A few weeks ago, my sister frantically began texting me on her way to the airport. She was going on a business trip to Seattle and was supposed to have met her co-workers at the train station so they could all head to the plane together. But, she’d overslept and was now hoping to expense her cab ride. “Was that OK?” she asked me, as if I’d have any clue as to whether her company would spring for the taxi fare after making arrangements for the train.
“I’m sure they’ll take care of it,” I said, trying to calm her down. “Just don’t miss your flight,” I cautioned, thinking that then she’d be really screwed.
As much as I wanted to put her mind at ease about the situation, I really had no idea of knowing if she’d get reimbursed or, what’s more, if her colleagues would be annoyed that she missed the group train ride and gone on her own. Would they view it as a snub, and would things be awkward for the duration of the trip?
While I’m not a business travel expert, I do know that communication is essential for a smooth trip. And when I turned to The Muse’s very own Chief of Staff Lindsay Moroney for confirmation, she agreed: “Anytime money or budget comes into play at work, it's best to set expectations clearly up front with your manager.”
If you’re new to your current company or are just unaccustomed to taking business trips in general, don’t shy away from asking up front about company policy as far as all expenditures are concerned. For example, Moroney explains that, “Some companies think expensing cabs is no big deal but meals are not covered, while others are more comfortable defining a daily stipend that you spend as you wish.”
If it’s a daily stipend that you’re working with, and you’re traveling with your manager or a company executive, you can probably intuit that you’ll be on your own for a lot of meals. If there’s no stipend and all of the meals are covered, find out in advance if there are pre-planned dinners and lunches you’re expected to attend.
And on the food note, it’s also good to think ahead about what meals will be shared with colleagues (or conference attendees) and which you’ll be on your own for. It’s understandable if you feel weird about directly inquiring about shared meal times if that’s not something listed on your agenda, but you can mention your penchant for caffeine and ask him if he wants you to grab him a latte before your 9 AM. That’s his cue to invite you to breakfast or let you off the hook, depending on how you want to look at it.
This guideline works well for the rest of non-work travel time that you encounter. It might be helpful to ask for an agenda before your trip so you have an understanding of where you need to be when. As your colleagues also aren’t accustomed to being in the office 24/7, you can safely assume that the “free” time listed on the schedule is yours. And hey, it’s OK if you prefer to curl up in the big hotel bed by 10 PM. Unless you’re brainstorming a project with the team over drinks—or if it would seem rude to bail on an evening event—trust that your input and presence throughout the day are enough.
But, on that note, if there are “optional” day events or speaker sessions, you should probably check out a couple. It’d be in bad taste to turn down every single extracurricular. Think of how potentially awkward it’d be if your boss found out you ditched a panel that he or she recommended because you wanted to work out for a bit.
Ultimately, your best bet for nailing travel work etiquette is to have open lines of communication. It’s better to ask any questions or address any potential issues before you go (such as, “How do I actually expense everything correctly?”), rather than in the moment. As Moroney says, when you talk to your manager, “If there is a policy in place, he or she can give you details,” and you’ll know what’s acceptable and what’s not. The idea is to “save yourself the stress of the unknown—and the expense of a rejected reimbursement—and ask at least a week before you go.”
That’s advice my sister could have surely used, and it’s excellent advice in general for keeping work travel anxiety at bay—and your wallet intact.