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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

US Travel Tips for New Faculty…and for Not-so-New

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I have over 3000 entries in my online address book and card collection, and I no longer remember who half of them are, where I met them, or why....a note would have helped me in trimming the collection some. ... Furthermore, you can read the papers when on the plane during times that no electronic devices can be used, and you can write comments in the margin when you have a small fold-down seat tray that isn't large enough to hold an open laptop. ... Also, you are prepared when the airline asks for volunteers to be bumped to the next day in return for a free ticket -- that means you can save money on your grants for the next conference, or else use the free ticket to have a spouse/SO accompany you on a trip. ... Airline check-in people can give you a better seat or waive a change fee if you are nice, flight attendants will sometimes comp a drink or give you the last blanket, and hotel clerks can put you in a better room -- all if you are nice. ... At the end of the trip, the receipts get sorted into three piles: those that go to the university or sponsor for reimbursement purposes, those that go into my file for income taxes (all meal receipts, for example), and a pile I keep until I have been reimbursed and my frequent flier miles credited. ... Intel is one example -- over a 3 year period with 5 trips they never paid an invoice in less than 6 months, one took 10 months to reimburse, and I had to file as a business supplier to even get into their system! ... If you are flying to a conference on grant money, check on university policy -- most will cover the change fee or even the cost of the ticket so long as you commit to buying non-refundable tickets to keep costs low. ... Yeah, maybe you collect frequent flier miles by using that card, but it also may have an 18%-25% effective annual rate. if you are delayed getting a reimbursement, or it crosses the due date of the bill, you may be paying a hefty penalty for those miles. ... The taxes part is easiest -- keep the receipts and if your reimbursement gets included in a form 1099-MISC filed by your host, then you list the amounts as deductible business expenses (talk to a tax advisor for specifics -- don't depend on this blog!). ... It is all perfectly legal (although you may need to educate the clerks at the other end), has the same number of digits as your SSN, but it compromised it won't contribute to fraud committed with your identity.

The academic year is beginning, and I have already been asked by new faculty about travel. I also recently heard about a problem from a more senior colleague. As I have traveled a lot for my work in the last 20 years, I have built up some experience as an academic “road-warrior.” My assistant, Marlene, has also helped out with some great ideas as she has observed my difficulties getting from point A to B and back again. Here are some general tips for lower-stress travel as you travel to conferences and speaking engagements around the U.S.

General

Familiarize yourself with your university’s travel rules. Most have specific rules about advance notice, forms to file, etc. Know the rules before you travel so you don’t do the wrong things.

When you meet people at conferences, or when speaking, or otherwise on business, write the date on the back of the card, along with info that will help you identify why/where you met the person. If you promise to send them a copy of your recent results, then write that on the card, too. I have over 3000 entries in my online address book and card collection, and I no longer remember who half of them are, where I met them, or why….a note would have helped me in trimming the collection some.

Note on your itinerary what the next and previous departures of the plane, train, etc might be. If your business finishes early or runs late you have some idea of alternatives. In many cases, for a small free, you can switch to a different departure time on the same day. You can usually get that fee reimbursed by the same source of funds that pays for your ticket.

Take paper copies of articles, theses, or other items you need to read or review. If you are stuck in an airport waiting area with a delayed flight, you can put your time to use without running down laptop batteries. Furthermore, you can read the papers when on the plane during times that no electronic devices can be used, and you can write comments in the margin when you have a small fold-down seat tray that isn’t large enough to hold an open laptop.

Keep business cards with you. At least once a year I find someone sitting on a long flight next to me to be worth a follow-up contact. Several times these have led to industry grants for my research or internships for my students. Be prepared for opportunities!

Always pack an extra day’s worth of critical items in the event your flight is cancelled or too badly delayed. Also, you are prepared when the airline asks for volunteers to be bumped to the next day in return for a free ticket—that means you can save money on your grants for the next conference, or else use the free ticket to have a spouse/SO accompany you on a trip.

If you are going someplace interesting, investigate staying an extra day or two to sight-see, or simply relax. Depending on timing, you may actually save money by flying on a weekend day instead of a weekday evening and staying the extra night in the hotel!

Consider joining frequent traveler programs for the airlines and hotels. You may not collect enough for a free trip any time soon—and if you do travel enough to do so, another trip is not likely your idea of a reward. However, most of those programs have some small perks for members—free Internet service or breakfast at the hotel, priority on better seats, etc.

Airline clubs can be valuable places to unwind between long flights or during delays. You can buy day passes or full-year memberships. Some cover multiple airlines. Consider the expense of Internet access and several cups of coffee each time you need to spend more than an hour at a major airport in a waiting area. At a certain point, the airline club fee comes out to be a win. Plus, their front desk staff can often fix a scheduling snafu on your ticket faster (and with more options) than the personnel out at the desks.

Try to always be cheerful with travel personnel, even if you’re having a bad day. Airline check-in people can give you a better seat or waive a change fee if you are nice, flight attendants will sometimes comp a drink or give you the last blanket, and hotel clerks can put you in a better room—all if you are nice. Be grumpy or curt, and TSA will make your life miserable, you’ll get checked into the non-reclining seat in the last row next to the lav, and at the hotel you’ll get the room next to the elevator.

I have a single sheet with all my flight itinerary, hotel address, confirmation numbers, important telephone numbers, and so on. This turns out to be incredibly useful for all sorts of reasons.

Take along a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and use it before every meal or break. If you are meeting people, shaking hands, and using doorknobs handled by thousands of others, it is not a contributor to good health. Frequent hand washing and use of a sanitizer can really help. I get small bottles in the “travel size” section at my neighborhood pharmacy.

Finances

Keep all of your receipts, boarding passes, etc. I have a poly-plastic envelope with an elastic cord into which I put all my receipts while traveling. At the end of the trip, the receipts get sorted into three piles: those that go to the university or sponsor for reimbursement purposes, those that go into my file for income taxes (all meal receipts, for example), and a pile I keep until I have been reimbursed and my frequent flier miles credited. This last pile is normally where stubs from boarding passes go, unless your sponsor/university requires them.

Never leave a hotel without a paper statement showing a zero balance! Some hotels will run a statement of all expenses and slip it under your room door the night before you leave. You then do an express checkout an don’t stop at the desk. However, without evidence you paid the bill (the zero balance part), some agencies won’t reimburse you! You can probably get a corrected copy from the hotel, but the process delays your reimbursement by weeks (or longer).

Need to send in the original receipts for reimbursement? Make sure you have legible copies to keep on file in the event there is a mixup or loss of items.

Don’t forget to ask for mileage reimbursement to drive to/from the airport. The current IRS rate is commonly used.

If you work at a public university you can sometimes get the government rate at hotels. You need to ask about that when you reserve the room, and you show your faculty ID when arriving. Be sure you only do this when traveling on university business.

Be aware of your credit limit. If you are doing a lot of travel and charging it all to one credit card, you may hit your limit without knowing it. Hotels often put a hold charge on your card when you check in and do not remove it when you pay your bill, so your card takes double the hit. It can be very uncomfortable to arrive at your destination, 3 time zones away, only to be told that your card has been refused. American Express cards have no such pre-set limit, but you also have to pay them when the blll arrives, and this can be a stretch if your reimbursements aren’t timely.

Speaking of reimbursements, some companies that may ask you to come visit to speak at their expense can be extremely slow to pay reimbursements because their internal processes are so complex. My worst experiences have been with big companies, for some reason. Intel is one example—over a 3 year period with 5 trips they never paid an invoice in less than 6 months, one took 10 months to reimburse, and I had to file as a business supplier to even get into their system! In situations like this you either need to dip into savings then wait for the payment, or carry the charge on credit. Be prepared for this if you have no experience with a host offering to reimburse you.

Actually, this brings up a worst-case scenario: You are asked to visit an institution in a foreign country to speak, at their expense. You buy non-refundable tickets (that is all they will reimburse) and then they cancel the visit or you fall ill or….. Nothing like having $2000 in non-refundable tickets and the bill coming due! There are solutions here—demand to buy refundable tickets, have them buy the tickets for you, or consider having them authorize buying travel insurance through the airline or travel service where you get the tickets. Even reputable places may have scheduling problems.

Don’t fly sick! If you are really ill, don’t feel you have to travel because you bought non-refundable tickets, or because they are expecting you to talk at the other end. Flying while ill can make you worse (I’ve had a perforated ear drum from the pressure change on the plane, once, flying with a terrible cold), can spread germs, and you end up not making a very good presentation. Ask to reschedule if it is a presentation. Most airline tickets can be used, for a small change fee, up to a year after the date of purchase. If you are flying to a conference on grant money, check on university policy—most will cover the change fee or even the cost of the ticket so long as you commit to buying non-refundable tickets to keep costs low.

Check the interest rate on your credit cards. Yeah, maybe you collect frequent flier miles by using that card, but it also may have an 18%-25% effective annual rate. if you are delayed getting a reimbursement, or it crosses the due date of the bill, you may be paying a hefty penalty for those miles.

Many places will ask for your SSN# on a W-4 before they will reimburse you. If you are a compensated speaker, you can’t get your honorarium without this. This poses two problems: taxes and possible exposure of your SSN. The taxes part is easiest—keep the receipts and if your reimbursement gets included in a form 1099-MISC filed by your host, then you list the amounts as deductible business expenses (talk to a tax advisor for specifics—don’t depend on this blog!). As for protecting yourself against identity theft, come up with a “dba” name (doing business as) for consulting, then get an IRS EIN (employer identity number). Use that in place of your SSN. It is all perfectly legal (although you may need to educate the clerks at the other end), has the same number of digits as your SSN, but it compromised it won’t contribute to fraud committed with your identity.

I may do a follow-up post with some specific hints on international travel. If you have suggestions for academic travelers, please post them in the comments.

 

Comments

Posted by Gene Schultz
on Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 08:23 PM

There are additional considerations related to laptops when you are on travel. When you put stuff into the airport security scanning machines, always put your laptop in last, as thieves are most likely to steal your laptop after it arrives on the other side while you haven’t gone through the X-ray machine yet. Always put your name and phone number on your laptop in case you accidentally leave it somewhere—especially at the airport. That way, there is always a chance that an honest person will return it if you leave it behind. Bring the appropriate electrical adapter(s) for the country/countries you will be visiting—I keep a whole set in a small nylon bag. Never leave your laptop unattended if you can help it. If you are in an airline lounge, hibernate it and take it with you if you leave your seat there for any reason. I know of several people (including myself) who even take their laptops with them, carrying them in a small backpack, when they go out to eat in a restaurant while they are on travel. And if you must leave your laptop in your hotel room, leave it someplace that will take a thief a while to find. The more difficult finding it is, the less likely a thief will stick around to continue to find it. Don’t leave it under a pillow or in a drawer—much too obvious…

Posted by Ed Gehringer
on Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 08:43 PM

Instead of getting an EIN, you could just apply for a credit freeze.  It protects against any unauthorized use of your SSN to obtain credit, not just abuses by people who handle reimbursements for you.  It is some trouble to apply for (but so is an EIN) and it costs up to $10 per credit bureau ($30 overall).  However, once you do it, no one can use your SSN to apply for credit, because before issuing a credit report, the credit bureau will ask them for a PIN known only to you.  This is the best defense I’ve found against identity theft.

Posted by Dongyan Xu
on Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 10:46 PM

Thanks Spaf for blogging on one of my favorite topics (you can tell that by the username of my Yahoo! email address). I have one more (Purdue-specific) tip to add:

For car rentals on university business, you may not get reimbursed for any additional insurance option or “damage waiver” you purchase from the rental car company.

Before you travel, go check with your business office and ask for one of those little cards that reads:

“To all vehicle rental agencies: Purdue University insures the auto physical damage and liability exposure of its employees in rental vehicles while traveling on University business in the US and internationally. Our employees have been advised not to purchase the waiver. Verification of coverage may be obtained by calling the Purdue Risk Management Office at 765-494-7695. (FAX 765-496-1338)”

Show this card to the car rental agent and explain to him/her Purdue’s “self-insurance” policy.

* I shall not assume any liability or any loss, damage or expense from errors or inaccuracy in my comment above grin

Posted by Dennis Heger
on Friday, August 22, 2008 at 01:36 PM

Don’t forget about dirty cabin air while flying! Alcohol based sanitizer is great for the hands, but a dust mask is a great investment when traveling abroad. Since I started using them, I no longer get the nasal/ear/throat problems I used to get jetting around the globe. And a little OTC decongestant will keep your ears from popping.

Posted by Jim McMahon
on Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 05:15 PM

If concerned about loss by theft of the DATA on the laptop, using disk encryption is one method to prevent loss.  An inexpensive physical solution is carrying a small screwdriver and an electrostatic bag. Combine the two to allow easy removal of most laptop hard drives, placed immediately into the protective bag and secured in a coat or shirt pocket it is much easier than carrying a knapsack or briefcase easy to forget and leave behind at a restaurant or bar.  Have done this in countires where protection of your client or company’s IP is difficult and had Zero problems during past 11 years on the road.  You must be careful not to drop or crush the drive of course and the small pins on IDE drives will bend! SATA drive conections survive better. Another simple method is to put the drive in a small exterior drive case ($10 at many Fry’s Electronics) which protects the drive and still fits easily in a pocket.

Finally, if you don’t NEED the laptop, don’t travel with it.  Most hotels will have computers with Internet access for email and carrying your presentation on a 4 to 8 gig USB stick is a lot lighter and less risky than a $1,000 to $3,000 laptop loss.  I often do this on speaking engagements and have always found my host was more than capable of displaying my presentations on their own systems.

Posted by Castello di Montalto
on Monday, December 22, 2008 at 07:53 AM

Nice tips you give here. Really admirable. Thanks for sharing with us.

Posted by Patent Attorney
on Monday, December 22, 2008 at 08:07 AM

Here are some general tips for lower-stress travel as you travel to conferences and speaking engagements around the U.S. Thanks for sharing with us.

Posted by Giovanni Coda Nunziante
on Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 03:41 AM

If I can add to your “Travel Tips for New Faculty…and for Not-so-New”,  in particular for sabbatical travel, I would say that the choice of the right place to go is the most important.
You need a quiet place to work, surrounded by lots of stimulating cultural and artistic suggestions, and contacts with locals.
We receive guests from many countries, and especially from the U.S. in a medieval Castle in Tuscany (www.montalto.it). Universities like Florence, Siena, Pisa and Perugia are in close reach.
My wife is American, graduated from Stanford.  I am Italian, in the early sixties got a PhD in economics from the University of California, and now I retired after teaching for 40 years in Italian Universities.
If you stay with us we will give you all the needed assistance. 
Giovanni and Diana Coda Nunziante

Posted by Gavin Boyd
on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 02:23 PM

Hi, cerias is a really cool blog,  I am working with a travel company doing accommodation inspections through out Europe which is a cool job but right now I am on a <a href=“http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/Ferry_Crossings/Newcastle_Amsterdam/Ferry_to_Holland”>ferry to amsterdam</a> and a little bored so reading your travel blog post has cheered me up a lttle, keep the posts coming, cheers

Posted by Pete
on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 11:47 PM

Nice information!! Also thanks for the credit card tips. I don’t have AMEX myself but sure will get one soon.

Posted by ira
on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 12:22 PM

Hi, it’s nice information. thanks for sharing.

Posted by Kathy
on Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 05:49 PM

Hello Gene,
I thought I’d add an additional suggestion regarding joining travel partner programs like frequent flyer or hotel programs.

If you (or others) will be travelling to different venues - as is probable when on a speaking tour - the hotel chains might not always be the exact same in each town - so I would also suggest finding a credit card that offers rewards for more than one hotel or airline.

For example, American Express has a card called “Hilton Honors,” that enables one to use their card to accrue rewards points to be redeemed at the various Hiltons. The thing is, they have LOTS of different hotels - not just Hilton. So, the odds of finding a good hotel using points in different towns is a little better.

My husband & I use that particular rewards card with great success several times a year. So, I just thought I’d throw that out there!

Also… by the way, the idea of having a speaking engagement cancelled without being reimbursed sounds like a nightmare! I had not considered that, and am really glad that you covered that point.

Thanks for sharing these in-depth points.
smile Kath

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