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.
Having signed up for a conference in Dubai, I was intrigued by the modern Middle East and wanted to know more about its ancient cultures. After 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 part of Amman with multiple dining options near 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 Nabateans to Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arab cultures. Beyond its historical monuments, Jordan has a very vibrant culture today. Shortly after my arrival, I saw this firsthand when a local wedding party made their way through the hotel lobby to celebrate with dancing and music.
The next day I headed out on a day tour of the capital exploring the Roman ruins of Amman. I stood transfixed high above the city listening to the muezzin’s call to prayer. With only a short stay, I made the most of the time taking a driver as a local guide for about 12 hours each day. Fortunately, the distances were fairly short and the next day’s exploration focused on the Roman ruins at Jerash. Its popular history begins at the time of Alexander the Great, but fell to the Romans under Pompey in the 1st century AD. With the mild October weather, my guide and I ate outdoors surrounded by vineyards. There was not a tour bus in sight!
The next day’s journey to Byzantine Madaba ended at the famous Dead Sea. Famous for its spa treatments, I only had time to gaze at the sea before retracing my steps to Amman.
Saving the best for last meant a full day in the pink city of Petra built by the Nabataeans. Featured in Indiana Jones and other movies and in a mystery novel by British writer Agatha Christie, it’s a World Heritage site rivaling the pyramids. Beyond the great Treasury, there are a number of small buildings and conveniently located outdoor cafes and handicrafts for sale. Of course, the tourist route back to the entrance had to be on the back of a camel, which provided excellent photo opportunities.
After a lovely week it was time to head to Dubai for a conference and a short tour afterwards. Dubai is famous for the unexpected, like air-conditioned bus stops, the Palm development, and ultra-luxury hotels. For me, as an “intermittent intermediate skier”, I was fascinated by the indoor ski area located in a local mall. With limited expectations of an actual workout, I knew this would be a great story and the perfect setting for a Christmas card photo. After a feast of southern fried chicken in the Mall of the Emirates food court, I covered my summer clothes in a colorful ski outfit and headed up the escalator with skis and poles in hand. After a few runs I went for hot chocolate at the adjacent St. Moritz Café and the perfect ending to my Middle Eastern odyssey.
As a woman traveling alone in the Middle East, I followed two practices where I find work globally:
1. I arrange to be picked up at the airport before I leave home. In certain countries, taxis may not be safe for men or women. Having navigated a low-grade civil war in sub-Saharan Africa, I learned to ask my hotel what they recommended, especially when traveling solo. In the main capitals, when I arrive during the day, I often opt for public transport, especially trains/metros, or take a taxi.
2. I choose a 5-star hotel that has multiple restaurant options, ideally both inside the hotel and nearby. Alternatively, when it was affordable as I found it in Cairo, I took a driver who waited for me or in Lisbon I took a taxi back and forth to try the best restaurants. In any new place, I always ask a lot of questions, especially to get the opinions of the local women, before walking alone after dark.
While in the Middle East, I also had 2 additional rules of thumb:
1. Although he would be sightseeing and attending a business conference in very hot desert weather, he was wearing long-sleeved shirts with pants.
2. When I was the only single woman in local restaurants, I always chose a seat/table right next to other couples, 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. Hit the weekend and do a test to find the fastest routes to your meetings. Even with a GPS, it’s easy to get into trouble. In a city abroad, I found a massive construction in the area surrounding my first meeting. Even walking, it was almost impossible to get through, and street addresses were obscured by construction scaffolding. In another foreign city, I found out when I arrived for an appointment that the outside door was locked and I was having trouble communicating with someone inside via my mobile phone.
4. Fly or wear an appropriate suit or business look in case your luggage doesn’t arrive on time.
5. Set multiple 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 turn up.)
The key is to plan ahead when possible and allow yourself some time to survey your destination. Otherwise, a video conference instead of a face-to-face meeting may be a better option.