by Ron and Lisa Brooks
(Editor's Note: Ron and Lisa Brooks are members of ACB Families and occasional contributors to "The Braille Forum." They are also the founders of an information resource for blind families called www.blindfamilies.com.)
Last year, Lisa, our three kids, our two guide dogs and I attended the ACB conference and convention in Louisville. Because of cost, work and school schedules, our trip to Kentucky represented not only a chance to get involved with ACB. It also served as our annual family vacation.
As family vacations go, our trip to Louisville was just about perfect. We had fun on our flights to and from Louisville. We enjoyed our time in the hotel, eating in a variety of restaurants, both in and around the hotel. We enjoyed a couple of tours, and Lisa and I had a great time at convention. However, bringing a family of five to Louisville for a ten-day trip was not cheap, and quite honestly, our biggest concern about coming to Columbus next year is money. Given this fact and knowing that money is a pretty big deal for most ACB families, we decided to share the strategies we used for keeping our convention costs manageable.
There is no secret recipe for making convention attendance cheap. It comes down to common sense and planning. Here are the steps we took, which we recommend for you and your family for having a more affordable conference and convention experience.
- Plan ahead.
Room rates at the Hyatt Regency are $89 per night plus tax for up to 4 people per room. And the rooms all include refrigerators.
- Build a budget.
Well before we bought our airline tickets, booked our hotel or previewed the ACB convention program, Lisa and I had a good idea of what we would be spending for the week. The budgeting step was critical because it really helped us to determine which activities might or might not fit in, and this helped us to plan our week. Having a budget also helped when we got to the end of the week and wanted to do something we hadn't planned. We could easily see that we had money to spare, and that enabled us to treat ourselves to a horse and buggy ride with a clear conscience, and that night with our kids was one of the high points of our entire trip to Louisville.
- Save, save, save.
The key to saving is not having to pay for everything during convention week. Ways you can save include the traditional approach of putting money back each week and pre-paying for specific cost elements of the trip so that you don't have to pay all at once. In our case, we bought airline tickets very early. And we prepaid our convention registration fees on a debit card as soon as we could do so online. We also parked some money in our savings account each month until we hit our target amount for the 10-day trip to Louisville. This approach meant that by the time we arrived in Louisville, most of our expenses were already paid, and we had cash in hand to cover the rest.
Before closing the "save, save, save" discussion, we want to address the use of credit cards. Credit cards can make convention travel more convenient, but we recommend saving and paying ahead. This approach will spare you the headache of having to pay thousands of dollars plus interest for your week-long vacation. Better still, by paying in advance, you will be ready to start saving for next year's vacation immediately after concluding this one.
- Use the YAC.
Our best strategy for saving money was the ACB Youth Activity Center. For a total of about $40 per kid, our kids ate breakfast and lunch for five days, attended five days of pre-planned activities, including swimming and tours, and had a pizza and movie party on the night of the ACB banquet. The YAC not only saved us money, but it gave Lisa and me the ability to attend the bulk of the convention without having to worry about entertaining the kids or planning their activities.
- Plan your downtime.
As soon as we got our registration packet, we identified the evening events that looked interesting, and we locked those events in. This meant that we had a clear idea of what we'd be doing and how much it was going to cost. The alternative is no plan, which means finding something to do at the last minute and probably paying more for it. … Oh, and if your family is like mine, those moments of indecision are painful indeed. Better to have a plan that everyone knows in advance.
- Think family-friendly.
More and more, there are activities that are designed to be family-friendly. In Louisville, the ACB Families affiliate sponsored a bowling night, and ACB sponsored a baseball game and a number of Recreation Zone activities. In general, these activities cost less and were great ways for families to spend time after a busy day at the convention or in the YAC. In addition to ACB-sponsored events, there were a number of nearby public venues with activities to fit every budget, and many of these were kid-friendly. Figuring out what to do is as easy as typing a few key words into your favorite Internet search engine or checking with the hotel concierge.
We encourage anyone with a family to consider the ACB convention for your next vacation. Although the cost is significant, careful planning and a bit of creativity can keep the budget manageable, and where else can you find an accessible hotel, tours designed just for you, a low-cost built-in program for your kids, family-friendly activities and tours, and the chance to have a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of other blind and visually impaired people -- all in the same place? Well, the answer is nowhere else. This is an ACB exclusive!