Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Cost of Attending a Conference

T is is for Training Crew ready for lunchLast Friday, I participated in the T is for Training podcast, Episode 118, which has been entitled "Roll Your Own Conference." During the hour, we got on the topic of the cost of attending a conference. (You can listen to it below.) We recognized that some library conferences can be expensive (e.g., national and international conferences), while some regional and local conferences may be seem to be priced "just right." We also recognize that the cost burden for conference attendance may be shared both by the participant and that person's employer. However, some employers may be unwilling or unable to contribute towards a person's continued professional development, which will put the entire cost burden on the participant.

I, and others, preach the fact that we need to invest in our own professional development.  In order to do that, we need to plan in advance and, often months in advance.  Last week, I did my travel budget for the next twelve months and combining that with recent conversations, has caused me to do this blog post and lay out some cost cutting measures - and other things to consider - when planning for conferences.

What are the costs involved in attending a conference?
  • Travel - Airplane, train, bus or car (rental or mileage on your personal vehicle); tolls; parking; mass transit/cab fares.  
  • Hotel 
  • Meals
  • Incidental expenses - The U.S. Government Services Administration describes incidental expenses as: "Fees and tips given to porters, baggage carriers, bellhops, hotel maids, stewards or stewardesses and others on ships." 
    • While that is pretty specific, do consider what expenses you might have missed, like the cost of shipping items or even baggage fees.
  • Conference registration fee
  • Other conference fees - Cost of workshops or other ticket events.
Rt. Gen. Colin PowellIf you are planning for conferences, where all of the details are not yet known, it is likely that you at least know the date and the city.  Use that basic information to create estimates for the information above.  You can find per diem estimates (hotel, meals and incidentals) for all U.S. locations on the GSA web site.  Non-U.S. per diem rates are available on the U.S. State Department web site.

How can you decrease the costs?  If you do the above for one or more conferences, likely you'll feel a little "sticker shock" over the expense.   At some point in time, we've looked to lower our conference costs and done some of the following:

Registration fee:
  • Register for the conference during the early-bird registration period.
  • Look for ways of lowering the conference registration fee, such as volunteering to work at the conference in return for a lower rate.  
    • If you are one of the speakers, ask if they will give you a complementary registration for the day of your presentation. 
Travel Cost:
  • Compare costs and take the least expensive travel option. This may mean flying at odd times and with multiple legs (hops).  It might also mean carpooling.
  • Consider buying your travel ticket (e.g., plane ticket) well in advance, which should be less expensive.
  • Use web sites, such as SkyScanner, to  figure out when an airline ticket is possible at its lowest price.
  • At the conference location, walk whenever possible instead of taking a cab or mass transit.  
  • If your travel means going to a different country, keep in mind that you may need a passport or visa.  Be aware of those costs.  With a passport, if you get it well in advance, you will avoid any fees to expedite the application.
Hyatt Hotel Crystal City 1Hotel Cost:
  • Seek out lower cost hotels, even those that may require a bit of a daily commute to the conference location.
  • Consider paying for your hotel room in advance and at the non-refundable rate.  The non-refundable rate will be priced lower, and assumes that you won't have a need to cancel or change the reservation.
  • Consider sharing a room with 1-3 other people.  This can be a great way of lowering the cost and being able to afford to stay at the conference hotel.  
    • If your roommates are people that you know, you  might coordinate which sessions you all attend, so you all can cover more of the conference. Then spend time sharing what you have learned. 
  • Consider staying at a hostel. While this isn't glamorous, it will only be for a few days.
  • Check to see if you have a friend or relative near the conference location, and ask if you can stay with that person.
Food Cost:
  • Check for food events at the conference.  For example, is there a continental breakfast in the morning for those that attend the business meeting?  Are there snacks at specific times in the exhibit hall?  While those may not be the foods that you would normally eat, taking advantage of free food is a good way of lowering your food costs.
  • If you're in a new location or a place known for their food, you will want to eat some good meals.  Plan what meals that you will want to splurge on and which ones you want to keep at a reasonable cost.  
  • Find a grocery store and purchase food to keep in your room. 
    • If you want to keep food  cold, consider if you want a room that has a refrigerator.
    • If you want to prepare food in your room, consider finding a "residence hotel", where the rooms often have small kitchens in them.
    • Buy your meals from the grocery store (prepared food items), which will be lower cost than going to a restaurant.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol that you purchase in a bar.  That's money that is better spent on something else.
    • If you like a nightcap every night, find a liquor store and by your favorite alcohol to keep in your room.
Other Ideas:
  • Put yourself on a daily budget and stick to it.
  • If someone suggests an activity that is outside of your price range, tell them that. You don't need to go along with the crowd.
  • Ask for separate checks, when dining with others, so you can control your own bill.  This can truly save you money.
  • Pack light, so you only have carry on, and avoid baggage fees.
  • Pack some food from home, like snack bars.  I have a friend, who makes sandwiches and brings them with her (and has a refrigerator in her room).
  • If you're driving to the conference, you can carry more food, etc., so take advantage of that.
  • If there is an exhibitor that you are very familiar with, offer to work for them in exchange for some of your costs being covered.  This may not work, but you won't know until you ask. is one idea that will help you, if you have the spunk to do it...put money aside every week in order to cover your conference costs.  Yes, once you've figured out the cost, divide that by the number of weeks until the conference, and start saving.  If you can't save the entire cost, consider how much you can save, where you can cut costs, and what costs you're willing to pay off afterwards.  We save for lots of things, so why not save for your professional development.

Finally, imagine telling a future employer, that you valued professional development so much, that you used these types of techniques to manage the costs and that you even set aside money in advance?  If you're this well planned out for your own professional development, an employer would assume that you could do the same on a work project!

T is for Training: Roll Your Own Conference, 58 minutes


Addie Harris said...

How about: Don't agree to be a speaker at a conference that won't AT LEAST give you free registration for the day that you are speaking. WOW! Did you know that some speakers even get PAID???

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Addie, yes, I know that speakers do sometimes get paid, but not always. (I have, in fact, been paid to speak at conferences.) That payment - depending on the conference - may not cover the total cost of attendance, unless you are a speaker who can demand that all of your expenses be paid.

Barbara said...

I would also recommend for booking a room. These are private apartments/rooms/houses that vetted individuals rent for much less than the conference hotel prices. I was able to book an entire studio apartment in the River North area for only $120/night, about half the going price for hotels in the region during ALA.