Travel is a necessary aspect of modern business. For small businesses travel is not always easy, especially when you’re on a tight, or in some cases, non existent budget. We know how you feel.
Our team attends numerous conferences and trade shows, some local and some a little further away, we also have a remote engineering team which we fly into London every 6 weeks. So over the past two and half years we think we’ve become pretty good at budget business travel. Here is our practical guide and tips to help you travel better on a budget. Use the menu below to jump to any section:
‘What’s the purpose of your visit?’
Meetings? Conferences? Research? Depending on what it is you’re traveling for you might be able to get your trip subsidised by your government’s Trade & Investment organizations. Every year these organizations receive millions in tax to support growing businesses and therefore have to allocate a certain amount of money to providing assistance.
So long as you are able to prove that your trip is for legitimate business and meets their criteria (see links below) then you can get up to £950 in the UK to put towards your business travel expenses.
What’s more, if you are exhibiting or attending a trade show abroad that is connected in some way to you country’s Trade and Investment departments, then there are even more savings you can make (see the link below).
In the US it’s slightly more complicated but there’s plenty of information on the Department of Commerce website and state DoC websites which can help you.
UK Travel Expense Grants
UK Trade Show Support
US Department of Commerce Grant Scheme
Some people love them, others hate them. Whatever your preference, most would agree that the idea is to fly as comfortably as possible, for as little as possible – this isn’t always the case but here are a few tips to help:
Use multiple booking search engines. Our favorites are:
- Skyscanner.net – Amazing search functionality for finding you the best and cheapest flights to anywhere. It checks all major airlines and budget airlines and has produced the best results we’ve found. It also has native apps on iOS and Android.
- Kayak – Another great search engine. In our experience it can find you some very cheap long haul flights, however these may route you through 2 or more cities before reaching your destination, so be careful. This is a great website for comparison.
- Orbitz – This tool is great if you are travelling to, from or in the North America. It shows you the prices 3 days either side of the dates you would like to fly in a clear tabulated format to help you work out the best price.
- Expedia – Expedia is famously known as the one stop travel shop. Expedia does a fantastic job of finding you the best and cheapest flights. It’s worth noting that you are often able to make saving on accommodation and car rental if you book it all together using a service like Expedia.
Be open to a stopping somewhere – You might be able to save a lot of money by flying with multiple airlines and/or doing a short stop. Remember if you are flying different airlines, it is not the airline’s responsibility to assist you if your flight is delayed and you miss your second (or third) flight.
Be careful when booking stopovers as you may end up turning what should be a 3 hour flight in total into a 13 hour transit.
Save money wisely – if there’s a difference of say £50 between a direct flight and a flight with a 4 hour stop, it’s worth paying the extra £50 on your outbound flight so you can arrive as fresh as possible, allowing you to maximise your time.
If your flights cost over £100 use a credit card as you will be protected in the UK under Section 75 (read more about that here). There is similar protection for purchases in the USA – check with your credit card provider to be sure.
Warning – Budget airlines may sell you what seems to be a return flight but actually they are cleverly disguising two single tickets and therefore if each ticket does not total £100, you will not be able to claim this back.
Now that you’ve made it to your destination, you’re going to need somewhere to sleep.
Do you have friends in that city in that city? Ask for their sofa. Treat them to a few drinks, clean up after yourself and don’t outstay your welcome. That’s the cheapest (and often most fun) option. $
Use Air BnB – if you’re not familiar with this then be ready to be amazed. You essentially rent people’s rooms, apartments or houses for an agreed short or extended amount of time. The beauty of this system is there are often thousands of options available for varying budgets, and they are sortable by location too. Assimilate and live like a local. $$
Hotels – Depending on where and when, a hotel can sometimes be the cheapest option when traveling. In peak seasons and around national holidays you will find a huge spike in the cost of rooms – avoid those periods and use smart hotel search engines such as Expedia, Trip Advisor, Booking.com or Hotel Scanner and you can be certain you’ve found the best price.$-$$$
Hostels Not the first choice of a business person on a serious business trip, but if all you’re looking for is a cheap bed and shower then that’s all you’re really going to get with a hostel. Use websites like HostelBookers.com, Expedia and Trip Advisor to find the best prices and be sure to read the reviews carefully. Some hostels are more family friendly than others and are often quieter. $
If your accommodation costs over £100, purchase it with a credit card for payment protection.
Are you a light packer or do you need a hurst to carry your suitcase? How many times have you travelled and only used half of the things you packed? Packing light is the best way to travel, you’re not worrying about baggage costs, losing items, or too much choice.
One of the best (and nerdiest) books we’ve seen is @ShaunHuberts ‘How To Pack Like A Rockstar’ – check it out here http://howtopacklikearockstar.com/ Learn how to pack light and make the most of your suitcase from this funny and strangely addictive coffee table book. Read Shaun’s 5 Top Packing Tips right here.
What to wear
The purpose, time of year and destination of your trip will have a large part to play in this section.
If you are confident that a smart-casual attire is a safe bet then by all means wear jeans, a shirt and some nice shoes. However if you’re not entirely certain then play it safe and wear a suit. Oscar Wilde once said ‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated’ and we wholeheartedly agree. If suits aren’t really your thing and you need help getting dressed most mornings then check these out:
Thread – their whole mission statement is ‘Dress well without trying’. Let one of Thread’s stylists help you find clothes you’ll love, all online and completely free.
Broke & Bespoke Blog – As suggested by the title of this blog it gives you ideas on what to wear on a budget.
No matter where you go (even if it is for pleasure), you should have with you a pair of nice shoes and a button up shirt, as some restaurants or even hotels require you to do so.
New York in the Summer is outrageously hot and sticky, but a New York winter is utterly unforgiving. Use your phone’s weather app to check out the temperature and weather forecast in the city you’re visiting.
One of the forgotten costs of visiting a new place. Whether it’s taxis, trams or metros, each has its benefits and drawbacks, here’s why:
Walking / Cycling – it’s the best way to travel as far as money and health are concerned, it also allows you to soak in the place you’re visiting. If you are not in a huge hurry to get around from meeting to meeting then this is the best option.
Taxis – Usually seen as the more expensive of ground transport, but sometimes unavoidable. With apps like Uber or Hailo, taxi prices have become far more competitive, though beware, some cities aren’t currently supported by all these apps, so compare to find which app are supported and which offer the best prices.
Flagging down a taxi? Always negotiate your price before you start your trip. Understand the local currency and if it sounds unreasonable then it probably is. Of course in some countries taxis are the cheapest mode of transport, so when that’s the case be sure to take full advantage.
Metros / Trams / Buses – Use local transport authority websites or apps like Citymapper to plan your routes and get around. Google Maps is also good at planning trips within a city using public transport. Always be streetwise. Certain cities are notorious for pickpocketing on public transport – so move valuables into inside zipped pockets and keep an eye on your bags.
Check when the last train or bus is. In NYC the subway is 24 hours, in London it’s not, make sure you have a plan B and C just in case.
Travel and food always go hand in hand. You are in a new country or city and one of the best ways to experience the culture of a new place is through food.
Business trips often always include a level of culinary entertainment, and depending upon who you are meeting with you may or may not be expected to pay for your lunch/dinner meetings and/or drinks.
The underlying trick here to save money when eating out is to eat like the locals. They know what’s good and what’s cheap. Ask around, you may find a hidden gem. Again Trip Advisor is always good at recommending restaurants and you are able to filter by food type and price. Read a couple of reviews and always try a local delicacy.
Before you go
In all honesty, we could (and probably will) write a whole blog post on this section alone, but in a nut shell, here are some general tips to help you prepare.
Use Google Maps or Citymapper to work out how long it takes to get from A to B.
Most of all if you are travelling long distance account for jet lag or you will crash and burn.
Plan your time in country as best as possible. Don’t overfill your day as you may overrun in meetings or get stuck in unexpected traffic. (We have heard of people missing flights because President Obama’s motorcade shut down half of Los Angeles).
If you are going to a trade show do the ground work before you arrive. Find out who your neighbours are. Is there a contact list you can harvest to send everyone a well scripted invitation to visit your stand? In SalesSeek you can import a list of harvested exhibitors, create an email and send it directly from within the app. Track your open rates, make those important calls before you go and have better quality and qualified meetings.
Pick out some key potential clients from the existing exhibitors list, and when your stand is a little quiet go and strike up a conversation.
Are you heading somewhere a little more exotic? Brush up on your local business customs and norms. Become a pro and show your respect for the country and its customs – this will no go unnoticed. Websites like Kwintessential offer some great advice for international business etiquette.