Some Tips for Frugal Conventions

Once or twice a year, Sarah and I each take a “mini-vacation” of sorts in order to follow up on our individual interests and get a breather from the challenges of parenting three young children. During those “mini-vacations,” the other partner simply handles all of the parenting and household responsibilities for the handful of days that the other one is gone.

Sarah usually spends this time visiting her sisters, which she’s very close to. I usually spend that time going to a gaming convention with friends, typically Gencon.

On top of that, my previous job required me to attend multiple conventions and/or conferences a year.

Between these, I’ve had a lot of experience traveling to conventions and I’ve learned quite a few tactics for saving money on them. Here are a few things you should try when traveling to any convention.

Decide early
Most conventions have an “early bird special” which reduces your price of entry. Take advantage of it.

I have already made plans to go to Gencon for the next several years, as well as another convention that I’m going to dip my toes into later this year. That includes convention registration at the first possible date as well as watching carefully for flight prices to dip during that entire timeframe.

Find roommates – lots of them
Here’s the thing: at most conventions, you spend very little time in your room. If you’re not sleeping or doing basic hygiene, you’re going to be out and about, checking out the features of the convention or hanging out with other convention attendees. If you’re spending a lot of time in your room, you’re wasting useful convention time.

Because of that, it makes a lot of sense to put as many people in your room as you can. Fill it up to capacity with people, then split the cost of the room among you.

Don’t sweat the sleeping arrangements too much, either. Let people crash on the floor in sleeping bags. I’ve went to many a convention where I’ve spent the night on the floor in a sleeping bag. Most nights, I was completely exhausted after a day at the convention and I fell asleep almost immediately.

Stock your room
Eating out is one of the biggest expenses of traveling. It will sap your budget extremely quickly.

My solution? Stock the hotel room with food. On your way to the convention, stop at a grocery store and pick up the essentials for some quick meals. I usually get materials for sandwiches, some healthy sides (like dried fruit or nuts), and some beverages.

Each day, I pack myself some food in my backpack, which stays with me throughout the convention. When I’m hungry, I just unzip and eat.

Yes, some of the time you will go out and eat with people, and that has significant social value. For those other times, though, it saves a lot of money to have some food in your backpack.

The same thing is true with water bottles. Bring a well-insulated bottle with you and fill it with water whenever you can. It’ll save you money on beverages.

Utilize the free food
I’ve never been to a convention that didn’t offer free food or drink in some form, whether in certain receptions, party rooms, booths, or other places.

Find it. Utilize it. Enjoy it. It’s part of what you get from the price you pay for the convention.

Many conventions offer discount packages to volunteers. For example, some conventions have a deal where if you are willing to spend one of the days at the convention helping others, then you get your convention badge for free.

Take advantage of that opportunity, too. You can actually see quite a bit of the convention as a helper, you’re getting a pretty nice discount for helping out.

If reasonable, carpool
If you’re driving to a convention, look for people in your area to ride with (perhaps in addition to rooming with them). Most conventions have some tools for seeking out other attendees in your area. Carpooling saves you on gas, potentially saves you on car wear and tear, and allows you to utilize HOV lanes for faster travel.

If that doesn’t work, look for ways to pick up people on your way to the convention. You can then at least save some money on your gas bill.

Conventions are expensive, but you can find a lot of ways to trim down the cost if you’re careful.

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