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6 business travel tips to avoid the awkward, illegal and ill-advised

Planning travel with your colleagues or boss requires more than knowing how to file your expense report afterward. Your behavior during a business trip can either make or break your reputation at work.

Don’t become “the story” colleagues tell after a business trip. Instead, read these six business travel trip tips to guide you to success.

1. Check your company’s travel policy.

Read the company travel policy carefully before you depart on your trip.

It should outline how employees are reimbursed for:

  • Hotel stays
  • Rental cars
  • Meals
  • Work-related incidentals

Make sure you understand how your company reimburses for lodging and meals and how to check on location-based limits for these expenses, known as a per diem.

Review the list of non-reimbursable expenses in the company’s policy.

Because they’re not business related, these expenses tend to not be covered:

  • Inflight alcoholic beverages
  • Traffic tickets
  • Book purchases
  • Pet boarding
  • Baby-sitting

However, something like Wi-Fi access to finish a work presentation usually is.

Check your company travel policy for specific guidelines on entertaining clients.

Talk to your supervisor on what is considered reasonable and customary before you expense a business meal with clients.

Understand your company’s expectations on how they will reimburse you for business-related expenses. If you’re uncertain, check with your supervisor before you leave.

2. Create a company travel policy if there is none.

If your company doesn’t have guidelines, develop a corporate travel policy.

A detailed policy should think beyond listing expense categories and instructions on how to file for reimbursement.

Explain the company’s culture and expectations when distinguishing between a reasonable business expense and an employee’s responsibility.

For example, an employee might schedule personal travel before or after a work trip and may bring a spouse or partner.

The policy should instruct how to plan personal travel in conjunction with a work trip and handle the personal expenses incurred by a travel companion.

Be a good steward of the company’s financial assets by not mixing personal and business expenses on the company’s account.

3. Maintain standards of behavior outside the workplace.

Traveling well with colleagues often comes down to managing differences in personal preferences outside the workplace.

Both managers and employees should exhibit the same standards of behavior outside the office as is expected in the workplace.

Conduct yourself with a high degree of integrity and treat colleagues with respect.

Refrain from any behavior that could be harmful to the company, its employees and its clients.

When on business travel, you’re expected to comply with all company policies. Hard limits on employee behavior include:

  • No harassment or discrimination
  • No substance abuse
  • No inappropriate business attire, language or behavior

Go above and beyond compliance with workplace policies by showing respect for colleagues.

This includes being mindful of preferences dictated by:

  • Health
  • Religion
  • Dietary requirements
  • Personal needs

Smoking or eating nuts in tight quarters may be an issue if someone in the company rental car is allergic to smoke or peanuts, for example.

Respect for colleagues also extends to doing your part to share the logistical load.

  • Don’t expect any one employee to make all the preparations for the trip and bring all files and equipment for the team.
  • By distributing the load, you’re not only working as a team, but you’re lowering the risk of losing everything should that employee miss the flight or lose their luggage.

4. Be mindful of the impression you’re making.

In the office, your employer expects you to show up on time and wear appropriate business attire. Those same expectations are in force on a business trip.

Think carefully about the impression you’re making.

  • If your boss sees you lounging by the pool when you should be in a seminar, that impression will be difficult to shake.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can lead to impaired judgment.
  • Review the travel agenda, so you know which business meals you’re expected to attend and which meals are on your own.
  • When dealing with clients, avoid appearances of any quid quo pro, which can reflect poorly upon the company. Review company policy on accepting client gifts before the situation presents itself, so you can handle it graciously.

Be careful of what appears on social media.

If your manager finds photos of employees in company shirts drinking at a bar, would they deem it inappropriate?

When in doubt, be cautious in what you post online during a business trip.

Understand how to handle employee dating on business travel.

  • In most businesses, fraternization is considered inappropriate in the workplace, especially if it happens between a manager and a subordinate.
  • Whether you’re a manager who witnesses a workplace romance or an employee taking part in one, the damage can be far more severe than the loss of one’s reputation.
  • The company may incur legal liability if there are charges of discrimination or confidentiality breaches as a result.

Think twice before engaging in any risky behavior. Otherwise, the impression you make on a business trip might be your last one as an employee.

5. Think about safety and security when traveling.

As a valuable employee, you’re a walking repository of proprietary information, which means you may become a target on business trips.

As a first step in planning any trip abroad:

  • Check the travel advisories for your intended destination available on the U.S. Department of State website.
  • Consider your safety and the safety of your colleagues, and use the buddy system whenever possible.
  • Let others know of your whereabouts and how to reach you should you be delayed.
  • Should the team split up, account for everyone, and leave no one behind.

Watchfulness also means staying vigilant on cybersecurity.

  • Don’t connect to un-encrypted Wi-Fi networks or unknown thumb drives.
  • Guard work equipment by keeping it with you or in a secure location, such as a hotel safe.
  • Malicious actors will find ways to burrow into your company’s network. Don’t be the employee who unwittingly allows that to happen.

Safety and security extend to your adherence to laws wherever you travel.

Don’t engage in criminal activity or acts of violence. Avoid aggression – walk away from a fight or the temptation to damage property.

Remember, on a business trip, you represent the company.

6. View business travel as a relationship-building opportunity.

Business trips can be a time to build relationships, not just with clients but also with colleagues.

Use this time to get to know your colleagues’ personalities.

  • Focus on building personal and work relationships.
  • Avoid the hazards of oversharing, gossiping, drinking too much alcohol and bringing up taboo topics.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.

Don’t feel pressured to attend social gatherings. Respectfully decline or only attending for a short time.

An evening alone can help you rest and recharge when you’re spending so much time with your co-workers. You can always give the need to catch up on work as your reason for declining.

On every business trip, you’re answerable to your employer for your behavior. These business travel tips can help you focus on your goals to make the trip productive, both professionally and personally.

A travel policy and defined positions on business travel etiquette are just one part of a sound HR strategy. For more helpful tips, download our free e-book: 7 HR mistakes and how to avoid them.