One of the biggest struggles for my family were the times I had to travel away from home for work. As private investigators, especially those involved in the insurance investigation industry, we go where the cases are. And cases can take us all over our state and into other states. Sometimes even out of the country. And depending on where you live in you could be 6 hours away from home and still be in your home state.
I started my career in Northern California. Luckily for me there was always a good amount of work in my area during my time there. On occasion I would have to travel to Southern California if there was a lack of work in my area or if there was an abundance in that area. And when I wasn’t traveling to Southern California I would travel to Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, Hawaii and even Alaska. Many times the company I worked for just didn’t have an investigator in a specific state and they would send me for a week at a time.
When you work for a large investigation company it isn’t always about going where the work is. Sometimes it’s about being a team player and traveling so someone else doesn’t have to travel. You have to make sure cases are covered so the client doesn’t get upset and send their assignments to someone else. Imagine the back lash if a large client pulled their assignments from the company you work for. It’s not just work being taken from you but everyone in the company.
What should an investigator expect when having to travel?
Your Hotel Stays will Vary
The obvious answer is to expect to see a lot of different hotels. Some are going to be wonderful and some are going to be disgusting. The type of budget you get from the company you work for or your own budget will make a big difference in your accommodations. I got used to Motel 6 and Super 8 motels sadly. Saving money where you can as a business owner will make a big difference in your profits especially when you can’t pass on expenses (in many cases).
I have stayed in some of the worst hotels due to the locations I have worked and just due to the situation I found myself in while working surveillance assignments. And on the rare occasion you might have nowhere to stay and find yourself sleeping in your car. This happened to me in Alaska in the middle of winter.
It’s not Home
Regardless of what hotel you are at, a hotel bed is not your bed and a hotel is not your home. Your spouse isn’t there; you can’t tuck your children in to bed and you can’t eat a decent meal (cheaply). It can be lonely and depressing.
There can be More Pressure to Perform
With surveillance assignments, especially in the insurance industry, investigators can put more pressure on themselves to make they make the day billable. That is to say that they at least work 8 hours. But with different managers interfering with your assignments (making decisions for you) or clients requesting that the individual be confirmed within their home within an unreasonable time frame can mess up a work day by causing suspicion.
If your subject gets suspicious there is likely no going home and returning another day. There is no going home and switching surveillance vehicles. And sometimes you are working with a rental which can provide additional challenges.
You Might Lose Money When You Travel
When working as an employee for investigative company you may not get compensated the way you feel you should.
In many cases you will not be paid your base wage when traveling to your surveillance destination. If you’re usually paid $20 an hour for billable surveillance time (time you are actually working a case) you may be paid minimum wage for the time you are on the road or on a plane. It’s difficult for many people to deal with being paid two different rates when they feel their time is worth the same amount no matter what task they are performing. I struggle with this at times as well.
Per Diem (Food Money)
I have worked for a few companies over the years and every one of them has had a very small food allowance. I don’t think any company has ever given their investigators more than $20 a day in food money reimbursement. You can either get very creative with your meals each day or you will likely spend more than $20 a day for food. If you spend more than your allowance you will likely not be reimbursed for the difference.
If you’re a business owner or you plan on being one you will likely have to eat (no pun intended) the additional cost for food and travel unless you can somehow fit it into the bill.
Your Family Will Have to Make Adjustments
You spouse or significant other will have to run the home and do everything without your assistance. This will likely be a shock to what your family is accustom to. Spouses of private investigators in most cases don’t care for their husband or wife being gone frequently even if the job is bringing home money to the family. When I was away my wife had to do everything (take the kids to school, pick them up, get them ready in the morning, cleaning, etc…(you get the idea). Even though my wife and I are a pretty good team, it isn’t fair that she had to do it all by herself so often. Some resentment can build up over time if you travel too often.
I remember some addition tension with my wife and I when I first found myself traveling away from home. I got the feeling she thought I was out partying or at bars because I was away from home. I of course wasn’t doing anything of the sort. All I wanted to do was be back home with my wife and children because I missed them very much.
Tips on Preparing and Dealing with Travel as a Private Investigator
Prep your spouse and family
I believe it is very important to talk to your spouse before you take a job as a private investigator regardless of whether company says you will never need to travel or not. Discuss all the things that would need to happen if you are working away from home. How are the kids getting to and from school, who is going to help your spouse if there is an emergency, and make sure your spouse is going to be ok with you being away for extended periods of time. Explain to your children why you are leaving and let them know that you are going to talk with them any chance you get.
Just remember that your family is more important than any job or career.
Video Phone Calls
One of the things I was able to do while away from home was make video calls to home. My children and wife could see me and I could see them. My children would usually ask me to give them a tour of my hotel room (which was uneventful but they seemed to like it). We would talk and laugh and I could say goodnight to them. My kids looked forward to our video calls and so did I. Video calls made traveling away from home a little more bearable
Discuss Travel with the Company You Work For
Some companies can be unreasonable about the amount of travel an investigator may endure. This might be due to not having anyone else to help out or they are not a good company to work for. Before you work for a company find out how much you are going to be traveling. If it is too much you might wait to work for a different company.
Share the burden
If possible, try to split the amount of traveling you do with other investigators. This way you are sharing the burden with others which will provide less stress on you and your family.
The less states your are licensed in the less you will be required to travel. Many investigators will get licensed in other states to make sure they are able to go with where the work is. If there is plenty of work in your state then try to avoid getting licensed elsewhere.
I personally turned down getting licensed in every surrounding state while employed with an investigative company because I knew I would be asked to travel frequently if I was. I let the new investigators pay their dues and travel to different states as I just didn’t have the heart for it anymore.
Be a Part Time Investigator
Many times a part time investigator can turn down work. Investigation companies usually worry about their full time investigators working before their part time investigators. And part time investigators are usually not obligated to work any specific amount of hours or cases because of their employment status. Being a part time investigator can potentially get you out of assignments that require you to travel. Only do this if you can afford to do so.
Even though I have spoken about all the negatives about being a private investigator, most people don’t listen to my warnings about the part of the job that requires someone to travel away from home. It might sound insignificant but it is important to understand this part of the job.