Frugal Travel for Work (aka Attending My First Conference)

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend my first conference for work in San Antonio, Texas.  I had never been to Texas or to a conference, so I was very excited, but also a bit nervous about striking the right balance between taking advantage of the travel experience and keeping the excess travel spending to a minimum.  Of course, the main reason for this trip was the valuable learning and networking from the conference itself, but I love to travel and wanted to make the most of my time in a new city.  Here are some ways I kept the balance and enjoyed my trip:

  1. Altar for Dia de los Muertos in San Antonio.

    Reach out to local friends. One of my best friends from high school lives in Austin, just an hour drive from San Antonio.  We usually only see each other when she visits her family back in Maryland–and even then it is usually accompanied by my small children, so it was a nice opportunity to have some quality friend time.  Even though she’s been in the area a bit over a year, she had not spent much time in San Antonio, so it was a good excuse for her to hit up some of the major tourist attractions.  I flew in a bit early on the Sunday of my trip with no events scheduled until that evening.  She picked me up from the airport and we enjoyed an afternoon exploring an outdoor Dia de los Muertos festival (with great street food), the Alamo (of course), and catching up.

  2. Know exactly what will be covered and how you will be reimbursed.  I was very fortunate that my employer covered all of my travel expenses, including meals not provided by the conference fee itself.  However, some of my travel companions had to save receipts (and split out any alcoholic beverages–if consumed–separately) for reimbursement.  I was fortunate that my employer used the IRS’s per diem for meals, allowing me to relax that while my dinner cost less than the allowed amount, my $5 bottle(s) of water from the hotel balanced that out.
  3. The Riverwalk, inspiration for Frederick’s Carroll Creek Park!

    Plan out what you want to see/do in your off time before you go.  The conference schedule was packed and full of great information and interesting conversations.  If I had not researched beforehand the Missions National Park, I would not have had the energy to make it there the one day our sessions ended before the park closed for the day.  I was very glad I planned in advance for that.

  4. Use frugal travel strategies.  By comparison to our typical family travel, this trip was very posh.  The hotel was very nice and full of amenities we normally do without.  I was able to dine out in nice restaurants (and ate lots of guacamole!).  It was very tempting to snap into “vacation spending mode.”  However, I still brought snacks and a water bottle for the airports.  I used the bus system and walked more than taxi/rideshare.  I did not check any baggage and pBeautiful church exterioracked light.  I drank the free hotel/conference coffee and water most of the time (see the one expensive water bottle purchase above!).
  5. Be open to experiences.  I tried a new restaurant at the urging of a local and didn’t know there were cruises on the river until I saw them operating.   Both proved to be great uses of travel funds–delicious food and a great, funny tour guide.  I did walk to a cafe that wasn’t open, never made it to the art museum I hoped to see, and couldn’t go inside a church that looked beautiful from the outside–that’s ok.  Open minded travel means accepting the trip as it is.

All in all, I had a very enjoyable time in San Antonio.  The conference was inspiring and gave me many ideas for our own work in Maryland.  I look forward to attending this conference again next year–in Salt Lake City!

How do you make the most of travel for work?

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