Travel tips from CPA road warriors

A little preparation and discipline can ease the journey.
By Hannah Pitstick

Accountants worldwide log millions of miles driving and flying around the globe every year for business, whether conducting forensic audits or holding face-to-face meetings with clients.

Those who consider themselves road warriors have made more than a few mistakes we can all learn from. From buying cheap luggage to not planning for delays, these finance professionals have learned the hard way how small tricks and tips can save you time, money, and, most importantly, your sanity.

Travel only when needed. With the rapid evolution of communication technology, it is increasingly unnecessary to travel to a location for a regular business meeting. While it can still be important to be in the same room with clients from time to time, applications such as Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other videoconferencing tools can drastically reduce the need for travel. And sometimes obligations at home should take priority.

Sara Lord, CPA, national director of audit services for RSM US LLP, has three young kids at home and every once in a while requests to attend a meeting virtually. This year, she coached her daughter's basketball team and the championship game happened to fall on the same night as an important seminar out of town.

"I just talked with the person heading the seminar, and said, 'I want to be there, but I have to be home,'" she said. "'It would make me sad for a really long time if I missed this, so can I just video-call in to make it work?'"

The seminar organizer was more than happy to accommodate Lord, and with the help of technology, she was able to meet both work and family obligations.

"I think it's that balance of making sure people know I'll be there when I need to, but every once in a while, something in my life requires me to be home," she added. "I've found that people are really receptive to that."

Prepare for delays. Jim Dolinar, CPA, managing partner of the Assurance Professional Practice, national office of Crowe LLP in Chicago, is a planner by nature. And when traveling on business, he plans for delays.

Living in the Chicago area, he has found just getting to the airport is not always a straightforward experience. Depending on traffic, the drive can take from 45 minutes to nearly two hours. He makes a habit of checking Google Maps and traffic reports as his departure time nears to ensure he's leaving enough time to get to the airport.

And he always makes sure to bring plenty of things to work on once he's arrived at the airport, so when there is a flight delay, he doesn't have to sit and watch airport televisions for hours.

"I look at travel time as a way to get caught up on a lot work that I have backlogged," he said. "That way, when I get to the airport and, sure enough, the flight's delayed for whatever reason, I can pull out the work I planned to do and use that time productively." Having a good book or magazine with you can help take some of the frustration out of travel delays as well, he added.

Brian F. Tankersley, CPA/CITP, CGMA, accounting technology consultant and K2 Enterprises continuing education speaker, recommended creating backup itineraries with the airline for important trips. He does that by asking the airline to put him on standby for a second flight in case there's an issue with the primary flight.

"Once your flight has been delayed for 15 or more minutes, you should be getting a backup itinerary, so you can get going where you need to go," he said.

His backup itinerary strategy has paid off. Since 2005, Tankersley has traveled about 1.3 million miles on Delta, and only once was unable to get to his destination.

"Out of about 1,400 teaching days, I'm 1,399 out of 1,400 for getting there," he said.

Stick to your regular diet. Traveling can expose you to endless food temptation, and it can be difficult to resist indulging at every turn. But if you're traveling for a third of the year, you need to establish some discipline to avoid packing on the pounds. Dolinar tries to treat business travel as an extension of working in his home office by sticking to his routines as much as possible.

To avoid temptation from airport food, he recommended packing a lot of healthy snacks.

"When you travel for leisure or on vacation, the airport and flying is part of the experience, so it's not uncommon to eat and drink at the airport, but if you do that on business, you would pack on a lot of weight," he said.

The inevitable business dinners and lunches may also throw a fork in your typical diet routine, but for all other meals, Dolinar recommended sticking to what you eat at home.

Find creative ways to exercise. Lord belongs to a gym that has locations all around the world, which is how she typically exercises on business trips. But sometimes she is able to combine exercise with sightseeing, as she did on a recent business trip in Australia.

"I was told there's a place where you can run and see kangaroos," she said. By combining the two, she was able to see a bit of Australian wildlife while fitting in a workout during her trip.

Dolinar doesn't always bother trying to fit in gym time while traveling, opting instead to get exercise by walking around the city.

"Often, I'm only gone for one or two days, so it's hard to fit that in with the time zone change, so what I try to do is at least walk a lot," he said. "New York City and D.C. are both known as very walkable cities."

Use brand loyalty to your advantage. By sticking with one airline and hotel chain, you can maximize your points and perks, according to Tankersley.

Most airlines, credit cards, and hotel chains have programs that allow you to rack up miles and points every time you use them, essentially free money you can use later on vacation.

"My wife is the beneficiary of my travel, because the ironic thing is that when you travel for a living, you don't want to go anywhere on vacation — you want to stay home," Tankersley said.

Aside from racking up miles and points, by sticking with one company, you're likely to create relationships with the staff who can make your life much more pleasant.

"When things get sideways and you're a big customer to them, as opposed to just being an individual, it makes a big difference," Tankersley said. "And if you have relationships with those folks, they will move heaven and earth for you."

A few years back, there was a huge snowstorm that shut everything down, and he and his family faced getting stuck at the airport for Christmas. But because of his status with Delta, he was able to get home on the first available flight.

Be kind to airport employees. Along those same lines, Tankersley recommended keeping your cool with airport employees.

"Getting mad when your travel has gone sideways is not productive," he said. "Airport employees get chewed out for a living, so if you can be the nice person in a day of angry people, you're more likely to get your way."

He even takes brownies to the staff at his home airport during Christmas, because he knows how hard they work. Just by being nice, the travel experience can be more pleasant for everyone, he added.

Invest in quality luggage. There's nothing worse than walking a mile through an airport with a bag that has sticky wheels, Tankersley said.

He strongly recommended investing in premium luggage with sturdy and lightweight construction, heavy-duty wheels, comfortable handles, and clever storage features.

Ever since he had to give a keynote at a conference in jeans and a polo shirt because the airline had lost his luggage, Tankersley has carried on his bags whenever possible and advised against checking your bag unless you absolutely have to.

As for what to carry in that luggage, he recommended packing a 10-foot extension cord, a backup power supply for your laptop and phone, and a micro power strip. When the weather gets bad in an airport and everybody is delayed, there are no available outlets, he pointed out. By carrying that extension cord and power strip, you can solve not only your problem, but somebody else's as well.

When home, be present. When you're traveling for nearly half of the year, it's important to make the most of the time you do have at home.

Tankersley has a 16-year-old son, and no matter how late he gets in from a business trip on a Friday night, even if it's 2 a.m., he, his son, and the dog go to Starbucks, then drive a half-hour to a UPS store to pick up mail, and then go home. Even simple traditions can be meaningful if you're fully present for them.

"Routines are important for kids," he said. "You have to pay careful attention to your relationships. And you have to keep in touch, whether you use FaceTime, Skype, or talk on the phone — it's important to hear each other's voices, and it's important to be involved in each other's lives."

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at

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