In 2003, I took my business on the road for three months while traveling by car around much of North America. In 2007, I took almost as long for a road trip from Massachusetts to Alaska and back. In those four years, several things changed that significantly affected some practicalities of taking care of business when away from the office and one’s home base for that long a time. If you’re planning extensive business travel and haven’t been on the road in a couple of years, some of these changes might come as a surprise to you, too.
1. Internet access. In 2003, high-speed Internet was a specialty item in the hospitality industry, restricted to a few name-brand hotel and coffee-shop chains. Before I left on my 2007 trip, several people told me blithely, “Wi-fi is everywhere now.” I’m glad I looked skeptically at that assessment.
During ten weeks of travel in Canada and the U.S., only one-third of the time did wi-fi work conveniently and right away in the room where we were staying. Another third of the time we were able to use wi-fi after quite a bit of technical fiddling or by going to the motel office or restaurant. And the other third of the time, we would have been without Internet access had wi-fi been our only option. I had three backup options for this contingency: going online on dialup with the modem in my laptop; using my handheld phone/computer (an AT&T 8525) to pick up email; and telephoning my virtual assistant to ask her to check my email for me.
2. Receipts. If you’re planning to deduct business travel expenses on your taxes, then you need to save receipts and you need a written record of the expenses and their business purpose. What changed since 2003 in this regard is that more and more businesses provide receipts on thermal paper whose ink fades and smudges with the least exposure to sun or friction. This means that if you shoe-box your receipts into a pocket or a compartment in the car before you record your expenses, you could be unable to decipher your evidence. I’m not sure what the IRS’s take on this development will be, but I’m glad I had the discipline to record the expenses in a little notebook at least every day or two.
3. Plastic. During our 2003 trip, we had to keep hitting up ATMs for cash, because quite a few places where we had to pay for things did not accept credit cards. In 2007, the only places where we really had to have cash were a few tolls and a few tourist attractions. We had one Canadian ten-dollar bill with us left over from the previous trip, and apart from that we were able to charge nearly everything. When a panhandler tried to hit us up for cash, we were able to say truthfully that we had none. We were putting everything on plastic, sorry!
4. Cell phone coverage. Our surprise here was that there wasn’t as much improvement in cellular service for the more remote sections of the U.S. as we expected. Along interstate highways, you can pretty much expect to get a signal. But otherwise, where population density is low or nonexistent, cell phone coverage is usually likewise absent. A big exception was national parks. I had a long conversation with a friend back home from Denali National Park in Alaska, where the whole county has only 1800 or so full-time residents.
5. Mail forwarding. This change isn’t the progress toward efficiency that you might expect. It took longer in 2007 than in 2003 to get postal mail forwarding going and longer to stop the forwarding. My postmaster explained that forwarding was now centralized and computerized. Whereas previously, individual post offices had been in charge of forwarding mail addressed to residents in their service area, now this was handled at the regional mail processing facility. My postmaster could put in the request to start or stop mail forwarding, but he had no direct control over the process, and it took 7-10 days for the forwarding and the no-more-forwarding orders to take effect.
Be prepared for these and other changing conditions, and you’ll have a better, easier and more prosperous time away from home.