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I am currently prospecting for a new round of UX design projects. The prospects are all in the same industry. Some are local, others non-local but domestic (US), others international. Prospects from at least 4 continents are on my list of people to contact. Travel costs to see some of them could easily run US $2000-3000+, and more if the travel is urgent.

While I'm open to doing some on-site travel, my concern is that prospects will want me to go on-site before I land the project. If they aren't my clients yet, they haven't signed any sort of proposal or contract yet saying that, among other things, they will pay for my costs of travel and pay for my work time while on-site. (Assume that while I'm on travel, I won't be able to work for any other clients until I get back, so my paycheck is $0 if I'm not paid back.)

How do freelancers commonly handle this situation? Is there a generally accepted way to approach this?

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In this sort of situation the client is waiting for you to assert yourself (and a good client won't be offended when you do).

The question is how valuable is the work? If the work is potentially very valuable, and you judge that travelling to see the client would make the difference between getting the sale on not getting it, then you could offer to pay for one trip and one day of your time for nothing, but only the basis that if you are appointed to the project, then the travel costs are to be added to your first invoice.

However, if you're not certain that travel would lead to a sale, then you should try and find other options to engage with the remote offices, ask them whether the staff are all getting together nearby, or whether you can engage using Skype or a Google hangout.

If they insist that you travel, then be absolutely up-front and say, 'I would like you to cover my costs'. A client covering your costs is very normal in this situation, and if they refuse, I suspect you don't want to work for someone that is clearly taking advantage of you.

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Although I haven't run into this situation as a freelancer, I'd like to share my experience.

If I was expected to be out of town for a "potential" client, they knew ahead of time that they would be paying for my travel. In my case, they bought the plane ticket for me (as opposed to a 10 hour drive), and paid for my hotel and 3 meals while I was there. This was perfectly acceptable to me, as there was almost no money out of my pocket; just the car to and from the airport in my city.

If they are not willing to pay for my travel, and I do not have a contract with them stating they will reimburse, then I won't go. The risk is too high at a couple thousand dollars. As stated above, it's a gamble as to whether it turns into a big project, or if it's a giant loss and I earn $0, and spend lots to learn that message! As a Freelancer, you need to be making money every month to survive, and this is one of the caveats.

Having said that, there are many things that can be done online instead. For example, when I did web development, I had a portfolio site online that I would email potential clients who asked to see my work. This prevents needing to travel to see them face to face. There are also different VoIP solutions, such as Skype, that allow us to talk face to face over the Internet, and even from my phone, virtually free of charge.

So the point of the story is, if the client really wants you, ask them to book the travel arrangements with their billing information. The cost would be too much for most freelancers to "just go" for a trip.

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