Luxuriously thrifty work

img_4512.jpgI like a good time. I like lush surroundings. Jet-setting. I like the flexibility of being able to change my train or plane tickets. Personal space. Comfort. Cool sheets. Temperature-controlled environments. I like fresh food. In-season produce. Fair-trade and organic food. I like durable clothes. Expensive shoes. The latest gadgets. Wonderful experiences. Unforgettable memories. Instagram-worthy photos. I love all of this but the thing is, I can’t afford it all.

For the first 6 years of my career, I worked as a consultant – mainly at client sites – in the UK and Ireland. I “lived” in hotels or serviced apartments for 4 and a half years and thoroughly enjoyed the associated lifestyle upgrade that bought me. I got fully flexible first class tickets on the trains up. We stayed at the 4 and 5 star hotels unless there weren’t any reservations. I used AMEX cards and racked up points on those as well as at the hotels that had reward programs. We had per diems and expense limits that I treated as a target everyday I was entitled to them.

I consequently ate at every decent restaurant in Manchester & Cheshire in the 3 years I was based there and a fair few in and around Portsmouth, Dublin, Nottingham and Swansea. I frequently ran into celebrities – mainly footballers – at the clubs, bars and hotels that I hung out at. I got wonderful concierge services including free room upgrades and use of exclusive facilities because of my gold and platinum status in the hotel rewards programs. The points netted free nights at Hilton, Marriott and Radisson residences in Barcelona, New York, Los Angeles, Bangkok, Stockholm, London and other UK locations. I also got a PS3 and air miles with my converted AMEX points.

I got tired of the mandatory travel though and worked for an airline instead for a couple of years. Discounted and/or stand-by travel opened up the world of business class travel to me. I loved the fast track security & priority boarding I sometimes got. I loved the free champagne / cava I consumed on my 9am flights. I loved the real cutlery and half decent meals. On the odd occasion I got offered these perks in economy because the staff clocked that I was one of them.

I had almost 3 years of working for cost cutting organisations. After I left the airline, I started to feel the remorse from my champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget. For nearly a year, I didn’t do any significant travel. I was disproportionately excited (it must have seemed) about a trip to Weymouth for a team away day but I hadn’t been anywhere for 6 months and a life without travel makes me rather miserable. I figured out that while I was saving, trying to pay off debt, and being financially responsible, I really needed to find a job that would include some work travel. I could get some champagne while mostly drinking lemonade.

It’s May 2017 and I’ve had the following experiences because I now work for organisations that will fly me somewhere.

  • Several visits to Munich. My main job and my freelancing clients both have a presence in Munich. I saw Marienplatz and the exquisite christmas markets sans snow but got some snow on my April trip. I made a bet that I would out-drink a 6’5″ Bavarian man. I’ve made friends with the team I freelance with and will bereturning for Oktoberfest later on in the year. I also turned down the opportunity to eat a €38 breakfast because even though I could expense it sinceI’m just not about spending as a status symbol anymore.
  • 3 nights in Milan. My room had a lounge area and Hermes toiletries. I’ve still got some of the stuff I took away and brought it on my trip to Faro. I also got to see my mate who was visiting from NYC for coffee for an hour. I hadn’t seen her for years and had only mentioned I’d be in Milan off the cuff because she’s Milanese and serendipity stepped in.
  • I finally got to see Tokyo. I’ve been trying for years but timing or budget had always let me down. I discovered there’s a lot more to Japanese food than sushi and sashimi. The izagoyas are amazing. I discovered that matcha is everywhere – matcha beer, Kahlua, shochu, and ice cream were a few that I tried. I had incredibly fun evenings with my colleagues. I got to hang with Yoko. I got tons of Avios too.
  • I’ve posted points to my Marriott rewards account for the first time in ages.
  • I’ve discovered that Easyjet’s seats up front are not worth the £10.99 they charge you for them.
  • I got to see some of my ‘bucket list’ UK towns – Hull, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich. I also got a free tour of the Black country from someone who grew up in the area and had a wealth of untapped knowledge. I also got to explore Kingston via the extremely beautiful Warren House – a throwback to my days of 5 star hotel living luxury.
  • I finally went to Kew Gardens because I wouldn’t pay for that experience without trying it.
  • I’ve made unexpected friends, tried new things and seen a lot more places than I’d planned to so far.

There’s still plenty more work travel to come. While I haven’t yet figured out how to make sure I don’t carry through some of the luxuries of my work trip into my life. With the right separation of mindsets, I can stay thrifty but live the good life.

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