If your job requires you to travel frequently, managing your trips can seem like a job in itself. Whereas planning a vacation can be part of the fun, planning a business trip is more likely to be stressful and time consuming.
The Global Business Travel Association estimates that the number of U.S. business trips will surpass 500 million this year. If the average worker spends an hour on trip planning, booking, and expense claims, that means they'll devote more than 20 million collective days to managing their travel. That's 57,000 years (give or take a century) attending to business travel instead of to their actual business.
Tempting as it might be, skipping the prep is hardly a better option: being spontaneous works a lot better when you're traveling for leisure and not, say, to an important client meeting. Taking just a few minutes to intelligently plan your trip will pay dividends when you're on the road and when you return home. Here are four small changes you can make to your travel routine that will add up to big time savings.
1. Read Your Company's Travel Policy
It might seem counterintuitive that the way to simplify your travel planning is by adding a step, but knowing what's in your company's travel policy prevents the time-consuming headache of unapproved expenses.
Break out that copy of the company policy you probably ignored during employee on-boarding and make note of the key points. Are you required to get a trip approved before booking? Are there maximum spending guidelines? How long after your trip do you have to submit an expense report? You don't have to know these details by heart, but keep them in a handy spot to consult when booking your trips.
2. Give yourself a time limit for booking
Call it the paradox of choice: the web makes it possible to find flights, hotels, and rental cars to match practically any specification, but this very abundance makes it practically impossible to decide which options to pick.
The average traveler visits 38 sites while researching and booking their trip. But price differences are rarely significant among the major travel sites, which draw on the same flight and hotel inventory, and are often less of competitors than corporate siblings. In truth, the main point of differentiation tends to be user interface.
Simplify your booking process by picking a travel site that fits your needs, then sticking to it. In some cases, it might be worthwhile to also visit the website of particular airline or hotel - for instance, if you're flying out of an airport served by Southwest (which does not list its flights on other sites), or if you belong to the hotel loyalty program that offers perks for booking direct.
3. Set an expense report reminder
After a long business trip, there are few welcome-home gifts less appealing than a stack of expense reports to complete. Avoid the end-of-month reimbursement log jam by beginning your expense report at the time of booking. Start with your plane ticket, hotel reservation, and other prepaid purchases. At the same time, set a calendar reminder for a few days after your return to finish the report by adding any expenses for meals, taxis, client entertainment, and incidental fees.
4. Download a travel planning apps
Life's too short to spend it digging through your inbox for travel confirmation emails. Thankfully there are several apps that make it super easy to organize and access your itineraries, boarding passes, and reservation IDs. TripIt and WorldMate are two of the most widely used, and integrate with major corporate booking and expense systems.