28 Jul

Travel and some thoughts on expenses

Over the last few years, I have been travelling quite a bit as part of my job at Hurricane Electric. One of the discussions which come up regularly is “When did you arrive?” or “Where are you staying?” or “How many connections you had in your flight?” and whenever I answer such questions to my friends, I get a surprising look. I personally never understand the surprise about it but somehow it comes so often that I decided to blog and document my reply here so I can pass the link next time instead of explaining. 🙂

So typically for flights, I take whatever is cheaper and I just go for cheaper with a certain minor exception like avoid using Air India. Even if the flight has one or two connections, I do not go for direct flight unless the difference is less than 2000 INR / $30. This strategy works fine almost all the time. Sometimes flight can be rather quite long like e.g earlier this year I attended NANOG in San Francisco and from there went to Daejeon, South Korea for APRICOT 2019 and this route was via Hong Kong just because it was cheaper that way even though geographically, not the “best path”. A direct flight in such case was more than $200 additional and I just can’t justify that cost.

One argument which often comes for flying direct, expensive is to “save time” and I don’t get it. For super busy people it might make sense who don’t have enough time to fit it meetings in their busy schedule and try best to squeeze time. I have respect for those people with genuine-time concern but that is the case for a very small % of people, at least not for me. Mr Narayan Murthy (founder of Infosys) who has a net worth of $2.4 billion flies in economy class (source here). Plus the extra time one travels is not exactly all “wasted time”. I often just catch up on emails when travelling, catch up on various reading material, catch up some of the amazing talks from various NOGs (which I keep offline) etc.

Next, for hotels – I usually stay in “decent” hotels in the developing the world and hostels/Airbnb/cheap hotels in the developed world. Most of the conferences in our industry often happen in big, fancy hotels where a night stay would be $150-$200 or usually more. Again, one “saves” time by staying in a conference hotel but for 70% of my travel, I am able to get a hotel within 300-400m of walkable distance for 20% – 25% of the price of an expensive hotel.

Plus cheap hotels have their own advantages like:

  1. Less boring stay compared to fancy hotels. In fact, hostels are actually more fun.
  2. Usually would have a Wifi WPA2-PSK password with no irritating captive portal. Wifi just works and no capping!
  3. One can find kitchen area/microwave etc to make ready-to-eat food which becomes important for me as a vegetarian.

In Hong Kong, I mostly stay at the hostel which is quite good. In South Asian countries the culture of the hostel isn’t very well developed and for that reason I avoid them.

So why I do “business travel” on low-cost? I have never been specifically told to do that but I strongly prefer that for three reasons:

Reason 1 – Old discussion with a friend…

When I was spending time at Zoho as an intern in 2010, I got a chance to share the apartment with Rodrigo Vaca who used to be the director of marketing at Zoho back then and was visiting India. Once during the dinner, I asked him on how he’s able to leave Google’s job with all the fun of Google plex for a job at Zoho which was relatively small back then.
He gave a wonderful reply – “There are few things in life which matter and few things which do not matter. They may look cool and attractive but do not matter in the long term”.

Reason 2 – You are too young to become a dinosaur

Another thing which struck me over time was from the movie “Up in the air” where when George Clooney is told by his boss – “Blame the high fuel cost, insurance premiums, blame technology. Watch yourself – “You are too young to become a dinosaur“. I always fear that. I have seen a number of good people turning into dinosaurs over time that I am honestly scared of that path. I want to make sure I add maximum possible value from my work to my employer as well as our community.

Reason 3 – It’s my money

I treat my employer’s money as my own money and do the exact same due diligence when spending it as I would do to my personal expenses. A large part of luxury travel many times comes because of the fact that we treat employer’s money as “company’s money” and don’t care about it. I personally do not follow that.

So that’s all about why travel for a low cost. 🙂

Obvious disclaimer: Purely writing this my personal capacity and going to pass this link next time instead of a long reply!

4 thoughts on “Travel and some thoughts on expenses

  1. Good thoughts Anurag. Especially Employer money = My money. Wish to see this attitude in the industry soon.
    With regards to time, I have a diff perspective/justification :). I can spend some $$$ but buy time so I can have that evening with my kids & s.o. Second is security. Often there are potential concerns and when the employer handles the risk, it’s worth for them to make their employers stay at specific places to avoid bad publicity, and other costs.

  2. Good post, Anurag!

    I agree with your flight itinerary philosophy. When possible, I choose the airlines and airports I like. For my case, I try very hard to avoid United. When I went to visit you earlier this month, I chose Lufthansa through Munich rather than the direct flight on Air India.

    • Thanks, David
      Makes sense. I avoid Air India because have got really poor service over time, it’s Govt. run and quite bureaucratic in the way it operates. Normal times go okish but if there’s an issue like delay or cancellation, it goes painful with them.

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