Whenever I have the opportunity to take business trips, I’m often stunned at the endless opportunities to rack up expenses. Tickets. Meals. Cab fare. Hotels. Entertainment. Pretty much anything in an airport. Sure, most of these expenses are tax deductible, but they still eat directly into the bottom line of a small business.
After one particularly painful business trip in 2007, when I found myself spending a shocking amount on food, drink, lodging, and transportation fees, I resolved to never fall into that trap again. I sat down, took a serious look at my business travel expenses, and found several ways to flash forward one year. In 2008, I took a nearly identical trip and found myself spending almost $400 less than before without reducing the effectiveness or enjoyment of the trip one bit. That $400 wound up covering some design expenses that helped create a much more attractive public face for one of my businesses and has created lasting traffic. In your world, $400 might do any number of things – buy advertising space, invest in infrastructure, or reach out to clients.
Here are eight simple rules for practicing effective frugality while traveling on business.
Plan around public transportation. Before you leave, figure out how to get to your hotel using public transportation in the city, print out the route, and keep it with you. Do the reverse for the return trip as well.
“Buddy up” at larger meetings and conventions. If you already know people who are thinking of attending the same meeting you are, consider “buddying up” with them. You can share hotel rooms and perhaps other transportation costs, plus you have someone to converse with during the travel.
Make lodging reservations directly with the branch you’re staying at. Use web sites to identify places to stay, but before reserving a room, call the hotel directly before using the online reservation system and don’t hesitate to ask for a reduced rate while on the phone. You’re likely to get a much better rate, particularly if it’s out of season, during the week, or you’re staying for a longer period.
Don’t spend a dime in the airport. Throw a few granola bars and an empty bottle into your carry-on bag. Once you’re through security, fill up that bottle with water. Granola bars provide a great energy boost and water is the most effective way to keep yourself hydrated and alert. Plus, the cost is minimal – unlike the tons of overpriced items in the airport.
Keep one day’s essentials in your carry-on. This way, if your luggage gets lost on the way, you don’t have to derail plans (and often incur expenses with little benefit) in retrieving the items. I usually tightly roll one set of business casual clothes and iron them when I arrive.
Drink plenty of water at meals. When you go out to dinner and you’re served water before you order, drink the entire glass as quickly as you can while being discreet. This will make you feel more full and cause you to order a smaller, less expensive, and often healthier meal.
Don’t drink too much. Often, I’ll go out with associates and potential clients for drinks in the evening, and I’ve seen a lot of them drink far too much, say things they regret later, do things they regret later, and reveal things they regret later, all of which can be painful for a business. Not only that, they’re often tagged with an impressive bill. My solution is simple – I have a drink or two, but I usually alternate the drinks with water or soda that appears to be a mixed drink, but is much less expensive and keeps me from getting into a difficult situation.
Use conversation as your entertainment. There’s no need to go out for entertainment while on business travel. If you have down time, seek out conversation. Meet with other people who are at the same meeting, for starters. A worthwhile two hour conversation with an interesting and insightful person while nursing a single beverage is far more valuable and far less expensive than going out somewhere expensive or renting a pay per view movie in your hotel room.
Good luck on the road!