Travel as an independent consultant
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
It's more flexible!
First I should point out that it is important to save your clients money, where you can. You should not be seen as living it up, while people in your client's organization have to scrimp and save.
Before the days of Uber, Lyft, and others, I worked for a fairly large company in an executive position. They provided a limousine service for executives. When I had an early flight and had to leave home at 4 o'clock in the morning, it was great that someone else was driving and I also did not have to leave extra early to park my car. Also, not waiting for a taxi that would sometimes arrive a half hour late was a plus. It was also great walking straight out and getting into a limousine at my destination, and when I traveled home.
Later at a small startup company, things were very tight. Still before ride services, they encouraged us to ride share to save money and park only one car parking, if we were traveling together. I really missed the limo service then. This would be for a day trip or if we were away for one night. Overall, they still paid for all expenses, whereas in my previous government research job, the amount they paid for expenses was fixed and very tight. We would stay in hotels in sketchy areas because of that.
When I went into consulting, I looked into limousines. One limo company said that it would be the same price as a taxi, and it was pretty close. My clients were fine with my using the limo service, which was a step up. Today, I mostly use ride sharing companies, but they are certainly not waiting for me at the airport when I arrive after watching the flight schedules online.
For trips that would take 3 or 4 hours by car, taking a train can be a good option. Trains are also great for getting work done as you head to your meeting. On trips to the United Kingdom, I used a great app called Trainline. When delays occurred, it was easy to reroute and arrive on time. Trainline also has a presence in the European Union.
In the government and working for a small company, flights were usually economy, except for very long flights of 10 or more hours. As a consultant some small companies would have similar policies. Larger companies would usually send me mostly business and occasionally first class. This was great, because when traveling frequently on long international flights, it is great to have a seat that turns into a flat bed that you sleep on. You can arrive at your destination more rested.
If I book myself, I look for the least expensive flights, but if they book for me, I go along with whatever they arrange. I do ask, if it is not a problem, to book me on a flight on an airline with which I have frequent flyer miles. For those who travel a lot, it gives you flexibility for upgrades based on your miles. Also, I might upgrade at my own expense for longer flights.
Compared with working in the government or in some startup companies, clients are quite generous. They will pay for reasonably priced accommodation close to the meeting. If they as a routine pay for very good hotels for you (and their equivalently ranked employees) that is fine, For larger clients that might have arrangements with some hotel chains, the accommodation might be very good. Again, it is good to try to save the client money.
Most often, I pay for the accommodation at the time that I stay there, and I invoice my client to be reimbursed for my expenses.
Food and beverages
Generally, my clients will reimburse me for food and beverages, and they usually do this for employees. This is unlike government travel where the daily allowance was very restrictive. I try to try reasonably priced food and beverages. I am scrupulous about removing payments for non-business guests that may be on any receipts.
Professional and trade meetings
Unless a client wants me to travel to a conference that I don't usually attend, I usually pay for my own travel. Because of my business structure, an S corporation, I can deduct expenses, when I pay for my own travel to attend professional meetings. If the client pays, I invoice them to reimburse expenses. My employers would send me to educational and scientific conferences and pay for them, including ones I usually attended.
I left the best for last.
Consulting is very interesting and great fun, but it is good to have some time off to enjoy your travels.
As employees in industry, we would take a flight out on business, check into a hotel, and rush to a meeting. After the meeting, we would go back to the hotel, get a bite to eat, and head to our hotel rooms to catch up on correspondence and calls. Early the next day, we might do another meeting and then head to the airport getting back late at night. After arriving home very late, we would head to work the next morning as if we had not traveled.
Some employers in the tech industry understand if you come in to work a bit late after a very busy trip, others don't. Especially in smaller or startup companies where people are working to the max, when everyone who was traveling takes off time, it can greatly slow progress. The more people that are traveling and the more frequent the travel is, the more difficult it is to take any time off.
Clearly, the schedule for much of business travel doesn't allow much time to enjoy the places you visit. It's not to say that you can't take advantage of a couple of hours that open up if a meeting ends early.
Independent consultants have great flexibility, and that is good when you travel. You don't have to head back to the office at the earliest opportunity. At your own expense, you can prolong your stay. You can deal with any necessary matters remotely.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies got used to people not coming into the office. Working remotely, for office-based employees expanded. This saved office workers much time. The commute was gone. The schedule could be more flexible for many. Meetings you might travel to were turned into virtual events, and most business travel was put on hold. The travel industry and many businesses suffered greatly. In the end, travel will come back.
Enjoy your travels!