How to attend a conference on a shoestring budget
— Louise – Study Legal English (@legalenglisher) May 16, 2019
If you’re an independent Legal English teacher or some other type of Legal English self-employed professional like me, you won’t have a nice university or institution which can magically pay all of your conference trip expenses, and instead you’ll have to self-fund.
Expensive conference fees, accommodation, travel. It all adds up. So, how can you attend a conference on a limited budget?
I recently attended the Law and Language Workshop at the University of Fribourg, stayed for four days and managed to spend appox. £80. On Everything.
Here I’ll give you my tips on how to do a conference trip on a shoestring budget.
Spent: Approx. £20.00
Inspired by my ex-boss-eco-lawyer, Polly Higgins, who sadly recently passed away, I decided to try to cut my carbon footprint and travel to this workshop in a more eco-friendly way. With flying now disregarded (0.20 tonnes of CO2e) my options were either:
- Train (0.05 tonnes of CO2e)
- Bus (0.03 tonnes of CO2e)
With each journey, door-to-door Lecco to Fribourg, amounting to approx. 6 hours, I opted for the most eco-efficient means, as calculated by carbonfootprint.com – a lift to Como and then FlixBus Como –> Fribourg.
Cheap: The return ticket from Como –> Fribourg cost just £17.98.
Stunning scenery: I found it more enjoyable than flying, getting to see the stunning Swiss scenery and passing through a few of the major cities enroute. Something you totally miss out on when flying. I can now technically say I’ve been to Lugano, Luzern, Bern and Fribourg!
Ease of working: Luckily the coach had Wi-Fi and laptop plugs, and luckily I had my laptop and therefore no excuse to avoid completing some outstanding work – a video about the previous EULETA conference (in case you’re interested!).
Carbon Footprint: In short, much more eco-friendly than flying.
Long: So…. on the way there…. a journey of normally 5 hours took a whopping 7 due to two traffic accidents. Great! More time to enjoy the stunning Swiss landscapes!
Travel sickness: Thankfully I generally don’t suffer from travel sickness, but if you are prone to feel a bit queasy in the car, then this option is not for you.
Other transport options
Train: If bus travel isn’t an option and you’d rather go via train, a useful site is:
Flying: If you decide to fly, it is possible to snap-up a cheap deal with a low cost airline or find a good deal with sites and apps such as:
Cycling: I am sort of tempted to try to cycle to a conference. Anyone with any experience of this? If that sounds like too much effort, then at least try walking or cycling (free and healthy) when you’re in the conference location instead of taking expensive taxis. In London and Milan I’ve used the following bike schemes:
Carpooling: It can be worth asking the conference organisers to send around an email asking if anyone is driving to the conference or alternatively to get in touch directly with other attendees to see if you can get a lift. I was lucky enough to get a lift to and from Warsaw with the brilliant Legal English teacher Aleksandra Luczak when I attending the 2018 Share and Gain Workshop in Suprasl – it made the journey more fun and I got to meet some other workshop attendees who were also joining us.
Another point is that if you need to get a taxi to the airport on the way home, find people at the conference who you can share a taxi with. I managed to join a group of EULETANS to share a 5:00am taxi to the airport after EULETA’s 2018 Legal English conference in Split, Croatia. And although we were all too bleary-eyed to make too much conversation, at least the shared lift meant that we were all sure to make it to the airport… although being stranded in Split would not have too bad.
Spent: £0 (+ Approx. £10 – it’s polite to take a gift for your host)
In an attempt to have a fulfilling and authentic travel experience I opted to Couchsurf in Fribourg. This is essentially where you are hosted in someone’s house for free and take part in a sort of cultural exchange. If you want to know more about what Couchsurfing is, why I did it, and my experience, read my post about my experience Couchsurfing.
Cheap: Couchsurfing is free but this shouldn’t be your driver for doing it.
Enriching experience: With Couchsurfing you get an experience which is, simply put, incomparable to staying in a hotel. I had an absolutely great time with my wonderful host Heloise including cooking fondue, touring the old city and attending a local fancy dress party.
Meet fascinating people: Couchsurfing puts you in touch with interesting strangers who may become life-long friends. In the words of William Butler Yeats “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”
Unexpected: What you get with Couchsurfing can be unexpected. If you prefer to be on your own, or prefer routine, it’s not for you. If on the other hand, you like cultural exchanges and spontaneity, give it a try. Just make sure you read people’s profiles carefully to have a better idea about your host.
Other accommodation options
House sitting: Another option for free accommodation is to do house sitting. I’ve done house sitting in many cities around the world including Barcelona, Munich, Bucharest, Milan, London all through this site:
The idea behind house sitting is that you look after someone’s home (and maybe their dog or cat) whilst they go on holiday. If you manage to time it right, you could house sit during a conference period (provided it’s ok with the owners to leave any pets whilst you go out to attend the conference).
There are plenty of other house sitting sites and a good place to check out opportunities is:
Airbnb: Of course, you can always checkout Airbnb* and you might be able to find a bargain. For example, when I attended the Legal English ‘Share and Gain Workshop‘ in Suprasl, I spent a few days in Warsaw afterwards, and managed to get a bargain deal staying for 2 nights in a private room for just £29.
Spent: Approx. £40
For the workshop in Fribourg, I made pack lunches to travel with and bought groceries from a supermarket to cook with. I ate oaty porridge for breakfast with thick Greek yogurt because it’s one of the most filling breakfasts, and also made sure I had some nuts and fruit to snack on, to avoid getting ‘hangry’ and then panic-buying on impulse to cure the hunger pangs.
I didn’t eat out and my luxuries were having a sneaky coffee at a cool café called Le Port.
Also, make the most of snacks at conferences. Obviously don’t glue yourself to the snack table, but the stuff is there to get eaten.
Spent: Approx. £10
In recent years, the world has begun waking up to the fact that we are drowning in plastic waste. Carrying a reusable bottle of water with you when travelling and filling it up is not only good for your wallet, it is also good for the planet. I always do this and it means that I reduce my drinks’ costs significantly. I spent about £10 this trip because I treated myself to an expresso at a cafe one day and a tea and smoothie another day.
Obviously you can fill up your reusable water bottle at your accommodation, but what to do when you’re out and about?
- Water fountains: In many countries you can easily find drinking-water fountains, for example, Italy has them everywhere.
- Just ask: Being from the UK, we have a long tradition of being able to ask for tap water in bars, cafés or restaurants, and I often try my luck to see if a waiter will fill up my bottle. In other countries you just have to be able to face the embarrassment of a plain ‘no’ or… put your lawyerly negotiation skills to the test…
Conference registration free
Luckily this workshop was free, but often conference fees can be very high and can be a real put-off. In order to try to reduce the cost of these fees there are a few things you can do:
The Early-Bird catches the worm: Register for the conference early to benefit from the early-bird reduced price.
Just ask: You can always ask the conference organisers if there is a way to reduce your conference fee. There may be scholarships, or you might be able to volunteer to get a lower rate.
Be a speaker: For some conferences, speakers get complimentary conference registration or certain benefits, such as a free lunch or other expenses covered.
Find a sponsor: If the conference is really beneficial to one of your clients, you could see if they would fund your ticket.
Alternatively, you could find a corporate sponsor who would be willing to fund your ticket in return for some promotion on your part. This option would require being up-front to the conference organisers, and probably mean an increased ticket price for your sponsors to pay. If you’re not honest and you get caught walking around with a blatant advertising T-shirt, or using company slogans and name-dropping at any chance you get, you risk, at best, getting some funny looks and, at worst, thrown out of the conference and banned from future ones.
Use your time wisely
If you have time you can also try to fit in work related activities to make attending the conference as efficient as possible.
For me this means pre-arranging podcast interviews with people for the Study Legal English Podcast. For example, after the Share and Gain workshop in Suprasl I interviewed Simon Porter, when I was in Split at the EULETA conference I interviewed Aleksandra Luczak and when I was in London for the Legal English event I managed to catch Christopher Kessling.
I hope these points have been useful for you. Do you have any tips? Share them in the comments section below!
*Psst… links with an *asterisk* mean that they are an affiliate link and will give you a discount or benefit, and will also give me some kind of benefit. I am very careful with my recommendations and only suggest things I genuinely like and have tried.