Low Budgeting the BlogPaws Conference

Although the Sheraton Hotel at Myrtle Beach was 998 miles from my home north of Chicago, I really wanted to bring Buffy, my cocker spaniel to the 2017 BlogPaws conference. Having a dog is an easy ice-breaker and I really missed having her with me at the last conference in Phoenix.

Cocker spaniel next to BlogPaws sign

Buffy at the BlogPaws conference.

At 28 pounds, and a bit too large for a cage that would fit under an airline seat—I knew this meant facing the 15½ hour drive. I had never driven this far before since usually my husband does the long-distance driving, while I nap or listen to books on CD. So driving this far myself was my first challenge.

I balked at the cost of the hotel at the “discounted” price of $140/night. Sure I could try to find a roommate and share the cost, but it’s always a bit uncomfortable sharing a room with someone you don’t know. Plus there’s the dog issue. How would Buffy react with another pet in the room? Buffy is dominant and bossy toward her brother, Chipper, but sometimes submissive and nice toward other dogs.

Since I was driving and had more flexibility, I checked out nearby hotels and found that their costs were not much lower. But there was a state park nearby with camping, although their camping wasn’t cheap at $36/night for the tent only sites, they were right on the beach—and had showers—a must for attending a conference.

I debated for months with this challenge. Should I go low budget and camp or share a room in the hotel? Having a roommate may offer benefits if we get along well, like discussing sessions we attended or issues with our websites. But it could also go poorly if either our pets or we didn’t get along.

sunset

Sunset at Myrtle Beach

I chose camping and I’m glad I did.

After full days in a hotel and meetings, it felt good to drive ten minutes to Myrtle Beach State Park and walk Buffy on the beach. Dogs could go on the beach after 5 pm and before 10 am, perfect for early mornings and evening walks.

My tent was only a half a block from the ocean, a nice easy walk. Plus the wind at the beach kept the mosquitos away, unlike the wooded Boardwalk at Myrtle Beacharea that surrounded my tent, where they came out at dawn and dusk. The park also had a boardwalk near the beach with signs discussing interesting plants and animals and erosion at the beach, which I found quite interesting.

Points to consider when on a low budget

  • Can you drive?
    • Is your car in good condition? It could cost you a lot more in time and money if you have a breakdown on the road. A few years ago the transmission gave out on the way to a camping trip in our 9 year-old Toyota and we had to buy a used car big enough to hold a canoe, camping gear, and two dogs. A very expensive trip for a car we didn’t like and a $3,200 expense.
    • Can you handle the distance and the driving?
      • I brought a back support pillow which helped tremendously. I had never used one before, but it made me sit more upright and helped me to keep alert.
      • Plan your overnight stops. I decided to camp both on the way down and back, minimizing my costs ($5 at a National Forest campground and free at another since I got in late and left before the ranger collected fees).
        • I had mapped and placed the locations in my gps of several sites near the expressway so I could stop based on timing and if I was tired.
        • Make sure if you are arriving late that the campground is open. Some close their gates at 10 pm (make sure you are on the right time zone!)
      • Bring a bottle of water and a dish for your pet plus snacks for both of you.
  • If flying, check the cost of flights early and watch for sales. Prices often change overnight so if you find a good price, grab it.
    • Make sure you watch for hidden costs for carry-on luggage. Remember you will get a lot of swag at BlogPaws, so pack light if you can. BlogPaws does provide a mailing service on the last day of the conference.
  • Can you find an alternative to the conference hotel?
    • Although conference hotels make their money off many of the registrants staying there, sometimes the cost is prohibitive. If you have a car with you, then you can search for motels within a short drive. If you don’t have a car, then you are limited to within a mile unless public transportation is available.
      • If you find a deal, book early since the rooms could fill up. Always check their cancellation policy in case your plans change.
    • Consider camping if the weather is likely to be decent and you are an experienced camper. I don’t recommend this if you don’t have the equipment and aren’t used to it.
      • Is camping safe? I’ve camped for close to forty years and have NEVER had a problem with anyone harassing me or stealing my stuff. People are generally friendly. Yes there are crying babies and sometimes loud radios, but if the campground has a host, then usually the quiet hours are enforced. Plus if you have your dog with you, I’ve found people don’t bother you—no matter the size of the dog.
      • Bring bug spray.
      • Pack your conference clothes in a garment bag to reduce wrinkling.
      • Make sure the campground has showers.
      • Reserve your site ahead of time.

I’ve attended three BogPaws conferences and I have camped both in Nashville and Myrtle Beach. I didn’t camp in Phoenix with the 120° temperatures and low cost motels nearby. Plus the extra cost to fly camping gear is usually prohibitive if you are traveling by yourself.

So my final costs for the conference? Less than $300, which included registration for the conference (early bird done the summer before), camping, gas and food.

I plan to camp in Kansas City for the 2018 BlogPaws conference. What do you plan to do?

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