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28 Jan 2015

Consulting Life Protips

Originally posted to Reddit in /r/consulting on 2015-01-28. (For some reason, it seems to have gotten downvoted significantly at some point since it was first posted and attracted attention. Guess I made someone upset.)

Consulting life protips:
- If you know you’re going to be on the road pretty much constantly for a long time, you can use it as a major opportunity to build up savings if you minimize expenses at “home”. Do you really want to pay for a nice apartment to yourself, if you’re only going to see it Friday through Sunday? Put some thought into it before you tie a substantial amount of your paycheck up in rent. The alternative might be having a substantial amount of savings in a few years. - Decide if you’re going to play the hotel points game or not. This is a controversial thing. Some people like to play all sorts of games to maximize points, most often involving staying further from a client site in order to stay at a preferred hotel chain. If you want to do this, go for it (but don’t drag your coworkers). Bear in mind, though, that there’s no award for dying with a huge horde of hotel points. Decide on something you want to do, figure out how many points it is, earn the points, do the thing. Having hotel points expire is just depressing. Or you can skip the points thing entirely; if you do, there’s a whole world of non-chain independent / boutique hotels that’s suddenly open to you – give them a shot. - When you go to a new client in a new city, and you weren’t given specific instructions on where you have to stay, pull up a list of all the nice hotels in the area. Call them (no, don’t use Orbitz, I mean actually call them on the phone), and ask if they have a corporate rate for the client. Don’t say you’re a consultant. Just drop the company name, e.g. say “I need to book a room on the Foobar Inc corporate rate, but they forgot to give me the rate code… can you help me?” sometimes you will get a really nice corporate rate at a better rate than you’d expect, which translates into staying at a nicer hotel. Alternately, most hotel chains are very lax about actually enforcing who is allowed to use corporate-booking codes, if you know any (ask around…). In some cities you may find the best rates with an IBM code, in other cities Dell or Accenture may be better. If you’re going to be staying in the same city for a long time (more than 6-8 weeks), you can often negotiate a lower-than-advertised rate for an entire project team staying at one hotel. Corporate apartments, if you get the opportunity, are awesome and should be taken advantage of where possible, especially if they are in cities where you’d want to stay the weekend in. - Stay as close to the client site as you can so the commute isn’t bad, unless the client site is in a crappy location (i.e. in shitty suburbs). In that case, see if you can find a hotel downtown in the nearest real city or largish town or whatever the closest speck of civilization is, and stay there, if you can swing it within your expense guidelines. Keep it reasonable, though, don’t stay in some fleabag where you’re going to get bedbugs (or actual fleas). Bedbugs are no joke. - Read the client expense guidelines carefully. Know them. Also know what the actual rules are, i.e. how much you can get away with. If it’s not a new account, find the most cynical, drunken consultant you can find and see if they’ll give you the scoop. Don’t be as bad as they are, though. You never want to be the worst guy in terms of your expenses. But there’s no point in being a goddamn Boy Scout either. Not only will you hate your life, everyone else will hate you too for making them look bad by comparison. Don’t be that guy. - If your travel takes you to interesting / nice / different places, and you have a significant other, you can do pretty nice long weekends by having them fly in on Thursday and home on Sunday while you just stay over in that city through the weekend. It used to be that you could let them use your plane ticket to do this (i.e. as far as the client knew, you went home on Thursday and came back Sunday), but the airlines don’t really make that easy anymore since tickets aren’t transferable. (Unless you are good to fly 1st Class in which case sometimes they are.) Sucks. Still, if you have a bunch of airline points to burn it can be a low cost thing to do, and you’ll probably have more fun if they come to see you than if you go home and collapse on the couch for 48 hours like you probably do every weekend. - Eat at local restaurants. Enjoy local cuisine. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of eating at the same four places over and over and over. I spent nine months in a small town once, and my coworkers and I eventually had to create a rule where we decided we wouldn’t go to more than one restaurant per day that we had ever been to before, until we went to every place in the town, just to keep morale up. We ate at some weird places. It’s actually one of the more fun engagements I went on. (If you’re a vegan or vegetarian or Kosher or something like that… um… that sucks. You’re probably going to hate life particularly if you are in the US and not on a coast. Stay at Residence Inns and learn to cook on a hotplate, I guess.) - Avoid early morning flights. This is a personal thing, but nothing ruins my day worse than having to get up ass-achingly early. I’d rather take a 10PM flight out on Sunday night, and set my alarm for 8AM before a 9AM start, than stay at home and get up at 4AM for a 6AM flight in order to land and get to that same 9AM start. Also, you will not look like shit, vs. like the guy who just got off a flight before showing up at work. Most clients won’t hassle you over the extra Sunday hotel if they want you in the office at 9AM. Typically, you can give the clients a sort of false choice: “hey, so I looked at the flights and it looks like the best bets are either fly in Sunday night for a 9AM start or I can fly in late morning on Monday but not get here until noon, which do you prefer?” That statement is not a lie—those are the best bets, for you—and they’re probably not going to actually look at the flights themselves. Unless they are tremendously cheap, you’ll get permission for Sunday night that way. If you make this the standard early in an engagement, it just becomes What You Do and nobody will expect any different. Alternately, if there’s no good Sunday night flights, see if you can push for arriving late on Monday and staying a bit later on Thursday (or Friday, I guess, but that sucks). - Do touristy shit occasionally. There’s nothing worse than spending six months flying back and forth to $GREAT_CITY only to never see any of the things that people go out of their way to travel there to see. Tack on an extra night of hotel on your own dime, don’t tell the client you’re still in town (if you normally leave at noon on Thursday, go), and take a day to see it. You may feel like going home and collapsing on the couch but in retrospect it’ll be worth it. - Use Facebook (or whatever) and look up old friends who might live in places near where you travel to. Hit them up, see if they want to go out for food/drinks when you’re in town. If you have an expense account, pay for them, you cheapass. (Even if the client won’t actually reimburse you for it, if everyone knows you’re there in town on business and getting your bill reimbursed, for god’s sake fucking pay the tab. Doubly so if they’re all English majors or something.) In general, if you can, take a night a week and hang out with people other than your coworkers. - If you’re going to be going to the same city repeatedly, find a dry cleaner. Drop your crap off in the morning of your last day in town (e.g. Thursday, if you work for a non-shitty company and client) and pick it back up on Monday after work. This will cut down on your baggage. You can also get many hotels to store your luggage over the weekend so you don’t have to schlep it home or deal with checking it, and also not have to worry about cramming it into a carryon. Most dry cleaners will do more than just dry cleaning, they’ll do “wash dry fold” which means you get a bag and you throw all your laundry in there and they just deal with all of it. Do this, it is awesome. The money you pay is so worth it in terms of not having to deal with laundry on the 36-72 hours you have to yourself over the weekend. (Never hotel laundry though, unless you work for GS. They rip you off.) - Use a cellphone scanner program and take pictures of all receipts right after you get them. Then there’s no managing little pieces of paper or anguish when you lose a $150 receipt that the client won’t reimburse without because they’re raging assholes. At the end of the week email that thing to yourself and file it away. - Always bring gym shoes. Take an hour to work out, either before or after dinner. You’ll feel better. If this means checking a bag rather than carrying-on, check a bag. (Your client is paying, who gives a shit about the $25? Check the stupid bag. Nobody at the office is going to care about the five minutes it takes you to wait for it, either.) Also bring a bathing suit (women), or gym/running shorts that double as a bathing suit (dudes). Doesn’t take up much space and it sucks to find yourself in a hotel with a hot tub and a sauna after a long day but not be able to take advantage of it because you didn’t think to bring one. - If you’re going to be around more than a few months, check out Meetup or similar sites. Find a casual running club or boardgame group or whatever you’re into. Boom, instant friends (if you’re not a headcase). Really only works if you’re an extrovert who likes people. I used to suggest finding the local library and trying to get a library card, but now with Kindles that doesn’t matter quite as much as it used to (though it can still be nice).

Those are the things that come to mind. Good luck. Business travel can be as fun or as miserable as you want to make it.