Conferences can sometimes feel out of reach. They are on the other side of the country and after you have added up registration, lodging, and travel it may not seem feasible. Here are a few of my strategies to make attending a conference more affordable.
Apply to be a speaker. Speakers typically get reduced registration (or complimentary) and there may be travel/lodging assistance. Show your work and present!
Volunteer! Many conferences offer registration (discount or complimentary) in exchange for event assistance. You can reach out to see if there is a conference planning committee or if they need on-site assistance.
Early bird pricing is offered for almost every historic preservation conference. Save some cash by planning ahead.
Scholarships are offered at many conferences for students and it is becoming more common for scholarships to be offered to practicing professionals.
Are you interested in trying out a national conference, but full registration comes with a big price tag? You may consider reaching out to someone you know attending the conference and ask if you can register as their “guest.” The guest registration level may limit the conference events you can attend (ex: it may not come with a luncheon), but this registration level will allow you to attend at a lower rate and discover if this conference is worth a full registration cost in the future.
This strategy is also great way to offer your mentee an opportunity to attend a conference. One of my mentors registered me as their guest for the Association for Preservation Technology conference in Buffalo. I had never previously attended the conference and she wanted to introduce me to a new network of preservationists and educational resources.
Split lodging costs. This may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget how much money you can save by splitting a room. Also, sorry conference planners... but price compare the room rate at conference hotel vs close by options. You may snag something cheaper. When I attended PastForward in San Francisco, I split an apartment rental (owner occupied structure) with four other attendees and our 3-night rental was a bit above $300. The conference hotel was approximately $300 per night.
Tracking flights can save you hundreds of dollars. I use the Hopper app to track flights and it has allowed me to know the right time to buy a flight therefore saving the most money possible. When you use a flight tracking app, you should be aware that not all airlines allow their fares to be posted. For example: Southwest Airlines is not on any of the flight deals sites or flight trackers, so you need to make sure to check their website for price comparisons.
Depending on where a conference is located you should also consider carpooling. A-Carpooling is good for the environment B- Carpooling can save you cash! Your carpool buddy may not always live in your city, so sometimes you need to think outside the box. Flights to Des Moines, Iowa were an arm and a leg from Columbus (OH), so I price compared and rented a car. I did not know anyone from Columbus, who was planning to attend the National Alliance for Preservation Commissions conference. To make a carpool and cut my travel costs down even further I picked up an attendee in Indianapolis on my way to Des Moines.
Snacks! You can pack snacks to eat while traveling or during the conference. Most conferences offer snack tables during the day, but you cannot always count on them to have pastries in the morning. If you do not have room in your luggage, stop by a grocery store and pick up snacks during the conference.
Research restaurants in advance. Nothing is worse than getting to a restaurant (that you selected, because it was nearby), sitting down, and getting menu sticker shock. Research restaurants near the conference hotel that are in your food budget and come prepared with a list of fun food to try.
You are exploring a new city, so you should have some fun! Make sure to check local museums and see if they have free days or discounts. You never know, your local museum membership may have a reciprocal program. Some cities also have free self guided architecture tours online or you might get lucky and find a free tour when you are in town.
While we would all love to attend conferences ever year, it is not always realistic. Consider attending every other year to stretch your budget and on the off years you could keep an eye open for free webinars or other low cost opportunities.