Vacation Economical Any Time of Year:  Attend A Career Conference

Teddy K. Makarow

© Copyright 2020 by Teddy K. Makarow

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash
                         Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash            

I’ve visited New Orleans three times-- once in the 80’s, once in the 90’s and once in the 2000’s, all before Katrina in 2005. Each time New Orleans was a destination for different reasons and each trip was lovely and exciting. I only wrote about one: the conference in 1991, not because it was the best but just because it was the only one I wrote about. So here it is: the way New Orleans was for me in 1991. 

Don’t wrap your get-way ideas in tissue paper and batten down the hatches on your bank account too soon. One of the most economical routes to a mini-vacation any time of year is the career conference.
Chances are you’ll find those winter workshops in the sunny South: New Orleans, Hilton Head, Daytona or other cities. Or if you’re exceptionally astute, you may locate one farther south in the islands. So dig through that pile of brochures on your desk to find just the right professional pow-wow that works for you. I have four very interesting to mildly interesting ones on my desk right now.

You may be one of the lucky ones whose corporation, organization or institution still provides funds for staff development; however, if you are like most of us in these readjustment times, you are probably footing most of those bills yourself, but don’t despair; you may be allowed to list the conference as a career expense. Ask your tax adviser about this one.

Most hotels not only offer special conference rates for conference days but also allow arrival one day early and stay over one day after at the same rates, so you can arrange some fun in the sun before, after or between classes. Additionally, many USA cities’ tourist organizations and businesses offer coupon books and coupon newspapers for everything from mall shopping to meals to historic sites.

Moreover, if you know other career fellows who are attending the conference or you never meet a stranger, you can arrange to share travel, lodging and even coupons. Some conference planners offer share arrangements in the conference brochure (toll free number). I’ve known the joys of learning and playing at conference mini-vacations for years; only in New Orleans I discovered coupons-- lots and lots of them.

Jambalaya! In addition to conference cost, we (my three colleagues and I) had only $350 each for gas, lodging, meals, tours and souvenirs. How could this lean amount be enough for a five-day mini-vacation in New Orleans via a writers’ conference. It wouldn’t have been the case in most other cities, but New Orleans-- the imaginative, historical and just-plain-fun city knows how to stretch everything to glamour, luxury and excitement. With registration confirmation came The Big Easy Bonus Book (New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation). Celebration! The answer to our prayers. A collector’s delight. Free drinks, buy-one-get-one-free meals in good places, cafe au lait and beignets 50% off; discount tickets for historical sites, and yes, oh yes, discounts for shopping. We were on our way.

We organized, planned and anticipated our five-day sojourn in the French Quarter. If two of us shared a room at conference rate ($25 extra for a roll-away bed), the other two women could share a   second room at a slightly higher total. Parking our one car would cost approximately $12 each, gas $20 each. That left $108 for everything else—entertainment and meals—not to forget souvenirs.

At last came our great day of departure. All four of us worked a full day, packed food and clothes and kissed our husbands, sons and daughters goodbye at 4 a.m., two of us having not slept at all, but we were free of all responsibilities for five whole days.

And after 14 hours of ecstatic bliss on the road, we arrived at our four-star hotel, Le Meridien on Canal Street. Le Meridien met all our expectations. Elegant in European style, it was clean, comfortable, efficient, secure—technologically equipped for any traveler’s needs. The bell boy smiled even as he surveyed all our luggage.

Since we had defied our usual diets on the way down and were too tired to walk more than a block from our hotel to a restaurant, we walked to a neighborhood cafe a block off Canal Street. Our first meal in New Orleans—red beans and rice...$4.99.

The next morning to conserve money for our special meals, we ate breakfast and lunch from the left-over goodies in our trip picnic packs and drank coffee made in our pot brought from home. Then we were off down Canal Street via pied three blocks to the River Walk to climb aboard the Thomas Jefferson, the free ferry which transports commuters and automobiles hourly back and forth across Mark Twain’s muddy river from New Orleans to Algiers (West Bank).

In the afternoon, with our half-price coupons ($6.50), we again cruised the mighty Mississippi aboard the elegant Creole Queen, which included a land stop at the Beauregard Plantation, a battlefield (Battle of New Orleans) tour.

That night in the blossomed garden courtyard of Tricou House on Bourbon Street we drank buy-one-get-one-free cocktails and ate Jambalaya ($9.95) and all-you-can-eat boiled shrimp ($9.95), while listening to a live band. Then topping off that lovely evening, we had a last round of Bailey’s Irish Cream at happy hour prices.

Again on our second morning, we looked to our coolers for a nutritious breakfast in our rooms, selected our coupons for the day and were off at 10 a.m. to the Beauregard Keyes House ($2.00 off), on Chartres Street, last home of Frances Parkinson Keyes. Not only was Mrs. Keyes a popular author of 37 books but she lead a sophisticated, international life at which any writer would turn green. By this second day our thirteen-block walk was a cinch.

The Beauregard house, built around 1870 and furnished with that period, safeguards priceless treasures of furniture from the Beauregard family and from Mrs. Keyes’ collections of international dolls and teapots. Later, we found an appropriate souvenir in the carriage house gift shop-- a period cookbook (All monies go to the refurbishing of the Beauregard House).

Oh, yes; we found just-the-right coupon for noon snack-- a free croissant at the well known bakery, Le Madeleine at Jackson Square ($1 for French or American coffee). Munching our pastries made in wood ovens, we viewed across the square the black and white vestments of the clergy lined side by side in Noon Mass procession, led by the alter boys into St. Louis Cathedral (oldest cathedral in the USA).

And that afternoon we “shopped ‘till we dropped” in Jackson’s Brewery (75 shops and restaurants as well as cooking classes) and the French Market (the nation’s oldest public market). We browsed in old bookshops finding old books and new, some about New Orleans such as Confederacy of Dunces and New Orleans Unmasked and in new dress shops in 18th century buildings with old world charm such as Zorba’s Greek Shop.

Then who should we meet on the sidewalk of Chartres Street with his arms around tourists with cameras posed, Chef Paul (cookbook author and television chef personality) of the famous K-Paul’s Kitchen. It’s just people in New Orleans, not celebrities.

That night it was back to Jackson’s Square to Cafe Pontalba to eat blackened chicken ($8.95), Louisiana crab cakes ($6.95), and creole beans and rice with ham and sausage ($5.95). For dessert, believe it or not, three of us trekked back to Jackson’s Brewery to share a Cafe Du Le Monde coupon-- three beignets for 80 cents. Since one of us had two blisters from new sneakers and we needed to make an early start to a $1 off tour of the Superdome, we retired around midnight.

Next morning, our car parked in a secured area in the hotel was brought down to us in less than five minutes from our call and we were off four blocks to the forty-five minute Superdome tour. We parked in the special park-for-the-tour lane ($1).

This Friday morning the home arena football team practiced while our tour guide talked about the architecture, the funding, the multi-kinds of events which support the Superdome. I was fascinated  with the safety system in the Superdome. Not only does the famous dome have a vast sprinkler system which can clear all smoke toxicity in minutes, but also its extensive wide ramps allow access to emergency vehicles as well as people.

In the early afternoon one of our crew visited the new Aquarium of the Americas on Canal Street (discount coupon) while two of us visited Jackson Square to shop and lunch at Van’s with our buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a creole roast beef po boy ($4.99)-- $2.50 each.

The late afternoon agenda included the St. Charles Street car (2-way, $1.60). The world’s oldest operating streetcar drove us through uptown to the Garden District of historic homes (still residential, still lovely) with cheerful, friendly wrought iron gates; houses narrow in front, many roomed in back, built so close together it seemed neighbors could reach out to hold hands from windows. We continued by beautiful, stone crafted Tulane and Loyola, adjacent university campuses.

And that night because we loved sitting in the open Versailles style Cafe Pontalba, housed in one of the historic buildings of the New World (the oldest apartment building in America) on Jackson Square, with the Mississippi River breezes playing, we scanned the faces of delighted children reaching for balloon swords, crowns and other toys from the balloon artist clowns. We viewed portrait artists exact images to the background of jazz made by street musicians and the staccato beat of young boys with taps on their sneakers performing on old stones. In this musical fantasy, we ate shrimp creole ($8.95) and red beans and rice with ham and sausage ($5.95).

Alas: our final day! We purchased those last souvenirs in Canal Place, Jackson Brewery and French Market, revisiting our favorite shop, Sugar and Spice Company on Chartres Street where we had enjoyed Cajun friendliness and old wisdom. However, no longer able to ignore the tiredness of legs and feet and acknowledging our pride in figuring within three dollars of the amount spent and the amount to get home, we had a quick meal at Wendy’s and gloated to the sounds of nightly free jazz in our hotel.

Nostalgically, we phoned for the bell boy and our car at 5 a.m. Sunday morning; slowly we climbed aboard; sadly, we drove out of the French Quarter heading to Route 10. Gratefully, as we crossed the beautiful brackish 625 square mile Lake Pontchartrain, we looked back at this unique city, which had so favored us and many before us.

New Orleans, founded in 1718 by French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville as a Versailles in the new land, was named La Nouvelle Orleans in honor of regent of France, Philippe Duc d’Orleans. Now known as the French Quarter or Vieux Carre (old square) it is a city of gaiety and mystery; of garden apartments, flowered window boxes and hidden courtyards; of traditional religion and island voodoo; of old world charm and new technological wonders; of unique combinations of French and Spanish architecture and culture; of luxury and bargains-- a tolerant city which offered a conference mini-vacation with generous coupons to four colleagues who needed a five-day get-away extraordinaire for $350 each.

My Souvenirs:

One Jazz New Orleans t-shirt $6.95

One Louisianna green hot sauce $1.25

One Po Man’s Rice Cookbook $2.50

One Cat’s Meow Cup Free

One pair earrings (shared by 3) $3.00 each

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