It's time for what has become a bit of an annual tradition around here. Every March when we talk endlessly about CSUN, the largest assistive technology conference for the blind, we hear from people who would love to go, if only it was within their budget. With room rates over $200 a night, a nearly $500 registration fee, plane tickets, meals, and other expenses, the cost often seems prohibitive. With this in mind, we've updated our list of tips for enjoying the conference on a budget.
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 uberbargains 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 $20 toward your first ride. Note that if your ride is less than the free ride amount, the rest of 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. Also Uber and Lyft will often not be available to use to get picked up at the airport.
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 couple miles of the Manchester for $120 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 or rideshare 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 ride waiting for you, even late nights.
If you haven't booked a room yet, you better hurry. There are several other events in the area taking place the week of CSUN including a half marathon, so hotel rooms are at a premium.
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. Save some time by registering ahead of time to avoid standing in a longer line and filling out forms on-site. Some of the evening events are also available for general admission. Keep an eye on Twitter using the #CSUN15 hashtag and ask around to find out what's going on. We've already seen a few announcements of special events, including a Jaws 20th Anniversary Party.
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 real-time. Here's a specials page from the San Diego Reader and one from King of Happy Hour. Specials often change, so it may pay to call ahead to verify a special you see posted.
Groupon also has several deals for restaurants and other items near the hotel. Use the link above and enter your hotels' address or just San Diego in the location box to start browsing for deals.
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.
Thanks to Accessible San Diego for providing some links for this article. Check out their website for some great information on the city and available services.
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.Category: Articles
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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.