Up, Up, and Away
Everybody knows that travel is a deductible expense, right? Save your receipts, write it off! No fuss, no muss, business travel is a breeze: just book a flight, pack light, lay back, and enjoy your complimentary refreshment…
Okay, enough fantasy, let's get back to reality: on the whole, traveling for business is anything but fun. After wasting precious hours on the web, scanning travel sites for the best deals on air fare and accommodations, you leave your friends and family for an unfamiliar city; at the airport, after the indignities of TSA (goodbye sweater, shoes, and belt), you navigate the crowds, queue for coffee, queue to board, squash yourself into a seat, and try your best to disregard the stale air and stale food. Need I go on?
Solopreneurs — your goal should be to cut the cost of business travel without making your trip unbearable…
Business travel is a hassle, plain and simple, but it's often unavoidable. Further more, it's costly. And when you're self-employed, every penny is precious, and every extra expense strains your balance sheet. Sure you can deduct the cost, but your refund isn't coming through for months.
The big business travel question: how to make the best of a bad situation? As a solopreneur, your goal should be to cut the cost of business travel without making your trip unbearable—even if it saves you $18, you will almost certainly regret booking that middle-of-the-row seat on a no-name airline. Check out the ideas below for saving cash, saving time, and mixing (just a pinch of) pleasure into your next business trip.
1. Let Tech Save You Time
If you own a smartphone, then it is time to app up! There are dozens of apps available that can cut your planning time in half and save you cash when you arrive. A few other apps that every frequent flier should be using: FareCompare sends you real time airfare alerts; Hotel Tonight offers near-the-airport hotel rooms at deeply discounted rates; GateGuru and Wi-Fi Finder help you locate food, services, and wi-fi hubs in airports around the world.
As you go, keep track of your miles and expenses and itineraries with Concur and TripIt. Among its many other cool features, Concur allows you to create expense reports on the go simply by snapping photos of your receipts on your phone and emailing them into the software. And Concur makes a great edition for the self-employed as well. TripIt combines all your upcoming travel confirmations into one handy itinerary just by hitting forward.
If you are willing to invest a little money now, you can save cash and time later by purchasing a membership from Priority Pass. Priority Pass gets you access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world. Behind those frosted doors you'll find free snacks, a comfy chair, and complimentary internet access. No need to book a business class ticket, your membership assures you access regardless of your seat assignment.
2. Keep More Than Just Receipts
Last year you flew to Maui for that conference—you were trapped inside the hotel 10 hours a day—but can you prove it was a business trip? How will an auditor know that you weren't traveling for pleasure? Airline and hotel receipts alone won't cut it, they only prove that you were there, the auditor wants proof of intent. After all, you cannot fly to Aspen, visit a potential customer for fifteen minutes, and spend the rest of the week on the slopes.
I recommend archiving any email exchanges related to your trip in a file (“Aspen Customer Call, March 2012”). Aside from transportation, lodging, and meals, you can write off tips, laundry, telephone and Internet service, but only if you keep the proper documents.
3. Okay, Now Relax
Even on the busiest of business trips, you will have substantial downtime. Make a plan before you leave—Been dying to finish that novel? Haven't seen a movie in a while? Is this your only chance to see the World's Biggest Ball of Yarn?!—so that you can feel productive in your time off. After two or three days, the walls of your hotel room may start to close in. Why not get outside and explore!
If you have another travel tip for making business travel a bit more palatable, let us know in the comments section below!