How to travel to archaeology conferences for free

Keywords: travel, archaeology research, conferences, archaeology job tips

Hashtags: #SHA2014, #SAA2014, @succinctbill, @chrisguillebeau

“As for study, did not our wise teacher teach us that learning was of two kinds: the one kind being the things we learned and knew, and the other being the training that taught us how to find out what we did not know?” The Richest Man in Babylon, George S. Clason (1926)

In addition to the hefty workload that accompanies graduate school, I’ve been working on several other side projects that will help further my career. I’ve watched and listened to my professors tell their classes about the fun times and interesting things they heard while attending conferences all over the world. I’ve also been talking with my fellow CRMers as they talk about conferences they went to and what they learned. Personally, I believe that archaeology conferences are one of the best ways we can keep up-to-date with the goings-on in our field and the greater CRM industry. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed participating in conferences of all levels— local and international— because of the intense interactions I’ve had with other like-minded individuals. The shenanigans that go on after the presentations are also memorable.

We all agree archaeology conferences are great. There’s only one main problem: They’re expensive.

I’m sure conference attendance would be higher if more archaeologists knew how to find ways to make them more affordable. Fortunately, there is more than one way to reduce the costs of attending a conference. With luck, you can even get to go to them for free. Many times I’ve even worked the system so well that I actually go paid to attend!

I’ve been going to archaeology conferences for more than a decade. Unless something major happens in my life (ex. the birth of a child or death of a very, very close relative), I always set aside the time and money to attend at least one major conference each year. Local ones are easier to afford, but there are still a lot of things you can do to make your trip awesome (like, staying at a luxury hotel or resort for the duration of the conference).

There are a few assumptions that go along with the tips I’m about to mention:

  1. You will actually go to the conference. One of these tips will also work well for reducing costs for vacations or personal research. But, this post is directed towards conference-goers because of the impending Society for Historical Archaeology (#SHA2014, Quebec City, Canada) and Society for American Archaeology (#SAA2014, Austin, Texas) conferences in early 2014.
  2. You are selfish like me. When I first started going to conferences, I was more than willing to crash with co-workers, other students, and anyone else that was willing to help me keep my expenses down. Now, I’m old. I love my family, but any morning that I don’t have to help my wife rush our screaming kids out the door for school is a luxury. Any evening that I don’t have to save a 3-year-old from the monsters under the bed every two hours is an even bigger luxury. And, anytime I can sit back with a beer and watch an entire football/basketball/baseball game on cable without any interruptions is absolute paradise. I used to be a team player, but at conferences I get to sleep alone, drink alone, and have a few hours to spend alone. These tips will be absolutely awesome if you share the wealth with a co-worker or student, but they will also work if you fly solo like me.
  3. You are willing to put in some extra work. Presenting original research is very important to reducing your costs and while very few places pay you to create a presentation or poster, many companies will pay for you to present your research. This is, perhaps, the easiest way to get a conference trip for free if you’re a CRMer.
  4. You care about furthering your field and honing your craft. Conferences are great places to hang out with other archaeologists, but you should use what you learn to make your own work better or help improve the work of others. That’s the whole reason why archaeologists founded these meetings.

Without further ado, here are three recommendations for reducing the conference costs:

1)      Give a presentation/create a poster highlighting your company’s work— (This mainly works for CRMers, but can also help government archaeos). Remember how I mentioned that I’ve been paid to go to conferences. This is how I did it. In the good ol’ days (pre-2008), most companies used to pay for their salaried employees to represent the organization at national conferences. I used to get airfare and my hotel covered by the company AND got paid for the days I was at the conference. More recently, this got winnowed down to airfare, hotel, and pay only for the day you present, but that’s still better than nothing. This got rare/ non-existent during the Recession, but I think it will return again soon.

I don’t know how this works for government employees, but I do know several Forest Service and Park Service archaeologists that get some of their expenses covered (Maybe somebody can comment below and explain how it works for government archaeos). Of course, you still have to do the research and create the presentation/ poster, but it’s a great reward for a few hours of extra effort.

2)      Apply for travel grants or a fellowship— (This works best for students or academic archaeologists). I’m really new at this, but most universities have grants that can be used for conference travel. Here at the University of Arizona, the Anthropology department and the Graduate Student Association have travel grants. You’re not guaranteed a travel grant, but if you follow the rules and use the “buckshot technique”—apply for every grant possible— you stand a pretty good chance of landing something that will help you out. Here’s a brief article on Lifehacker about student travel grant sources ( and another called “The Complete Guide to Finding and Winning Travel Grants.”

3)      Use loyalty rewards points— (This works for anyone for any travel purpose, but has several caveats: a) getting the most out of this system requires knowing how to manage credit cards. If you get really deep into the whole “points and mileage” game, you can thrash your credit history if you aren’t on top of your game. b) In order to get the most points, you need to have credit (preferably good credit) to begin with. Don’t wrangle your parents/ spouse/ boyfriend or girlfriend into something they may not be able to handle. c) This system isn’t perfect. You may have to be flexible in your flights and may have to stay at a room that isn’t the closest to the conference venue. You make the call).

The idea is simple: get credit cards that give you big frequent flyer or hotel rewards points bonuses, transfer all of your spending to those cards, get the points then redeem them for free flights and hotel stays. There is a huge underground culture of frequent flyer or loyalty points enthusiasts (travel hackers) that can give you much better advice than I can. I got turned onto this method by following Chris Guillebeau’s blog (The Art of Non-Conformity) and buying his book “Frequent Flyer Master” (FYI: I’m not getting paid to say this, but I think the Guillebeau book and website has some pretty good information for novices). FlyerTalk is another astounding information source for anyone interested in travel hacking.

I’ve become almost addicted to learning about travel hacking. It’s become my new hobby because I see this as the best way I can afford to take my family with me around the world. It’s also a way archaeologists can afford to work in remote areas on the cheap.

You can travel to archaeology conferences for free. Unfortunately, most of us in cultural resource management or archaeology do not spend much time learning about the many ways we can get free travel. Like Clason wrote in the quote at the beginning of the post: there are things we learn from studying and things we figure out because we know how to learn. Hopefully, this post caused you to think about learning how to get free conference travel.

If you have any questions or comments, write below or send me an email.


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