Affording $AA

As students and new professionals, we are among the hardest hit by the expenses associated with attending the SAA Annual Meeting in Washington DC. Some of us are lucky enough to get some organizational support while others of us are left to fend completely for ourselves. The question dealing with why it is so expensive and how we might be able to change that is the topic of a great discussion at Beaver Archivist and two posts at ArchivesNext (here and here). I am working on a post on this topic as well, but for now I thought I would share some tips that may help participants afford the conference. I know this is kind of late but hopefully it can help those that are still finalizing their plans.

The Hotel is the biggest expense of the conference. While the rate of $185 for participants at the conference hotel is a substantial discount from their normal rate of well over $300, in my book it still qualifies as friggin’ expensive and out of the question for many of us. Using Crash Space for Archivists or finding someone to share hotel space with is a great option (sorry for the shameless plug). For others finding much cheaper lodging is both the obvious choice and the clear challenge.

Using sites like Hotwire and Priceline provides a chance to save some serious dough.  I used Hotwire for the Midwest Archives Conference and stayed at a hotel for under $90 that was much nicer than the conference hotel, which had a similar rate to SAA’s. If you have never used these sites before, the drawback is that you have to pay your non-refundable rate before you know what hotel you are booking. You choose your hotels using areas of the city and level of hotel (two star, three star, etc.). For Chicago the areas are pretty compact but for DC they are pretty big and odd shaped, especially for the one the conference is located.

There are sites that use the information about each hotel to help you guess which one it might be. For my Chicago trip I used and it was right on. Also, if you do end up away from the conference hotel DC does have a great subway system.

Airfare is another expensive piece of the puzzle. Luckily DC has some airport choices. Generally speaking it is cheaper to fly into Baltimore (BWI) than DC. For my flight (from Detroit) a ticket to Baltimore is about 1/3 cheaper than one to either DC airport. BWI also has some good (and cheap) transportation options to DC. I know I plan on taking advantage of this, as well as use it as an opportunity to get some soft-shell crab. Mmmmmm, friend whole crustaceans…

The League of Broke Archivists I have already mentioned that I will have a post later dealing with how SAA may make the conference more affordable. If you have thoughts on that I highly encourage you to go to the links provided in the first paragraph. However, while reading Kate’s first post on this topic and the comments I thought that it might be a good idea to organize a group of people that can band together independent of SAA and create a pool of rooms at a more affordable hotel. I know this idea is too late for this year but I think it might work for the years to come. Do you think people would be interested in partaking in something like this? As you can see, I already have a sweet name for it.

Please leave any other tips you may have for ways to make the conference more affordable, especially if you are from the DC area and have any ideas on where a person may get some affordable eats and drinks. Hopefully in the future we will have more legitimate options allowing more and more of us to attend the conference, and posts like this will not be needed.


Filed under By-Lance

10 responses to “Affording $AA

  1. Christie

    There is no shame in brown-bagging. On your first day in town, stop by a grocery store and do some shopping. If you have several friends doing this, one can request a refrigerator in his/her room and everyone chip in for the cost. Have breakfast in your room (if the hotel doesn’t provide it) and pack sandwiches, etc. for lunch and snacks at the conference hotel. Can definitely be done for less than eating out, even cheaply, will cost you. Depending on how long your stay is, the savings can really add up. Plus you get the benefit of eating food you like. (oh, and PS … the fridge can also be used to chill beer/alcohol; why go to a bar when you can party with your friends like teenagers on prom night?!)

    • Susan

      Some nicer supermarkets have salad bars and small panini style sandwiches you can order to go. It winds up being cheaper than paying for similar food in a restaurant.

  2. DC is a great town and there heaps of ways to get around the expensive aspect of it. I lived there for 5 months as an archival intern (on a salary of $22,000/year pro rata; not really enough to rent a cupboard) and had several tricks up my sleeve. I got amazingly lucky and was able to live rent-free with a family in Forest Glen in exchange for childcare and it made my time there all the better.

    Rent a room via Craigslist, Crashpad, the City Paper, etc (loads of short lets, etc). Also, a lot of the Universities may be a potential source of dorm accommodation.

    Pack your lunch/dinner, etc.

    $2.50 for 2 Hebrew National Hotdogs, a bag of chips, and a drink. – A great lunch option for carnivores. These hotdog vendors are strewn throughout the city.

    Drink at Happy Hours that are not at a hotel bar. Adams Morgan’s Tupelo Lounce and the Grill from Impanema have great atmospheres and won’t break the bank and there are so many places to choose from, that, well. . . you’ll be spoiled for choice.

    With airfare, I always try to fly into DCA; it is on the Metro line and I always kind of figure that the cost of what I would save flying into BWI, I end up spending in Time. When I fly into Dulles and BWI, though, I tend to be a shameless exploiter of my friends and abuse their possessions of automobiles.

  3. Angelique

    Great post Lance! I particularly enjoy “The League of Broke Archivists” – fantastic name! I think having a group of people pooling their resources to book at another hotel is a good idea. (Which may actually be much easier next year in Chicago where all the hotels are pretty close to each other.) Or at the very least having a place online that’s dedicated to finding roommates for the conference. I’m lucky enough to be partially funded for this trip, but anything I can do to make my out of pocket expenses lower is great.

    My tip for DC is to check out the city’s website. Their visitor’s page has a list of “100 Free (Or Nearly Free) Things To Do In DC” ( If you have any free time, it’s a good place to find something to do. Personally, I’m thinking of hitting up the Zoo ( near the hotel. It’s free. 🙂

  4. Susan


    Look for a place to stay on
    You might be able to find a couch, spare bedroom or an entire apartment someone will rent out to you (also the site sometimes has coupon codes on their Twitter and blog for additional savings). I’ve used this while on vacation in several very expensive cities and have had good experiences each time.


    I asked a colleague who visits D.C. several times a year (and used to live there) about some restaurants she’d recommend within the general vicinity. These are all closest to the Dupont Circle metro stop (one stop away from the zoo stop) and you can view their menus online:

    Cafe Luna

    Lauriol Plaza (Mexican)

    Mai Thai

  5. Christie

    Forgot to add: the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo and the National Gallery of Art are all FREE! Well, we all pay for them through taxes, but there’s no additional cost to actually visit. I very highly recommend the National Gallery of Art; it’s one of my favorite art museums in the world. Many of the museums are open later some nights of the week and they’re all super-easy to get to using public transportation.

  6. Broke Archivist-in-training

    If you’re a broke, adventurous person who likes to relive your college years, a seriously cheap-o option is a hostel (the best in most cities is usually the Hostelling International hostel, but not always). As a broke archives associate (i.e. paraprofessional), I had originally had plans to stay with friends in DC but when those fell through I booked a bed in a hostel. I’ve been traveling in hostels since I was 15, so it’s an environment that I’m comfortable with, and even enjoy. I realize this is an option that is definitely not for everyone or even most people (and probably even speaks to how sadly underpaid those of us at the bottom of the food chain are), but hey, my week at the hostel will cost me what two “discounted” nights at the Marriott would have.

  7. Rob S

    Great topic, great post. Lance’s suggestion to use Priceline is worth noting. In these lean times, both new and experienced archivists are looking at partial funding (at best), especially if SAA is not the only conference you plan to attend this year. I use Priceline rather than the conference hotel for any meeting in a large city. The key is to do your research on first to learn tips for using Priceline effectively.

    Staying elsewhere and riding the Metro to the conference is, for me, worth $100+ per night savings. Plus, personally speaking, I don’t think Woodley Park is the most interesting neighborhood of DC, so getting away from Connecticut Ave and seeing more of the city is another benefit.

    Good luck to all Broke Archivists!

  8. I highly recommend using the Metro System. Dupont Circle is a great neighborhood but not as cheap as it could be. Um, don’t go to SE, kids. Anacostia is not for you.