Before arranging academic travel, please take advice on where to get funding and on how best to organise the travel. Many people in the Laboratory have extensive experience of organising travel and can advise you on how best to arrange a trip to a conference, workshop or summer school. Reception can help you to arrange travel and the accounts office can advise on policy.
Any travel arrangements should obey the University's financial regulations and the rules of the body that awards the money (e.g., EPSRC, ERC, DARPA). The staff in the accounts office will gladly explain how the system works if you are new or unsure.
Travel, and similar expenses to be repaid by the Laboratory, should be authorised in advance of being incurred. Use Part I of the travel expenses claim form to get authorisation.
Use Part II of the travel expenses claim form to claim reimbursement. When travelling, remember that receipts are required for everything.
All claims are in arrears, with supporting receipts. The Laboratory is unable to make advance payments in cash.
Rather than paying yourself, you may find it convenient for the Laboratory to procure air tickets or pay for conference registration on your behalf. Both can be done through Reception. Air tickets can also be arranged through the University's travel agents. In these cases the Laboratory pays the supplier directly, so there is no need for the traveller to use their own money. Any request to do this requires a completed and signed Part I of the travel expenses claim form.
Practical tips from other travellers
Some of these tips are to help you avoid mistakes that have caught several previous travellers from the Laboratory. Some give pointers to alternatives that you may not have considered.
Travel insurance for staff
Ensure that you are insured for travel. Do not buy your own travel insurance: instead use the University's free travel insurance. To do so, you must register your trip with the University via the University's insurance website.
Travel insurance for PhD students
Ensure that you are insured for travel. You can register with the the University's travel insurance policy provided the Student Registry has authorised you to be absent from Cambridge. At present, the only way to get such authorisation is to use the Leave to Work Away form. By completing this form, you ensure that everyone who needs to know you are going away (Supervisor, Department, Degree Committee, College, Student Registry) is aware of your plans. Note that the Leave to Work Away form assumes you are going away for a whole term, but you can use it to seek authorisation for shorter periods and for periods outside term. The form will force you to choose a term: choose the one nearest to the dates you are going away, and put the actual dates of your travel in the free text box. Once the Student Registry has approved your absence, they will email you and the interested parties given above, confirming details. When you subsequently apply for University insurance, you can declare you have complied with the Registry's regulations for working away (tick the box on the application form) because you have received the go-ahead email from the Student Registry.
Limitations on University travel insurance
University travel insurance does not apply in the UK (it is assumed that UK emergency & rescue services and NHS cover apply) and do not apply in your home country (it is assumed that, as a citizen of that country, you will be covered by the emergency services of that country; if this is not the case then you need to take out your own insurance).
ESTA (USA visa)
Do not be tempted by scam web sites offering ESTA at inflated prices. Register directly with the US government's official site. ESTA costs $14 (price correct in mid-2013). ESTA travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of authorization, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first but you need to update the information each time you travel to the US.
EHIC (European Health Insurance Card)
EHIC covers EEA citizens for treatment in other EEA countries (plus Switzerland). Do not be tempted by scam web sites that charge for EHIC. Register at the official UK EHIC web site, which can be used by any EEA citizen. EHIC registration is free.
Cheap air fares to the USA
Avoid inflated fares for brief air trips to the USA. Either include a Saturday night away (this roughly halves the cost of the flights) or book a package including hotel accommodation. For a mid-week trip, booking a flights+hotel package is usually cheaper than booking the same flights alone, even if you don't use the hotel.
Flights from Cambridge airport
Cambridge has its own airport on the east edge of town, off Newmarket Road. The airport has only a small set of business and tourist destinations. However, if there is a flight to an appropriate destination, then the relatively cheap cost of getting to the airport may make it competitive with flights from more distant airports.
The cheapest travel option is not always obvious
Do not assume that the best way to travel is using a budget airline from Stansted Airport and using public transport to get to and from the airport. For example: (i) if four people are travelling, then it is cheaper to share a privately hired taxi (the Laboratory has a preferred supplier for this) than to travel to the airport by train; (ii) depending on the route and the dates, it can be cheaper to use a non-budget airline; (iii) you need to factor in the cost of the trips to and from the airports at both ends, rather than just consider the cost of the flights; and (iv) you need to factor in the cost of your time.
Flying is not always the optimal solution
For European travel, it can sometimes be better to use land or sea transport. From Cambridge it is faster to get to Brussels or Paris by train (about 4 hours via Eurostar) than to get to Edinburgh, and comparable in total time to travelling by air. A night in a hotel can be avoided by booking appropriate overnight travel, such as the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland, where a Rail & Sail ticket will get you from Cambridge station to any station in the Netherlands, with a comfortable night's sleep on the boat. The Man in Seat Sixty-One provides advice on how to travel by train or ferry, worldwide. The German railway (DB) provides timetables across Europe.
Consider the amount of time you are spending on organising travel
It can be enormously satisfying to spend hours on the internet seeking the best possible combination of price, route, and timing. However, this is time that you could spend doing research while someone else organises the travel for you. Consider delegating some or all of the job to Reception or to the University's travel agents.
Using the University's travel agent
You can use the University's travel services website to get a quotation from the University's "preferred suppliers of travel services." Be aware that some people in the Lab have reported that, on some occassions, these quotations have been up to 30% more expensive than booking travel yourself. If this turns out to be the case, either use Reception or do the booking yourself.