FOR TIME-PRESSED entrepreneurs, wrapping vacation around a business trip can be the most efficient way to take a breather.
Alicia Rockmore, founder of Buttoned Up, an organizational-products company in Ann Arbor, Mich., travels several times a week for business meetings or sales calls, which leaves little spare time (or energy) for a proper vacation. By the time she gets home, “the last thing I feel like doing is getting on another airplane,” she says.
So she frequently tacks an extra day or afternoon onto her business trip for “me time,” such as getting a massage in New York City or visiting friends in San Francisco, or for family-vacation time with her husband and young daughter. On a recent business trip to Orlando, she brought along her five-year-old and a nanny, squeezing in visits to DisneyWorld in the mornings, while focusing on work in the afternoon and evenings. “Anywhere there is any kind of efficiency, I’ll take it,” she says.
Nearly 40% of business owners link vacation to a business trip, and many say they do so to save time and money, according to the OPEN from American Express 2007 Spring Small Business Monitor. While it may not sound as relaxing or as indulgent as a truly separate vacation, “anything that gets business owners to take a break and recharge and refresh their problem-solving capabilities is a good thing,” says Alice Bredin, a small-business advisor to OPEN in Cambridge, Mass.
Taking a vacation is difficult for many small-business owners, often because they don’t have a robust team who can manage the company in their absence. The OPEN survey found that 65% of business owners say any vacation they do take is riddled with worries such as losing important clients, equipment breaking down or staff mishandling problems that arise.
Adding an extra day or two to a work trip is just enough time to get a small breather, without worrying too much about losing business. Some entrepreneurs even view the “downtime” as a chance to study a new market. Dmitriy Peregudov of Arlington, Mass., is developing eGestures.com, a start-up that sells luxury services in various cities. When he travels to Chicago, for example, he’ll schedule work meetings on a Friday, then stay the weekend to sample any number of activities his company might decide to sell, from full-body massages to time behind the wheel of a Ferrari 360. “I try to do things I like to do, but combine them with things to do for the business,” he says.
Peregudov also finds that “vacation becomes much cheaper” when he combines business and leisure. Recently, he flew to Tokyo for a week’s worth of meetings, then took three extra days for a little R&R in Kyoto. “It was historically interesting; I looked at temples and the Geisha quarter,” he says. If he hadn’t already been in Japan for a business trip, “I probably wouldn’t be able to afford just Kyoto,” he says. Plus, he was able to deduct much of the trip as a business expense.
As long as the primary purpose of the trip is business, and the cost isn’t overly extravagant, a business owner can deduct many travel-related expenses, according to Keith Hall, national tax advisor in Dallas for the National Association of the Self-Employed. For instance, if three nights of a hotel stay are for work, and one is for vacation, then three nights count as a business expense. Owners should be sure to save receipts, and any itinerary that validates the business purpose of the trip, he says. For more information, click here.
One expense that can’t be deducted is any cost related to a family member who also takes the trip. Many business owners report that they often bring spouses or kids along with them — more often than not, simply to ensure that they take a “family vacation,” even though they’re usually cramming in work, too.
“For any of my longer trips, I try to book it at a time when I can take all or some of my family with me,” says Bob Keats, founder of wealth-management firm Keats Connelly & Associates in Phoenix, who is currently planning work/family trips to Vancouver and West Palm Beach, Fla. The plan has worked pretty well over the past 30 years — typically, Keats spends the majority of time working, while his family is vacationing — although tensions sometime rise.
More often than not, the problem is that he’s in “work” mode while his wife and two youngest children (both teenagers) are in “vacation” mode. “That gets into conflict quite a bit, when I am getting dressed in a suit and tie, and they are in bathing suits headed for the pool — and they want to use the bathroom,” he says. Although he schedules a portion of the trip for family togetherness, stress about the business or a “minor disaster” back at the office can interrupt his free time, he admits. But for the most part, “everyone is happy, and if they ever complain about it, I say — ‘OK, next time I’ll leave you at home,'” he says.
Wrapping vacation around a business trip can be riddled with problems, from annoyed family members to a lack of true detachment from work, says Robin Ryan, a career counselor in Seattle. While tacking extra days on to a work trip is fine for the occasional breather, she advises entrepreneurs to take two weeks off a year for a true vacation. “It’s only by being away from [the business] completely that you can move into that relaxed state,” she says.
(“Balancing Work & Life,” a weekly column written by Colleen DeBaise for smSmallBiz.com, advises entrepreneurs on how to better balance their lives. Write to her at email@example.com.)
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