Whether you love it or hate it, business travel is a sometimes necessary expense. Depending on your business, you may be offered extra flat fee funds, often referred to as a per diem, to help cover food, transportation, and other necessary costs while traveling for business. If you spend less than you are given, you may (usually) keep the leftover funds.
However, if you spend more than you are given, you will need to pay out of pocket. While these funds are meant to be enough, sometimes they don't go quite as far as you'd like. I've had more than a few instances of going over a budget that I wasn't quite expecting.
However, years of traveling have shown me a few tips and tricks to not only manage the per diem but also how to do it with style. Here are a few things I've learned.
1. Choose your hotel wisely.
If possible, find a hotel with continental breakfast options so you can fuel up on a good breakfast. Also, if you find hotels that have suites, take advantage of their mini-kitchens in your hotel room. Also, a hotel in close proximity to your event is a wise choice.
I also recommend joining hotel loyalty programs and applying for travel credit cards. Many people don't realize that one hotel brand owns several other brands (e.g. IHG includes Holiday Inn brands, Staybridge Suites, Kimpton Hotels, etc.). Oftentimes, their credit card benefits include upgrades and free nights.
2. Consider your transportation options.
Cut costs by ride sharing with coworkers or even with strangers via Uber, Lyft, or any other ridesharing option. You will not only meet the locals, but you may also land a new client. Unless I'm in a massive rush, sharing a car saves me money, eases the stress of navigating and parking in an unfamiliar place, and usually leads to an interesting conversation.
Additionally, aside from trains and buses, cycling and even taking a scooter may be potential options. Before I go to a new place, I like to check Google Maps to see what options I may have. Sometimes I do half of my journey on foot as a way to see the city.
3. Eat like the locals.
One of the reasons I enjoy taking a ride share car to my destination is because you can usually strike up a conversation about food. People generally enjoy telling you the best place to get their favorite dish. By doing this, I not only break the ice, but I also learn what is good to eat (shoutout to my recent driver led me to a food truck extravaganza).
To really maximize your per diem, eat healthy homemade meals by stocking up on fruits, vegetables, and nonperishable items. The general rule is to save the fancy or more expensive meal for dinner. Check online for food delivery site coupons or use sites like Groupon for further savings.
4. Know what is and isn't allowed.
It's always wise to know any restrictions that aren't covered by the per diem. Per diem allowances will vary by employer and even by state to state, so be sure to speak to HR and follow ethical practices. Be aware that taxes may also be affected by the per diem.