That Corporate Travel Life (and Lifestyle Creep)

I was at the San Francisco International Airport, waiting for my flight to Las Vegas. It was just another business trip, but something felt different. When I bit into my blueberry scone and thought, “This is the worst blueberry scone ever!” –I knew it had happened. I had been ruined by corporate travel.

When you travel for work, you get perks. Since the company is sending you away from home into a faraway land for days at a time –away from family, away from your bed, away from your friends –it compensates you in the form of “T+E.” You can expense your travel costs, whatever that may be. Stuck at the airport due to a flight delay? Go to the Jamba Juice and expense a smoothie. Had a stressful client meeting? Head over to the bar and expense some whiskey and bar food. It’s part of the program. Since being out in the field can be stressful, your employer is happy to provide you with all the food, housing, and travel you need to get your job done. It’s a worthwhile investment –if your per diem is $100 (a very high amount, if you think about it) and you help close a $30,000 deal on 3 days’ travel, that extra $300 you spent for food and drinks is a drop in the bucket.

And yet for a young person out of college, a $100 per diem seems outrageous. “How the heck does someone spend $100 a day on food?” I wondered when I first got my corporate expense account. As someone who had worked in startups for 5 years, I had frugality in my blood. I eschewed unnecessary expenses –every dollar needed to go to fueling the startup.

At first, I used my corporate card frugally. I ate at the places I would normally eat if I were on my own dime. My manager even commented on how low my travel expenses were. Apparently, other employees were spending far more than me. So I decided to allow myself some extra luxuries.

It starts with the small things. You go into an airport café and buy a $7 Matcha Latte (are you crazy?). Yes, I will take that $9 Jamba Juice (how on earth can a smoothie cost as much as minimum wage?). Steak and eggs breakfast for $30? Cocktail at the bar for $20? Expense all the things.

After a while, you get used to that luxury. It seeps into your normal life when you’re not traveling for work. You’ll start spending more on food, you’ll start spending more on little luxuries here and there. And after a while, you realize your monthly expenses have gone up a lot compared to a year prior.

Whenever I catch my mind thinking spoiled thoughts (like about how terrible my blueberry scone was), I smack it down and remind myself of the time when I was a broke college student. Back then, a few dollars of savings meant a lot. It was a tough living on a shoestring budget, but there was beauty in being hungry for a better life. As I remembered that life, the scone began to taste better.

I finished my $5 scone and gulped down my $7 latte. It was just another day in the corporate travel life.

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