Are Business Trips Helpful in the Pursuit of FIRE?

Personal Finance

While I am not a frequent business traveler, I usually end up living out of a suitcase for work several times a year.

Last month, I traveled to Florida for an annual industry conference. Given that the temperature when I left my home for the airport was ten below zero, and it was going to be in the 70s when I landed in Florida, I was looking forward to a brief respite from the brutal winter in the north.

When I told colleagues, family, and friends I was headed south for a week, their initial reaction was generally one of envy – “hope you enjoy yourself on the beach while we’re all freezing, slipping on ice, and shoveling snow!”

But the reality of my business trip was not as glamorous as it may have sounded.

While the weather was much warmer in Florida, it was rainy and windy the entire week. As a result, I didn’t get outside to enjoy the sun. Moreover, I WAS in Florida to work, and my days were spent in a constant flurry of conference presentations, small group and one-on-one meetings, and networking with industry participants from around the country. Even the numerous happy hours and dinners I attended were focused on work, and only slightly slower-paced than the day’s activities.

Overall, it was a very productive business trip, but definitely not a vacation!

Since my return, I’ve thought about the potential advantages and disadvantages of business travel while pursuing financial independence and early retirement. I have a few thoughts around the financial, professional, and personal impact of business travel.

Financial Impact

Yes, my hotel room in Florida had a beautiful view of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. No, I never actually made it down to the beach!

While I often stay at relatively expensive hotels in large cities or resort destinations when I travel for work, spending a few nights in those places doesn’t really help me or hurt me financially, as my company foots the bill for lodging.

Meals, particularly breakfast and lunch, are often included as part of conferences. Some events cost my employer money for me to attend, while others are free. More often than not, a company that views us as a potential client is willing to pick up the tab for dinner. As an introvert, I don’t mind those evenings when I can head back to my room after the day has ended for a quiet meal of room service or something I picked up at a local restaurant.

Travel expenses, most frequently involving airplanes, parking, taxis, Ubers, tolls, and subway fares, are also covered by my company. So overall, business travel for me kind of is what it is – I’m reimbursed for the big ticket items by my employer, and neither helped nor harmed financially.

I usually do incur some additional expenses while traveling, for things like late night snacks or a quick coffee or drink between meetings. Since I typically have drinks and snacks while at home or the office, I don’t generally submit items like this for reimbursement. This costs me some money, as these treats are often more expensive in major metropolitan areas and at resort hotels than they are back home!

The occasional purchase of something I forgot, like toothpaste or deodorant, from the hotel store also costs me some money when traveling. Once in a while, I’ll pick up a book or magazine while waiting at the airport that I never would have purchased if I wasn’t traveling. I sometimes buy my children a small gift or souvenir if I am gone for more than a couple days or visiting somewhere particularly interesting. But in the context of a handful of business trips a year, these incremental expenses are essentially meaningless to our multi-decade pursuit of financial independence and early retirement!

Professional Impact

While business travel probably costs me a little money because of the items I outlined above, there’s no doubt it can have a positive impact on my career, potentially resulting in improved performance at work and higher earnings over the long term.

Being exposed to new ideas from thought leaders in my industry, learning what colleagues around the world are thinking about, and networking with service providers, clients, and competitors can generate ideas I can use to improve my performance back at the office. And there’s always potential to meet your next employer, or someone who may lend a hand when you are out of work, at these events.

While some conference sessions are duds, and not every meeting is productive, one great idea can easily offset the cost of many days out of the office. Bringing back and implementing cost-saving or revenue-generating ideas can have a positive impact on my professional reputation and earning potential, which is likely to help my pursuit of FIRE.

Personal Impact

I think it’s helpful to change things up from time to time. Business trips provide a great opportunity to do just that. Instead of the normal routine, I am working in a new location, doing different things, and interacting with people with unique perspectives and experiences.

The benefits of getting out of the day-to-day routine and learning from others can be tremendous. While I didn’t talk to people specifically about my pursuit of financial independence, numerous conversations, presentations, and question and answer sessions gave me plenty to think about.

Things like how long we have until the next recession in the United States. What others are investing in now. How people manage their own personal finances. The impact of technology on our world. And many other topics that give me food for thought as I think about our quest for FIRE.

It’s always interesting to hear the perspective of people with different backgrounds than mine as I am pursuing financial independence. Business trips provide an abundance of opportunities where that can occur, at airports, conferences, client meetings, dinners, happy hours, etc. For that reason, I think the potential personal impact of business travel on those pursuing FIRE may be underrated.

What about you? Do you think business travel is helpful in the pursuit of FIRE?

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