Thursday, July 22, 2010

OCON on the Cheap

Last week I returned from OCON where I had an absolutely fabulous time!  Not only did I get to meet many Objectivists from all over the country and the world, but I got to see some good friends I rarely get to see.  It was also a chance for me and my husband to get some much needed R&R.  The Red Rock Resort, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas was a beautiful facility and we enjoyed many days beside their lovely pool.  All of my pictures have been posted to Facebook, so you can check them out there. 

Many Objectivists complain that OCON is too expensive and they’d like to go, but simply cannot afford it.  While I’m sure there are some who truly cannot afford a vacation and/or conference, I think many could afford OCON if they only knew how to do it on the cheap. 

First of all, I concede that OCON can be expensive.  A couple could easily spend thousands of dollars on air fare, hotel, meals and conference lectures.  The lectures and general sessions are usually wonderful and although pricey, the money helps fund Objectivist lecturers and The Ayn Rand Institute, which I consider a worthy cause.

To make lectures more affordable, you can buy them a la carte.  If you wish to purchase lectures or general session events a la carte, you cannot register online (or at least you couldn’t this year); however, if you go to the OCON website during registration and click on “Registration” there is a number you can call to register a la carte.

Santiago and I only purchased the dance lesson and the closing dinner banquet.  While there were other lectures we wanted to see, we simply couldn’t afford them and we felt the dance lesson and banquet would be something fun and social we could do together, while still having the opportunity to mingle with other Objectivists.

Besides the two events we paid for, we attended several of the free events.  Yes, there are FREE events such as:
  • A reception for first-time conference attendees
  • Casual dinner for campus clubs and community groups and those interested in starting a new group
  • The State of the ARI by Yaron Brook
  • Independence Day Celebration
  • Introduction to Planned Giving (donating to ARI via your estate)
  • ARI Benefactors Dinner (by invitation only) 
  • Rockstar Karaoke
  • Academic Panel 
  • Lunch for Anthem Foundation Donors (by invitation only)
  • Social Dancing
  • Lunch for Atlantis Legacy Donors (by invitation only)
  • Happy Hours, dinner parties and other events put together by conference attendees, social groups and campus clubs
Santiago and I were also fortunate enough to be invited to John Lewis and Casey Conn’s renewal of their wedding vows while in Las Vegas.  It was truly a highlight of the conference. 

We also organized a trip to the Clark County Shooting Range.  It was a lot of fun to teach other Objectivists how to shoot and watch them experience the thrill of handling a firearm for the first time. 

Someone started an OCON 2010 Facebook page which helped many people secure a roommate, plan social gatherings and see news and announcements.  One of those announcements was that Penn and Teller were offering conference attendees half price tickets to their show.  Many of us took advantage of that and were treated to a wonderful show!  Penn and Teller also mingled with the audience after the show, signed autographs and took photos. 

With Penn

Penn told us, “This place is maggoty with Objectivists tonight!”  :-)

So that just about covers the conference itself, but what about hotel, airfare and meals?  Well, that’s easy too!

Thanks to our incompetent government and this awful economy it’s created, airfare is downright cheap nowadays.  I recommend checking Southwest Airlines frequently for their “Wanna Get Away” fares.  Many times you can buy early or last minute and get great deals.  Southwest doesn’t participate in sites such as Orbitz.com, Expedia.com or Priceline, so be sure to check those sites independently for great deals from other carriers.  Frequently, they will put their fares on sale to meet or beat Southwest.

Another option is to drive to the conference.  The location changes each year.  Las Vegas was only a 12 hour, scenic drive from Denver, so we took to the highway.  Next year’s conference is in Fort Lauderdale.  I won’t be driving to Florida, but I will start looking very early for good flight deals to Florida.

OCON is held at very nice hotels and conference facilities which, while luxurious and convenient, are often very pricey.  Fortunately, old downtown Las Vegas (think Fremont Street) had many inexpensive hotels to choose from.  We stayed at The Fitzgerald where our weeknights were only $29/night and our weekends were only $49/night.  Others secured roommates for the conference and split the $120/night room cost at Red Rock.

I haven’t looked into Fort Lauderdale (OCON 2011) options yet, but I’m willing to bet I can find something close to the conference or a reasonable distance away for much less than the conference hotel rates.  Then we can either walk, use public transportation, a rental car or friends with cars to get around.  This can be tricky, so make sure you do your homework to make sure you’re getting the best deal and that your transportation needs are met.  If there is not sufficient public transportation or if your rental car blows your hotel budget, you might as well stay at the conference hotel. 

And finally, what are you going to eat?  Meals are the easiest part of the whole budget!  I’m on the paleo diet so eating is even more of a challenge for me than it is for most.  Not only am I challenged with finding healthy foods, but I need to keep meal costs within my budget as well. 

If you can locate a hotel room with a mini-frige and microwave, that’s ideal.  Then you can go to the local grocery store and buy some lunch meats, cheeses, fruit and veggies to have as quick, easy lunches or snacks.  A mini-frige is also helpful for keeping wine or beer which is often very pricey at hotels and restaurants.

Search the internet for restaurants near where you’ll be staying and near the conference.  Many restaurants have email lists you can sign up for and they will occasionally mail you coupons or other specials.  If you sign up now, surely you’ll find out about some good deals prior to OCON 2011.

Also keep in mind that many restaurants have early-bird specials (especially in Florida!) so eating dinner a bit early can save you lots of cash.  Happy hours often feature not only cheap drinks, but good food.  Sometimes you can get a variety of appetizers, burgers or smaller entrees for a reasonable price if you simply eat in the bar area.

And don’t forget fast food!  Many fast food establishments are offering more healthy menu items and much more variety.  Go for a bunless burger, a salad or a bowl of chili.  Or have a full breakfast for just a few bucks.

If you want to go to OCON bad enough, you can make it happen!  Figure out what your budget is, write it down, then stick to it!  You have a whole year to save and plan, so what are you waiting for?

DSCN3870

See you in Fort Lauderdale!  ;-)

4 comments:

Ritu said...

This was very informative, Kelly. Thanks!

Theresa said...

Great tips Kelley! The food court at OCON was a good, inexpensive option for meals - - the only drawback was walking through the casino to get there! ;)

Jim May said...

When it comes to doing OCON on the cheap, you can't beat my method: reside within 15 minutes of the hotel :)

The shooting session was lots of fun. I know I sold a few folks on the Kel-Tec sub2000 as a fun plinker :)

Kelly McNulty Valenzuela said...

I wanted to add two things.

First, there is a student discount for OCON. I can't believe I forgot this in the first post! The discount is for all students, including those participating in OAC.

Second, a wonderful housing option for Fort Lauderdale is to share a beach house with friends. This is the option we like best since we'll have access to a full kitchen = save money on dining out! Also, since many of us will be staying in the same place, we can rent an SUV and split the cost of that as well.

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