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By Chris Helvajian

Greetings from the road! I write this from the DoubleTree (two check-in cookies, of course) in San Diego.

I’ve been away from home 23 of the last 29 days and I’m just about done with travel. Sounds like a lot to the layman, but I know I’m lucky. Many of you will be on the road for many more moons than I. But you know what that means by now, right? If not, go back and read my first two posts.

Before I drop a full-on per diem knowledge bomb, let me remind you that you should always strive to stay healthy and happy on the road.

You say, “But Chris, how can I do that when I’m trying to stretch my per diem?” Let me show you.

On my first travel day, I bought supplies. Plenty of fresh fruit, oatmeal, granola bars and other essentials. It was about $21. That gave me breakfast and snacks for the next 12 days. That’s $1.75/day.

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I’d wake up every morning, go for a run and exercise and then come back to eat oatmeal and an apple or banana. Pro tip: Use the coffee maker to make instant oatmeal.
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During the day I supplemented with snacks I got from visits and free snacks or appetizers at the hotel. I used subway coupons to buy footlongs to split between lunch and dinner for most days and grabbed fast food only when I had to. I know, I know.  Not healthy, but when you’ve got 5 visits in a day it’s tough to say no to the golden arches.

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At some hotels, I’d get lucky and wouldn’t have to deplete my own fruit stock. These were from the gym. Dicey, I know, but they were free!

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I had a couple surprises along the way, too. On a resupply to the store, they were handing out samples of lemon cake. Yes I had a handful and only remembered to take a picture of my last bite.

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During a short group-travel stint, my colleague ordered an iced coffee from Starbucks and they gave her a venti caramel macchiato. After some confusion, they let her keep it and made her what she ordered instead. Guess who has two thumbs and ended up not using per diem on that caramel monstrosity? This guy. I’m pointing to myself with my thumbs right now.

No, I didn’t get a picture of the drink. I’m not used to that much sugar and caffeine so my hands were shaking and I couldn’t operate my phone.

…I was also surprised at all the loot I got along the way!

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Yes, I took mini tabasco bottles from my hotel. I feel zero guilt.

Since I’m near the end of travel, here’s a rough count of what I’ve eaten and how much I’ve spent…

43 granola and nature valley bars
28 apples (3 of them were gym apples)
19 bananas
16 $5 footlongs
6 McChickens
4 McDoubles
5.4 pounds of oatmeal
3 hotel breakfasts (no per diem those mornings L)
A handful of meals at NACAC and out during group travel
1 home-cooked meal (no per diem but thanks anyways, Mom!)

In all, I’ve spent about $220 on normal meals during the day over the last several weeks. There were some expensive days in there and sometimes I got a little bored with oatmeal, but I was routinely spending less than about $10/day. Booya.

You know… I remember being a rookie at conferences and going to “tales from the road” sessions where the panel would give advice about staying healthy, eating right and enjoying travel on the road.

Guess where I caught a cold and ate like Augustus Gloop? In between travel stretches when I was home for 4 days. Irony abounds.

In my quest to stretch per diem, I’ve eaten well. The only time I felt hungry was when I was hitting multiple visits in a row and didn’t have a chance to sit and eat until past lunch time. I was able to exercise every day even when I didn’t feel like it (I’m looking at you, morning-after-the-NACAC-social). And, ultimately, I was able to stretch my per diem without straining myself.

I end this post with a per diem haiku. Enjoy!

Driving To A Visit

Snacks. Nature Valley.
Hard to open with one hand.
Crap. Crumbs everywhere.