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Advice Needed

Here's my batch of photos from day two.

Whenever I talk to someone here, for whatever reason I can't seem to get through the idea that I'm here on vacation, and, ergo, not looking for interesting articles to write about Iceland. Do people not believe that journalists take vacations? On the other hand, suppose I do write an article about Iceland, does that mean I get to deduct the whole trip as a business expense from my taxes? Actually devising a sound pitch, finding an editor interested in a story about Iceland, etc., etc. sounds like more work than I want to do, but I need to file a TAP Online column a few days after I get back home, and if I make it about Iceland will that count? Since we're talking about a country where a beer costs $9, a ticket on the city bus is almost $4 and, in general, everything costs 2-3 times what it does in the states, there could be a non-trivial amount of money at stake here.

August 14, 2005 | Permalink


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I thought I read, somewhere, that Icelanders like to drink heavily. How can they do that with beer at 9 bucks? Is there some cheap, local hooch flowing around back alleyways, or what?

Posted by: yesh | Aug 14, 2005 12:38:26 PM

Well, $9 is a lot, but it's basically in line for the price of everything else. A sandwich or a burger at a stand costs $10, you can get a hot dog for about $3, a ride on the city bus costs almost $4, a coffee is about $5, a dinner entree at a sit-down restaurant will be $20-$30 minimum, etc., etc., etc. so there's no special reason to be stingy with the beer.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Aug 14, 2005 4:42:14 PM

The joys of being a writer. Yes, if you use the trip in your work, you can deduct the expenses. That said, you may also want to keep some proportionality between outflow and income. Deducting $5000 for an article that brings in $200 may or may not get you audited. If you can justify it as an unavoidable loss, well and good. Having written in a blog that you were on vacation and then changed your mind, that might not work so well. However, that bus trip you took to the glacier specifically to get local color for your article, that, well, hey, go for it.

To yesh: I'm not sure that when Scandinavians drink heavily, they do it on beer. Gin of some kind, more likely. Or do the miracles of socialism really allow them to get drunk on $9 beers, Matt?

Posted by: quixote | Aug 14, 2005 5:02:13 PM

If overhalf the trip was for business purposes then the airfare is deductible. Otherwise expenses are deductible only if they were used in the production of income.

Posted by: Drew | Aug 14, 2005 9:14:47 PM

Write about beard trimmers.

Posted by: nosh | Aug 14, 2005 11:26:59 PM

Or European welfare-states.

Posted by: nosh | Aug 14, 2005 11:27:51 PM

Ummmmm, don't tell people you meet that you're a journalist?

I have a rather difficult to explain job. I've amused myself considerably while traveling making up different occupations for myself and telling them to people. Just don't try anything too outlandish (I doubt, for example, that you'll be able to convince most people you're a professional sumo wrestler....)

I mean, really, it's not like you're that famous in the 99%+ of the world that doesn't read blogs, and you don't exactly have the well-known looks of a Paris Hilton (half the people that read your blog probably think you are unnaturally short!)

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 14, 2005 11:37:18 PM

This brings up an interesting feature of American law. If the situation were reversed, and you were an Icelandic journalist visiting the US on vacation, you could be in serious trouble if you mention to a customs official that you work as a journalist unless you swear that you will not do any journalism, even if you should stumble on an interesting story while on your trip. You could even be arrested and deported. That's because journalists, alone of all professions, need visas to visit the US, even if they come from "visa waiver" countries. None of the European countries do that. And to get a journalist visa, you have to give detailed information about what you plan to cover, information that you would find offensive to be required to provide.

Posted by: Joe Buck | Aug 15, 2005 2:41:41 AM

"half the people that read your blog probably think you are unnaturally short!"

5'3" isn't unnaturally short.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 15, 2005 3:28:07 AM

re that picture of the American-donated monument to Leif Ericsson, I remember that several years ago an Icelandic friend of mine told me that on one occasion the first Pres. Bush had been in Norway and had mentioned Leif Ericsson as a son of Norway, and this ignited great consternation among the Icelanders, wailing and gnashing of teeth and so on, and Bush wound up having to apologize to Iceland for suggesting that Leif Ericsson was not Icelandic. More recently I have made several Norwegian friends, and they all assure me that Leif Ericsson was Norwegian. Apparently this is still a sore spot. (Wikipedia says he was Icelandic but set sail from Norway on his famous trip to the New World.)

Anyway, maybe there's a story angle in there!

Posted by: live | Aug 15, 2005 12:38:18 PM

And to get a journalist visa, you have to give detailed information about what you plan to cover, information that you would find offensive to be required to provide.

And need supporting letters from the media organisation that employs you. Which means that freelancers doing research for stories they'll subsequently pitch are right up shit creek.

As I mentioned on TPMCafe, the way that most Icelanders afford things is by doing a few jobs. That's not too much of a problem, because work is often seasonal or task-based, and a country with a small population has a certain necessity for multi-tasking.

Posted by: ahem | Aug 15, 2005 2:42:57 PM

Those ducks are nice. On a related note, there's a guy named Duck running for Congress in Maryland. It would be fun to design his campaign ads.

Posted by: JP | Aug 15, 2005 4:51:42 PM

Obviously the first thing you should do before you try to write off your vacation as a tax deductible business trip is tell the whole world, including the IRS, about it on your blog.

Posted by: Dan Hill | Aug 15, 2005 11:20:21 PM

Here is what the IRS website says about it:

"Travel Entirely for Business or Considered Entirely for Business
You can deduct all your travel expenses of getting to and from your business destination if your trip is entirely for business or considered entirely for business.

Travel entirely for business. If you travel outside the United States and you spend the entire time on business activities, you can deduct all of your travel expenses.

Travel considered entirely for business. Even if you did not spend your entire time on business activities, your trip is considered entirely for business if you meet at least one of the following four exceptions.

Exception 1 - No substantial control. Your trip is considered entirely for business if you did not have substantial control over arranging the trip. The fact that you control the timing of your trip does not, by itself, mean that you have substantial control over arranging your trip.

You do not have substantial control over your trip if you:
Are an employee who was reimbursed or paid a travel expense allowance,

Are not related to your employer, and

Are not a managing executive.

“Related to your employer” is defined later in this chapter under Related to employer.

A “managing executive” is an employee who has the authority and responsibility, without being subject to the veto of another, to decide on the need for the business travel.

A self-employed person generally has substantial control over arranging business trips.

Exception 2 - Outside United States no more than a week. Your trip is considered entirely for business if you were outside the United States for a week or less, combining business and nonbusiness activities. One week means seven consecutive days. In counting the days, do not count the day you leave the United States, but do count the day you return to the United States.

Exception 3 - Less than 25% of time on personal activities. Your trip is considered entirely for business if:
You were outside the United States for more than a week, and

You spent less than 25% of the total time you were outside the United States on nonbusiness activities.

For this purpose, count both the day your trip began and the day it ended.

Exception 4 - Vacation not a major consideration. Your trip is considered entirely for business if you can establish that a personal vacation was not a major consideration, even if you have substantial control over arranging the trip. "

Posted by: DZ | Aug 16, 2005 10:09:25 AM

I told you to go to Argentina.

Posted by: neil | Aug 16, 2005 11:16:36 AM

People get all excited about expensive it is in the Nordic countries (Iceland is not in Scandinavia by the way quixote, it's a Nordic country - and for general information Finland is in Finno-Scandinavia but is also a Nordic country). It is expensive for Americans but the real reason is the VAT as mentioned above plus the fact that the dollar is very weak. A couple of years ago it would have seemed much less expensive but since the dollar lost a lot of ground the differences are exaggerated. I used to tell people I earned about $26,000 a year. Now I tell them I earn $38,000 a year. Nothing has changed. I can buy the same stuff as I could two years ago.

So, the Nordic countries are not expensive - the US economy just makes people nervous.

Posted by: Jon | Aug 16, 2005 1:21:21 PM

Yes, megabucks for beers is a crime. But before coming down too hard on the outrageous Icelanders, peruse this.


What would YOU give up for a such a social policy?

Posted by: Martin Lipton | Aug 16, 2005 4:42:30 PM

Re costs - Iceland is pretty damn expensive even if you subtract the VAT and take the dollar's state into consideration. I lived there all summer so I certainly know. Though I've been told that Icelanders receive higher wages that are consistent with the cost of living. Still, it's pretty common for some shops themselves to mark up prices to the point where some people can fly to Copenhagen for just a few hours to go shopping (pretty popular to do for children's items) and come back in the evening because it's cheaper. The other shopping option is to vacation in the US and spend a bit of time shopping because it's still cheaper than buying all that stuff at home.

Re drinking - Icelanders pre-funk before they go out. Really pre-funk. I've seen people leave their houses drunk to go club/bar hopping for six hours. There's a reason why bars don't start to fill up until midnight. Also, a former co-worker told me that if she and her friends didn't feel like paying for drinks, they'd just go to a bar frequented by foreigners that they normally try to avoid. For a couple hours of having to endure obnoxious foreign guys who believe in stereotypes of Icelandic women, drinks will be bought for them. Although the men buying drinks for random women thing is still an odd concept to them.

Re Leifur Eiriksson - Leif was born in Iceland and grew up in Greenland. His father, Eirik Raudi lived in Iceland until he killed some people and was exiled for three years (went and discovered Greenland as a result). After his three-year exile, he came back to Iceland to pack up his household and followers and returned to settle in Greenland.

Re having work pay for vacations - As a student who ends up traveling abroad for weeks-months at a time (and doing work that I don't need to do for free), I would so take advantage of that if I could. Not sure what I would do if I actually had an income, though.

Posted by: Kat | Aug 23, 2005 1:36:40 PM

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