You have spent the last week flying to another country, running from meeting to meeting without a moment to yourself, and flying back home. You’re tired, jet-lagged, and not feeling up to much of anything. The last thing you want to do is sift through all of the various pieces of paper you collected on your trip to find your receipts and travel documents to compile an expense report. Unfortunately, keeping track of these expenses is one of the less glamorous but essential tasks of business travel. If you are not the most organized person, it might be tough for you to keep all of your ducks in a row, but this ultimately only makes the process more difficult.
Understand Your Company’s Policies
Before you head out on your business trip, it’s imperative that you understand the company policies on travel reimbursement. You will need to know what you can book and what information you will need to provide when you get back before you head out. Even if you feel you are informed about this issue, it can’t hurt to brush up on your company’s travel policies. If it has been a while, there may have been changes you didn’t know about. Understanding this policy lets you have a comprehensive understanding of your spending powers before you use them.
Keep the Details in Order
Keeping all your receipts is not going to be sufficient for staying organized with your expenses. If you are going to write a comprehensive expense report, you will need more details than how much you spent. Get in the habit of writing down the small details around your receipts. For example, if you took a client to dinner, take a moment to jot down the client’s name, the reason for your meeting, how many people were there, etc. This will make it a lot easier when you’re putting together your expense report later.
Send Your Report as Soon as Possible
This doesn’t mean that you have to start your report the moment you land, but it’s important to be prompt about submitting it. First of all, the longer it takes you to send it in, the more likely it is that you will forget important details. Not only that, it will look much better to your employer if you submit it early, and you will be reimbursed quicker.
Keep Them Organized
The last thing you need when writing up your expense report is to try to untangle a mess of receipts, trying to sort through which are personal and which are business expenses. Keep a folder where you can separate the receipts into corresponding pockets to stay organized. Better yet, keep a business travel credit card so all expenses are kept on one card. This will make it a lot easier to parse out which charges to put on your expense report.
Use an App
There are a lot of mobile apps you can use to keep all of your receipts organized for your expense reports. Some even let you scan and upload receipts from your smartphone for immediate approval, such as Expensify. Just make sure you also hold onto those physical copies of the receipts for the IRS.
Book in Advance
The other side of managing your travel expenses is ensuring that you are within budget. You are probably well-aware of this, but it is important enough to warrant being explicit about it: book your flight as far in advance as possible. While business travel often involves booking last minute, the moment you know you are going to be traveling, you should book your flight. On average, booking a flight at least eight days in advance can save you $148. If you can book a minimum of 15 days in advance, you can save another 22 percent.
Pack a Meal for Your Flight
If you have ever flown on an international flight where they are serving a meal, you know how they can leave a lot to be desired. Overcooked vegetables, dry chicken, and sodium-packed sauces are the standard for these meals. Not only that, they are extremely overpriced, as is anything you buy in the airport. Save yourself this expense and enjoy your meal more by packing something from home. You can bring an insulated lunchbox and fill it with your favorite foods, provided it doesn’t have liquid in it.
Use Public Transportation
Your flight aside, there is another transportation issue to consider, which is how you will get around once you get there. Hailing a cab to get to every meeting can really add up, so if you are in a city with public transportation, elect to take the train or bus instead. If you have never been there before, you should be able to easily calculate fare and the right route online.
Sign Up for a Travel Loyalty Program
If you’re not already enrolled in a loyalty program, you’re missing out. These programs often offer free upgrades, last-minute booking, free checked baggage, and other perks. If you’re traveling extensively for work, a good loyalty program is absolutely necessary.
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