Most modern jobs involve travel to some extent. For me, travel is only about 10%, as stated in the job description. This works for me because it is nice to see the stuff I am actually working on and get out to stretch my legs once in a while. But I am a homebody. I don’t like being away for extended periods of time. I also hate driving, find airplanes to be stuffy and uncomfortable, and get pissed off when schedules change, as air travel is quite prone to. One thing I count as a blessing, however, is a per diem that is offered during travel.
In case you have never had the opportunity to cash in on a per diem, let me explain. It is a lump sum you are given in addition to your normal pay to cover certain expenses, such as food and lodging. And most of the time they are a healthy chunk with some play room compared to what you actually will spend. As a result, per diems are like mini-bonuses to compensate for driving in stressful, unfamiliar environments, dealing with shitty people in the airport, and waiting for hours on end because your destination is experiencing thundershowers and flood warnings.
As I stated above, per diem is usually a little bit higher than what a normal human can actually survive on. I am working on a project where a gentlemen is receiving a $220/day per diem to cover his food and lodging. In the area we are working, that is a pretty fat chunk of change. This poor bastard has to be on site six days a week, so he doesn’t get the luxury of going home on the weekends. But as a result, he is looking into renting a room in an apartment on the order of $600-$700 a month. Three days per diem will cover this asshole’s rent for the month. He can eat filet mignon every meal for the rest of the month and still profit from his per diem. I, however, am unfortunate enough to have my hotel already paid for each week, so I only get $40/day for food. Still manageable, but definitely not as fat as I’d like it to be.
Which leads me to my next point.
You can basically drink for free if you budget correctly. Or just profit if you are smart. But I’m not. I like beer. If I want a couple tall ones at Ruby Tuesdays at the end of the day, your boy can cut back for breakfast and lunch to leave some change for dinner time. Maybe I swipe a cup of joe from the hotel lobby instead of ordering one on the go. Maybe I skip the hash browns. I could always just order a six-inch instead of the footlong at break time. Or better yet, get the footlong and save half for dinner so I have more beer money! Budgeting is a major key on a per diem. If you’re smart, you can walk away with a nice buzz and a little bonus each day.
Where there is good, there is also evil. As great as per diem is, there is a wolf at the door: itemized expenses. Some smarter people require a detailed breakdown of the costs incurred with the trip. With itemized expensing, the finance group can tell when I had a couple domestics with dinner. They see each and every purchase you are claiming and as a result, charging to the client. With per diem, I don’t need to itemize anything. It is all smoke and mirrors. It’s great. The client doesn’t have to know I ate like dog shit all week and walked away with a cool Benjamin on their coin. I don’t need to keep track of a wad of receipts in my wallet so thick it gives off the illusion that I actually have money. No, I don’t need my receipt, actually. Save the trees, man. And I don’t have to spend that extra 30 minutes on a Friday scanning those receipts in order to get reimbursed for the stuff I had to buy on the road. I’ll already be at happy hour tying one on, compliments of project #16247.
When it comes to travel, there is one of two ways: Per day or the highway..
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