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How to Keep Employees From Thinking the Sky's the Limit on Travel Expenses

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- From hotel rooms and dinners out to bar tabs and room service, it's easy for a two-day business trip to turn into a $1,000 proposition. For many small businesses, entertaining new clients and visiting vendors is a part of life -- but so is managing costs. If you're interested in ensuring that your employees do "more with less" while on the road, you're not alone. Our experts weigh in on the best ways to prevent expensive expenses.

Before you can complain about a hefty expense report, you have to make sure employees understand what they're allowed to buy, how they are expected to travel and the type of places they are encouraged to stay and dine, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at outplacement and career services firm Keystone Associates.

"For some companies, $10 is an enormous expenditure, and for others, you've got to hit the $1,000 mark before it even gets on their radar," Varelas says. "Managers have to be clear when conveying expectations."

Anytime a manager sends someone out on the road for the first time, they need to give that employee an overview of what is expected and how much they should look to spend, Varelas says. Employees don't need to leave the office until they have a dollar figure in mind, as well as suggestions on restaurants and hotels that are within the company budget.

Smart employees traveling for the first time will ask for recommendations, Varelas says, which can open up a broader dialogue.

"It's ideal if they ask, 'Which restaurant would you recommend I take our client to?'" and you can either say, 'Don't go overboard' or 'Don't be afraid to go up a grade with this client,'" she says.

While some companies offer strict per diem allowances for lodging and food, Varelas says she's "not thrilled" with that idea, simply because costs vary so widely from city to city.

"Markets can be so significantly different for food and hotels that most managers may want to offer a cost range. In Buffalo, dinner might cost $35, but in Boston, it's probably going to be $60. The important thing is that you have those conversations in advance so no one is surprised," she says.