I went to Ottawa, back in April, to take part in the BConnected Conference. BConnected bills itself as a conference for “digital influencers”. It was two days of listening to speakers talk about things like authenticity and copyright issues, of hearing why video is the wave of the future, and learning clever email marketing and SEO tips.
I took notes. I munched on tasty snacks and wonderful meals. I mingled and chatted with other bloggers. It was fun. I learned things. I was glad I went. But the best, brightest, moments took place in the cracks between and around the conference. The best parts were the moments spent connecting with my fellow bloggers, or the moments spent exploring Ottawa, the time I spent sitting on the floor in a hotel room chowing down pizza while discussing Facebook algorithms and Google analytics, or getting up early to go on a spring morning photo walk in the Byward Market.
One of the best things I did during this conference was choose to stay on site at the hotel where the conference was being held. I learned this one the hard way. The first blogging conference I went to I thought I would save money by sleeping at a nearby friend’s house. Bad idea. It’s just not the same as being on site. Waking up knowing you don’t have to worry about traffic because you are already in the building where the event is being held, having breakfast with your fellow conference goers, and then making plans to meet up for dinner later, is all part of the enjoyment of being at a conference. Being able to quickly run up to your room during breaks to grab that notebook you forgot, or the cardigan you didn’t think you were going to need, is priceless.
The other thing I did, which helped this conference experience be so marvelous, was get a roommate. Sure, there are advantages to bunking solo, like not having to schedule out showers and teeth brushing times and never having to worry about someone else having to listen to you snore, but the benefits of having a blogging buddy along for the ride far outweigh the inconvenience of having to pack decent PJs. Spending one on one time with a blogging friend that you normally only get to chat with on Facebook is pretty darn fantastic. With a roommate you always have someone you can try to convince to tag along with you on dynamic duo adventures, from tame things like say trying out that restaurant across the way, to the slightly more daring such as getting up at 6am to walk around downtown and take photos of all the pretty buildings in the pretty morning sunlight.
Plus there’s that whole money saving thing. Splitting a room with a blogging pal is way better than footing the whole bill yourself. And while I firmly believe there is no point in shopping around and looking at other hotels, because staying on site is the one and only way to go, you can still shop around for a deal on said hotel.
For this trip I planned ahead. With my conference ticket in hand I booked my hotel room pretty much right away. I made my reservation over the phone, told them I would be attending the conference and got my discounted attendee rate. Then over the next few months I searched for deals, eventually found a better price than the conference rate and cancelled my reservation. (Remember, you can usually cancel your reservations without penalty, up until the day of your arrival.)
The best part of using Expedia to get a deal on our room, and splitting said room with a friend, is that it allowed me to stretch my conference budget out and stay in Ottawa for an extra day to do some sightseeing. Ottawa is a little over eight hours away from my home city of Windsor. If I am going to travel that far, and spend the majority of a day getting there and then getting back, I might as well stay an extra day and enjoy the place!
I managed to talk my roommate, Aeryn from Geek With Style, into staying on an extra day as well, and we planned out a walking tour of the downtown Ottawa and Parliament Hill area. It was fantastic getting to play tourist for the day, and we managed to fit plenty into our relatively short stay.
It also helped that the conference hotel was in such a great location. We were at the Marriott Courtyard Ottawa, which is located right in the Byward Market area, with dozens of restaurants and shops, lots of neat old architecture and cool public art, all literally right outside our doorstep. Ottawa in general is a very walkable city, and this area just begged for time to walk and explore.
The conference itself was great, well worth the money spent, worth the fuss of arranging day care, and of travelling far from home. However, topping the conference off with extra time to experience our nation’s capital notched it up from a great experience to an absolutely fantastic experience. I came back home with a head full of useful blogging ideas, a camera full of awesome photos of all the lovely Ottawa landmarks, a bounce in my step, and a feeling like my batteries were recharged a bit.
I’ll definitely be browsing through the deals on Expedia and scheming to find ways to save a bit and add extra time onto any conference trips I take in the future.
So, for my fellow bloggers out there, have any of you ever tacked extra “vacation” time onto a blog conference trip? How do you stretch your travel budget, and what do you splurge on?
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Expedia. As always my words and opinions are my own.