Business trips are often boring and mind-wrecking.
Some of that is down to the work itself, but there is a larger part of it that comes from being an alien in a foreign place. You know nothing about the place and unscrupulous merchants overcharge you. If you are one of those people who have your own secretary or have a business support team for every order from your 30th storey corner office, you can stop reading now, and the rest of us hope that you spill your single-origin double-shot organic soy-chai-latte down your stupid bespoke Egyptian cotton shirt.
For the rest of us, planning a business trip can be stressful.
Here are 5 things that can be done better for some savings, and even a bit of fun.
Flights are expensive, and us plebeians have to find the cheapest one that is available in order to get it approved by our overworked Finance person.
One time, after ponderously lifting his gaze from research into newfangled ways to keep the company afloat, I received a single rueful shake of the head, and that was all. Sad but true story. So much for frequent flyer miles.
How can we avoid spending time that we don’t have chasing savings that we can’t see?
Ironically the answer is travel agents.
Before your eyes start rolling, think about your last experience making a flight booking online, or the last time that you felt ripped off on a flight. Chances are neither of these experiences made you happy.
A few companies, such as FlightFox and AirConcierge have sprouted up to exploit mass dissatisfaction with the mainstream flight search websites. The former employs flight hackers to find us cheap fares, but they take a cut of the savings. With the latter, they claim to have a relationship with airlines that cuts out middlemen. The idea of hacking flights conjures images of the Guy Fawkes mask, but it turns out that what actually happens are much more mundane, like erasing your own browser’s cookies and using a VPN, not a common website security problem, according to my friend and web security savant, Changs.
Nonetheless, in the case of both services, using them means that you don’t have to pore over hundreds of search results from crappy flight search engines, and that’s a win any day.
Once a trip is ended, you can look for the “Previous Trips” section in your account, and there you will have the option to download a receipt from Airbnb. This will get you that loft in downtown Bangkok surrounded by hotels that charge twice as much.
Since you’re a business traveler, you will want to be extra certain that your travel insurance covers non-hotel accommodation (which it almost always does). Also, be thorough in evaluating your accommodation. Misleading photos and fake reviews aren’t grounds for getting reimbursed by travel insurance, so be diligent in verifying the authenticity of a listing.
That said, in places like Singapore or Germany, there are thriving local alternatives to Airbnb too so check them out in order not to miss those secret local gems.
If you’re running your own company, freelancing or planning to take some time off after business, exchange rates are something that concern you.
Our tunnel-vision focus on flight and hotel savings leads us to forget about the fees that we end up bearing unknowingly elsewhere. For our example, let’s assume that your card was issued in Singapore. When you purchase something overseas with your credit card, the cost will first be converted from the local currency to USD, and then to SGD. The amount is converted twice, and you take the hit on the conversion rate (usually crappy) twice. After that, Visa/Mastercard or AMEX charges you a fee for using your card overseas.
Lastly, your bank charges you a fee too. In a typical example, the charges can come to be 3-4% of the value of your purchase. That sounds like a lot, because it is. On an average day, I can pay as little as a 2% spread on forex exchange at The Arcade.
Your mileage may vary. Your decision about whether to use your credit card overseas depends in part on how much you value the points you earn, and the exchange rate that you can get. Check out rates online both locally and in your destination before setting off.
You’re finally done with your work! Now you have some time to explore the city. However, you’re only free for a day before you have to fly back, and those Tripadvisor folks barely have ideas for a fruitful day trip. A little disappointed, you settle for a day of shopping and tell yourself that it was the best option available.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to end that way. There are tours and activities marketplaces where you can find bike tours and river cruises, among other things. Activity marketplaces are probably one of the last untapped online frontiers of travel, and the boon for travellers on short trips that hasn’t really gone mainstream yet. Hopefully though they never will, so the boss won’t find out just how much fun we’re having on those single extra days.
Finally we come to one of the biggest reasons for Instagram‘s popularity – food!
I once had a very productive day on a food tour in Berlin with Yelp. However, Yelp and even Instagram aren’t as helpful for finding culinary gems in places like Thailand or Indonesia. I’ve found more interesting results with local sites like Singapore’s Burpple and China’s Koubei. Though Google Translate may be necessary to get the most out of your efforts, I highly recommend it. Use a laptop too as you can’t get Google Translate to work on a website in mobile. A little extra goes a long way.
Now, I have a confession to make. I’m a closet food snob. I don’t post my photos to Instagram but I’ll share them among friends and (hopefully) make them green with envy. Choosing a popular restaurant in a foreign city lets me practically guarantee that it will both look and taste amazing, while maintaining my food snob aura because the restaurant can’t easily be found on Yelp or in English (or both).
I can feel the food snobs nodding from across the internet. Have fun!
Disagree with the list above? Anything unmissable that was omitted? Share your remedy for business travel blues and make all our lives a bit better today.