General Assembly can be a transformative experience for all those who attend. The worship, the opportunities for networking, the workshops, the discussions - they all enrich the lives of those who participate. But it can also be expensive - registration fees, housing, meals and transportation add up. So how can you attend this event on a budget? Here are a few tips from your Central East staff.
- Register early. Registration fees start out low and then go up (March 16 and again May 1). However, do be aware that registration is not refundable and not transferable if you are unable to attend for any reason. Also, check with your congregation to see if they have money available - some congregations budget the cost of part or all of the GA registration fee for those who attend as their voting delegates each year.
- Apply to be a Volunteer - The GA Planning committee has many positions that help make General Assembly happen that are filled by volunteers. Volunteers work 18 hours during the week in exchange for free registration. Positions vary in requirements - for example you can help with recycling, be a greeter, assist various committees in their work, help with the different technical aspects of GA and more. Volunteer applications open February 28 and close March 31.
- Apply for a Scholarship - There are several different scholarships available that individuals can apply for. Some of these are for specific populations such as youth, young adults, or lay leaders; others are for anyone who is attending. Scholarship awards typically include full-time conference registration and/or travel grants (scholarship checks). The scholarship application will be posted on the GA webpages February 28 and closes on March 31. Be sure to read the details on the webpage about deadlines and notification dates. There are also group scholarships for youth groups attending GA together.
- Consider all the Housing Options - The UUA negotiates rates for a block of hotels near the convention center. While the prices may seem high, if you share the hotel room with one or more people, splitting the cost can make it more manageable. Do note that most convention hotels charge for parking, and some charge an additional fee for more than 2 people in the room. Most do not include breakfast. The UUA has also made arrangements with two local universities for rooms in a dorm. The price of these rooms is much lower, but minors under 12 may not stay in the dorms under any circumstances. The local churches in the area offer home hospitality, which is usually less expensive and goes to support programs at the congregations. Housing opens at 9 am on March 2 and goes fast. All the options are currently posted on the website so you can decide what your best options are now and book as soon as housing opens.
- Travel - One of the more expensive parts of the trip can be travel. Often you can carpool with others from your congregation. No one else attending from your church? Check with others in your cluster. You may consider a van rental or a bus rental if you organize those attending from all the congregations in your cluster or have a large group attending from your church.
Amtrak has a stop in Providence as part of the Northeast Regional and Acela lines, which can be less expensive than flights. If you are coming from upstate New York or Ohio, you can take the Lakeshore Limited to Boston's South Street Station, then take the MBTA commuter train to Providence.
If you are flying, look at flying into Boston, as the flights can be less expensive. The MBTA Silver Line (free when leaving the airport, $2.75 to return) will take you to Boston's South Street Station, where you can catch the MBTA commuter train to Providence. The UUA has additional suggestions for ride sharing on their website.
- Saving Money Once You Get There - Ok, so you've figured out how to get here, paid for your registration and are sharing housing. How do you save money once you are in Providence? Look at the schedule in advance and plan your meals accordingly. Eating in the convention center can be expensive, so look at Google and Yelp to see what inexpensive places to eat are nearby. You can shop at a nearby grocery store and stock up on breakfast and quick meal items, but do check if your hotel room has a refrigerator and/or microwave beforehand. Then only eat one meal out each day. Bring a refillable water bottle and travel mug for coffee or tea. Do note that nearby eateries will fill up fast during meal breaks so if you are able to venture a little further away from the convention center to eat, you may find better deals and shorter wait times.
- Join the GA Forum - this is a discussion board on the UUA website. Here you can find ride sharing, roommates requests and ask questions of others. The forum does require that you have an account on the UUA website.
- Consider a fundraising project on Faithify.org - Faithify.org offers crowdfunding for Unitarian Universalist projects and now they offer those fundraising projects for General Assembly all the money they raise even if they don't reach their goal. You can learn more about the process on their website. Read this blog post on their site about GA Projects.
Still can't figure out how to pay for everything? That happens to the best of us. The good news is that you don't have to travel to enjoy some of the benefits of General Assembly. You can attend as an off-site participant. Everything that happens in the plenary hall is live-streamed for anyone to watch. Those who register as off-site participants can attend some of the workshops. Those who are delegates for their congregations can vote and participate as any other delegate on site can. Learn more about off-site participation on the GA webpages. Off-site registration costs $150 and there are no travel or housing fees involved.
We know that General Assembly can be a financial challenge for many of our members to achieve, but we hope these tips will help you find the best combination of savings and alternatives so that you can gain from the benefits from participating in General Assembly 2020 in Providence, RI this year. Let's get Rooted, Inspired and Ready!