Welcome to the travel edition of the October Challenge! During this past week—the third week of the challenge—I flew to Arizona for a three-day conference, which meant that not buying restaurant food suddenly became a lot more challenging than it had been for the first two weeks of the challenge. I leave it to you, reader, to judge whether or not I followed the rules.
Ok, so as I mentioned in the initial October Challenge post, conference travel is a little different than regular travel: it’s considered a “research expense” because the point of going to the conference is for me to present my research (which has nothing whatsoever to do with yachts or student debt!). And I am fortunate to have a small research fund at my university that will reimburse me for conference expenses, including conference registration, hotels, plane fare, taxis, and food while I’m there. Recall that the rules of the challenge are that I can’t purchase any restaurant or takeout food, but that eating free food is acceptable.
So, one option (like if I wanted to pretend like the challenge didn’t allow free food?) was to try to find a supermarket, buy groceries that I could keep in my hotel room, live off of them while I was there, and throw the rest away (I HATE wasting food). Another option was to simply take advantage of the free food. And the winner is….free food (as it so often is). My justifications, for your consideration, are:
- I was super nervous about my conference presentation and so spent all my free time revising and practicing it, leaving me with extremely limited extra time to figure out grocery shopping.
- The conference hotel was located outside the city, and there were no sidewalks in sight, which meant that in order to get anywhere I had to walk along this road (see photo—these cars are going about 55-60 mph). I checked it out once at dusk, as you can see from the photo, but felt that walking along this road in the dark—my only possible grocery shopping window—was not an option.
So, with those general comments out of the way, here is a rundown of each day this week. Food that I purchased but am getting reimbursed for—which I’m counting as free food—is followed by an (R).
10/16 (Friday): Had breakfast at home, packed my lunch, and cooked myself a dinner of salmon and a LOT of greens, as I had to use up everything from Thursday’s farmshare delivery that wouldn’t last until I got back from the conference.
10/17 (Saturday): Man, was I proud of myself that day. I got up at 6, ate breakfast at home, and headed to the airport at 8, armed with what I thought was an entire day’s worth of food (see photo). I had been laboring under a misconception for many years that the TSA is likely to confiscate most food that you try to carry on a plane, but I did some research online last week and found out that sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, and salads are typically fine. As you can see, the only liquidy thing that I packed was salad dressing, which I put in its own container, and I took the container out of my lunch bag when I went through security.
In the end, this food didn’t quite last me all day. I was hungry when I got to my hotel in the evening, and since cooking was not an option, I bought a tamale (R) at a local takeout place.
10/18 (Sunday): I ate the free breakfast and lunch provided by the conference, as well as one of my Kind bars. In the evening I went to a networking-type dinner (R) at the hotel restaurant with some colleagues and other researchers.
10/19 (Monday): I ate the free breakfast and lunch provided by the conference, as well as another Kind bar. The conference also included a free reception in the early evening, during which I ate a lot of appetizers and so didn’t need dinner. (Transforming free reception food into a meal is one of my best talents.)
10/20 (Tuesday): I accidentally missed the free conference breakfast because I was practicing my talk, so in order to avoid fainting from hunger, I got a muffin at the little hotel snack shop (R). Later I ate the free lunch provided by the conference and skipped dinner because I wasn’t hungry.
10/21 (Wednesday): Since the conference was over, there was no free breakfast, and so I ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant (R) and bought a snack box lunch on the plane (R).
10/22 (Thursday): Back at work, and back to normal. Ate breakfast at home and packed my lunch, per usual. Cooked flounder and vegetables at home for dinner.
10/23 (Friday): I had two friends over for dinner and cooked a delicious squash dish. I got the recipe for this from another friend: basically you roast some cubes of winter squash and then mix them together in a huge bowl with kale, quinoa, chickpeas or edamame, feta, any other raw vegetables you have, plus olive oil, and voila!
Ok, evaluation time. I feel that I *technically* followed the rules of the challenge this week. However, the experience reminded me how difficult it can be to avoid restaurant food when traveling. If I hadn’t been able to submit receipts for reimbursement, I would have had a much harder time.
That’s it for Week Three – only one week to go! Next week I will post the final totals to see how much money I saved. In the meantime, I will leave you with this terrifying photo that I took in Arizona. Now that I am no longer standing next to this hole, I am interested in knowing who lives here. Any ideas? A rattlesnake? Giant ants?
What do you think—did I follow the October Challenge rules?
Any ideas about inhabitant(s) of the giant anthill-type thing in the sand?