Friday, August 04, 2006

Canada, here I come!

In a week, I'm going to Canada for the conference of my professional association. Normally, work pays for this trip, but this year they turned me down. There are a lot of good reasons to turn me down: I'm not presenting (I'm a discussant), we have very little travel budget, the trip is not a high priority. But those weren't the reasons I was refused. I was refused because we are a domestic agency and it looks bad when we go on international travel. Uh-huh. To Canada. For the [name-withheld] Association of America conference. Right.

But, whatever, I've never been to any of the east coast Canadian cities (I've been to Vancouver and Victoria a few times) and I'd always planned to go whether or not work paid. After my travel request was formally denied (after being informally approved!), I emailed a couple of friends to see if they wanted to share the room I'd already reserved. Instead, I was invited to share a room with them—perfect!

Then, my budget office called to ask if I was still going to the conference. I said I was and they agreed to cover the registration fee. Nice.

Next, I told my boss I was still going to the conference and asked if I needed to take vacation time—before I got the question out of my mouth he said, "No, that's work. You're covered." Perfect.

When I looked into plane fares, they were outrageously high--$1,000 for a non-stop, and over $350 for one-stops. Making one stop more than doubled the flying time, which seemed insane. Instead of an hour and a half of flying, I was looking at four hours in the air (before calculating connection times and travel-to-and-from the airport).

I decided to take the train. I can get a free ticket and, while the total (one-way) trip was something like fourteen hours, it sounded fun. The train ride is through a very pretty part of the country and train time is all productive time, while flying time is all lost time. On the train I can read, write, nap, compute and enjoy the view.

Yesterday, I checked the airfares again. I promised myself that if I found a nonstop for under $500, I'd take it and cancel the train reservation (and, yes, I can cancel with no penalty). I found a $300 nonstop flight. The only downside is that it goes from Dulles, but we're talking less than two hours in the air. I'll get to spend that much more time in Canada and I can deal with four hours of lost time.

Sometimes I say, "I'm flexible" (I picked it up from my dad—who is decidedly not flexible). I used wonder if it were true. It's not always true, as anyone who has ever tried to use my kitchen knows, sometimes it is. Being flexible in this situation really paid off. Basically, I'm getting a heavily subsidized vacation to Canada. My hotel bill plus airfare is going to cost under $600 (and the hotel portion is in Canadian dollars, so that's another 20% discount). The only other costs are food and incidentals. If I'd taken the train, my only fixed cost would have been the hotel room. If my office sent me, the cost would have been almost $2,000. And I don't think I'm going to spend $1,200 on food and souvenirs. Basically, I'm doing the exact same trip for less than half the cost. I guess that means I only need to go to half the conference.

After reading this, some of you may think I'm cheap. Maybe you're right. I'd prefer to say "economical." My grad school boyfriend, Tom, used to call me "Frugal McDougal." I didn't like it much then, but now I think it's funny. He actually got me to loosen up my spending habits a bit, particularly in regard to foodstuffs. I also got him to pay a little more attention to the cost of things. One of the ways in which our relationship had a mutually beneficial effect.

I still like a bargain, though, and this trip to Canada is shaping up to be a real steal. Love that.

Grateful for: flexibility.

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