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The Updated Blind Bargains Guide to Attending #csun14 on a Budget
Many readers have expressed an interest in attending this year's CSUN conference, the largest assistive technology conference for the blind. But with room rates over $200 a night, a $500 registration fee, plane tickets, meals, and other expenses, the cost may seem prohibitive. With this in mind, we've updated our list of tips for enjoying the conference on a budget.
I know some of this advice may be a bit late for 2014, but you never know when you'll find a last minute bargain. San Diego is one of California's major airports, and does offer relatively inexpensive flights from many destinations. If you're looking to save some money, however, try looking for tickets to Los Angeles. This strategy may work best for international travelers. Once in LA, use the FlyAway for a $8 trip from the airport to Union Station. The shuttle runs every half hour throughout the day. Note that the FlyAway bus only accepts credit cards, no cash. Then, frequent Amtrak service connects Los Angeles and downtown San Diego. You can buy tickets in advance for around $30 each way, but reservations are not required. There are other nearby airports, but be careful to select one with a good public transportation connection to San Diego. To learn more about possible transportation options, try this page which discusses options for California airports.
The cost of a cab or airport shuttle to most hotels near the convention center is between $10 and $15, a rather reasonable price compared with some cities. You can save even more, however, by using public transportation. Route 992 serves the airport every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. You can take this bus to get near the convention center, or transfer to the trolley system to reach most parts of town. Here's a blog post which explains your options in more detail.
In addition to the bus and trolley system mentioned above, San Diego is served by the major ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. If you've never used one of these services before, they're one of the coolest and most affordable ways to get around. By using one of the mobile apps, you can request a ride to your location, track the driver and know exactly when they arrive, and then rate them when your ride is complete. Plus, all fares are handled through the apps.
If you haven't used one of these services before, you can get some free rides for trying them out. For Uber, use coupon code 6K56Q which gives you $20 off your first ride as of the time of this article. UberX is their cheapest option. For Lyft, use code JASON4232 to get $25 toward your first ride. Note that if your ride is less than $25, the credit will not carry over, so you may want to use your code for a longer trip if you're planning to make one.
Where to Stay
The Manchester Grand Hyatt is where the vast majority of all of the action is taking place. Room rates are also over $200 plus tax which will add another $25 or so to your cost each night. That's nearly $900 for 4 nights without roommates. Naturally, if you can find someone to share a room with, it'll cut your costs in half. Alternatively, there are several hotels within a mile of the Manchester for $100 a night or less. Many of these are on the bus or trolley system which connects with the main convention hotel while others offer a free hotel shuttle. Downtown San Diego is also quite walkable, a viable option considering the city's warm climate. Failing this, the cost for a cab to and from the Manchester each way is still far less than the money you've saved by staying somewhere else. Some will argue that you lose some of the CSUN experience by staying off-site. We recommend hanging around the restaurants, lobby, or bars in the evening instead of going back to your hotel so you don't lose out on valuable networking opportunities. There'll be a cab waiting for you, even late nights.
There are many interesting sessions planned for CSUN, but it's also quite expensive to pay for a full conference registration. While limited scholarships can be obtained and student and military rates are available, many are still stuck paying for a full registration. If you still want to attend, consider attending just the exhibit hall. An exhibit hall pass is available for free and will let you see many of the latest and greatest assistive technologies in one place. Trust us when we say you could spend your entire trip here. Some of the evening events are also available for general admission. Keep an eye on Twitter using the #CSUN14 hashtag and ask around to find out what's going on.
When attending practically any large convention, it's often a good idea to do some grocery shopping once you get there. San Diego has plenty of supermarkets in the downtown area, and this coupled with a hotel which gives a free refrigerator and microwave could save you quite a bit of money. Ralphs, 101 G St, is a short 10-minute walk away and has a decent staple of grocery items. Check their weekly ad to see what's on sale. Ralphs changes their sales each Wednesday, so plan accordingly.
Some hotels also offer free hot breakfast or an evening reception. Plan ahead to avoid buying every meal at the main hotel, as these costs will add up quickly. Several affordable restaurants are also available within easy walking distance of the Hyatt and seasoned attendees will have plenty of recommendations to share. We recommend the GoTime Happy Hours app, available for both iOS and Android, which shows nearby food and drink specials in realtime.
With some creativity, it's quite possible to attend and enjoy the CSUN conference without spending thousands. in our first year, Blind Bargains stayed at a hostel for $24 a night. And while not every suggestion above will appeal to all who read this, we hope you'll find an idea or two which could help you keep a few extra dollars in your wallet.
What ideas do you have for attending conferences on a budget? Know of an amazing restaurant to visit while in San Diego? Post your thoughts in the comments.
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