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When you’re on the road earning per diem, what is it going toward? Go ahead. Think about it.

Did you say, “Food, Chris. Duh. Haha. What a silly question!”

Well, you’re wrong! Your first thought should never be food. Your first thought should be, “what are all the things I could use per diem on instead of food?” In past years I’ve used per diem to pay off debt, to buy gifts for family during the holidays or simply tucked it away into savings. Not once did I think about using it for its actual purpose while on the road. Why? Because I’m a survivalist at heart.

The greats like Bear Grylls, Les Stroud and Beyoncé know what it’s all about – staying alive with minimal supplies and using your guile and wits to keep you warm at night.

It is with this in mind that I offer to you the following – you probably can do with less than you think you need.

Let me elaborate.

When I’m giving a presentation, I think about how I’ll explain what I want to explain with as few words as possible. I’ll focus on clarity, being concise and getting my point across succinctly. I find this skill gets a lot of use at the end of travel season when I’m tired of saying the same thing over and over.

When I’m packing for a trip, I pack only what I need. If I’m not sure I’m going to use it, it stays at home. Hotels have the necessity toiletries and I can usually re-wear clothes.

And, when I’m thinking about using per diem, I usually spend the bare minimum to get by.

I’ve heard all kinds of methods. From buying a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter at the beginning of the week and living that kindergartner lunch life, to my personal favorite $5 foot long lunch/dinner split, there are many ways to stretch your per diem.

Here are some more great examples of how you can stretch per diem, some of which are more ethical than others…

  1. Free cheese and wine reception at the hotel? You just became a connoisseur of all things Sutter Home and Tillamook. You’re not lactose intolerant, right? Wouldn’t matter anyway since it’s free and you’re eating it.
  2. Pretend you’re a student at a high school visit and hit up the cafeteria. This one’s a little harder to do if you clearly don’t look like you’re in high school. But, I’ve had many colleagues that can pass for someone in their middle teens. You know who you are.
  3. Look sad at the bar. Sometimes it’s good for a free beer. Or, you just end up looking depressed and creepy. Either way, it’s a good story.
  4. Look official and scout out meetings that have just ended at your hotel. You’re just another friendly staff member at the hotel, right? In my mind, if whatever food or drink is still there and there’s clearly no one who’s going to eat it, then it’s yours. Sometimes if you’re just around, actual staff will offer it to you.

These are just a few of the methods I’ve heard about or tried myself, all with varying levels of success. Use them at your own risk! I, of course, advocate for being on the straight and narrow. But when it comes to per diem, sometimes you just gotta roll the dice – especially when it comes to asking for a fourth serving of pepper jack.

By Chris Helvajian