Sunday, August 15, 2010

Travel Tips for Social Entrepreneurs

I'm just wrapping up a week of conversation on Social Edge, entitled Travel Tips for Social Entrepreneurs. I'm fascinated not only with the big questions in the social entrepreneurship field, but also the practical practices of doing the job of social entrepreneur better. One of those practices is how to travel as cost effectively as possible. The conversation ranged over how to use Priceline, choosing socially responsible travel products and an idea for staying with other social entrepreneurs. Here's how I kicked off the conversation:
We spend a lot of time talking about the big picture issues around social change. But, sometimes it’s important to get practical and talk about nuts and bolts issues. Being a social entrepreneur is all about doing more with less. So, how do you stretch your travel dollars?

As a social entrepreneur who is typically on the road more than half the time, I find myself thinking about this a lot. What’s the tradeoff between saving time and saving money? Is it worthwhile staying at that cheap hotel if TripAdvisor posts are dwelling on their bedbug problem?

And that’s just on domestic travel. So many social entrepreneurs have operations in multiple countries. How do you deal with travelling to rich countries or poor countries? How do you handle guests who have very different expectations about travel and accommodation?

When money goes from being unobtainium to merely tight, what travel restrictions do you loosen? Paying for hotels instead of hostels? Not forcing team members to share rooms? Taking nonstop flights instead of cheaper one-stops? Or, do you stick with habits honed in resource-famished times?

I love saving a buck, and I still arrange most of my travel myself. I’m looking forward to getting new ideas from other people that can help us all do more with less. I’ll be putting a few of my tactics into the mix as the conversation unfolds, such as:

* How I learned to love Priceline for getting cheap four-star hotels $85 for four star hotels in DC and London!
* How my excessive flying on one airline leads to great service and lots of free upgrades to business class
* The wonders of frequent flier programs, where the airline goes out of its way to take care of its best customers, even those who are always picking the cheapest fares possible
* How I got out of Heathrow on the first California-bound flight after the volcano ash flight suspension
* How we encourage employees to skip on hotels where practical
* Paying employees to not stay in a hotel and buy a nice dinner or a bottle of wine for their host. For example, I almost always stay with one of my cousins in New York City. Benetech will give me $50 a night in lieu of staying in an expensive hotel.

After personnel, travel costs are one of our biggest expenses. I’m sure this is true of a lot of other groups with national or international activities. Being proactive up-front about controlling travel costs and understanding the trade-offs is an important way to hold up your mission.

* What’s your travel tip? Do you have an example of penny-wise, pound foolish travel ideas that backfired?
* Do you have ideas for reducing your environmental impact while getting the job done? How can we make travel more effective and less wearing?

1 comment:

Monica Willyard said...

Hi Jim. I work for a social entrepreneur, and we're still at the stage of needing to stretch a penny until it screams for mercy. :) Most of my travel is within the US., and I am totally blind. Since I cant' drive, my travel economies are somewhat different from yours.

One of the little things I do is to pack light to reduce my baggage fees. I found a roomy carry-on, and I use it for short trips. For longer trips, I limit myself to one checked bag.

I do my best to get rooms from the same chains of hotels because they'll give you a free night once you've stayed with them 3 or 4 times. Priceline is great at helping me find deals on hotels as well as flights.

When possible, I research my taxi, restaurant, and grocery store options before I leave home. If my hotel room has a refrigerator, I have a list of things I pick up at the local grocery store instead of eating out. It takes about half an hour to do this and many stores are willing to let me fax them an order and have it ready for me to pick up. I just take a taxi, get my food, and take the same taxi back to the hotel. I've found that I can save around $70 per week by eating in my room and packing a sandwich to take with me for a lunch break. If I have the chance to go out to dinner with people, I just have coffee, soup, or a dessert.