Auditors often have the good fortune to go on audit assignments and client meetings throughout the U.S. and in many countries of the world. Some trips are spectacular, landing them in the midst of great cities like New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. Others, however, put some of them in danger zones amidst civil war and natural disasters. If you’re a well-heeled auditor, you’ll appreciate the stories and advice in this blog post. If you have ever dreamed of getting that plum auditing role that includes travel, take note: it isn’t always what you imagined it to be. This blog post will help you understand the pros and cons of the traveling auditor’s life.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE RISKY
Among road warrior auditors, there are basically three types of trips. A spectacular one is getting to the airport without hassle, breezing through security, getting to destinations on time, performing audits as scheduled, and enjoying a day or two afterward in perfect sunshine to soak in the sights and scenes at a client’s location. A bad trip is similar, except everything goes wrong — terrible traffic, flight delays, missed connections, bad weather, complicated audits that take twice as long to do, and no time to rest and relax. A risky trip is one that gives you something to talk about for the rest of your life.
TEN LESSONS FROM A ROAD WARRIOR
The challenging, risky and dangerous trips are the ones you can learn the most from. The following are important lessons learned from auditors who must go out on the open road:
- Plan ahead. Study up on the location where you are going. Get a sense of its history and current events. Don’t be surprised if you arrive and discover there is a civil war or monsoon season about to start. Learn if the area is subject to floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters, and when they usually occur. If possible, study up on the location’s culture and learn a few words of the language. The people you meet will appreciate your effort to show them you care about their country.
- Get travel alerts and warnings. The U.S. State Department and many embassies and consulates issue travel alerts to warn Americans about any regions or countries where it is not safe to travel or where to take extra precautions. Travel agencies may also issue warnings. Subscribe to these bulletins, as they are constantly updated as necessary.
- Put your safety first. Make sure you understand all the procedures that are being made to ensure your safety. Question anything that seems unsafe. Be sure you know evacuation plans, egress routes and how to identify your allies. Know who to call in an emergency and how to reach them. From a practical point of view, if you are visiting a construction site, be sure to have your own personal protective equipment (PPE) — hard hat; steel-toed boots; safety glasses; ear plugs; respiratory apparatus; and other gear to protect your body against objects, chemicals and accidents, in case the site does not provide them.
- Make backup copies. Make a copy of your passport and keep it in a safe location with you as you travel. If your passport is stolen or lost, you cannot easily reenter the U.S. with a copy that facilitates reissue. Be sure you also have backup copies of all your airline tickets and agenda.
- Take care of your medical needs. Talk to your doctor about upcoming travel to get any shots and pills needed, such as antibiotics and malaria tablets, and obtain copies of immunization history. If you take any medications on a regular basis, get a prescription for far more than the length of your trip because you never know — your assignment may take longer than expected, or you may encounter a storm, a natural disaster or another impediment that could keep you from returning home as planned. I once went on an assignment for what everyone thought would take four weeks but was extended to nine weeks. Overcompensate for your medicine. Overseas pharmacies don’t have the same medications as pharmacies in the U.S. As for over-the-counter medications, bring some of the common ones that are effective for you, such as anti-diarrheal and headache medications. Finally, bring some water purification tablets if needed.
- Verify your insurance coverage. Be sure you have all the necessary insurance for where you are going, including medical, dental, car and life insurance. Make sure your policies are effective in other states or countries (for example, most car insurance policies are not effective in Mexico). If a credit card is used to cover insurance for car rentals, be sure of what they cover and when — many credit card car insurance policies are not valid if you rent for more than one month. Also, be sure to have any necessary insurance coverage for medical evacuation and repatriation of your body. Some countries require you to have these in case you are injured or die while on their territory.
- Secure your computer data. Get a loaner laptop when you travel to risky foreign countries. Laptops can be seized at customs and taken to a back room where foreign officials might copy hard drives and try to exploit your data. Travel with as little data on your hard drive as possible for the assignment. Be equally careful with data on your flash drives and smartphones too.
- Ensure your ability to communicate. Check with your cell phone provider to ensure that you have international phone access, roaming and data coverage for all countries you travel to. Be sure to understand how the roaming charges are applied, as you can end up with charges in the hundreds or thousands of dollars if your smartphone is roaming 24/7 because you have apps running in the background.
- Try to travel with or find a “buddy.” I endorse the “buddy system.” Traveling with a colleague is best, but if that’s not possible, identify someone on the job site with whom you can team up in the event of an emergency.
Expect anything and be prepared for everything. It is impossible to predict everything, but you should be prepared for as much as you can. In dangerous or risky areas, literally anything can happen. We had one colleague who was shot at while in a vehicle while at a checkpoint in Nigeria. Although he escaped unharmed, he wasn’t prepared for that situation. If you accept an assignment to travel to a risky or dangerous area, be sure you are totally comfortable with your decision and have the stamina and courage to deal with whatever may happen.
OTHER IMPORTANT ADVICE ABOUT TRAVEL
The following are more areas to consider when traveling:
- Arrive early for your reservations. Don’t stress yourself out at the airport before or during your trip. A lot of people are not prepared, so be patient. You’ll feel better without the stress and you are less likely to get sick while traveling.
- Become an airport security expert player. Don’t hold up the line for others. Before reaching the security checkpoint, empty everything out of your pockets — coins, phone, paper, etc. Remove your shoes and belt and practice taking your laptop and smartphone out of your bag quickly.
- Mark your luggage distinctly. Make sure that you claim the right bag and that no one takes yours. Tie something distinctive to your bag or get a bright colored tag. Millions of people have black suitcases, so make it easy to find yours.
- Stay above the first floor at hotels. Try to get a room on the 2nd floor or higher. First-floor rooms are more of a security risk. Women especially should ask for rooms above the first floor.
- Get a room by the stairs. This is also a useful recommendation in case of emergencies, such as fires and earthquakes.
- Park above the first floor in flood-prone areas. Believe it or not, some people lose their cars in parking lots during heavy rainstorms and hurricanes that flood the area.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk around with your head in the clouds; pay attention to the people and events going on around you. Your attentive gaze thwarts pickpockets and scammers who target unaware or distracted people who are not paying attention to their luggage, their wallet or purse, and other belongings. Essentially, never let down your guard when you are in an area you don’t know.
- Take a little R&R during a trip when appropriate. Travel is tough, so reward yourself with some fun. Stay an extra day if you can.
- Line up someone to take care of your home. You may think you will be gone only for a week or two, but if you are delayed, have someone who can pay bills for you, water your plants, collect your mail and check in on your home to ensure that nothing has gone wrong.
THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL FOR AUDITORS
Auditing construction job sites or going on-site at major company operations is required of auditors. Professional auditing is expanding into many new regions of the world – especially the Middle East. In Dubai, for example, Western-style urban growth, tourism and oil money are fueling an enormous infrastructure construction boom. If you are willing to travel and take on the challenges and risks of going to these new locations, you can create an excellent career for yourself as an auditor. It helps to have specialized certifications such as Certified Construction Auditor (CCA), which is available from the National Association of Construction Auditors, or Project Management Professional (PMP), which is available from the Project Management Institute. As in many professions, having one or more areas of experts in the subject matter adds great value to being an auditor.