As summer approaches, I always wonder how I can run two businesses and still get away. Travel research shows that Americans are more likely to miss vacation days. The best solution I see is to combine business with pleasure on every trip abroad.
After signing up for a conference in Dubai, I was intrigued by the modern Middle East and wanted to know more about its ancient cultures. After doing some research, I found a flight to Dubai via Jordan with a layover of a few days.
Leaving nothing to chance, I arranged an airport pick-up service and booked a well-located 5-star hotel in a posh area of Amman with multiple restaurant options nearby and within the hotel. Having studied Arabic, I was pleased to be able to practice it even though the Egyptian courses I studied differed substantially from the Jordanian dialect.
As a crossroads, Jordan has a remarkable history from the ancient Nabataeans to Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantine and Arab cultures. Beyond its historical monuments, Jordan has a very vibrant culture today. Shortly after my arrival, I saw this firsthand as a local wedding party made their way through the hotel lobby to celebrate with dancing and music.
The next day I went on a day tour of the capital exploring the Roman ruins of Amman. I stood paralyzed on top of the city listening to the muezzin’s call to prayer. With just a short stay, I made the most of my time by taking a driver as a local guide for about 12 hours each day. Fortunately, the distances were fairly close and the next day’s exploration focused on the Roman ruins of Jerash. Its popular history begins in the time of Alexander the Great, but fell into the hands of the Romans under Pompey in the 1st century AD With the mild October weather, my guide and I ate al fresco surrounded by vineyards. There was no tour bus in sight!
The next day’s journey to Byzantine Madaba ended at the famous Dead Sea. Famous for its spa treatments, I had time to gaze out at the sea before retracing my steps to Amman.
Saving the best to last meant a full day in the pink city of Petra built by the Nabataeans. Featured in Indiana Jones and other films and in a mystery novel by British bestselling writer Agatha Christie, it is a World Heritage site that rivals the pyramids. Beyond the large treasury, there are a number of small buildings and conveniently located outdoor cafes and crafts for sale. Of course, the tourist route back to the entrance had to be by camel, providing excellent photo opportunities.
After a lovely week, it was time to make my way to Dubai for a conference and a short sightseeing tour afterward. 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 area located in a local shopping center. With limited expectations of a real workout, I knew this would make a great story and the perfect place for a holiday card photo. After a feast of southern fried chicken at the Mall of the Emirates food court, I covered my summer clothes in a colorful ski suit and took the escalator with poles in hand. After a few races, he went for a hot chocolate at the adjacent St. Moritz Café and it was the perfect ending to my Middle Eastern odyssey.
As a woman traveling alone in the Middle East, I followed two practices that I find work for me globally:
1. I arrange to be picked up at the airport before I leave home. In some countries, taxis may not be safe for either men or women. Having been through a low-grade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa, I learned to ask my hotel what they recommended, especially when traveling alone. In the main capitals, when I arrive during the day, I usually opt for public transport, especially the train / metro, or take a taxi.
2. I choose a 5-star hotel that has multiple restaurant options, ideally both within the hotel and nearby. Alternatively, when it was affordable as I found it in Cairo, I took a waiting driver or in Lisbon I took a roundtrip taxi to sample the best restaurants. In any new place, I always ask a lot of questions, especially to get the opinions of local women, before taking a walk alone after dark.
While I was in the Middle East, I also had 2 additional general rules:
1. Although I would go sightseeing and attend a business conference in a very hot desert climate, I wore long-sleeved shirts with pants.
2. When I was the only single woman in local restaurants, I always chose a seat / table with other colleagues, groups of women, couples or families.
5 tips I’ve learned trying to combine business with pleasure:
1. To save on airfare, be sure to check out connecting flights that allow long layovers.
2. Whenever possible, take care of business first, especially if complex flights can cause long delays.
3. Arrive on the weekend and take a test run to locate the fastest routes to your meetings. Even with a GPS, it’s easy to get into trouble. In a city abroad, I encountered massive construction in the vicinity of my first meeting. Even walking, it was nearly impossible to pass, and the street directions were obscured by construction scaffolding. In another foreign city, I found out when I got to an appointment that the outer door was locked and I was having trouble communicating with the people inside via my mobile phone.
4. Fly or wear a suitable business suit or appearance in case your luggage does not arrive on time.
5. Set various alarms on a travel clock, on your mobile phone and with the hotel operator. Even at the best hotels, I’ve had a missed wake-up call or room service error before a flight for a quick day trip. (If you can’t function without coffee or breakfast, have a backup plan, as needed, if room service doesn’t show up.)
The key is to plan ahead whenever possible and have some time to survey your destination. Otherwise, a video conference instead of a face-to-face meeting may be a better value.