As you will have likely read in the news, both the U.S. and the UK have recently implemented a ban on laptops being carried in hand luggage on flights from certain Middle Eastern and African airports. While there are differing theories about the real reason behind this, the impact is clear. Business travelers on those flights will need to either leave their laptops at home, or put them in checked luggage, which itself presents a huge frustration, as many frequent fliers typically don’t check their bags, in order to speed up transit through airports.
How easy would it be to go on a business trip and leave your laptop at home? There’s no doubt that it could be a pain, but depending on the type of trip, it’s definitely possible. While I was mulling over that conundrum during my morning cup of tea, my mind wandered. What else could you do without when traveling? What if you somehow left your wallet in your laptop bag, sitting by your front door? Would it be possible to survive a trip with no cards or cash, using your mobile phone for every financial transaction?
Let’s consider this for a while, looking at some of the common issues that occur during business travel:
Accommodation: If your hotel is simply pre-booked, this could cause issues, as the hotel will require a card upon check-in. Even if the room is pre-paid, you may also have to provide a card to cover incidentals. Some lower-end hotels, however, will simply make you pay as you go for everything, so no card details are required. If the hotel won’t work with you and requires a physical card to be present, and you’re within the grace period for a penalty-free cancelation – typically before 6pm the day you check in – you could also opt for Airbnb, which of course allows you to book and pay for everything on a mobile phone with a stored card linked to your account.
Travel around the city: Whereas cabs were traditionally often cash-only, the advance of Uber, and to a lesser extent, Lyft, have had a huge impact of in-town travel. You can now catch an Uber in almost 600 cities across six continents, simply by using an app on your mobile phone which is connected to your bank or credit card. Although some cities, such as Austin, have banned ride-sharing apps, most major business hubs worldwide will allow you to use one of these services.
Eating: Given that you won’t be able to use room service or a hotel’s restaurant, you’ll need to work out how to eat. As with in-town travel and short-term rentals, the emergence of mobile apps and the gig economy have launched a new paradigm for app-based food delivery. Increasing numbers of restaurants have partnered up with services such as GrubHub, Postmates or UberEats to offer a broad range of restaurants in many cities. The food choice is also improving, so you’re not stuck with the pizza / burger choice. Again, these can simply be ordered and paid for with a card-connected mobile app.
Other purchases: Growing numbers of employers are providing their travelers with virtual cards, which are accessible on a mobile device, and consumers are also linking up their own cards to mobile payment apps. Should you be among this group, you’ll find that more and more merchants now accept mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet, which require a simple touch from a smartphone to a point-of-sale card reader. This depends where you are traveling to, but the list of countries where virtual cards are commonly used continues to grow. Of course, if you do have a virtual card, it’s likely that you can pay for accommodation, travel and food, simply with your mobile phone.
Doing the expenses: With all of these expenses being virtual, you won’t get hard copy receipts. So, how will you do your expenses (and avoid having to wait until you’re home to work on them)? First expense management solutions are becoming more mobile, and will work on your phone just as well as on your laptop. In addition, apps like Uber are increasingly having direct connections into expense management solutions, so rides and other transactions can be expensed automatically. While the other transactions won’t generate physical receipts, the merchants will still provide email records of your purchases. You can simply forward these to your expense provider, where the text will be parsed, categorizes and automatically turned into expense line items.
Of course, this is all a hypothetical situation. In the real world, you’ll likely get your wallet overnighted or beg your co-workers to help. Unless you have a virtual card, you’ll also need to have all these apps pre-installed (assuming, of course, you didn’t memorize your 16-digit card number and security code). However, it proves that in theory at least, even if you only have a mobile phone and no wallet, you should be able to get by on your business trip. Hopefully you’ll never need to put this into practice.
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