Business travel can have a big impact on your career. Depending on what you do, you might travel to attend conferences, meet with clients, or explore new opportunities for expansion. If you’re a freelancer, such trips can be even more important, as they’ll help you expand your network of contacts, potentially bringing in new business.
Prepare your gear, prepare yourself
If you want to maximize the impact of your business travel, you’ll need to prepare ahead of time. Besides packing the proper attire for the conferences and meetings that you’ll attend, you should also pay attention to any gear that you might need.
You’ll want to have just enough to wow clients without having to haul around unnecessary stuff. You should start your planning by asking yourself some questions about your trip.
If you work for a company, most of the trip’s goals and activities will most likely have been decided for you. If you’re self-employed, on the other hand, you have to define your goals yourself.
- How long is the trip? The longer the trip, the more preparation (and stuff) is generally required.
- What kind of work will you be doing? Will you be preparing or giving presentations? Will you be editing audio or video?
- Will you have to tote everything with you, or will you have access to a temporary office? If you have to meet multiple clients in the field, definitely try to pack light.
I have slightly different preferences depending on the trip, but here is my general gear list for business travel.
- Laptop or netbook: Right now I have an HP Pavilion dv6 laptop and a HP Mini 110 netbook that I use. I love both and I really appreciate the fact that they both have good battery life.
- Laptop/netbook bag: I need my laptop bag to double as my ‘purse’ when flying, so it has to have plenty of space for storage.
- Spare battery: Depending on how (and how far) you’re traveling, you should consider bringing a spare laptop battery so you can work for extended periods without an electrical outlet.
- Chargers: Having chargers for both your computer(s) and phone is a necessity.
- Camera/video camera: These items are small and easy to bring along, so I usually slip them into my bag.
- Thumb drive: You never know when you’ll need to copy or transfer a file, so bring a thumb drive. This can also be handy if you’re giving a presentation.
- Laser pointer: The last thing you want to do is to get stuck in front of the screen giving a presentation without a pointer. Bring your own just to be safe.
- Business clothes: This should go without saying, but be sure to pack appropriate clothes for the business aspects of your trip.
- Business cards: Don’t forget to bring business cards! If you don’t have any, you should have some made up. You’ll be amazed at the number of times you’ll be offered a business card and/or asked for one in return. Don’t get caught unprepared.
Keeping it light and efficient is my priority. In general, I’ve found that the less I have to drag around, the better the trip goes.
Tax treatment of business trips
I also want to remind you to keep all your receipts during business trips. If you’re working for a company, keeping receipts is important for getting your expenses reimbursed. Even if their not strictly required, having a receipt could quickly resolve any disputes or questions.
Tax treatment of business travel expenses is covered in IRS Topic 511. What follows is a brief summary of some of the key points.
If your trip is entirely business-related, and you’re traveling away from home, you can deduct all your travel-related expenses such as airfare, airport parking, your rental car, cab fare, etc. Just keep in mind that if you redeem reward points or frequent flyer miles, you can’t deduct the expense.
The same general rule applies: if your stay is for business, and you’ve traveled away from the general area of your “tax home, ” you can deduct your expenses. If you stay a few extra days and make it a personal vacation, you can’t claim the deduction on the extra days.
Assuming that your meals are directly related to your business travel, they’re likewise deductible. However, the deduction for business meals is typically limited to 50% of the unreimbursed cost.
Tracking your receipts
Given the importance of your receipts, you need to be 100% sure to keep close track of them. I always take an envelope with me and dump all receipts into it as I receive them. Then, when I get back home, I sort and organize them, making notes where necessary.
It’s best to process your receipts within a day or two. If you wait longer, you could lose them or forget the details. If you’re looking for an electronic solution, I recommend using Evernote to capture and archive your data.
While this level of documentation might seem tedious, it can help you maximize your reimbursements and/or result in significant tax savings.
Okay, I’ve shared a few of my thoughts on making the most of your business trips. Now, I’d love hear your tips. What steps do you take to prepare for a successful trip? How do you keep track of your expenses? Do you have any other tips for enhancing the value of your business travels?