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A budget-friendly guide to attending academic conferences

Conferences are an essential stepping stone to building a successful career in academia. They provide the opportunity to get out of your day-to-day work environment and offer unparalleled opportunities to build your network and meet your peers from around the world. 
However, finding the means to attend conferences can be challenging. Even if the cost of the event itself isn’t prohibitive, travelling to the event and paying for accommodation can quickly add up, especially if you receive limited funding from your university. Before you write off the idea entirely, make sure you explore all your options – there are always ways to travel on a budget.

First off, volunteering your time is a great way to get your foot in the door. Some organizers will waive or heavily discount the registration fee if you agree to help out at a conference, and they may even provide food or travel stipends. Volunteering will not only save you money, but is also a great way to strengthen your network as it offers you plenty of opportunities to engage with both attendees and the conference organizers.

Even if your university doesn’t offer to pay for your conference travel or ticket, thoroughly explore your university website and the conference page as you may discover lesser-known sources of grants, scholarships or funding. Ask staffers in your department for help and post in the online forums and social media pages of the conference and your university – you never know what might come up. Another way to cover your travel and accommodation costs is by researching the universities or institutions that are located close by to the conference and getting in touch to offer your expertise as a guest lecturer. If they accept, they may reimburse you for your travels. Keep in mind that you’ll have to arrange this well in advance as the majority of university funds are allotted at least six months ahead of time.

Organizing your travel plans early on also helps you save on flights and accommodation as prices tend to go up when booking last-minute. When you find a conference that you’re interested in, post in your social networks to see if anyone you know is also planning on attending – perhaps you can rent a car and drive together, or you can crash at a friend’s place. You can return the favor the next time there’s a conference or event in your hometown.

Alternatively, home sharing site Airbnb can offer cheap accommodation, especially if you are willing to rent a room in a shared apartment. If you’re looking to save even more, CouchSurfing, a platform where people offer their couches or spare beds for free to travellers, can be another, entirely free option. Don’t forget to check out local universities if you’re attending a conference in the summer as they often rent out dorm rooms at low prices. Although the bathroom may be shared, you’ll have your own bedroom, guaranteeing you privacy while you prep your speech and relax after a long day of networking. 

At the conference itself, be sure to bring your own snacks and drinks with you. Eating meals with the people you meet can be an important part of networking, but you can definitely cut costs by keeping water, fruit and healthy snacks on you to tide you over between meals. Finally, don’t forget to hold onto your receipts and keep track of your spending as any out of pocket expenses that you incur at the conference are tax deductible.

If you’ve explored all your options and a conference is still out out of your budget, don’t forget that even if you can’t be there in person you can always check out Morressier to discover the content that is being shared at conferences around the world right now.

Image credit: Christian Dubovan

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