Travel Expectations for the Nomad Consultant

Nomad Consultant
The Nomad Consultant

In last week’s blog on business travel for consultants I discussed when and why travel is required of consultants and described how the work week is often scheduled.  This week, I’ll discuss managing expenses and your off-hours time while traveling


When working for a consulting firm where travel is a possibility, the firm will normally provide a corporate charge card such as an American Express.  This card should be used only for reimbursable expenses and not for personal items.

Nomad consultant travel expenses

In most cases, all travel expenses are reimbursed by the client.  The process usually works as follows:

  • You pay for all expenses up front, usually using your corporate charge card for air fare, hotel accommodations, rental cars and meals.  If travel requires driving, mileage is usually paid on a per-mile rate.  You may have to pay for gas or meals out of pocket if credit cards are not accepted.
  • On a periodic basis (usually weekly or monthly) you complete an expense report detailing all business related expenses that you incurred over the period.  Receipts are usually required for everything, although some firms only require receipts for expenses over a certain threshold of say, $20.00.
  • The firm reimburses you within a set period of time.  This usually is within the float time of the credit card company’s billing cycle and the payment due date, but you have to submit your expense reports in a timely enough manner.
  • The firm charges the client for all expenses in their next invoice.

The rule of thumb with travel expenses is that business travel should not cost you more than it would normally cost to do your job locally.  Therefore, airfare, rental cars, lodging, breakfast and dinner are covered.  There is usually a daily limit for meals.  The limit is sometimes higher for cities with higher costs of living.

Lunch expenses usually are not reimbursable with the assumption that you would go out to lunch if you were working locally.  Other items that are often not covered are movies viewed in the hotel room, snacks and drinks from the room’s drink cabinet and any entertainment expenses that do not included the client.  Some firms do not reimburse for alcoholic beverages at meals.

These are fairly standard rules, but every firm has slightly different policies on business travel expenses.  It’s always best to review the employee policy manual to know exactly what is reimbursable and what is not.

Off-hours time

Consulting usually requires longer days than the normal 8-hour routine.  If a 4-day travel work week has been arranged, it may be necessary to work longer days to get the minimum required billable hours in.  In these cases, there is little free time to go site-seeing, but you can sometimes get out and experience a new city.  I’ve been in Philadelphia for business and walked down to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  I’ve also checked out the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York.

Most of the time, however, is spent in your hotel room.  I usually read or do additional work in the room to fend off the boredom.  Meals are often with team members or alone.  As an avid reader, I’ve never minded taking a good book to a restaurant and dining alone.

Most hotels have workout facilities.  This is an excellent way to spend time on the road – especially when you eat out for three meals a day.

Some consultants tend to deal with the boredom by sitting in the hotel bar.  Common sense needs to be exercised to ensure that too much time in the bar doesn’t affect your performance the next day.  Another factor to consider is that drinking in a bar every night is not cheap.  (See the list of reimbursable expenses above.)

Dead time and the nomad consultant

Finally, there is a lot of dead time when traveling.  Between the cab ride to the airport, time going through security, flight delays and time on the plane, several hours per week are killed just trying to get there and back.

I’m a big proponent of down time.  After a stressful week at the client, there is often nothing I love better than letting Frank Sinatra sing me home.  But I’m more likely to use that dead time productively.  I often save up certain work through the week such as status reports, expense reports or something I need to read.  I always carry at least one book and often a number of magazine articles to have ready to read.  E-readers, such as Kindle make this very convenient to have a variety to choose from, but I also carry hard copies of reading material in case electronics are not allowed or batteries go dead.

When traveling by car to an out of town client, I often check out audio books from the library to listen to during the drive.  I’ll alternate between fiction and non-fiction to avoid burn out in either format.

Business travel requires a lot of flexibility and patience.  Knowing the rules for expenses and always being ready for delays and dead time can help to make it a little more palatable.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

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