The view from my hotel room this evening
I flew into Dallas this afternoon to speak at a conference here tomorrow and Saturday. And as I was going about my day, I thought it’d be fun to share a few tips I’ve picked up on how to save money on business trips.
Note I said business trips. That’s very important.
You see, if you really want to save money, I recommend taking road trips. They are much less expensive than flying anywhere. Plus, you can bring a cooler and your own food. And well, they are usually just so much more economical in so many different ways.
So this post is not written from an ultra-frugal perspective. Because well, business trips in and of themselves don’t tend to be ultra-frugal. And that’s okay. Usually, the value you are providing or receiving in return for the expense paid by your business or another business on your behalf makes it worth the investment.
But I know that many of you do take frequent or occasional business trips, and I thought I’d share a few money-saving tips I employed today that might inspire you or spark an idea to help you save money. Because just these four things combined, save me hundreds of dollars every year.
First off, always bring your own reading material instead of being tempted to buy an overpriced book or magazine from the airport gift shop. In fact, always bring a little more than you think you’ll be able to read. Because this way, if there’s a flight delay or some other delay, it can just become a relaxing reading time, instead of a stressful, twiddle-your-thumbs-with-nothing-to-do time.
I save all the magazines that come in from our five or six current subscriptions in a drawer and then bring a few of them each time I travel. I also bring a few books. Usually a few too many… but hey, if we are stranded somewhere for 12 hours, at least I’ll have plenty of good reading material. 😉
Bring your own tea bags, too. I love hot tea — and it’s so soothing on your throat if you’ve been doing a lot of speaking/talking at events. I usually have a few tea bags in my purse and a few more in my suitcase and then I can make hot tea in the hotel room with the coffee maker or I can ask for hot water on the plane to make my own tea.
Not only is a soothing cup of tea is a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day, but it’s much more convenient and much less expensive when you bring your own tea bags instead of buying a hot drink at the hotel or a nearby restaurant.
When you arrive at your location, if at all possible, find a place nearby to purchase a case of water or even a 6-pack of water bottles (if it’s a short stay). This encourages you to stay hydrated while you’re busy in meetings or at a conference, and it’s also so much cheaper than buying individual water bottles from the hotel or venue where you’re at.
We also often stop by the grocery store and pick up some food for snacks/meals to extend our travel food budget. Not only is this so much less expensive than eating all your meals out or grabbing snacks from the hotel gift shop, but it’s also much more convenient if you’re needing to eat a quick snack (as I often do) to give you stamina before you go on stage or into that three-hour intensive meeting.
The fourth photo I took today was of my beloved suitcase. I bought this suitcase off of Groupon at a steal and it has traveled many, many miles with me and saved me well over a thousand dollars in the last year.
Why? Because it’s roomy and can fit enough stuff in it for up to an 8-day trip. Which means I never pay for baggage fees — which add up very quickly when you usually travel a few times per month!
When I started traveling regularly, I created a “system” of sorts for packing and have pared down to the essentials I need for trips + a few extras. I typically always pack almost the exact same thing every trip.
(Yes, I don’t have that many outfits so I wear the same progression of 2-3 outfits for almost every trip until those outfits wear out or the seasons change! It might seem really boring, but it actually simplifies things so that packing for a business trip usually takes me very little time.)
You can see a peek into my packed-for-an-8-day-trip suitcase here, if you’re interested.
What advice or tips do you have for saving money on business trips and/or while traveling? I’d love to hear so I can get some new ideas to try!
Debbie Kolstad says
I bring nuts/trail mix and oatmeal and my Nalgene bottle. If I am hungry I can make oatmeal for breakfast if the hotel does not have free continental. Also. ask the front desk workers where they like to eat – not the concierge. The front desk people do not make a lot of money and will know where the really good/inexpensive food it. The concierge refers people to a restaurant and probably receives kick-backs for the referral!
I always take a water bottle and/or coffee cup with me. I will often fill it up at the hotel. I have also discovered that most restaurants will give a to go cup of iced tea or lemonade for no charge if it’s a refill of what you had with dinner. Lots of hotels also receive discounts for local restaurants just ask the front desk!
I travel ALOT for work as well, and I always have tea with me too! One thing that I sometimes do while I am in the terminal, is asking very politely at Starbucks if I can “buy” a cup of hot water. I’m always willing to pay for it, but nearly every time they give it to me for free. There is a function for it on their cash register, and the one time I was charged for it, I paid 25 cents I think. So, I always have some change ready just in case, but if they give it to me for free, I usually just put it in their tip jar. Whether its free or a quarter, its alot cheaper than paying $2 or $3 for a cup of tea!
Crystal Paine says
What a great idea! Thanks for sharing!
I also carry instant oatmeal – can be made in hotel’s paper coffee cups — either for hotels with expensive breakfast or West Coast trips with free breakfast. Jet lag still gets you up at 6am your time, instant oatmeal can tide you over until hotel breakfast opens.
If you can book concierge floor or a hotel with evening drinks/snacks, that is a huge bonus.
My husband and I recently traveled via airplane with our 15 month daughter Miss M. We found traveling with her made it easy to carry any food in our luggage that we wanted.
If you’re heading to a larger town and have enough notice, it could be worth it to order an Entertainment Book for that city. When the book arrives in the mail, you can spend some time going through the book with your family and see what sounds good or interesting. Those books have coupons for restaurants, attractions, hotels, rental cars – even retail shops. You may find 2-for-1 meals or discounts on tickets to popular tourist “traps”. 😉 Just don’t leave the book at home.
The best way to pack a lot into a small bag is to use the hefty jumbo size one-zip bags. They must be these bags. You just put in your clothes in groups–like tops in one bag, socks in another, etc…
Then you close the bag 3/4 of the way. Then, you sit on it to squeeze all the air out & then zip it the rest of the way.
It vacuum packs your clothes, really condenses them, and actually does NOT wrinkle them. Trust me.
Also, then you can slip the bags into the hotel dresser without touching your clothes to the dresser if that grosses you out. 🙂
We actually stay at a hotel that has free breakfast. We grab some fruit and peanut butter, jelly and bread so we can pack a picnic lunch. I always tuck away a box of sandwich bags and a collapsible cooler in my suitcase just in case we go exploring. My son is autistic and doesn’t eat everything, so we don’t eat out a whole bunch. We get breakfast and lunch from the hotel freebie and then do a nice dinner that we have coupons for. Some of the restaurant sites or coupons for the more popular restaurant chains can be used anywhere. We carry an empty water bottle through airport check in and some snacks like pretzels, chips or crackers. a few magazines and a book or two is a must along with a tablet for games and reading.
This works more for family than business, but when we’re at a hotel with a fridge and microwave, we order delivery pizza the first night and save the leftovers for lunch the next day (reheat in the microwave or eat cold).
Use your hotel rewards program and match it with their credit card. My husband travels frequently for business and always stays in a marriott brand hotel. And we have a Marriott credit card we use for groceries. The points get us upgrades – we can almost always get a suite when traveling with the kids – since we are “elite” members. In the past year we’ve also used points to get a vitamix and an iPad mini completely free. And we have one free hotel night we will use when we go on vacation. Granted you have to travel a lot to get the rewards but it’s totally worth it if you do!
Laura Vanderkam says
Definitely bring an empty water bottle through security and then fill it up afterwards. But replace your suitcase before it falls apart! My long-serving carry-on died in the airport recently and I was forced to repack in the TUMI store…
Look up the web page for the city or area you’re visiting.
For a recent trip, I found a 4 nights for the price of 3 deal for my preferred hotel if I used a certain credit card (which I had).
Also, there were printable coupons for attractions. We had a great time at a butterfly sanctuary, and got one free admission.
Love these tips from everyone!
Books and magazines are heavy, so I don’t take them when I travel. Love my kindle for take-along reading.
I also enjoy stitchery and take along a small project to work on while flying or when I have downtime in a hotel. Little sharp scissors aren’t allowed on planes (or at least they didn’t used to be) but nail clippers work great for clipping threads. I have a cute pair of nail clippers shaped like a foot, with a hole in the big toe. I strung a little ribbon through the hole and wear it around my neck to that the clippers don’t get lost if I accidentally drop them on a plane.
Thanks for an inspiring post! We live on the east coast and our son is moving to Seattle next week. I would love to read tips on how to save when traveling long distances to visit family. My gut tells me it’s probably cheaper to fly since gas/hotels/food when driving such a long distance would add up.
Thanks for all you do here!!
It depends on how many are traveling. I know a friend where we live and I am not sure what website it is, but she has two rooms she rents out in her house. I was shocked to hear she rents for $40 a night (about half of what a hotel is in our area) and she will often provide them a continental breakfast. If room in the car allows for it, you could camp. I know you want to be careful and prudent, but again, given your vehicle and outside temperature, you could take a blanket/pillow or small air mattress and sleep in a Wal-mart parking lot (they allow people to stop overnight and park). We have smaller kids and I pack of cooler of food. When we stop at rest areas, they go play while I fix meals. I have also taken stuff that can be microwaved and used the microwave at gas stations when I stop for gas.
You may want to check out Amtrak for cross-country trips to Seattle.
One more thing, i try to get a hotel room with a fridge and microwave. This way, if i have leftovers from dinner I can actually save an eat it!
I tend to disagree with the idea of driving being cheaper than flying…in terms of time being wasted. If you are driving 18 hours each way to get to a destination you are basically cutting out 2 days you of vacation time that you could be spending relaxing at the destination point. Is $100-$200 savings worth giving up 2 days?
When I travel for work I also like to build in a day where I get to explore the city I’m in. Last weekend I had a day and a half to do whatever I wanted, it was just great.
Also, a good suitcase is a must. I love my Samsonite. I bought it when it was 50% off plus cash back at Kohl’s, ended up costing about $120 after Kohl’s cash. Worth every penny.
1. I bring an empty water bottle and just fill it up at the hotel gym. I’m not a fan of drinking tap water in places I am familiar with so this helps me out big time.
2. I too have a big suitcase that I usually bring even if it is an overnight trip, I try to coupon when I’m on business trips during my free. (Usually don’t get off work early enough to do sight seeing) so this is my sight seeing.
3. Make a list of things to pack ahead of time. I am notorious for always forgetting something which then causes me to spend a lot out of pocket. I bought a notepad that is a pre-printed travel checklist that has helped me immensely. I think Oriental Trading has the same pad on sale for $2 which is a steal.
4. I also take advantage of my alone time while travelling for business and do a spa evening in the hotel. However, instead of using the hotel spa I pack travel/trial size packs of things like face masks and give myself a face mask for cheap!
I came across this website the other day. Amazing tips on packing light! http://travelfashiongirl.com/the-minimalist-packing-list/
Crystal Paine says
Oh, thanks so much for sharing!
I second bringing snacks, water, instant coffees and oatmeal packs. I also always stay at the same hotel chain to rack up points, this almost always yields me free breakfasts, free internet and free rooms.
Also, for minimalist packing tips, check out the blog. Travel Fashion Girl. She shares ideas on mixing/matching outfits so that you travel with the least amount possible.
Lea Stormhammer says
I pack fewer outfits but make sure they can mix and match – for example I usually pack one suit and then wear the jacket with different slacks/skirt and then the slacks/skirt with either just a top or a sweater. So for a week long trip I usually end up with one bottom (usually something I can dress up or down, like dark jeans or black slacks or skirt), one suit, four tops, one pair of shoes packed and one worn on the plane, and 1-2 scarves and 3-4 necklace/earring sets plus a pair of pajamas and a workout outfit. The scarves and jewelry are a great way to create different looks without taking a lot of space in the suitcase! I also bring stain wipes so if something gets a spill, I can still wear it again.
I’ll second (third?) bringing the empty water bottle and asking to be placed in a hotel with free breakfast and wifi. And I love the idea of the instant oatmeal for hotels that don’t have breakfast – never would have thought of that myself!
Great tips Crystal (and everyone in the comments too!),
teresa b says
When I fly, I take an empty water bottle and a few snacks. Nuts and granola travel well and if you freeze mozzarella cheese sticks they make great 1st flight snacks.
For reading material I take my tablet. I have kindle but I also download free magazines through the library and Zinio app.
I try to book hotels with free breakfasts but always have a few oatmeal packets on hand in my luggage in case the offering is less than edible. If I am stay in somewhere for more than a day or so then I will hit a local grocery for snacks and light meals.
I bring along my own water bottle and travel mug. Saves a few more dollars and is a greener choice.
Instead of bringing books, I bring yarn and a crochet hook.
I like to check Groupon or LivingSocial for the location I’m heading to to see if I can find a restaurant deal.
When my office puts me in really nice hotels, the breakfast is usually extremely expensive – I pack along those instant oatmeal packs & use the in-room coffee-maker and save about $15-20 on breakfast. 🙂
Also, the more expensive hotels will usually charge for internet; I always ask if I can be put in a less-expensive hotel (and those usually have breakfast, too!).
If you travel by air and carry an empty water bottle with you, why not pack a couple of things in it? I take a couple of protein bars and snack bags of trail mix or nuts. I get a drink or two on the plane, so I don’t really need to fill it with water until I arrive at my destination.
Also, use the free rewards programs at the hotel chain of your choice. Try to always use this brand to increase the number of points. I have enough hotel stays each year that I get a room upgrade and access to the concierge lounge. My employer pays for the room, but I get free breakfast, appetizers and dessert, plus bottled water, juices, fresh fruit, snacks, newspapers, and more. Hint: the appetizers are often substantial enough for me that they become dinner. The rooms are staffed with hosts who let you in on all kinds of local info, including plenty of free things to see nearby. When you earn enough points, you can even get free nights to use for a vacation. I know not everyone has this much business travel, but it can work out well if you do.
Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate says
I am a huge fan of Yelp for finding great hole-in-the-wall cheap meals when I travel. Whether it’s $1 slices of pizza in NYC or amazing Caribbean food in the basement of the D.C. train station. (And I travel with reusable water bottles that I fill up after security.)
And this may not appeal to those who want to get back straightaway to small kids, but when I’m traveling for blogging business and someone else is picking up the tab, I have them send me early and have me stay later. That way *I* get a vacation without the expense of airfare. I do this when I travel to places where I can stay with friends for free, and it costs zero extra in airfare.
Crystal Paine says
Great tips — thanks for sharing!
When traveling with the family and I know I won’t be able to get to a grocery store, I always pack a loaf of bread and a jar of peanutbutter (empty baggies too). Saves a ton of money on quick meals/snacks.
Do you check your bag with the jar of peanut butter? I’ve seen TSA toss an unopened jar of peanut butter out of the bag of a traveler.
We stayed in that same exact hotel when we went to see Jim Gaffigan last year 🙂
Crystal Paine says
Thanks for sharing your tips for traveling. What size is your suitcase? Thanks!
Crystal Paine says
I’m not exactly sure on the measurements — but I think it’s the largest it can be while still following carry-on guidelines. (I’ve stuck it in those carry-on measurement things they have at the airport before when an attendant didn’t believe it fit regulations. And I was very happy to verify that it fit — just barely, but it fit!)
Jessica Moore says
I always bring a water bottle with me on trips and fill it up using the filtered water in the hotel gym. I drink a lot of water, so this is a great way to get clean yummy water conveniently.
Crystal Paine says
Oh, I LOVE the tip of filling up with the filtered water in the hotel gym. Brilliant!
I also try to book hotels that offer free breakfast whenever possible. Great tips!
This is so true just this one tip has saved me hundreds. On one of my stays the breakfast worker noticed that I really liked these little éclairs. No one else was eating them and she was going to have to throw out what was out for guests; so she approached me and asked me if I would like to take the rest with me. I was so thrilled she bagged them up and I had a snack for the day. When I asked her why she told me that I had brightened her day all by talking to her for a few minutes and thanking her for the service she was providing.
This makes me want to travel =)
Crystal Paine says
I ALWAYS carry my water bottle with me. Before going through check points, I carry it empty, then as soon as I can find a water fountain, I fill it up. Mine takes 32oz, so I usually have plenty for the flight. Then, wherever the destination, I always carry it around with me. Hope this helps someone!
I do this too. We travel internationally, and you can never stay hydrated well enough on the long haul flights without this trick. If the airport doesn’t have a water fountain (some international ones don’t) the first thing I do when I get on the plane (in economy class) is ask for a fill up on my water bottle. Then I make sure I get it filled again right before getting off because many of these international airports do not have water fountains and bottled water can easily cost 5 dollars a bottle.
Me too. Take an empty water bottle with you through airport security, then fill it. Some airports have potable water stations where you can fill up for free, or buy water in the airport. Yes, it’s expensive, but you don’t want to be without water. Once on board, I’ve never had a flight attendant refuse to fill my water bottle.
Determine the rules for the airline before you leave so that you can be prepared. Recently when I flew internationally, water bottles were not allowed on board, not even bottles purchased in the airport. I bought two large bottles in a gift shop just before boarding and had to throw them away before I could get on the plane. I didn’t have my own bottle with me so was limited to the little plastic cups for a 6-hour flight, and it was not fun.