Travel Tips and Tricks to Competitive Dancing “On the Cheap”
In a recent post, Dancing: How much does it cost?, I described a sliding scale listing the costs of dancing which can range from almost zero up to thousands of dollars per year.
This is the first post in a series that will offer some suggestions on how to save money and make your competitive dancing as inexpensive as possible.
So, you’ve taken a few dance lessons and you coach says “Hey have you ever considered competing?”. Well I have good news for you friends, neighbors and the six people who are actually reading this blog – <drum roll please> — It doesn’t have to cost you an arm or a leg. True, if you want, you can go all out, spend lots of money, then get a second mortgage or dip into little Monty’s college fund to support your dance habit, but then again, you can do it for a very reasonable amount.
One of the major expenses involved in competing is the travel costs. By attending a contest which is in your home town or within what you consider a “normal driving distance” then you can save a ton of money. As for what is a “normal driving distance” well that really depends on you.
Here in Texas with our huge sprawling landscapes it is not unusual for some of us to drive up to 60-70 miles each way to work, 5 days a week. An occasional trip to a specialty store like Fry’s or Casual Male XL is worth doing even if it takes an hour t to get there. To put it in perspective, from the east side of Dallas to the West side of Fort Worth is 75 miles. And while not common, a commute of that distance that does occur as people in the small outlying towns come into the city to work. At my last job, as an example, I drove 24 miles each way, 48 miles round-trip.
So with that in mind, a contest that is up to 100 or 200 miles away each way is possible to attend without an overnight stay at a hotel. You can leave early, drive, compete, then drive home after the contest. Total travel costs: a tank of gas and some time.
Other Travel Tips
For out-of-town contests you’ve got four basic travel expenses: (1) getting there (2) sleeping there (3) eating there and (4) moving around while you’re there. Let’s take them one at a time.
At its most basic you’ve got some simple choices: by land, by air, by sea — shop around, find the cheapest option and don’t ride on anything with “unsinkable” in the description. Especially if there is no ocean between you and your destination. There. My work here is done.
What? Do I hear grumbling from the masses? Ok, ok, I’ll elaborate. ;-) Here are some options and some tips:
- Drive yourself — Consider driving to the event if it isn’t too far away.
- Share a ride — Carpooling is not a four letter word unless your carpool buddy had Mexican food the night before. But if you own a van or SUV…hey hey hey! :-) Party! Money making opportunity!
- Bus or Train or Ferry — If there is a bus or train or ferry headed in the right direction, then this is an option and often a cheaper option than flying. This is more common on the Eastern Seaboard of the US than in other parts of the country. In Europe, the train is the way to go because the trains hook up with reliable, cheap and abundant local mass transit options.
- Buy early — Generally speaking, the earlier you can book your transportation, the cheaper it is.
- Buy “refundable” and buy “changeable” – Don’t commit funds that are non-refundable or non-changeable. Southwest Airlines, for example, lets you move money and change travel plans as many times as you need to, and they are very reasonable about it. Which just one of the reasons why I always fly Southwest.
And trust me, living in Dallas means that I have to deal with the Wright Amendment. This now silly law (it made sense at one point but is now outdated) restricts flights in and out of Love Field to the states neighboring Texas. So if I want to go to say Washington DC from Dallas Love Field, I have to take off in Dallas at Love Field, land at another airport, say in Houston or in New Orleans, then I sit on the plane while they load and unload passengers and then we take off again and head on our way.
But, the hassle is worth it because Southwest has great prices and more importantly, incredible employees who truly offer top-notch customer service to their passengers. I truly love this airline and can recommend it without reservation. (no pun intended)
- Double check the prices — Once you’ve made your reservation, don’t just let it sit there. Periodically check times and prices. Airlines run deals and specials all the time. And sometimes they offer a cheaper price or a better time than the ticket you already hold. Yes, this takes time and effort, but it can pay off. I confess, I’m lousy at this. My roommate is awesome at this. He has a real talent for it. So I let him do the travel arrangements. I buy him dinner occasionally as a thank you, let him know that I genuinely am grateful for him doing this sometimes onerous chore, and brag on him endlessly about his skills to all who will listen, like the three people who are actually reading this blog.
- Use the “el cheapo” online bargain travel websites — You know the ones that I’m talking about: Travelocity, Priceline, etc. A word of caution–read the rules and restrictions when you use these sites. Generally the purchase is non-refundable and non-changeable. Having said that, if I didn’t have an awesome friend who is a wizard at travel arrangements, using the bargain websites is what I would do.
- Don’t use the “el cheapo” online bargain travel websites — at least not exclusively! Sometimes airlines will offer deals on their own websites that beat those on the travel websites.
- Sign up for Discount Cards, Companion Passes, Frequent Flyer cards, and e-newsletters — Most major airlines have frequent travel rewards programs. Look into them, read the fine print and use them to the max. Be sure to sign up for the airline’s “newsletter” so you get notices about specials they are running. Yes, it feels like you’re asking to get Spam but that “spam” can turn into dollars if the right special hits your inbox.
- Don’t stay overnight — If you have the option to do the contest without staying overnight then doing so will save you some money.
- Bunk up together — Share a room with a friend or three. You can often put up to four people in a room. True this prospect can either end up being an awesome experience or a nightmare depending on who you are bunking with, but it is a way to save money. If you ever bunk with me… …bring earplugs. Good earplugs. I snore. Loudly. Very Loudly. Shiver me timbers kinda thing. Moving on….
- Don’t stay at the host hotel — This piece of advice is offered with some qualifications.I recommend staying at the host hotel if at all possible with your budget.
Staying at the host hotel has some distinct benefits. There is usually a discounted rate offered for event attendees which is much lower than the normal rates and often matches what you would find if booking the hotel through one of the bargain travel websites. Staying at the host hotel means logistics are simplified. You don’t have to worry about local transportation, your room and your costumes and luggage are immediately accessible. You keep bumping into people attending the event throughout the hotel which makes the whole thing more fun. You’re right where all the action is located: the workshops are at the host hotel, the competition, and the social dancing.
Also, the dance event owner will really appreciate it if you stay at the host hotel because part of their contract involves the number of rooms sold. If everyone decided to not stay at the host hotel, then the event would go bankrupt. Generally the event owner gets a discounted rate for the ballroom or gets the ballroom for free if the number of rooms sold to the event is high enough. And since the ballroom is where the dance contest will be held… …well you get the idea.
Having said that, if your financial situation is such that every penny counts then you can shop around for a cheaper hotel in the same neighborhood and if it turns out that there is a Motel Six or Red Roof Inn right across the street, then that is an option.
Another low-cost option is that you can “Couch Surf” which means staying with friends or family who happen to live in the city where the event is being held. Just be careful. If you end up staying at a friend’s house or at a hotel or that is not within walking distance of the host hotel, any savings may be eaten up by having to have local transport. Do the math before booking the room.
Moving Around Once You’re There
- Getting to the hotel — Taxi, Shuttle Bus, Rental Car, Subways, Trains, Trams and Bumming a Ride from a friend are generally your options. Usually the hotel website will have a page listing the various options other than the “bumming a ride” option. Here are some possibilities from cheap to expensive:
>>> You have your own car because you drove – zero additional cost unless the hotel charges for parking. Most hotels where dance events are held do not because they are out on the suburbs, but you will occasionally run into a hotel that does. Investigate in advance and budget accordingly.
>>> Free Hotel Shuttles. Check with the hotel to see if they have a free shuttle. They often do.
>>> Bum a ride from a friend who did drive. Arrange this in advance of course and buy your friend a beer as a thank you.
>>> Mass Transit. Many larger cities have subways and/or buses that can get you quickly and efficiently and cheaply to where you want to go. Plan ahead and find out before you leave home, not when you’re standing on the curb looking for a ride.
>>> Then there are the usual suspects: Pay Shuttles, Taxis, Rental Cars. Which one of these is going to be the cheapest really depends. Do your research in advance and share rides with other people whenever possible.
Don’t overlook the possibility of getting a rental car. Sometimes there are special deals which actually make renting a car cheaper than taking a taxi or shuttle, especially if you network with friends and agree to be the “friend that other friends are bumming rides with,” for *ahem* a small fee or a free beer
- Moving around once you are there — If you want to stay at the host hotel and only see those sights that are within walking distance, then we’re done. However, if you want to go out somewhere to eat or if you want to do some sight-seeing then you must consider local transport while you’re there. Your options are pretty similar to those listed on “getting to the hotel”
One note of caution: A lot of dance events are at hotels that are on the suburbs or near the airport, because those hotels are cheaper than the hotels in the middle of the city. Which means that your access to local mass transit and the local sights and attractions, may be limited or you may be in a city like Dallas where Mass Transit is pretty much non-existent or a really bad joke. Do your research in advance and plan ahead.
- Getting back to the airport, train station etc. – Pretty much the same options as getting to the hotel, just in reverse. LOL
Well, how much do you want to spend? It really is as simple as that. Decide what your food budget is going to be then plan accordingly. The key is planning ahead and finding out in advance what the local options will be. With that in mind here are some tips:
- Doing it on the very cheap — Bring food from home. A loaf of bread (in a plastic bread container), a jar of jelly and a jar of peanut butter is all that a growing dancer needs. You can also bring energy bars, almonds, apples, Instant Noodle bowls, and those little tuna & cracker snack kits. All of which I have done from time to time. A note of caution, If you take liquids, they will have to go in a checked bag. And make sure that everything you take is in tightly sealed plastic containers. Trust me you don’t want a broken container of food stuff spilling into your luggage. And don’t forget some silverware and if needed a can opener.
- Free Hotel Food — Some hotels offer complimentary breakfast with the room and/or complimentary happy hours. Most hotels now have free coffee in the room. Take advantage of these services.
- Discount Cards and coupons – I hate to admit this but I’m almost eligible for the Senior Discount Meals at Denny’s and I-Hop. *sigh* My inner domestic diva is wailing a lament and diving into her box of bon-bons even as I type this. She doesn’t deal well with stress.
Nonetheless, dig out all those “benefits you get with your card” brochures and use them if you can. If you’re a AAA member or AARP member, both organizations have travel related discounts. And don’t overlook less obvious possibilities. For example, before I lost my job I was a regular contributor to KERA, my local PBS radio and television stations. This got me a discount card which is good at local businesses, including restaurants. Also you can look online for coupons, including travel websites and chambers of commerce. With a little advance planning you can save a lot of money.
- Share a meal — Usually if you are about to dance, you don’t want a heavy meal anyway so buddy up with a friend and ask for one entree with two plates.
- Nearby restaurants and convenience stores — I had a friend who ate the whole weekend during a dance event at the nearby 7-11. I kid you not! It is still a standing joke amongst those who were at that particular event. :-) We love the guy but it was funny… Q: “Where’s Joe-Bob?” A: “He’s at the 7-11 again.” While not glamorous, it is practical.
Local culture and cuisine: My rule of travel is to not eat at a chain restaurant if there is a local “non-chain” option. I mean, why travel if you’re going to go to the same old restaurant and avoid experiencing new things? On the other hand, a chain restaurant is a known quantity both in terms of price and quality. Let your tummy, your budget, your schedule and your sense of adventure be your guide.
- Trapped in the hotel — Sometimes you are at a hotel with no local transportation and no nearby restaurants. Your only choices are the Hotel Restaurant, vending machines, the little “hotel shop” and delivery pizza or Chinese food. Some hotels allow delivery and some don’t — ask before planning on doing this.
A word of caution about hotel restaurants. They tend to be more expensive than your average chain restaurant and the service and food quality can vary widely. Most important to folks attending a dance event, the restaurant can be SLOW. If you are trying to squeeze in a meal between two dance sessions, then hitting the vending machine or your cache of nibbles up in the room may be a better option than the restaurant. Ask around amongst the other attendees to see how the restaurant is before sitting down and ordering. The hours of a hotel restaurant can also be very strange. Knowledge is power folks. Ask ahead, plan ahead, and you’ll be a happy dancer.
So we’ve covered the basics of the travel costs. You can see that traveling to a dance event, just like any other travel can be done cheaply with a little planning.
To give you a couple of examples with actually dollars and cents I’m going to use myself and some recent dance events so you can perhaps get a clearer idea of how you can keep costs down:
Cost to Attend a Local Event
In Texas, and in Dallas/Fort Worth we are very lucky. We live in a dance-rich environment. We have tons of high quality instructors in all dance styles and we’ve got a lot of places offering social dancing and group classes. And we have a number of local events in a variety of dance styles: Dallas Dance Festival, Big D Bash and Texas Hoedown are three local Country Western dance events which I’ve attended. Below is my “Averaged Travel Budget” for those three events.
Total Travel Cost: $65 – $100
- Hotel & Parking: $0 — I stay at home and drive to the event each day. None of these three events charge parking.
- Gas: $20-$25 — about a quarter of a tank for three round trips
- Food (Meals, Snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages)$45-60 for three days. All three of these events have numerous fast food and/or chain restaurants nearby like Subway, for example.
The host hotel for the Texas Hoedown puts on a special “Dancers Lunch/Dinner” menu which offers a $10 meal that is tasty and fast. They learned the first year that dancers want their food fast, so the second year they offered this limited choice menu of three low-cost meals that they can prepare quickly.I eat breakfast at home and then eat one other meal each day along with some snacks (which I usually bring from home).
This $45-60 also includes the “celebration meal” on the last day of the event. The group of dancers that I hang out with usually will go to a restaurant after the awards ceremony to just hang out, laugh and enjoy each others company.
- Booze: $10-15 — It is a dance event after all. LOL! I generally will have a couple of beers or drinks during the Saturday night show and the social dancing afterwards. And, of course, if money is very tight, I skip this or I look pleadingly and longingly and lustfully at my buddy’s beer thus instilling a guilt reflex upon his part whereby he offers to buy me a drink. I can do a pitiful look very well.
Travel Costs to attend an out-of-town event
Total Travel Costs: $212.81
The example I’m using is the last event I attended, the Oklahoma Dance Rush on April 6-8, 2012. This is a good example where you can find an event within driving distance and use your own vehicle to get there.
- Hotel & Booze: $110.03 — $101.03 per night for the room and $9 in tips, $4 to the bartender and $5 for the hotel maid.
I shared a room with my room-mate and we stayed two nights so we each paid $101.03. Normally booze is a separate budget line but this time it was included with the hotel; in fact a lot of nice perks were included with the price of the room which is part of why I liked this hotel so much:
(1) free parking
(2) free breakfast, which was a buffet line with fruit, hot and cold cereals, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, milk, juice, coffee, pastries. There was also a cook to order (also free) Omelet station and cook to order French Toast. And you could take a roadie of juice and or coffee with you when you left the dining area.
(3) Complimentary happy hour. Yes. Free. Booze! I had two beers on Saturday. My total cost was the tips to the bartender.
(4) Free in room coffee. (this is very important because as my friends will tell you I am NOT a morning person)
(5) the rooms were suites which meant there was a separate living area with a wet bar area which had a microwave, a coffee pot, a mini-fridge.
(6) Free WiFi. Important to me because I don’t have a smart phone and my iPad and iPod Touch are both WiFi only
(7) Nice shampoo, conditioner, and soap by “Crabtree & Evelyn”
(8) Complimentary “oops I forgot my…. fill in the blank” I actually needed to get a razor and shaving cream because I really did forget and it wasn’t a tear packet of shaving cream which would have been fine, it was an actual travel size can of Colgate Foamy.
(9) Easy access to the ballroom, and workshop rooms. The mini “Convention Center” was attached to the hotel.
- Gas: $44.14 – my half of the gas. Since Norman Oklahoma is within driving distance, we drove up in my truck. My roommate rode with me so we split the cost of the gas.
- Food: $58.64 – for the whole event.
- Airfare / Local Transport: $0 — Since we drove to the event there was no need for airfare, or for taxis, etc. For events further than a comfortable driving distance which for me is about once or twice a year, the “gas” would be zero and the total cost of the trip would go up because of airfare and local transport costs.
So there you have it, two examples, using four different dance events, of how you can keep the travel expenses down by choosing wisely which events you want to attend.
See ya on the dance floor!
Related Articles and Links
- Dancing: How much does it cost? (txcowboydancer.com)
- The Texas Hoedown – Scrapbook Scribblings (txcowboydancer.com)
- Another New Page on my Blog: I’ve turned “Pro” (txcowboydancer.com)
- “World Championships” mean it’s time to plan for the coming Competition Year (txcowboydancer.com)
- I lost my job…and turned into a bear…kinda, sorta (txcowboydancer.com)
- Headed to the Oklahoma Dance Rush (txcowboydancer.com)
- Priceline (www.priceline.com)
- Travelocity (www.travelocity.com)
- Southwest Airlines (www.southwest.com)
- American Association of Retired People (www.aarp.org)
- KERA [Public Radio & TV for North Texas] (www.kera.org)
- American Automobile Association (www.aaa.com)
- Dallas Dance Festival (www.dallasdancefestival.com)
- Big D Bash (www.bigdbash.com)
- Texas Hoedown (www.dancetexashoedown.com)
- Oklahoma Dance Rush (www.oklahomadancerush.com)
- UCWDC – United Country Western Dance Council List of Events (www.ucwdc.org/regional-event/)
- ACDA – American Country Dance Association List of Events