Tip of the Day: Sometimes you just have to have faith.
Often I am asked how I manage to plan multi-day road trips that are entirely paid for (and then some) by doing mystery shops. The answer is simple: I decide where I want to go and then I look for work.
My next trip is the perfect example. I started with the desire to go to Tampa to look at houses. One mystery shopping company I work with also does event scheduling for conferences, and the first opportunity I found was to work four days at the conference. That covered my airfare, so the next step was finding a place to sleep. Through the same company, I first booked two high end hotels for the end of May. My total trip encompasses 11 nights, so I still had work to do. When this company released its June shops, I found two additional hotels to shop.
Having 4 of 11 nights covered, I started to think about gas and food. I found 12 gas stations to audit. Each pays $11 plus $6 in gas and $1 for an inside purchase. This should substantially cover my fuel needs and satisfy my occasional caffeine itch.
Next up was food. The high end hotels include several meal opportunities, and lunch is provided while I am working the conference. I signed up for a nice sushi restaurant ($120 reimbursement) so that we will have a decent meal outside of the hotels at least once. Scoring fast food shops is the easiest thing in the world to do, and since I don't like locking myself into a meal time commitment, I don't plan to schedule too many restaurants in advance.
This is still a work in progress, but I've got some decent prospects. Today I am supposed to receive an assignment for a high end hotel in the Tampa Bay area for a company I've not worked with before. I've already spoken with the scheduler, who has confirmed the date and reviewed the property address and job requirements with me. There's another company that always posts business-class properties in the area and I am just waiting for the jobs to be released (high end = properties like Hilton and Hyatt while business-class is Hampton Inn and similar).
Of course that's not all. I've requested a couple of movie theater shops and inquired about a handful of bar integrity shops. Not everything will pan out, but I've already scheduled enough to justify the trip.
The bottom line is that I decided where I wanted to go and the length of my trip before I had a single shop scheduled. I did the same thing earlier this month on my annual trip to the Berkshire Hathaway meeting in Omaha and it worked out well. This next trip will be paid for either through 100% reimbursement of expenses or through the fees I receive for doing these jobs. I will have a healthy amount of cash left over as well.