As an auditor in public accounting, you will likely be scheduled on an out-of-town engagement at some point in your career. In my case, I learned about my first trip just fifteen minutes into my first day on the job! During the meet-and-greet in our lunch room, I met my soon-to-be senior and found out I was destined for a trip to Dayton, Ohio. Little did I know at the time that I would be making this trip more frequently than I ever could have expected!
Many thoughts were spiraling through my mind, all of which made me nervous about the experience I was soon to face. On top of all the usual questions a first year staff accountant has, I found myself wondering, “Will I have to share a hotel room with my senior?”
Now, several years into my public accounting career and with numerous out-of-town trips under my belt, I feel obligated to prepare my new co-workers by answering their questions and putting their concerns at ease. Although, I do occasionally take the opportunity for a little friendly hazing by leading them to believe we share rooms!
With that said, I present the auditor’s out-of-town survival guide.
- Book your travel arrangements as far in advance as possible. It may be your responsibility to reserve your own flights and hotel accommodations. Booking the trip in advance can eliminate the issues of flights and hotels filling up. It will also help save the firm money. Your senior and manager are always available if you have questions during the process, from researching travel options to submitting receipts for reimbursement. Never hesitate to ask questions, as everyone was once in the same position!
- Sign up for rewards programs and start earning points. From the airfare to the hotel, you will rack up points galore. Choose your hotel and airline carefully, as you may be using the service more frequently than you thought.
- Pack early and pack light. Too many times I found myself waiting until the last minute to pack for a trip, only to wind up with a suitcase that looked like I was prepared for a month-long international vacation. Basically, you need work clothes and a toothbrush. Be sure to check the weather ahead of time and discuss with your senior the dress code your client abides by.
- Prepare for delays (especially in Philadelphia). Don’t let delays upset you; mentally prepare yourself for when they happen. If your flight home is scheduled for 6:00pm, don’t be surprised if it’s delayed until 8:00pm. If you are traveling separately from your team members, keep them informed on your flight’s progress; communication is key. And consider those rare on-time flights a bonus!
- Be friendly to the people you encounter during your trip. Remembering a staff member’s name at a hotel may be the difference between paying ten dollars for the breakfast buffet and eating for free each morning of the trip.
Working on the Road
- Expect long hours. Working, sleeping, and eating are at the top of the priority list while traveling for work. Unlike with local clients where there is a bit more flexibility, with out-of-town engagements it is especially important to get all the necessary information during fieldwork, as this is the only time allotted to make the trip to the client. Therefore, if your client isn’t as prepared as you had expected (see next point), you may need to work longer hours than originally anticipated.
- Client preparation is key. For an out-of-town engagement, it is very important that the client is prepared for your arrival and ready to assist during fieldwork. Reach out to them in advance to confirm timing and needs.
- Take the opportunity to get caught up. During busy season, out-of-town engagements may offer the best distraction-free time to catch up on work at the hotel.
- Be prepared for constant social interaction. You will be with your engagement team at least twelve hours a day, from breakfast until dinner. So be prepared to chat - a lot! This is a great opportunity to get to know your co-workers and build relationships (possibly even friendships) with them.
- You’ll be out of your element. It feels foreign being away from home with co-workers for a week. But everyone is in the same position, so embrace the experience as much as possible.
- Be positive. Everyone knows a Debbie downer, negative Nancy, or pessimistic Patty, but nobody wants them there for the out-of-town engagement. As mentioned above, you may be in for some long hours so try to keep an optimistic attitude. It will make the trip more enjoyable for you and everyone else.
A Few Extra Tips
- Enjoy your final home-cooked meals and look forward to the next. During your trip, you are going to eat at restaurants. A lot. So make sure to enjoy the home-cooked meals while you have them!
- Separation from family and friends. Think of the experience as a friendly reminder to not take each other’s company for granted.
- Save money. Stick to your per-diem budget and the trip should cost you nearly nothing out-of-pocket.
While this guide may not be inclusive of all the tips and tricks to “survive” an out-of-town experience, it should better prepare you for the journey that lies ahead. Wherever you're heading, your trip will have plenty of twists and turns in store. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and don’t forget your laptop!
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