As summer approaches, I always wonder how can I run two businesses and still get away. Travel research shows that we Americans are most likely to lose 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 Mideast while wanting to know more about its ancient cultures. After some research, I found a flight to Dubai via Jordan with a few days stopover.
Leaving nothing to chance, I arranged an airport pickup and booked a 5 star hotel well located in a smart part of Amman with several restaurant options nearby and in the hotel. After studying Arabic, I was happy to practice it, although the Egyptian courses I studied differed significantly from the Jordanian dialect.
As a crossroads, Jordan has a remarkable history from the ancient Nabateans to Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantine and Arab cultures. In addition to its historical monuments, Jordan has a very vibrant contemporary 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 dance and music.
The next day I went on a day trip in the capital, exploring Amman's Roman ruins. I stood transfixed high above the city, listening to muezzin's call for prayer. With only a short stay, I spent most of my time taking a driver as a local guide for about 12 hours each day. Fortunately, the distances were fairly close with the next day's investigation focused on the Roman ruins in Jerash. Its popular history starts at Alexander the Great, but fell to the Romans during Pompey in the first century AD. With the mild climate in October, my guide and I then ate al fresco surrounded by vineyards. There was not a tourist bus in sight!
The next day's journey down to Byzantine Madaba ended at the famous Dead Sea. Famous for its spa treatments, I just had time to look out to sea before heading back to Amman.
Saving the best in the end meant a whole day in the rose town of Petra built by the neighboring Teans. Featured in Indiana Jones and other films and in a mystery novel by best-selling British author Agatha Christie, it is a world heritage that competes with the pyramids. In addition to 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 on camel ridge, giving great photo ops.
After an enchanting week, it was time to get to Dubai for a conference and brief sightseeing afterwards. Dubai is famous for the unexpected, like air-conditioned bus stops, Palm developments and ultra-luxurious hotels. For me, as an "intermittent intermediate skier", I was intrigued by the indoor ski resort located in a local mall. With limited expectations for a real workout, I knew this would make a great story and the perfect place for a holiday card photo. After a Southern fried chicken party at the Mall of the Emirates Food Court, I covered my summer clothes with a colorful ski gear and was up in the escalator skiing and poles in hand. After a couple of runs it went off with hot chocolate on the adjoining st. Moritz Café and the perfect ending to my Mideast odyssey.
As a woman traveling solo in the Middle East, I followed two practices I find work for me globally:
1. I arrange for an airport pickup before leaving home. Taxis may not be safe in some countries, whether men or women. After navigating a low-quality civil war in sub-Saharan Africa, I learned to ask my hotel what they recommended, especially when traveling alone. In larger capitals, when I arrive during the day, I often opt for public transport, especially trains / subways or cab catches.
2. I choose a 5 star hotel that has several restaurants options ideal both inside the hotel and nearby. Alternatively, when it was affordable that I found in Cairo, I took a driver waiting for me or in Lisbon caught a taxi return trip to try the best restaurants. In any new place, I always ask a lot of questions, especially to get local women's opinions before I stroll alone after dark.
While in the Middle East, I also had 2 more rules of thumb:
1. Although I was to both sightseeing and attend a business conference in very hot desert weather, I had long sleeves with sweaters.
2. When I was the only woman alone at local restaurants, I always chose a seat / table right next to other couples, groups of women, couples or families.
5 tips I learned when trying to combine business with pleasure:
1. To save on air travel, be sure to check out connecting flights that allow for extended layovers.
2. Whenever possible, take care of business first, especially if complex flights can cause long delays.
3. Arrive this weekend and do a test drive to find your meetings fastest routes. Even with a GPS, it is easy to get in trouble. In a city abroad, I found massive construction in the area around my first meeting. Even walking, it was almost impossible to get through, and street addresses were hidden by the construction scaffolding. In another foreign city, when I came to an appointment, I discovered that the outside door was locked and I was having trouble reaching someone inside via my cell phone.
4. Fly in or wear a suit or appropriate business look if your luggage doesn't arrive on time.
5. Set multiple alarms on a travel watch, on your mobile phone and with the hotel operator. Even in top hotels, I've had a missed wake-up call or room service error before a flight for a quick day trip. (If you cannot work without coffee or breakfast, you will need a backup plan as needed if room service is not displayed.)
The key is to plan ahead where possible and have some time to research your destination. Otherwise, a video conference instead of a face-to-face meeting might be a better value.