Business Trips, to Cash in or Not to Cash in?

I’m currently sitting on the Amtrak Cascades train heading due south to Portland, OR. Enjoying the view of the Columbia River to my right, I’m feeling pretty good heading to the annual Go Green Portland conference for green minded companies. This opportunity came as quite a surprise, as my Director emailed me one day and simply said, “I can’t go. I’ll be Hawaii. Do you want to go? On the company.”

Uh, yes.

People travel for business everyday; it’s just a large part of corporate life. As most of my friends know, I love traveling and seeing new places, probably more so than a good amount of people. Big or small, famous or simply local, I love experiencing new places and slowly procuring my global experiences. So while Portland doesn’t seem like the most exotic place on Earth to many, believe me, I am stoked.

Having traveled a lot in my short time in this world, I do know one thing though… traveling is expensive. I read The Frugal Traveler religiously, but without some serious planning and creativity, even a simple two-day trip from Seattle to Portland will cost upwards of $600. I guess that’s why traveling on the company is so bomb. But I’m here to ask, where does one draw the line when traveling on someone else’s dime?

Nearly every step of booking a trip has at least two options: budget conscious, and lavishly spendy. Travel tickets – coach or business class? Hotel – courtyard double or king room with a balcony? Even your meal – are you going to just get a burger or salad like you normally would, or are you finally going to try that Kobe beef you’ve been waiting so long to try? All of these choices are simply a reflection of how much we value our personal comfort, and more often than not we would choose the budget conscious choice, that is, until someone else pays for everything. But just as you would most likely graciously decline a friend’s offer to upgrade your ticket or buy your meal, why is it so different when it’s a company?

Part of me thinks it’s because there’s no face to the company. You’re not taking money from a specific person, but rather a face-less company. If they were Paula’s post-its, people would probably stop taking them. But they’re not; they’re the company’s post-its. So you take them. So the company spends all this money replacing post-its. Same goes for company expenses. How do we stop this?

First, it’s important to consider why people take more than they should from their company. Some people hate their jobs, some people think they are underpaid or undervalued, some people don’t think it makes a difference, and for some people, this is their only opportunity to ever stay in a hotel or travel more than 20 miles from home. But I’m here to say that it does matter what you do on someone else’s dime. Whether you think someone is watching or not, especially in the workplace, everything you do matters.

So, to cash in or not to cash in? For now, I’m choosing NOT to cash in. There will be plenty of other opportunities for Fortune 500 companies to buy me first class tickets to assist with a M&A overseas or $5000 monthly stipends to “entertain” clients. But for now, I’m nobody yet, and I’m just lucky to have a free trip to a new place and a couple days off of work. I’m not even sure anyone would care if I upgraded my ticket or spent a couple extra bucks for dinner, but just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. I’m probably the last person who should be preaching about excess (have you seen my closet?) but I always try to remember how lucky I am with what I have compared to what others may not.

There’s also the simple matter that I think saving my company some money will somehow affect me positively in the future. Maybe the $200 I saved during my trip will amount to finally being able to upgrade everyone’s RAM, or being able to send someone else to a helpful training, or maybe an extra keg a the next company party. The less money I spend on this trip (which is already paid for fully, mind you) means the more money the company has to spend on on other ventures. All in all, this is my company. I am a part of its culture, and I am responsible for part of its vitality. Just as I don’t like excessively spending my parents money because it’s my family‘s money, I don’t want to go crazy on a business trip because it’s my company’s money.

So, here I am. Sitting in coach and staying in a double room in downtown Portland tonight. No, no business class and no riverview balcony and certainly no Kobe beef, but still with a giant smile on my face.

Yu Live, Yu Learn

Photo from here.

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