There’ll come a point in your entrepreneurial journey when you’re presented with opportunities to travel. But, as I’ve written before, you’ve got to carefully filter these opportunities and tips to determine which ones are bringing you the best ROI. Then, once you’ve figured out what the gems are, the next task is to look at their cost.
Related: 5 Ways to Cut Business Travel Costs
These trips, however valuable, can be quite expensive, of course: From airfare, transportation and accommodations to meals, even a short two-to-three-day conference can come with a high price tag.
And that can be tough, because startup budgets, especially during the bootstrapping stage, don’t often leave much room for travel. There’s nothing more bittersweet than learning that your venture will be featured as a “Startup to Watch” at your market’s largest conference — or having the chance to present to a prospective client at his or her head office — only to discover that you can’t afford the travel costs to get there.
In my experience, these realities are difficult to come to terms with. Over the past two months I’ve had to travel to eight different cities on two continents. Because each engagement was a stepping stone toward forwarding an important project, I couldn’t pass up these opportunities. So, I had to improvise.
Though I lacked the funds to absorb all these travels costs, by following a few simple strategies, I made all of my out-of-country opportunities a reality.
While flying might be the most time-effective means of transportation, it certainly isn’t the most cost-effective. Instead, consider alternate methods of transportation.
For instance a plane ticket from Toronto to New York can cost anywhere from $350 to $500, depending which deal sites you use and how last-minute your purchase is. Alternatively, if you can schedule in a nine-hour train ride, you can get a round-trip ticket for as low as $90.
While cost savings for one person may not be worth the extra travel time, if you have a couple of founders or coworkers travelling with you, the savings add up. Another option is bus or, better yet, a road trip where you can save on per-person costs altogether and just collectively pay for gas.
To save even more, consider the timing of your arrivals and departures. Arriving early in the morning of the first day and departing on the red eye after the event may add a bit more flexibility to your budget.
While Airbnb is widely known, the advent of the shared economy cannot be emphasized enough. Leveraging it is not only kinder on your wallet, but also vastly improves the quality of your travels by introducing you to new colleagues and cultural experiences. For example, for less than the cost of a small hotel room, you can likely find an apartment on Airbnb equipped with a full kitchen, wi-fi and a friendly local host who may be willing to show you around.
3. Getting around
Moreover, the shared economy doesn’t just involve cars: Bike shares — a slightly newer option — can be particularly useful for busy cities. You can beat the traffic, get a small workout and do good for our planet, all at once.
A slightly lesser-used, but equally cost-effective measure is carpooling with new colleagues. This sounds overly simplistic, but you would be surprised at how many opportunities you may have missed to save on a ride because you simply neglected to ask.
For busy airports like New York’s, there is a high likelihood that many of those on your flight will be headed to Manhattan. You may find a carpool buddy simply by striking up a conversation with the person seated next to you. Naturally, discretion should be used, but splitting a cab with a few new colleagues is certainly a great option.
This strategy doesn’t just apply for airport transportation. It’s not uncommon, for example, for conferences to book attendees into the same hotels. In the morning-after breakfast or at the end of the night, before you head out, ask if anyone at your table is headed your way. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
4. Food and drink
Eating out on your travels adds up. But I have found that a few hacks have made my per diem very reasonable.
First, to overcome expensive airport pricing, pack smart. Bring an empty water bottle in your carry-on bag. Once you pass security, you can fill it up at a water fountain, or sometimes restaurants will give you a free glass of water. If you can’t find water at the airport, ask for a few extra glasses from the flight attendant (naturally spacing out the ask so as to not seem so obvious), and fill up your bottle for the road trip into the city after you land.
Protein powder is another great carry-on essential. All you need is water, and you are good to go for a long flight!
Once I arrive, the first thing I do is find a grocery store, This is one of the biggest ways I save money on my travels. For $35, I often can buy enough food to last me a few days where I am staying. Considering that this is the cost of one meal out in any major city, the cost-savings certainly adds up. It may not be the most touristy thing to do, but remember: You’re there for business, not pleasure. There will be other opportunities for that memorable dining experience.