#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Bulletproof Coffee – The Brain Elixir

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not affiliated directly with or employed by Bulletproof, I am merely a loyal user of their products.  At the time of this writing, I also am not directly affiliated with or employed by any other company whose services I mention in this article.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. No statements regarding the health and effectiveness of food or supplements have been evaluated by the FDA. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

Anyone who knows me knew this profile was coming at some point.  For those who don’t know what Bulletproof Coffee is, it is coffee with some form of dietary fat in it, usually a combination of grass-fed butter or ghee and MCT or coconut oil, with an optional addition of collagen powder for joint and skin health and usually stevia and cinnamon for sweetness and flavor. I sometimes like to add chocolate greens powder as well, but this isn’t considered an official ingredient of Bulletproof coffee.

Although I will be using Bulletproof Coffee as a Xerox/Kleenex-like catch-all term for any coffee with butter and oil in it, there is actually a company called Bulletproof, started by entrepreneur and butter-and-oil-coffee pioneer Dave Asprey, which sells its own Bulletproof-branded coffee products (beans, grounds, and pre-brewed coffee), ghee, MCT oil, and collagen powder and markets their offerings as technically superior to more generic similar products. The jury is out on this to me, but I will be conducting a comparison experiment between Bulletproof’s products and generic alternatives at a later time and will chronicle this experiment on the blog.

As I have alluded to in previous posts, I am a fan of Bulletproof Coffee for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost is the cognitive benefits.  The proven “brain food” ketone-synthesizing cognitive benefits of dietary fat combined with the wakefulness and energy of caffeine combine in Bulletproof Coffee to increase mental alertness, clarity, focus, and concentration.

Let’s face it: congress workshops are an exceptionally tough learning environment.  Many workshops are crowded, you’re fatigued from a long night, there’s a lot to learn in a relatively short time and time for review and practice is limited, you’re managing many different partners’ individual skill and comfort levels while trying to learn complex turn patterns and/or body movements at the same time, lead to follow ratios are frequently askew, people don’t know how to rotate, people have conversations while the instructor is talking making it hard to hear them, that one f**king dude is trying to get every girl’s number and disrupting the class (he’s in every damn workshop it seems), and so on.  It is understandably hard to learn under such conditions, so anything that gives a mental edge will help a lot with learning in the typical congress workshop environment.  I frequently drink a large cup of Bulletproof coffee right before beginning workshops for the day at a dance congress and it helps. It’s not a magic bullet, but it helps.

Another benefit is that dietary fat is proven to be filling and dull the appetite throughout the day, which prevents overeating and has obvious benefits in that regard at a frugal congress.  Additionally, the fat in the butter and the MCT oil has the effect of smoothing out the caffeine buzz and making it last longer, rather than a sharp spike and crash.

Clearly, this is a good drink to have for dance congresses overall for a variety of reasons.

There are a smattering of restaurants and cafes that sell pre-made Bulletproof Coffee around the US, such as Bon Vivant Cafe+Farm Market in Alexandria, VA, but these places are few and far between and tend to sell their Bulletproof Coffee at a high mark-up, so mostly you will be purchasing the various ingredients of Bulletproof coffee and making it yourself.  Alternately, Bulletproof has just begun selling a cold-brew grab-and-go ready-to-drink version of Bulletproof Coffee, but it is very expensive, at almost $60 for a 12-pack online, or $4.99 per individual container at Whole Foods, so making Bulletproof Coffee yourself is still the optimal #FCL strategy (although I’ll indulge in a few containers of Bulletproof Cold Brew every so often).

In this post, I will take a look at Bulletproof Coffee’s different ingredients in depth and offer some more frugal alternatives to Bulletproof’s official offerings, which can be a bit on the expensive side.  All these ingredients are shelf-stable and do not need to be refrigerated unless otherwise noted.

Bulletproof’s branded ingredients as well as their more frugal substitutes can be found locally at Whole Foods or online on Amazon or various online retailers.

Coffee:

The most obvious component.  Bulletproof offers their own grounds, beans, and instant coffee. They claim that their coffee has a reduced amount of the mycotoxins supposedly found in regular coffee.  As someone who has lived and worked in mycotoxic environments and had some mild ill health effects as a result, I can intimately appreciate the dangers of mycotoxins, but the jury’s out on whether paying the premium for Bulletproof’s coffee products makes an appreciable difference in performance.  To be honest, I usually get the coffee component of Bulletproof Coffee I make at congresses from the nearest Starbucks or from the hotel’s free coffee dispensers, if they exist in that particular hotel.

Ghee:

Ghee is a type of clarified butter prepared by churning, simmering, and preserving the clear liquid fat from butter or cream, and is composed of almost entirely fat, most of which is saturated fat (Wikipedia).

Bulletproof’s ghee, which Bulletproof advertises as coming from grass-fed cows, comes in a 13 ounce jar that lasts for close to a month with normal daily usage in Bulletproof Coffee and averages about $25 for a jar.

If you use Bulletproof’s Ghee, be sure to regularly clean the lid of the jar and don’t fasten it too tight.  The ghee in Bulletproof’s jar can harden and make the lid very difficult to get off (even for a longtime weightlifter) if there is ghee on the lid or the lid is fastened too tightly.

Organic Valley also sells 7.5 ounce jars of ghee that last about 2 weeks with normal daily usage in Bulletproof Coffee for about $8 on average, and its lids don’t have the hardening issue that Bulletproof’s ghee jars do and are always easy to get off.

You can also use grass-fed butter purchased from a grocery store for about $3 as a substitute for ghee, and that will last you about a week of normal usage, but keep in mind that butter, unlike ghee, is much more perishable and needs to be refrigerated.

MCT oil:

Medium-chain triglyceride oil is a fatty oil that is frequently distilled from coconut oil and is a concentrated and high-potency form of the essential fatty acids found in coconut oil.  These are many of the fatty acids that drive ketone synthesis and are therefore an essential component of Bulletproof Coffee. (Wikipedia)

Bulletproof’s MCT oil offering is called Brain Octane Oil, and a 16 oz bottle sells for about $25 and will last for about a month and a half of normal daily usage in Bulletproof coffee.

Do not use Bulletproof’s MCT oils without butter or ghee – using the oils by themselves will cause gastrointestinal distress, why I do not know exactly.  Pairing MCT oil with butter or ghee seems to alleviate the GI distress caused by MCT oil by itself.

There are other less expensive MCT oils averaging around $15-25 for a 16-32 ounce bottle.  I can not comment on their effectiveness as I have mostly stuck with Bulletproof’s MCT oil.  Sometimes MCT oil causes gastrointestinal distress in some people, so start with a little bit and go up from there until you figure out what you can or can’t handle, and always pair it with butter or ghee.  Eating a lot of other healthy fats, such as avocado, salmon, and almonds, in your diet is recommended as making MCT oil your only source of fats will amplify negative side effects.

Coconut oil is an acceptable substitute for MCT oil in Bulletproof coffee and you can include it by itself without gastrointestinal distress, unlike MCT oil.  Make sure you use unrefined extra virgin coconut oil.  A jar that will last you for close to two months with normal use in Bulletproof Coffee can be purchased for as low as $10-15.  It is not as concentrated or potent as MCT oil, but it still gets the job done.

If you are trying to pack light, Kelapo sells coconut oil and ghee mixed together in one jar, or in packets.  The packets are pretty expensive, at $25 for four packets, but they are convenient on the go.  A 13 ounce jar that will last you about 3-4 weeks can be found for about $20, but keep in mind the jar has the same issues as Bulletproof’s ghee jar and should be cleaned regularly and not put on too tight.

Bulletproof also sells “InstaMix” packets containing a mixture of their ghee and Brain Octane oil for on-the-go mixing in coffee at a cost of about $35 for 14 packets.

Collagen powder:

Collagen is a structural protein found in animal bodies, skin, and tissue, and collagen powder is a purified form of collagen extracted from the body, skin, and tissue of animals, usually cows.  When collagen in this form is ingested by humans, it has the effect of helping to rebuild joint tissue and cartilage, making it an excellent cure for aching knees and shoulders, and also has the added benefit of rebuilding skin, nails, and hair, providing anti-aging benefits.  (Wikipedia)

I like to add a few tablespoons of collagen powder to my Bulletproof coffee to help alleviate joint pain and as part of a regular anti-aging regimen, but this is optional.

One of my favorite collagen powders is Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate, which comes in a 16 oz container that lasts you a little over a month with normal daily usage in Bulletproof Coffee for about $25.  It has a slightly beefy flavor to it in its raw form, but this can barely be tasted if at all once it is in the coffee.  You can only find this brand of collagen online as far as I know.

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides can be found at Whole Foods or online for about $25 for a 10 ounce container that will last you about 2-3 weeks, and is completely flavorless.

Bulletproof also sells their own collagen powder for $39.95 for a 16 ounce container. I recently got a tub of their chocolate collagen powder on sale and it adds a very pleasing chocolate flavor to Bulletproof coffee, and is very effective as a collagen supplement as well.

Cinnamon:

Cinnamon in Bulletproof Coffee is strictly for flavor.  Not much that needs to be said about cinnamon, it’s cinnamon.  If I am getting my coffee at Starbucks, they provide cinnamon for free, as well as chocolate, vanilla, and nutmeg powder.  Otherwise, cinnamon can be found at any grocery store for about $2 and will last you a very long time.

Stevia:

I like to add sweeteners to taste to sweeten my coffee, and stevia, derived naturally from a plant of the same name, is the sweetener I favor.  Boxes of about 50 packets of stevia can be found at any grocery store for around $2-3.

Optional – Chocolate protein or greens powder:

I like to add some kind of chocolate powder to my Bulletproof coffee for chocolate flavor, but this is entirely optional.

Barlean’s Chocolate Greens powder, which provides a concentrated dose of several essential green vegetables and has a sweet, rich dark chocolate flavor, would be a good addition to your Bulletproof coffee.  Add one small scoop of this powder.

Any chocolate protein powder would work well for this purpose as well.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 of a scoop to taste.

How to make Bulletproof coffee:

Warning: do not prepare Bulletproof Coffee in a styrofoam cup or attempt to drink it out of a styrofoam cup.  The MCT oil has some kind of chemical reaction with styrofoam that causes the styrofoam to dissolve quickly and spray your drink all over the immediate vicinity.  MCT oil melts styrofoam, avoid putting Bulletproof Coffee in a styrofoam cup.  This reaction does not occur with any other material.

When it comes to making Bulletproof coffee, the common wisdom is that a blender is the best method for mixing the ingredients, but I personally do not do this as I frequently do not have a blender on hand and do not recommend putting hot coffee in a blender, particularly a high-end one.

My favorite method for making Bulletproof coffee without a blender is as follows:

– Put cinnamon, collagen powder, optional chocolate protein/greens powder, and ghee in bottom of coffee mug first

– Add MCT/Brain Octane oil

– Stir vigorously until mixed together into sludge

– Fill cup to about 1/4 full and stir vigorously until mixture is fully mixed with coffee

– Fill cup to top with coffee and stir until fully mixed

I find this method is the best way to mix the ingredients and yields the best-tasting and most potent Bulletproof coffee, and that if you pour the coffee and mix the ingredients in after, some of the powders (particularly the cinnamon) end up on the bottom of the drink and it doesn’t taste as good nor is it as potent.

Obviously, this will not be the optimal method if you are buying coffee from, for example, a hotel coffee shop on the go where you get the cup with the coffee already in it.  One possible workaround for this is to mix the Bulletproof ingredients in another small paper or plastic cup (as long as it isn’t styrofoam) and bring the mix down to the coffee shop to add to their coffee.

Here is a picture of a cup of Bulletproof coffee I made using this method:

That’s it for this food profile. Look for my Bulletproof experiment where I compare my performance in a dance class after drinking coffee made with Bulletproof’s products vs coffee made with generic ingredients at a later time. Hit up the comments if you have anything to add and happy coffee drinking!

– Owen

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#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: Classé Dance Company 2nd Anniversary Party

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with Classé Dance Company aside from being a sometime student of their classes and Linda being a friend of mine and one of my favorite dance instructors. I have not been hired to promote this event at the time of this writing nor have I been hired by or am affiliated with any of the other businesses whose services I describe, and everything I am writing is my objective opinion and advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Classé Dance Company, a new DC-based dance school started by Korke and Judith-certified sensual bachata instructor Linda Saenz in 2016, is celebrating their second anniversary on September 8th, 2018 with a huge party at Tysons Ballroom & Dancesport Center, located at 8032 Leesburg Pike #201, Vienna, VA in the heart of VA’s new development in Tysons Corner.

This party will have the feel of a short one-day dance congress.  From 4pm to 8pm, full pass holders have the opportunity to take workshops by a mix of local and international instructors including Linda Saenz, Mario Adame, Spain’s own Truji y Gloria, and one of the creators of sensual bachata himself, Korke.

A dance social with DJ Emerzive and DJ Selo follows at 9:30pm after a short break, and goes until 3:30am with performances by Classé’s teams, Zafire DC, Latin Swag, and many more at midnight.

Look up Classé Dance Company on Facebook for general info.

Since I thought some people may be coming from out of town, today’s post is a comprehensive survival guide for this event!

PASS:

Get your early bird full pass for only $58 until August 18th! The price will go up by an unspecified amount after the 18th.

For those who just want to do the party, a party pass is $25.

Get your pass here.

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving or rideshare is a good overall way to get to this event.  There is some limited free parking around the ballroom, and a garage nearby.  If you are staying in a hotel, parking is free around any of the hotels in the area.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus or train route into Union Station in DC and from there, take the DC Metro red line towards Shady Grove and transfer to the silver line towards Wiehle-Reston East to the Tysons Corner metro station.  Follow directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station to the ballroom.

DIRECTIONS FROM TYSONS CORNER METRO STATION TO THE BALLROOM:

From the Metro station, take the pedestrian bridge across Chain Bridge Road to Tysons One Place, make a right on Tysons One Place, a left on International Drive, and a left on Leesburg Pike, and the shopping center with the ballroom will be on your left (look for May Jewlers).

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system.  A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting the DC metro area again in the future.

FLYING:

Just in case anyone is flying of course…

FROM BWI:

Try to arrive during the day while the MARC train is still running

Take MARC from BWI to Union Station DC

Follow bus/train directions from there

FROM DCA:

Take Metro blue line from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport toward Largo Town Center

Transfer at Rosslyn to the silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East to Tysons Corner Metro station

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

FROM IAD:

Take UBER to Wiehle-Reston East metro station

Take silver line toward Largo Town Center to Tysons Corner Center metro

Follow walking directions from Tysons Corner Metro Station from there

Information on the MARC trains can be found here: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

LODGING:

Most of this event’s crowd (including me) is expected to be local, but for those coming from out of town, there are some lodging options nearby, and I took the time to research some of these options for any out of town guests.

The best overall option is the Tysons Corner Marriott, located directly across Towers Crescent Drive from the ballroom (about a 2-3 minute walk) and averaging around $89 per night for a one-king, $109/night for a 2 double, and $119/night for a larger one-king room on an upper floor.  Booking through the hotel’s website and pre-paying for your room will get you a discount of around $4-5 per night on average.  Amenities include a pool, fitness center, dishes from the Chesapeake region served by Shutters Bar and Kitchen, the hotel’s in-house restaurant, clean and comfortable contemporary rooms and suites, and a $20 breakfast buffet.  This is a 3-star hotel and reviews are generally positive.

The budget option is the Extended Stay America Washington DC Tysons Corner, located about a 10 minute walk from the ballroom at 8201 Old Courthouse Road.  This is a casual 2-star hotel offering suites with full kitchens plus on-site coin-op laundry machines, free Wi-Fi, and free grab-and-go breakfast.  Rooms here average around $68-75 per night.  Reviews are wildly mixed, many complain of cleanliness issues, and many are quick to point out that this is a no-frills hotel.  Expect to get what you pay for if you go this route, but it is the most frugal option.

The Courtyard by Marriott and the DoubleTree by Hilton McLean Tysons are both located next to each other about a 14 minute walk from the ballroom at 1960 Chain Bridge Road and are $98 and $87 per night respectively.  Both are 4-star hotels with mostly favorable reviews.

You have two baller options, although I obviously won’t spend a lot of time discussing these on #FrugalCongressLife.  The Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center at 7901 Tysons One Place goes for around $158 per night and includes a business center, ultramodern rooms, massage services, and pet friendly policies (25lbs and under).

The ultimate platinum baller option for this area is the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, located at 1700 Tysons Corner Boulevard about a 20 minute walk from the ballroom and priced from $199 per night.  Amenities for this 4-star luxury hotel include an espresso bar, a spa and fitness center, town-car service, shoe shine service, a wine bar and lounge, and suites nicer than most of our apartments.  Obviously not a frugal option.

A search of AirBNB listings for the date of this event revealed about 30 available listings around the event location about a month out from the event, with prices ranging from $60-130 on average, many of them a considerable walk from the event.  It looks like AirBNB is not much of an advantage for this particular event, unless you can snap up one of the $60 listings.

FOOD:

The closet Wal-Mart Supercenter is located about an 8 minute drive/UBER ride or 34 minute walk one way up VA-7 at 1500B Cornerside Boulevard.  This Wal-Mart is also Metro-accessible; take the Metro silver line two stops toward Wiehle-Reston East to the Spring Hill station, and the Wal-Mart will be visible from that station.

The Market at Tysons Corner, a specialty grocery store similar to Whole Foods, is located in the nearby Tysons Corner Center shopping mall at 1961 Chain Bridge Road.

For that all-important coffee fix, Tyson’s Corner Center houses a Nespresso boutique, a Turkish Coffee Lady, and, incredibly, two Starbucks shops in the same mall.  Also located about a 2 minute walk up Leesburg Pike from the ballroom past the parking garage is a Peet’s Coffee (8150 Leesburg Pike) and a Dunkin Donuts (8119 Watson Street).

7-Eleven and Vitamin Shoppe are located directly across Leesburg Pike from the Marriott at 1931 Old Gallows Road and 1927 Old Gallows Road, respectively.

Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods are located about a 5 minute drive one way from the ballroom at 7514 and 7511 Leesburg Pike, respectively.

Your options for your meal out are very abundant as well.  Right next to the ballroom is Lei’d Hawaiian Poke and a bubble tea shop called Teas’n You.  Tysons Corner Center houses a Panda Express, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Seasons 52, Wasabi, Subway, Shake Shack, Barrel and Bushel, Coastal Flats, and La Sandia.

Further up Leesburg Pike near the Peet’s is Paddy Barry’s, Roll Play Vietnamese Grill, Silver Diner, with an Olive Garden and Tyson’s Bagel Market across the street.

McDonald’s, Nostos, Chef Geoff’s Tysons, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, and Neisha Thai are right across Leesburg Pike from the ballroom near the Vitamin Shoppe.  For anyone staying at the Extended Stay, these will be your closest eating options.

That’s all I got, hit the comments if you have anything else to add and I’ll see you at Classé’s 2nd Anniversary Party!

– Owen

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: New Jersey Bachata Festival

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with New Jersey Bachata Festival, Mike Gil, or Pura Vida Dance Company, other than being a loyal yearly attendee of NJBF. I have not been hired by them to promote NJBF in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

New Jersey Bachata Festival is an excellent mid-size bachata festival held at the Hotel ML and Coco Key Water Resort in the township of Mount Laurel, NJ, on the Philadelphia side of New Jersey. The festival, organized by Mike Gil of Pura Vida Dance Company, and happening from October 11th-October 14th of this year, features 4 days of workshops by world class national and international instructors and 4 nights of social dancing including the Thursday night pre-party and Thursday evening workshops.

With the right logistics, those living the #FrugalCongressLife within a 6 hour driving or bus radius of Mount Laurel can do this excellent congress covering all the entire Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses for as little as around $220 — that’s with an early bird pass, 4 person rideshare from anywhere in a 3-4 hour radius, 4 person roomshare, and ~$50 worth of total personal food expenses. This makes NJBF one of the frugalest congresses on the east coast giving attendees the maximum bang for their bucks. Don’t confuse “frugal” with cheap or lacking in experience – this congress is one of my top five favorite congresses on the east coast and y’all know I don’t say things like that lightly!

Below are the particulars on how to do this excellent festival with maximum frugality while still having an amazing and unforgettable congress experience, covering all four sides of the Quadforce.

PASS:

Early bird passes for this year’s festival were $70 immediately following last year’s festival. The pass has gone up to $125 by the time of this writing, but if you have a good time at this year’s festival, snag an early bird pass to next year’s festival right away!

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving and/or ridesharing is an excellent way to get to this festival, as there is abundant off-street parking all around the event hotel and pretty much everywhere else in Mount Laurel.

A few particulars about driving in Mount Laurel and NJ in general:

– Some of you will be taking the New Jersey Turnpike to get to Mount Laurel. Expect to pay a lot of money in tolls… the 2.5 hour trip from the DC area to ML for example costs about $25 in tolls each way.

DO NOT MISS YOUR EXIT ON THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE. I can not emphasize this enough. The exits on the turnpike are spaced as much as 25 miles apart and you can spend upwards of an extra 40 minutes turning around and getting back to your exit if you miss it and probably will have to pay more in tolls too. Be extra vigilant as you approach your exit on the Turnpike and be in the right lane well in advance of your exit. You should generally not daydream while driving as a rule, but the New Jersey Turnpike is an especially bad place to do so.

– The Hotel ML is located on NJ-73, a high-speed highway-like state road with each direction separated by a concrete divider. Crossing the street can take some serious vigilance and you can expect to add extra time to any walk finding a protected crosswalk to cross at and waiting for red lights/walk signs, which will be pretty much mandatory as drivers drive very fast on 73. You do not want to jaywalk on this road! Safety first.

– Because of the nature of this road, turning around if you miss a turn or get lost can add upwards of 10 extra minutes to any car trip you take. Follow your GPS directions *EXACTLY* and do not daydream or go into autopilot while driving here. You really shouldn’t be doing that anyway, but you especially want to avoid it here. Also, there are exits to the turnpike located at various points on 73. Avoid these exits at all cost; for the reasons noted above, you are really screwed if you end up on the turnpike unintentionally and can spend upwards of 40 minutes turning around and getting back to Mount Laurel and likely will have to pay a toll as well.

– New Jersey is one of two states where full-service gas stations are the prevailing norm and it is actually against state law for people to pump their own gas. If you go to a gas station, expect to be approached by a full-service attendant and let them pump your gas. Make sure you tip your attendant as well. If you do not like this rule, make sure you get gas in another state and don’t do so in NJ.

BUS:

Greyhound is your de facto option for taking the bus to this congress. It stops right in Mount Laurel and the Hotel ML is about a 7 minute walk from the bus stop. Look for the Mount Laurel, NJ stop when booking on Greyhound.

MegaBus and Bolt Bus are both impractical for this particular congress as the closest stop for both of these bus lines is in Philadelphia, PA, about 30 minutes away from Mount Laurel, and whatever you save taking either of these bus lines will be offset by the costs of transport from the bus station to the Hotel ML.

I personally decided to take Greyhound to NJBF from DC this year instead of driving as I did last year so that I could pre-pay for my travel and lodging.  Upon making this decision, I found that Greyhound, priced at around $15-22 one way from Union Station to Mount Laurel, to be somewhat less expensive than the projected cost (per TollGuru) of $30 one way for gas and tolls to Mount Laurel from the DC area, as well as a much more personally relaxing option.

FLYING/TRAIN:

Those flying will have a slightly rougher time of it. The closest airport to Mount Laurel served by Spirit Airlines is Philadelphia (PHL), which is about a half hour UBER ride or about 2 hours on public transport from the Hotel ML. This is true whether you take Spirit or a non-Spirit airline, sadly. The closest train station is 30th Street/Philadelphia, which is located a similar distance from the Hotel ML.

LODGING:

A big plus for NJBF is the relatively inexpensive cost of lodging. The Hotel ML only costs about $120 per night for a room, and there is a large amount of budget and alternate lodging options close to the event hotel. As always, per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage people to support the event hotel, I will offer no info on offsite options until the Hotel ML fully sells out for that weekend, if that happens. A four-person room-share at the Hotel ML will only run you about $75 total for Friday afternoon-Sunday morning. If the Hotel ML fully sells out before the festival, and there is no official overflow block available, I have a separate post detailing the various offsite options nearby written and ready to go. You’re on your own until then if you seek offsite budget lodging.

FOOD:

One brand new addition to the Mount Laurel landscape that will be an utmost boon to those living the #FrugalCongressLife is the recent addition of a Walmart Supercenter right across the street from the Hotel ML. You will have to cross NJ-73 to get to this Wal-Mart from the hotel; be vigilant and follow all traffic laws for the reasons outlined in the travel section.

For your coffee needs, there is a Starbucks a short walk down 73 on the same side as the hotel and across Fellowship Road, as well as a Lukoil with a convenience store nearby for last minute food staples that also houses a Pita Pocket.

As for your one meal out, Miller’s Ale House is located about a 2 minute walk from the event hotel at 554 Fellowship Road and serves American comfort food staples, as well as some Mexican dishes. There is also a Bob Evans located across NJ-73 next to the Wal-Mart. Popeye’s, Burger King, Uno Pizzeria, 7-Eleven, and Dunkin’ Donuts are all located further down the road. For me, Miller’s is the dining option I’m most looking forward to – although it’s a chain, I personally do not have one in my area, so eating there is a different experience for me. Because it is so close to the hotel, it is a very popular food option with congress attendees, so if you want to make your meal out a social experience, you will likely have no problem finding someone to go with you.

That’s all I got for this survival guide, hit up the comments if you got any other info or can fill in any gaps in my personal knowledge, and I’ll see you at NJBF!

– Owen

#FCL Multi-Congress Hotel Guide: Hyatt Regency Dulles

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DC Zouk Festival other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Sami being a personal friend of mine. As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DC Swing Fling. I have not been hired to promote either festival in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by the Hyatt Regency Dulles or any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

For yet another new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be writing a guide to specific hotels that are home to two or more dance congresses or festivals as of the time of writing.

The first such hotel I will be covering is the Hyatt Regency Dulles, a beautiful and large-scale airport conference hotel located near Dulles International Airport in Herndon, VA, an outer suburb of Washington, DC located about an hour’s drive northwest of the city.  The Hyatt Regency Dulles is home to both this year’s DC Swing Fling (8/9/2018 – 8/12/2018), a swing dance festival coming up in about three weeks, and the 2019 DC Zouk Festival (6/6/2019 – 6/10/2019), the DC area’s flagship Brazilian zouk festival, which also features kizomba, bachata, and, new for 2019, west coast swing.  The DC Zouk Festival, organized by DC-based promoter and DJ Sami Selo Ahmed, is returning to Dulles in 2019 after outgrowing its new downtown DC venue this year.  The Hyatt Regency Dulles will be home to the largest dedicated Brazilian Zouk ballroom in the US and will assuredly be more than enough room for the swing crowd as well.  Both of these events are well-run massive scale congresses featuring daytime workshops and all-night social dancing covering each of their respective dances.

As always, per my personal code of ethics and to encourage people to support this hotel, I will be including no information on offsite lodging options.  Offsite lodging options are plentiful and varied due to the airport location, but you are on your own for the time being if that is what you seek.  Relatively inexpensive room blocks at the Hyatt Regency Dulles are available for both DC Swing Fling 2018 and DC Zouk 2019, and rooms are clean and comfortable, as one would expect rooms at an airport hotel catering primarily to business travelers to be.

As for your pass, the usual advice of buying early or volunteering applies.  It is decidedly too late to buy early for Swing Fling, as the festival is in three weeks, but early bird passes for the 2019 DC Zouk Festival are on sale at the time of this writing in July 2018 for about $100. Buy now, the price will go up later.

As will be the case for most multi-congress hotel guides, the bulk of this guide will be on travel and food options.

TRAVEL:

DRIVING:

Driving or ride-sharing is the preferred option if possible for this hotel as there is abundant free parking around the hotel and the hotel does not have many food options within walking distance.  Be advised that the fastest road to Dulles from DC and points east is a toll road, charging anywhere from $2.50 for a 2-axel vehicle up to $8.75 for a 6+-axel vehicle in tolls to go from the DC area to Dulles, but if you have some extra time to spare and set your GPS to avoid toll roads, you can get around the toll road by using parallel local roads instead.  Prepare to add an extra 30-65 minutes on average to your trip if you go this route.

FLYING:

This goes without saying, but try to fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD) if you can.  The hotel is located a very short distance from Dulles Airport, and the other two airports are too far away from this particular venue to be practical.

IAD is also at the time of this writing the only airport to not be served directly by a DC Metro station.

Any money you may save by taking Spirit or any other airline to BWI or DCA will be offset at least somewhat by the cost of transporting yourself there, particularly from BWI.

Once you land at IAD, the Hyatt Regency has a free shuttle that will transport you the 4.5 miles from the airport to the hotel.

FROM DCA:

From DCA, take the DC Metro blue line (make sure you are on a blue line train as the yellow line will add extra time and transfers) toward Largo Town Center to Rosslyn, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

FROM BWI:

If you must come from BWI, try to get there during the day so you can take the MARC train to Union Station.  Once at Union Station, take the Metro red line toward Shady Grove to Metro Center, then transfer to the Silver line toward Wiehle-Reston East and take an UBER to the Hyatt Regency Dulles from there.

BUS/TRAIN:

Take any bus or train line to Union Station in DC and follow the above Metro directions for BWI from there.

See my DCBX Survival Guide for detailed info on both MARC and the DC Metro.

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

There will undoubtedly be multiple private rideshares going from the DC area to the Hyatt Regency for both Swing Fling and DC Zouk – I will post info on groups that can connect you with these rideshares as I get it.

FOOD:

There are some food options close by this hotel, but many of them are decidedly driving distance from the hotel, with the exception of the hotel restaurant and the Reston Town Center options, which can be reached via the Hyatt’s airport shuttle.

For your frugal grocery shopping, Walmart Supercenter is located about 12-16 minutes up route 28, at 45415 Dulles Crossing Plaza.  A Giant (1228 Elden Street, Herndon, VA), Harris Teeter (12960 Highland Crossing Dr, Herndon), and Safeway (413 Elden St, Herndon) are all located within a 15 minute drive of the hotel.

Whole Foods is located about 20 minutes east (no tolls but the toll road is faster) at 11660 Plaza America Dr, Reston, VA.

Aside from the hotel restaurant, an upscale bar eatery called Elements On Level One, a Spices & Beyond located right next to the hotel (which also doubles as a convenience store for last-minute staples), and Padella, the nearby Westin Dulles’ hotel restaurant, most of your immediate food options for your daily meal out are located in the airport, and include a Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Smashburger, District Chophouse, Wendy’s, Au Bon Pain, Bar Symon, Pei Wei (Chinese), Chef Geoff’s, and two different Subways.  Elements On Level One is a bit pricey but good, and will be a popular option given that it is the only one you don’t have to drive to.

A 15 minute or so drive into the nearby town of Reston, VA (whose town center can also be reached via the Hyatt’s free airport shuttle) yields several other options, including Pollo Peru, a casual Peruvian-style chicken place (1675 Reston Parkway), Hibiscus Thai Cuisine, a Thai eatery (11790 Baron Cameron Avenue), and a Silver Diner (11951 Killingsworth Avenue).  Also to be found in Reston is Midtown Kabob (11990 Explorer Street), Jackson’s Mighty Fine Food and Lucky Lounge (11927 Democracy Drive), Big Bowl (11915 Democracy Drive), and sweetgreen (11935 Democracy Drive), among others.

Parking is a little tighter at Reston Town Center, but there are several parking garages located directly nearby that are all free after 5pm on Friday and all weekend.  Info here: https://restontowncenter.com/parking/parking-rates/

That’s all the info I have for this guide, let me know in the comments if you have anything else to add and happy dancing!

– Owen

#FrugalCongressFood Profile: Quest Bars – The Realest Protein Bars Out There

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I am not affiliated directly with Quest Nutrition, I am merely a loyal user of their products.  Everything you read is my objective advice.  There may be affiliate marketing links in a later update to this post, I will say so if this is the case.  Even so, I only talk about and link to products I personally use and believe in on this blog. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary or exercise regimen or changing your current dietary or exercise regimen.]

For this new series on #FrugalCongressLife, I will be profiling a specific food that I bring to congresses as a staple food item for daily eating on a budget outside of my one restaurant meal.

Since I promised y’all a Quest bar profile in this post, my first #FrugalCongressFood profile will be on Quest bars.

When we think of food we buy beforehand to be frugal and bring to a dance congress where time to eat may be limited if you are trying to do a lot, portability and non-perishability are two very important qualities we look for.  We want food that won’t spoil and that we can eat on the go.  Nutrition bars and protein bars fit this bill perfectly, but the problem with this is, from an actual nutritional standpoint, most nutrition bars and protein bars are terrible.  The vast majority of protein bars on the market are basically candy bars with a little bit of low-grade soy protein sprinkled on to up the protein content.  So are there any good nutritionally sound protein or nutrition bars?

Now, I lift weights, as most of you should for a multitude of reasons, but that’s a different post probably for a different blog.  But since I lift weights, I aim for a daily protein intake of at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean mass (muscle and tissue minus body fat) in order to grow and maintain lean mass.  I have a lean mass of about 175 pounds, so I go for about 175 grams of protein daily.

Obviously, it’s hard to get all of this protein from what we traditionally think of as “real” food without eating every second of every day, so I have been eating protein powders and bars in addition to my regular meals to hit my necessary daily protein numbers for years now.  Obviously, protein powder is not the most portable food ever and takes some preparation to make into a drinkable protein shake, and sometimes a more portable and on-the-go protein solution is called for.  Enter Quest Nutrition‘s flagship product, Quest bars.  I was eating Quest bars long before dance and dance congresses came into the picture, but they make perfect sense as portable and non-perishable dance congress food too.

Quest bars are available in various flavors including but not limited to chocolate chip cookie dough, s’mores, mint chocolate, double chocolate brownie, white chocolate raspberry, apple pie, and, more recently, birthday cake.

What sets Quest bars apart from the legions of other protein bars is their ingredients.  I often say Quest bars are the realest protein bars out there, and the ingredients are why.  The protein used in Quest bars is high quality whey protein isolate.  Whey protein isolate is a processed form of whey protein, a fast-digesting protein favored by weightlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes for its fast delivery of protein to the muscles and originating from whey, a liquid material created from milk as a byproduct of cheese production.  Whey protein isolate is processed to remove the fat and cholesterol and is 90% protein by weight.

Quest bars also contain soluble corn fiber, which is a form of prebiotic fiber that helps digestion, as well as giving the bars their trademark pleasing chewy texture.  They are also low in sugar and are sweetened with sucralose, and stevia, two of the best types of artificial sweeteners.  Various natural ingredients and flavors (such as unsweetened chocolate and sea salt) form the basis of each bar’s individual flavor.  The fiber and the sugar alcohols work in tandem to give Quest bars an average of only 4-6 grams of net carbohydrates per bar, making them an ideal portable food choice for those on low-carb diets as well.

To sum it up, unlike the “candy bars with protein” out there, Quest bars are essentially huge chunks of whey protein and fiber that are made pleasing to the palate by natural sweeteners and ingredients.

Quest bars are available at 7-Eleven and CVS, but are very expensive there at close to $3 per bar.  The best place to get Quest bars offline is Wal-Mart, where they sell for $1.77 per bar or $7 for a box of six bars.  Online, they sell on Amazon for $22.37 for a 12 count box or on Bodybuilding.com for $24.99 per 12 count box.  Yes this is still a lot and foods you have to prepare are much less expensive, but this is portable on-the-go food we’re looking at here and that always comes at some sort of premium cost-wise.

Now, obviously, you don’t want to eat nothing but Quest bars.  Protein and fiber are the only daily nutrients they cover, and a balanced diet that does not make.  You still need to eat some fat and at least a small amount of carbs, and you’ll need to get fruits and vegetables in your diet too.  However, as a filling and nutritionally sound portable food item to eat on the go in between workshops and provide some of your daily protein and fiber on the fly, you would do very well indeed to pack a handful of these bars into your dance bag.

– Owen

#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: DCBX

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with DCBX other than being a loyal yearly attendee and Lee and Kat being personal friends of mine. I have not been hired by them to promote DCBX in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

So, with DCBX coming up in a little over a month and hotel rooms selling fast, now is a good time for me to release my comprehensive in-depth #FrugalCongressLife DCBX survival guide, the first survival guide for a specific dance congress on this blog.

DCBX, or the DC Bachata Congress, is, if not the single largest dance congress in the United States, one of the largest dance congresses in the United States, with attendance upwards of 10,000 people. The event, held at the beautiful and upscale Renaissance Washington DC Downtown Hotel located at 999 9th Street NW in Washington, DC during the weekend of August 24th-27th of this year, is a massive-scale dance congress featuring international artists for a variety of Latin and African dance genres (including zouk, kizomba, and salsa – DCBX is not just a bachata congress!) teaching a variety of workshops, the biggest bachata ballroom in the US playing a mix of sensual, urban, and a small amount of traditional bachata, along with separate ballrooms for traditional bachata, salsa, kizomba, and zouk, several concerts, social dancing from midnight to 8AM each night, and even such unheard-of-elsewhere additions as a food festival and a film festival.

DCBX, the brainchild of husband-and-wife DC Latin event promotion juggernauts Lee “El Gringuito” Smith and Katherine “Kat La Gata” Aguilar-Smith, and further supported by an outstanding team handling everything from social media to artist relations, is a massive festival and the top choice of many dancers who can only go to one or two festivals a year. The festival is currently in its 10th year and this year promises to be the biggest and best DCBX yet. More general info on DCBX can be found at http://www.dcbachata.com, and more info on the DCBX company and other DCBX events can be found at http://www.dcbx.org.

The festival is located in the very heart of downtown DC, and DC, being a coastal metropolitan city, is very expensive by every possible metric. It’s not as expensive as NYC, but all the same, those of you coming from anywhere other than a metropolitan city should be prepared for everything costing much more than you are used to as a matter of course.

Fear not, for the #FrugalCongressLife blog is here to help you attend this congress, have an outstanding time, and leave with your wallet intact.

A NOTE ABOUT DC STREETS:

DC often has two or more streets with the same name, each located in the northeast (NE), northwest (NW), southeast (SE), or southwest (SW) quadrants of the city, and distinguishes between the streets by putting NE, NW, SE, or SW at the end of the name to identify which quadrant of DC it’s in.

Pay special attention to the quadrant initials at the end of street names when planning trips or consulting your GPS for directions — if you accidentally type in L Street NE when you meant to go to L Street NW or 7th Street SE when you meant to go to 7th Street NW etc., you could wind up in an entirely different part of the city from your intended destination.

This is something us DC natives take for granted from living here for so long but can really trip up those unfamiliar with the area.

PASS:

Buy early, that’s your best option. A VIP early bird pass goes for $150 when passes first go on sale about 8 months before the festival.

Otherwise, follow the standard #FCL procedures for getting your pass as cheap as possible legitimately. We are about a month out from DCBX at the time of this guide’s publication, so I can imagine the passes are much more expensive at this point.

TRAVEL:

For those of you flying, your most frugal travel option for this congress is, naturally, Spirit Airlines. The closest airport served by Spirit Airlines to the congress is Baltimore-Washington International airport (BWI) in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, about 40 minutes north of DC.

An UBER/Lyft or cab from the airport to the hotel is VERY expensive, around $50 or possibly even higher than that, so try to avoid this if possible or split the costs with another festival attendee if you must go this route.

If you are able, try to get into BWI during the day when the MARC train is still running. Take the MARC train’s Penn Line from BWI to Union Station in DC. Tickets for the MARC train can be purchased at a kiosk at the BWI train station near the airport for about $8.

Directions to the hotel from Union Station: Once in Union Station, take the DC Metro red line towards Shady Grove two stops to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop and the hotel is a short walk away. Exit the Metro station from the Gallery/9th & G St. NW side; you will see signs around the station pointing out which exit is which. Once out of the station, walk down G Street NW toward 9th Street NW (if you see 7th Street NW you’re going the wrong way, turn around) then make a right on 9th Street NW and the hotel will be on your right two blocks up at 999 9th St NW. It’s hard to miss.

If you’re taking any airline other than Spirit, you will either fly into BWI, DCA (Reagan National Airport), or IAD (Dulles). Try to avoid flying into IAD; IAD is too far away from the congress to be practical, and there is no Metro stop that services IAD directly yet.

Follow the above directions if you are flying into BWI.

If coming from DCA, take the Metro yellow line from the Ronald Reagan National Airport station towards Greenbelt/Fort Totten to the Gallery Place-Chinatown metro stop and follow the above directions from there. The yellow and blue lines share the same track and the blue line’s route is very different and will add extra time and transfers to your trip, so be sure the train you are getting on is a yellow line train. Follow the walking directions from Gallery Place once you get there.

If you must come from IAD, take an UBER, Lyft, or cab to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro stop on the silver line, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Metro Center, then transfer to the red line towards Glenmont, take the red line one stop to Gallery Place, and follow the above directions from Gallery Place.

Since the DC Metro system did away with paper farecards a while back, a SmarTrip card will be essential for paying the fares on the Metro system and parking at Metro lots (see below). A SmarTrip card costs $10 for the initial purchase but can be refilled as many times as you want at designated SmarTrip kiosks, but prepare for this initial expense. Try and keep your SmarTrip card if you plan on visiting DC again in the future.

Information on the MARC trains can be found here: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train

Information on the DC Metro system can be found here: http://www.wmata.com

A map of the DC Metro system can be found here: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/maps/upload/2017-System-Map.pdf

If you are driving from any points out of town or outside of the city, know that parking at the hotel or even near the hotel can get very expensive, and street parking is tight – not as bad as other parts of the city, but I wouldn’t count on it being there and you will probably have to move your car at least once if you park on the street anyway – not very convenient.

If you are driving from out of town I personally recommend parking your car at a suburban Metro lot and taking Metro to the hotel.

Overnight parking is available at four area Metro stations: Greenbelt (green line), Wiehle-Reston East (silver line), Huntington (yellow line), and Franconia-Springfield (blue line).  Each of these stations have 15-17 parking spaces allotted for overnight parking for up to 10 days available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Parking is $4.75 per day on weekdays and free on weekends and is charged to your SmarTrip card on exit.

You can take the green line toward Branch Avenue from Greenbelt or the yellow line toward Fort Totten from Huntington directly to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop.

From Wiehle-Reston East, take the silver line toward Largo Town Center to Metro Center,  transfer to the red line toward Glenmont and take the red line one stop to Gallery Place-Chinatown.

From Franconia-Springfield, take the blue Line toward Largo Town Center to the Pentagon station and transfer to the yellow Line toward Fort Totten/Mount Vernon Square to Gallery Place.  Do not miss your transfer at Pentagon, otherwise your trip will take much longer and you will have to transfer at Metro Center to the red line per the above directions.

Expect your Metro ride to be about 20-30 minutes.  Once at Gallery Place-Chinatown, follow the above walking directions to the hotel from there.

Of course, if you don’t want to go through all that, the baller option is valet parking at the hotel at a cost of $40 per day.  My guess is you’re reading the #FrugalCongressLife blog because you don’t want to do that.

For anyone wanting to take the train or bus, look for any Amtrak, Greyhound, MegaBus, or Bolt Bus route that goes to Union Station in DC and follow the above directions from Union Station.

LODGING:

Your best frugal bet is, of course, a room share at the event hotel. DCBX currently has an active room block at the event hotel featuring rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people for as low as $155 per night, or about $45 per person per night for a four person room-share when taxes and fees are included. A link to book your hotel room online can currently be found here or at DCBachata.com under the hotel section if that link doesn’t work. The room block is very close to selling out at the time of this writing, so jump on it now! Rooms at the event hotel are clean, comfortable, luxurious, and aesthetically pleasing, and are well liked by the festival’s regular attendees.

For those who still wish to go offsite, there are some offsite hotels and hostels within a comfortable commuting distance from the main event. I can not personally speak on these options as I have never used them; I have either commuted from home or stayed at the main hotel for as long as I have been going to DCBX.

Most of the offsite options, with the notable exception of the hostels, will only save you a very marginal amount of money over the event hotel while providing the logistical headaches inherent in offsite congress lodging.

Per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage attendees to support the event hotel, I will be posting no information on offsite lodging options until the event hotel fully sells out, if that happens. If the event hotel fully sells out and no DCBX room block is available at an overflow hotel, I will write a separate entry detailing offsite options then.

FOOD:

For the frugally-minded traveler wanting to get groceries near the congress, you have many options. The closest is Walgreens, located at 7th & H Street NW near the Gallery Place Metro stop, but this is not the most frugal option.

There is also a Safeway (east coast chain grocery store similar to Vons on the west coast) located at 490 L Street NW, a 5 minute UBER/Lyft ride or 9 minute walk each way from the hotel.

If you want to grocery shop as frugally as possible, the Walmart Supercenter at 99 H Street NW is your best bet. It is a 9-10 minute UBER/Lyft ride or 15 minute walk each way from the hotel. Expect the DC Walmart stores to be slightly more expensive than suburban and small-town Walmarts, because they have higher operating costs due to their location. However, Walmart will still be your most frugal option in the immediate area of the congress for staples.

For those wanting to go to Whole Foods for specialty items (such as my beloved Bulletproof ingredients), the Logan Circle Whole Foods at 1440 P Street NW is a 9 minute UBER/Lyft Ride or 20 minute walk each way from the hotel.

There is also a Smoothie King located near the Gallery Place metro station at 703 7th St. NW. A good #FCL strategy for those who don’t want to grocery shop at the congress but still want to save some money on food is to walk to Smoothie King in the morning (about a 5 minute walk) and get a 40 oz Strawberry Hulk smoothie for $9.99. The Strawberry Hulk, as I discussed in my NYC survival guide, is a 1000+ calorie meal replacement smoothie which provides a large portion of most people’s daily calorie and macronutrient requirements and should last you until dinner. I would allow some time to digest before being active in any way if you go this route. [Disclosure: Per the DCBX site, Smoothie King is a DCBX sponsor this year, but this has no bearing on my recommendation, I honestly think the Hulk smoothies are a quick easy way to knock out a good chunk of the day’s calories and macros in one fell swoop for a relatively low cost.]

For your coffee needs, the Starbucks located directly in the event hotel’s lobby is your best bet.

As far as options for your one restaurant meal, there are hundreds of restaurants directly around the hotel, most of them chains, and writing about all of them would be at least one whole separate article. The restaurant I’m looking forward to having at least one of my daily meals out at is New Big Wong, an underground Chinese restaurant located at 610 H Street NW, a short walk from the hotel. They have some of the best General Tso’s Chicken in the city in my opinion.

I’ve also heard good things about Oyamel Cocina on 401 7th Street NW, which I have never been to but which was featured on a TV show I worked on several years ago. They serve grasshopper tacos (no kidding) for those of you with adventurous palates. For those of you with less adventurous palates looking to eat out frugally, good old McD’s can be found at 601 F Street NW near the Metro, with Chipotle located right next door.

Other than these recommendations, Google Maps is really your best friend for navigating the staggeringly abundant food options directly around this festival.

That’s all the info I have… sound off in the comments if you got anything else to add and I’ll see you at DCBX!

– Owen

The #FCL New York City Survival Guide

[Disclosure: At the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with any of the businesses whose services I mention in this post. Everything you read is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

Ok, with two amazing sensual bachata weekenders coming up in NYC soon and another one happening next month I think now is as good a time as any to write a survival guide for NYC in general that can be applied to most weekenders, congresses, or events in the city.

To an even greater degree than even any of the east coast’s other metropolitan cities including my home city of Washington DC, NYC is an E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E city all around, and most dance events take place in Manhattan, the most expensive part of NYC.  Even I get shocked by NYC’s prices sometimes and I am hardened to an expensive cost of living by DC already.  It all adds up and being in NYC for any period of time longer than a few hours can cost more money than you would think. However, fear not, because your #FrugalCongressLife practitioner is here once again to help you and your wallet weather the costs of being in NYC and maximize your experience.

Brief NYC geography lesson:

Native New Yorkers and anyone who has been to New York in their life are going to roll their eyes at this basic geography lesson but I’m including it for the benefit of people who are getting ready to go to NYC for the first time ever for a dance event or any other reason, some of whom may be reading this blog.

New York city is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.  Usually when people say they’re going to NYC for the first time at least, they mean that they’re going to Manhattan specifically.  Manhattan is the smallest but most densely populated borough and the location of many of NYC’s major tourist attractions, such as Times Square and Broadway.  The various neighborhoods of the other four boroughs have also made seismic contributions to American culture – most fans of hip hop are aware that hip hop had its beginnings at block parties in the Bronx, just to name one example — but most people visiting NYC from other parts of the country, particularly for the first time, will be spending most if not all of their time in Manhattan, unless they are visiting friends or seeing a specific landmark in the other boroughs (such as Coney Island in Brooklyn).

Manhattan is further divided into uptown Manhattan, midtown Manhattan, and downtown Manhattan.  Each of these areas has distinct neighborhoods with their own flavor and feel.  Uptown and downtown, as the beginner’s guide to the subway linked further down in this article points out, are also directional designations, with uptown being north and downtown being south.

The vast majority of NYC’s dance events that I have heard about so far take place in Manhattan, so this survival guide will largely be focused on Manhattan.  Should a dance event in one of the other four boroughs cross my radar, I will write a specific survival guide for that event that covers the particulars of both that event and the surrounding area.

With the basic geography out of the way, on to the meat of this article, weathering the three parts of the Quadforce Of Dance Congress Expenses not specific to any one event.

TRAVEL:

Do.  Not.  Even.  Bother.  Driving.  To.  Or.  In.  NYC.  Unless you absolutely have to, of course (because you’re transporting equipment or some other reason).  I am in my 30s and have been driving for over 15 years and have never driven in NYC in my life despite having been there countless times… I have simply never needed to.  Of course, I have ridden in cars of all types in NYC (including a limo and an old-school Cadillac), and my native New Yorker father, who spent the first part of his adult life driving in NYC, described it in much detail.  Driving in NYC is an exercise in nerves and patience to the highest degree.  NYC’s gridlock is infamous, and walking is frequently faster than driving in NYC depending on where you are going.  NYC’s drivers (both professional and otherwise) are fearless — they will fill any gap in traffic any way possible regardless of viability or safety — and many drivers in NYC are also very impatient and aggressive — the symphonies of extended seconds-long blaring car horns echoing up and down NYC’s streets will be something your ears just get used to the longer you’re in NYC.  Parking on the street in NYC is a virtual impossibility and parking garages are ghastly expensive beyond your wildest imagination.  Do your wallet and your nerves a favor and don’t drive in NYC unless you really REALLY have to.

[Fun bit of trivia for those who don’t know already: the famous “I’m walkin’ here!” moment in the movie Midnight Cowboy was completely unscripted… they were filming on-location on NYC streets open to the public and the iconic line was Dustin Hoffman’s actual on-the-spot (in-character) reaction to actually almost being hit by an actual NYC taxicab on camera.]

Luckily for those not driving, New York City is the single most walkable city in America and has the best public transportation system in America, so the need to drive to or in NYC is virtually non-existent unless you do it for a living or are transporting a lot of heavy equipment.  The famous New York City Subway (MTA) runs 24 hours a day and goes virtually anywhere in the city and much of the surrounding areas and can take you anywhere you need to go for a very low price.

Info on New York’s Subway here: http://web.mta.info/nyct/subway/

If for whatever reason you can’t walk or take the subway somewhere in NYC one of NYC’s equally iconic taxicabs or an UBER will get you there.

Sitting down and figuring the subway out before you get to NYC is worth it though, as the cost of cabs or UBER will add up quickly and the subway is a much better frugal option. The biggest thing to remember about the subway is to take an uptown route if going north and a downtown route if going south. A complete beginner guide to the NYC Subway can be found here.

If an app is more your speed, there are several apps available for both iPhone and Android for navigating NYC transit. Also, Citymapper is a very promising new app that I have just discovered that helps with navigating transit in a variety of cities including DC and NYC. I will be profiling Citymapper in a future post after I have used it more.

The thing that is most mind boggling about NYC is that frequently, walking to your destination will take only a few minutes more than the subway and, as I have pointed out, even less time than driving at times.

Your best frugal option for traveling to NYC is the bus.  Greyhound will go straight to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan and you can take the subway anywhere in the city from there, and Greyhound picks up from the Port Authority too.  The two budget bus lines, Megabus and Bolt Bus, also go to NYC, but they go to and pick up from various outdoor street corners in Manhattan (specified on your ticket), so be prepared for this if you go that route… dress for the weather, have your phone charged and/or have a backup battery, etc.  I have had to wait for Megabus on a freezing outdoor street corner at 5am in the dead of winter after an NYC dance social with my phone on 10% before… thank heaven I was dressed warmly for that and my phone stayed charged long enough for me to show my ticket and get on the bus.

Depending on the time of your outbound trip, you can get a Bolt Bus to NYC from points within 4-5 hours of NYC on the east coast for as little as $15 one way… that price point will largely be available in the mid-afternoon if you can leave then.  Keep in mind also that if you are going the route of returning home from NYC right after the social lets out (see below), that BoltBus’ earliest bus leaves NYC at 7:00am, whereas MegaBus has buses out of NYC at 5 and 6am.  Taking Bolt Bus there in the mid afternoon (around $15 one way) and taking Mega Bus back in the early morning (around $22 one way) is your best frugal option in that case.

If you do not have a train or bus station near you, driving to your nearest train or bus station and parking there is worth it.

Pack for the bus as if you were packing for Spirit Airlines.  Spirit bag (or an even smaller backpack), compression cubes, all that.  Room for your bag, indeed, room in general, will be very scarce.  The budget buses in particular are short on legroom, especially if you are riding a packed bus and need to have a seat mate, which is bothersome to me as a big dude, but something I can put up with for a few hours.  Compression travel socks are good for preserving your circulation in these situations, as I have said before.

The Amtrak Northeast Regional train is also a good option for those on the east coast who want to ball out a little bit, and it goes straight to New York Penn Station on 34th Street in Manhattan, which also has a subway station of its own.  Sometimes I will go this route when times are good, money is less of an object, and I want a bit more comfort.  You get a lot more legroom, there’s a dining car and the views are almost always gorgeous.  As the old commercials used to say, there truly is something about a train that’s magic.  This will also of course be the default option for those who need to bring a bit more than a Spirit bag’s worth of luggage for whatever reason.  Train tickets average around $100 one way from points within a 4-5 hour radius of NYC.

I have never had to fly to NYC since I am within bus and train distance, but I’ve looked into it for you my readers. Good old Spirit Airlines goes right to LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in Queens, and you take the Q48 bus to the 7 train which takes you right into Manhattan.  That’s about a 45-50 minute trip. The non-Spirit airlines go to either JFK Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International (EWR) or LGA.  There’s an air train from JFK which goes to the E train which you can take into Manhattan from there, about an hour trip for $7.75.  If flying into EWR, you’ll have to take the Northeast Regional to 34th Street/Penn Station, which is extra $$$, so try to avoid flying into EWR if you can help it.

LODGING:

Honestly, my personal #1 frugal strategy for lodging in NYC is to not do it.  If I am only going up for one night for a Friday or Saturday night dance social or one night of a weekender or congress (which is frequently the move for me for NYC due to me being a four-hour bus ride away and NYC being expensive af to be in for an extended period of time), I’ll schedule my return bus trip an hour or two after the social ends, find something to do in the two hours or so before my bus leaves (there’s always something to do in the City That Never Sleeps at any time of the day or night), then catch a nap on the bus and crash out hard when I get home.

However, many of you will want to stay in NYC for more than one night, and if you are attending multiple days of a festival at the full pass level or live further than 4-5 hours away, you pretty much have to.  I really don’t know how frugal you can get here… hotels in NYC are as expensive as you would imagine.  Expect to pay around $175-250 a night for an average hotel room in the city, as much as $400-600 a night if you want to get really fancy and stay in a luxury hotel, and even as high as $845 a night (!!!!) if you want to recreate Home Alone 2 in real life and stay at The Plaza.  If you’re reading a blog called #FrugalCongressLife, I’m assuming that this is definitely not the route you want to go.

Only real way you can mitigate these hotel prices is room share, room share, room share.  Four people in a room.  Even with these conditions, expect to pay around $50-70 per night for four people in an average hotel room.  Not much you can do about that.

If the event you’re going to NYC for is at a hotel, I will publicly encourage you to support the event hotel as I always do, and if the organizer has somehow reserved a room block it will be the best hotel deal in NYC period, but many NYC dance events, such as the two sensual bachata weekenders this month, are held at dance studios and other non-hotel locations, so I do feel comfortable discussing all lodging options in this post. Going offsite makes little if any difference in Manhattan unless you want to go much further out from your event location.

The closest thing to budget motels you will find around Manhattan are out in Queens or Long Island City, which will put you around half an hour on the subway one way from a dance event in Manhattan on average, considerably outside the #FCL optimal commute time window of 15 minutes one way, but if you are willing to deal with this, it is an option.  Budget motels in Queens average around $130-160 per night. As always, check online reviews thoroughly if you go this route.

AirBNB is scarcely an option in NYC as AirBNBs are subject to some very strict laws specific to New York regarding short term rentals, and it is against New York state laws outright for tenants to operate AirBNBs out of rented apartments.  If you go the AirBNB route, make sure your host owns their listing and is on the up and up.  I can not advocate any illegal activity on this blog.

Hostels can be a good budget option if you can withstand often loud, cramped, and sometimes less-than-perfectly-clean hostel conditions.  Some hostels are located right in Manhattan and can be had for as low as $30-70 per night, an almost unheard of price in NYC. The Broke Backpacker wrote a very comprehensive guide to NYC’s hostels here.

FOOD:

All I can really say is buy as much food outside of NYC for your staples as you can beforehand.  Any grocery store in NYC is going to be more expensive than you are used to anywhere else.  Bring as many nonperishables purchased elsewhere as you can fit into your bag comfortably.  Protein bars and tuna packets are very good options here as they don’t take up much space in a bag.  If you have a Smoothie King or Jamba Juice near your airport, train station, or bus station (we have the latter at Union Station in DC), buying a large meal replacement smoothie right before your train or bus leaves to work on on the ride up is a good frugal eating strategy for that particular day (the Hulk smoothie from Smoothie King in particular is a large super-high-calorie meal replacement smoothie that will knock out a good chunk of most people’s daily calorie and macronutrient requirements in one fell swoop for about $10).

As for your one meal out… food options in NYC are at least two separate articles by themselves.  NYC’s food options are famously comprehensive… no matter what you like, you WILL be able to find something you like in the Big Apple.  Diners are a good choice late at night (most diners in Manhattan are open 24/7) or if you are trying to be somewhat frugal with your night out.

If you go to NYC and eat at a chain restaurant of any kind… well, I’ll reserve judgement, at least publicly anyway.  Do you, I guess, but in my opinion there is such a staggering level of good unique local options in NYC that you really shouldn’t even give chain restaurants a second look until well after you leave NYC.

Anyone else got any good strategies for going to dance in NYC and leaving with your wallet’s screams for mercy as minimal as possible?  Can you fill in any informational gaps left behind by my own personal experience and research?  You know what to do already, sound off in the comments.  For anyone going to the New York Loves Bachata Weekender at the end of July, I’ll see you Saturday night!

– Owen