Since I had never been to Vegetarian Summerfest before, I did not know the ins and outs or what to expect, especially as far as prices and lodging. The full registration (5 days), plus airfare, added up to almost a thousand dollars. It's a hefty price tag for sure, even if it's an "all-inclusive" trip. (Hell, I could stay at an all-inclusive in the Bahamas for cheaper!) But ya gotta figure it's not just a room and a ton of food, it's also entertainment and workshops and non-stop learning. I think it all evens out.
But now that I've "been there, done that," I have some tips and perspective to share with you.
There are hotels within a few minutes of the campus. If you split a room with a few people, that would save you some cash. However, now that I know how jam-packed the days of VS are, I would lean more toward staying on-campus. The days are long and they start early and run late. Staying on campus would be far more convenient, even with a couple of hotels being a few miles away. But, if you're trying to save some cash, hotels are certainly an option, as well as camping.
And let's talk about the dorm rooms. I shared an air-conditioned room with my friend, Amber, in the Living Learning Center ("the LLC"), which is where 99% of the sessions/workshops take place. This was hella convenient and would be my #1 choice as far as buildings to stay in. All of the rooms in all the buildings, though, have linen service. Linen service, in this case, means bedding and tiny, tiny towels. The VS registration desk gives you a bar of soap upon arrival. That's it. If you're picky about your bedding situation, bring whatever makes you more comfortable. I can manage to sleep under most circumstances, so I was fine. The towels, though, made me crazy. Amber and I laughed when we realized that what we thought were hand towels, were actually bath towels, as in, for your whole body. Between that and the tissue paper-thin toilet paper, we made a late-night run to the nearby Wal*Mart and bought cheap (but large) bath towels and better quality toilet paper. Those two things made our stay much more comfortable.
Depending on where you stay, you may or may not have a private bathroom. If this bothers you, take that into consideration when you book your room. If you book a non-air conditioned room, you may want to bring or obtain a fan at some point.
But really, you'll spend very little time in your room. It's essentially only for sleeping and bathing. The rooms aren't glamorous, but that's okay. You're not here for 5-star lodging. You're here to get inspired.
There are two different registration packages to choose from: full registration (all 5 days of the event) or the weekend registration (Friday through Sunday). ALWAYS GO FOR THE FULL REGISTRATION. You'll definitely get "more bang for your buck." I am so glad I sprung for the full 5 days because those 5 days FLEW BY so fast, I can't even imagine how just 3 days would feel. Probably like I blinked and missed it. The three days will be even shorter if you fly in later in the day on Friday. Plus, because people are catching flights at all different times on Sundays - presenters included - many sessions get canceled. Sunday hardly counts as a day of activity. As a matter of fact, I didn't attend a single session on Sunday (because Jenny Brown canceled, and because we had a flight to catch). We had time to grab a to-go lunch from the cafeteria and jet out. So, make it worth your while and go for the full five days.
The food is EXPENSIVE and there's so dang much of it. If you can work out an a la carte deal, do it. Whenever I return to VS, I would be fine with ONLY paying for dinners.
I'm terrible at packing for a trip. This is a fact about me, it's something I cannot seem to change, but I really overpacked for this trip.
two swimsuits - I was excited to learn that we had access to the campus pool, but learned upon arrival that it was not near our dorm building, nor did we have time to swim while the pool was open. It was either swim, or get inspired at a workshop. The choice is obvious.
work-out clothes - extra t-shirts and tank tops, sports bras, yoga pants, 1 pair of sneakers... Who was I kidding?! Yoga sessions started around 5 or 6am (HA!), and there were other fitness classes sprinkled throughout the day, but again: I could either do a yoga session, or go to a workshop with an awesome vegan activist. Gonna go with the activist! We also had access to the school's fitness center, but that was in the same building as the pool. It was inconveniently located, plus there was NO TIME! I got plenty of exercise walking from session to session every day.
"nicer" clothes - I packed nicer tops and a dress (as well as a pair of "nicer" sandals), in case I felt I needed to classy it up a notch. Pfft. No one was dressing up! It's super casual. Anyone is certainly welcome to dress up if they want, but the majority of attendees were wearing jeans and t-shirts. Wear whatever makes you comfortable (always). With the seemingly endless feedings at VS, I recommend loose-fitting clothes and stretchy pants. Leave the skinny jeans at home!
A hoodie and two cardigans - Oh, Florida people. "We're going up north! It might get cold!" I wasn't cold for one single moment! In fact, it was shweaty-balls hot most days at VS. Considering most activities take place indoors, you're protected from all elements. If you naturally run a little cooler than most people, are sensitive to air conditioning, or whatever, then yes, bring a light jacket or something so you're comfortable. I did not run into this problem one single time.
Despite the extra shoes, I wore flip-flops every day of VS, except our arrival day. Since I overslept so often, it was quicker to just slip on some flippy-floppies, plus it was too damn hot to put on socks and shoes. I love flip-flops, anyway, but hitting the pavement hard every day, schlepping from session to session, was no treat for my feet. Oh well.
Some of you may recall, either from the blog or Facebook, that I've started bringing veg starter kits with me on flights to leave in the seat-back pockets. For this trip, I decided to up the outreach a notch. I brought three different kinds of starter kits, as well as stickers, which my traveling friends and I had fun placing in the in-flight magazines. (I wish I had pictures of Joan's strategic sticker placement. She was good at this!)