As summer approaches, I always ask myself how can I run two businesses and still get away. Travel research shows that we Americans are most likely to forfeit vacation days. The best solution I see is combining business with pleasure on every trip abroad.
Having signed up for a conference in Dubai, I was intrigued by the modern-day Mideast while wanting to know more about its ancient cultures. After some investigation, I found a flight to Dubai via Jordan with a few days stopover.
Leaving nothing to chance, I arranged an airport pick-up and booked a 5 star hotel well located in a chic part of Amman with multiple restaurant options nearby and within the hotel. Having studied Arabic, I was pleased to get to practice it even though the Egyptian courses I studied differed substantively from the Jordanian dialect.
As a crossroads, Jordan has a remarkable history from the ancient Nabataeans to Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantine and Arab cultures. Beyond its historical monuments, Jordan has a very vibrant present day culture. Shortly after my arrival, I saw this first hand as a local wedding party made its way through the hotel lobby to celebrate with dancing and music.
The following day I headed out on a day tour of the capital exploring Amman's Roman ruins. I stand transfixed high over the city listening to the muezzin's call to prayer. With only a brief stay, I made the most of the time taking a driver as local guide for about 12 hours each day. Fortunately, distances were fairly close with the next day's exploration focused on the Roman ruins in Jerash. Its popular history starts at the time of Alexander the Great but fell to the Romans under Pompey in the first century AD. With the mild October climate, my guide and I then ate al fresco surrounded by vineyards. There was not a tour bus in sight!
The next day's journey down to Byzantine Madaba ended at the renovated Dead Sea. Famous for its spa treatments, I just had time to gaze at the sea before retracing my steps to Amman.
Saving the best to last meal a full day in the rose city of Petra built by the Nabataeans. Featured in Indiana Jones's and other films and in a mystery novel by best-selling British writer Agatha Christie, it is a World Heritage Site that rivals the Pyramids. Beyond the large Treasury, there are a series of small buildings and conveniently located outdoor cafés and handicrafts for sale. Of course, the tourist route back to the entrance had to be on camel back providing great photo opps.
After an enchanting week, it was time to make my way to Dubai for a conference and brief sightseeing afterwards. Dubai is famous for the unexpected, like air conditioned bus stops, the Palm development and ultra-luxurious hotels. For me, as an "Intermittent Intermediate Skier", I was fascinated by the indoor ski resort located in a local shopping mall. With limited expectations of a real workout, I knew this would make a great story and the perfect venue for a holiday card photo. After a feat of Southern Fried Chicken in the Mall of the Emirates Food Court, I covered my summer clothes with a colorful ski outfit and was up the escalator ski and poles in hand. After a few runs, it was off for hot chocolate at the adj. Moritz Café and the perfect end to my Mideast odyssey.
As a woman traveling solo in the Mideast, I followed two practices I find work for me globally:
1. I arrange for an airport pick-up before leaving home. In certain countries, taxis may not be safe when for men or women. Having navigated a low-grade civil war in sub-Sahara Africa, I learned to ask my hotel what they recommended, especially when traveling alone. In major capitals when arriving in day time, I often opt for public transportation, especially trains / subways or catching a cab.
2. I choose a 5 star hotel that has multiple restaurants options ideally both inside the hotel and nearby. Alternately, when it was affordable as I found in Cairo, I took a driver who waited for me or in Lisbon to tax a round trip to try out top restaurants. In any new location, I always ask a lot of questions, especially to get local women's opinions, before strolling alone after dark.
While in the Mideast, I did also have 2 additional rules of thumb:
1. Although I would be both sightseeing and attending a business conference in very hot desert weather, I wore long-sleeved shirts with slacks.
2. When I was the only woman alone in local restaurants, I always chose a seat / table right next to other pairs, groups of women, couples or families.
5 tips I have learned trying to combine business with pleasure:
1. To save on airfare, be sure to check out connecting flights allowing for extended layovers.
2. Where possible, take care of business first, especially if complex flights can cause lengthy delays.
3. Arrive over the weekend and make a trial run to locate your meetings' fastest routes. Even with a GPS, it is easy to run into problems. In one city abroad, I found massive construction in the area surrounding my first meeting. Even walking, it was almost impossible to get through, and street addresses were obscured by the construction scaffolding. In another foreign city, I discovered when I arrived at an appointment that the outside door was locked, and I had trouble reaching anyone inside my mobile phone.
4. Fly in or carry on a suit or an appropriate business look in case your luggage does not arrive on time.
5. Set multiple alerts on a travel clock, on your mobile phone and with the hotel operator. Even in top hotels, I have had a missed wake-up call or room service error before before a flight for a quick day trip. (If you can not function without coffee or breakfast, have a backup plan, as needed, if room service fails to appear.)
The key is to plan ahead where possible and have some time to survey your destination. Otherwise, a video conference in lieu of a face-to-face meeting may be a better value.