I went to four conferences, which was WAY too many. I ended up making a spreadsheet this year with all possible conferences and then ranking them on the following criteria: speaking opportunities, networking opportunities (both with new and current clients), ease of travel and total cost.
I immediately removed one conference from the schedule which was extremely difficult for me to get to last year (two flights, one two hour car ride, yikes!). That left me with three really good conferences, but one that didn't offer a speaking engagement.
I settled on attending two conferences: CampMinder Camp and The Tri-State Camp Conference. Now I needed to figure out how to make this travel affordable!
Here is what I did:
1. Check flight sales religiously- For CampMinder Camp I was traveling from Tuesday-Sunday. Tuesday is a great day to find sales and I found quite a few from Austin to Denver. I ended up getting a flight for $140 round trip on Southwest. This was definitely nice because my other flight from Austin to Philadelphia set me back a pretty penny!
2. Ask for the conference rate- Almost every conference offers discounted hotel rates. I was able to get two great hotel rates for each of the conferences just by calling the hotel and asking.
3. Pair up for transportation- Even though I usually hit these conferences solo, I always try to partner with someone who will need transportation as well (shuttles, taxis, etc). This way I can split the bill instead of footing the entire expense for a taxi.
4. Take advantage of sponsored meals and hotel offerings- Make sure that you attend (and enjoy) any meals that are included with your conference attendance. This can usually mean a couple breakfasts, a lunch or happy hour depending on the conference. If you have status at a hotel or are staying at certain hotel brands, there is often free breakfast there as well. Eating sponsored meals can save you a lot over the course of a week long conference.
I love attending conferences and this helps me make the most of my time by saving a little dough. What are your tips for making conference travel affordable?