There are a lot of unsung benefits that companies provide their employees these days, but I’ve noticed most business travelers see it as a burden, rather than a perk, to get to travel so frequently for their employers. Now that I’ve been traveling nonstop for my new(ish) job, I’m realizing what a gift it is - when it’s done right.
If you, like me, are hitting the road every few weeks for work, there are plenty of general hacks for traveling out there, but there are a few key things you can do to make the most of your work trips!
Before you even book your hotel, make sure you understand your company's expense policy backward and forward! Are you going to be traveling on a per diem? What are the limits to the hotels, flights, and food purchases you'll be making while traveling? Talk to your manager or your HR department if you don't find it listed in the company handbook.
Anything that doesn't fit into that constraint will come out of your pocket, so make a mental note and stick to the budget.
And it's worth mentioning here - anytime you pay for anything out of pocket, use a credit card that offers you the best points for whatever it is! Your company will reimburse you, and you get to keep the cash-back or points. It's basically free money.
Never, I repeat, never check your bag. For these sorts of quick trips, I find I only need a change or two of clothing, my laptop, and any work-related cargo I may need to take (or bring back). If not for all the stuff I have to haul out to each work event, I probably wouldn't be able to fill a carry-on suitcase halfway.
But alas, I do have to cart a good 10+ pounds of something, no matter the destination. So I’ve developed some tricks to keep my packing light. Before each trip, I check the weather and my calendar and decide what makes sense -- usually, I’ll end up packing black work-appropriate pants, a rotating cast of blouses, and if necessary, a wrinkle-free dress for the fancier events. If weather dictates, I’ll also bring extra socks and work-appropriate waterproof boots and a collapsible umbrella. And I always travel with a light, rainproof jacket with plenty of pockets.
I also strongly suggest investing in a carry-on suitcase that is easy to rotate and move through the aisles, sturdy enough to fill with the extra goodies you have to cart everywhere, and light enough to lift over your head every few days, even when it's full.
I've been on the road so much lately that I don't bother to fully unpack my suitcase when I get home. Any business cards, toiletries, or company-branded things stay in the suitcase along with a notebook and pen.
I also keep electronics in there. My noise-canceling headphones live there year-round because I just don't use them unless I'm traveling. I also keep extra chargers for my laptop, cell phone, and kindle in there, just in case, along with a small external battery pack.
Chances are that if you’re traveling for work, you’re in the air more often than you’ve ever been before. When I was flying maybe once every few months, I always kind of just went with the cheapest flight option. I figured that without flying consistently, I wasn't really missing out on miles or rewards.
Now that I'm in a new state every few weeks, I'm cleaning my act up. I've made sure to collect miles on a frequent flyer number with each airline that my company books, and when given the option, I'm booking flights through Delta so I can get as many of those miles to go towards my own vacations.
I also suggest TSA precheck, just because saving the 30+ minutes for each trip, each way, really adds up! For US-based domestic travelers, this is the ticket to shorter lines and less hassle. I no longer have to take out liquids and electronics, and I get to keep my shoes and jacket on. Of course, without all of the mayhem, this shorter line goes much faster, too. For international travel, it may be worth it to get Global Entry as well!
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get my company to cover the $85 fee, but it doesn't hurt to ask! If you do, my approach would be to have the company consider the dollar value of time saved by using PreCheck:
(Avg Time Spent in Regular Lines - Avg Time Spent in PreCheck) x Total Airport Check-Ins that Month x Your Hourly Rate = Money the company is spending to have you waiting in lines that month, instead of on your laptop at the gate!
For me, it'll be:
(.5 hours - .25 hours) x 5 x $43.00/hour = $53.75/month, or $645/year.
That's a nice little sum. It makes the $85 seem like a bargain - especially because that $85 covers you for 5 years!
These apps will notify you when it's time to check in (and allow you to do so on the app), or if there's a delay, gate change, or any other issue with your flight. My last flight was delayed by a half hour, which meant I had a half hour longer to enjoy some breakfast before getting to LAX. Thank you, app.
I also don't have to print my boarding pass, or even screenshot it on my phone through their mobile link anymore. I didn't think it was possible to be lazier with boarding passes, but these apps set out to achieve that dream.
Just like with flights, I found I can get rewards points through hotels and travel booking services as well! I joined Expedia, and it's been working fairly well so far - in fact, I've already accumulated over 1,600 points just in the past month! It's not big money, but that's $11.32 towards my own vacation down the line.
I'll try and book lodgings through Expedia but with hotel chains that also offer their own member benefits. So far I've found that Marriott and Best Western have the best options for my destinations while staying within the company's allotted budget, so I'm building my points with them.
It's a trade-off, though. Sometimes you want to stay somewhere that just feels a bit more unique. My favorite hotel I've stayed in yet was the Watertown Hotel in Seattle, where everything was Pineapple-themed! They had pineapple cupcakes at the front desk, pineapple waters for you upstairs, pineapple shaped pillows on the beds, and oddly enough, a stuffed husky doll in the room as well - and was walking distance to live music on a Thursday night.
My point is this: if you want to experience something outside of your Best Westerns and Hiltons, do it. You won't get the points, but it may be worth it anyway.
No matter what, though, think about what you'll be doing -- not just while you're on duty, but in your off hours. Try to find hotels that are close enough to everything you want to accomplish during your trip. Speaking of...
I'm lucky to have friends in a lot of the cities I'm visiting now - and to be able to reconnect with people who've moved to Houston or Las Vegas! Before every trip, I ask for suggestions of things to visit, and for people to save some time for me when I'm in town. I feel so lucky to be able to reconnect with old friends and catch up on my off hours.
Eventually, your friends' suggestions will subside, or maybe you have other priorities and want to spend your time doing something else. For me, that's music. If you, like me, haven't been to many of the cities you're now venturing off towards, take advantage of the situation!
Before every trip, I confirm my work schedule and add some buffer in. Then, once I know what free time I'm working with, I'll take to the internet and look for live music on the nights that I'll be in town.
Sometimes I'll find a good show on Gold Star or Eventbrite, or sometimes I'll find something good on Facebook. If nothing else, I'll usually ask the Lyft and Uber drivers for suggestions once I'm in town - and have found some great open mic nights just from that.
I mentioned before the importance of knowing your company's reimbursement policy and sticking to it. Hold onto receipts from every coffee, dinner, and event that is part of the work portion of your trip, and label the receipts! I usually just write things like "Portland Trip 3/16 Dinner" on the top of each so I can stay organized, then slip them into my wallet. Once back in the office, follow the standard protocol to submit an expense sheet, and make a note to yourself to wait.
For email receipts, like those from Uber and Lyft, you can forward those to the Accounting team back in the office while you're on the road. Personally, I set an auto-forward for Lyft because I know I don't use it unless I'm traveling for work, but decide whether there's a chance that the office is going to get an email about your Friday night Karaoke travels, and act based on that.
In the meantime, I'll mark expenses as work-related in my favorite budgeting app, and make sure that everything cancels out with the one check I'll receive from the Accounting team.
So let's recap:
Earn as many miles on the same airlines as possible, check.
Earn extra benefits from hotels and travel services, check.
Earn free money for any out-of-pocket expenses, check.
Get to see friends, family, music, or whatever suits your fancy, check.
As someone with the flexibility in my life to travel, this seems like a pretty good deal to me!
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