A District 5470 Guide to
Attending a Rotary International Convention
By: Paulette Church
Several members of District 5470 have asked for help in planning their RI Convention trip and their time will there.  In an effort to help with this and after attending four Conventions, I am putting together these suggestions, which will change as others contribute their ideas as well.
First, each Convention has different issues regarding travel, size, venue, and the quality of the host committee’s planning. I suggest your arrive one day before and stay at least one day after the Convention.  That said, there are some common steps to take:
  1. Register as early as you can to save money.  You can Google Rotary Convention and the year to get to the website with all the information.  This year (2018) this site is http://www.riconvention.org/en/toronto/register .  Register on the link here choosing options.
    1. I strongly suggest you attend the PE luncheon as the food, information, and entertainment are wonderful and worth the cost.  Sign up at registration.
    2. I also suggest you attend the President’s luncheon for the same reasons and they are held on different days.  Sign up at registration.
    3. Don’t miss the opening and closing ceremonies!!!  Try to attend the first opening and first closing ceremony as the second one will often have recordings of the live speeches from the first ones.  Registering early helps with this.  The Host Committee typically offers a BBQ or similar meal right after the opening ceremonies.  Some are great and some are not and all lines are very long.  Again, it’s a great time to meet others and get a taste of the venue.  These are prepaid and usually very affordable.
    4. Offer to volunteer if you can.  This is a great way to meet other Rotarians from around the world and be a part of some events that you can’t always access.  The training is usually a day or two before opening so this can affect hotel and transportation plans.
    5. If you are a PHF there is a free reception but it usually does not include food but is a great chance to spend time with others and learn about projects around the world and their results.
    6. There are other meetings or meals to chose from so look over the list before you finalize your registration.  You can get refunds for some events and most of your registration but there is a minimum of $50 fee for cancelling your full registration and some events may not be refundable.
    7. Look over the Host Committee’s entertainment and food options.  We love to be hosted by a club for dinner one night of the Convention.  Sometimes they have you in a home or at a restaurant with club members.  Once we were taken a great distance on public transportation to their regular meeting place and it was wonderful – they brought us back, too.  You register for these events at a separate website that the main website will direct you to for the Host Committee Events.  The Host Committee may also email you directly after you register for the Convention.
    8. There is usually a District or Zone dinner one night and we attend these as well.  While they are costly, they are very well planned with great food and time to see friends from home or your area of the District.
  1. I suggest after you look over the program from the links on the website, then decide how early and/or late you wish to stay and decide this soon as it drives your planning.
  1. Book your hotel right away.  I use the RI website because RI usually provides transportation to and from the hotels listed so you get to the venue and back easily in nice busses on a schedule.  Most hotels allow for cancellation without penalty and it really helps to check them all to see the most affordable for you.  No meals are included at the Convention but you can purchase lunch from a number of vendors outside the House of Friendship, which houses hundreds of displays of service projects, RI Fellowships, and vendors.  I note this because you may want breakfast included in your hotel and a small frig and microwave so you can keep some food and beverages on hand in your room.  Cheaper rooms go first and there are few cheap rooms.  You can also look for a hotel chain for which you have points to use and book all or part of your stay directly with them to use your points and still be able to use the RI transportation.
  1. If the venue is out of the country, check to see if you need to get a VISA or travel permit.  This will require more money, sending notarized copies of your passport (expiring six months AFTER you plan to return), driver’s licenses, and applications and can take three to four months to obtain.  Brazil was costly and if you wanted to go to Argentina to visit you had to do the same process with them.
  1. Airfare is tricky.  RI usually designates a carrier that will give you a special rate so check that out.  Some Districts charter a plane and this can be much more convenient but is often more costly.  We just went with the carrier that came to our area and watched the rates.  As the Convention gets close the planes fill up and rates go up, so we usually book very early.  You can buy trip insurance for a reasonable amount in case you have to cancel later but there are limited reasons allowed for cancelling, so check carefully.  I also try to pick a hotel with free shuttle service to and from the airport.  Many Rotarians use public transportation from the airport to their hotel so their preference is to choose one on the transportation route.  This takes some study at the host city’s transportation website.
  1. If the Convention is close to home, consider a bus.  My club booked a bus to take members of our club and neighboring clubs to and from the Convention when it was in El Paso and it was a rolling party than took longer but was more fun than flying.
  1. Pack for the weather in layers and have more than one pair of comfortable shoes.  Dress is usually business casual and you will see many in national costumes.  Suits are not required so dress comfortably for lots of walking, sitting, and standing.  Layers are great and a jacket in case of rain is wise.  Many bring daypacks because once you leave your hotel you will be gone for six to eight hours – or more.  Leave extra room in your suitcase to bring things back – I guarantee you will do so!  We took business cards to exchange when we saw a promising project or met someone we wanted to contact later.  Cells phones are very helpful when you get separated or change plans in these huge venues.
  1. As soon as you can, print out the draft schedule for the days you will be there.  Plan which sessions you want to attend, looking at the venue to see how far apart they are.  Sometimes a set of presentations end in the middle of the next set so you have to skip sessions.  If someone famous is doing a breakout or the topic is popular, you may want to skip the previous session and wait outside the room you wish until it is opened so you can get a set or even standing room.  Room counts are enforced by fire departments.  I have waited two hours to see a speaker or a panel and it was always worth it. 
  1. Plenary sessions are great to attend and have plenty of room and seating and often have top speakers from within Rotary and outside of Rotary.  You might want to sit by the back or on the aisle because they have Jumbotrons and you can see and hear quite well.  When the plenary lets out before lunch it is a mad dash to get in line as they are very long so getting there is worth the rush to do so.  Sometimes there are not enough vendors and some run out of the more popular and healthy foods.
  1.   Plan time to visit The House of Friendship, more than once as it is usually huge. There are local vendors and others selling products that were produced as part of Rotary projects.  Most Fellowships are represented and you can join one or more right there.  Rotary product vendors are there so you want to compare prices.  Often there is entertainment and the schedule is usually in the program and posted for the day.  It’s a good chance to look over local, regional, ad global projects to get ideas or to link for your club’s possible support.  They may have a local service project time so plan to be there to help out if you wish.
  1.   If someone in your group needs a wheelchair it is best to reserve an electric cart so each person can attend different sessions if desired.  Carts run about $100 per day but give that person choices and mobility in one.  You may not need it every day so decide which ones to reserve.  It’s too late to reserve them when you arrive.  We had to pay cash in local currency for the cart in Brazil and the ATM had run out of money before 10 am.  Not sure if this is usual.
  1.   You might want to take bottled water to the venue with you as it is expensive there and again a wait in line to purchase it.  Usually there are no drinking fountains to refill them but that varies venue to venue.  There are dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs around the food stands but these will fill up for lunch.  They are fairly open other than lunch and a good place to meet for a rest or to plan the rest of the day.
  1.   When traveling abroad, use a credit card that does not charge international fees and has the chip.  Most countries do not accept a card without the chip.  You can obtain local currency at the venue exchange booth run by RI or use an ATM to get currency to purchase low-cost items and/or to give tips.  Banks in the US often will provide currency if requested well in advance to their customers but you usually pay overnight fees plus a lower exchange rate.
  1.   Be sure to wear a Rotary pin, hat, vest, shirt, sweater, jacket as much as possible while you travel.  You will meet many Rotarians in the airports and on transportation before you even arrive at the host city.  They are also helpful with questions and advice, just as you are.  There are usually Rotary greeters in bright Rotary vests at the airport when you arrive so look for them when you have questions and/or need directions.
  1.   We often visit other areas near a Convention which means we will rent a car at some point and have accommodations elsewhere.  I usually use Avis when out of country or another American company so if I have problems I can follow up when I return home.  Don’t rent a car and park it in a downtown hotel while at the convention as you will usually pay a high daily rate.  There is very limited car parking at the venue and often great difficulty getting to it in a large, unfamiliar city.  Buses are preferred and very handy to use as is public transportation.  We rented a car to be picked up at our hotel for use after the Convention when they were readily available and then could drop it off at the airport.
  1.   Take lots of photos to share with you club when you return.  It makes a wonderful program and helps them understand the magnitude of Rotary International!  Video the opening ceremony or part of it if not prohibited or download it from the RI Youtube channel when you return along with any speeches you really appreciated as these are great for the club anytime.