As summer approaches, I always wonder how can I run two businesses while running away. Travel research shows that we Americans are more likely to forgo vacation days. The best solution I see is to combine work and pleasure with every trip abroad.
After signing up for a conference in Dubai, I was intrigued by the modern Middle East while wanting to learn 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 organized an airport pickup and booked a 5 star hotel in a good location in an upscale area of Amman with several restaurants nearby and in the hotel. Having studied Arabic, I had the pleasure of practicing it, although the Egyptian lessons I studied differed considerably from the Jordanian dialect.
As a crossroads, Jordan has a remarkable history, from the ancient Nabataeans to Alexander the Great, including Roman, Byzantine and Arab cultures. Beyond its historical monuments, Jordan has a very dynamic current culture. Soon after arriving, I saw this firsthand as a local wedding party made its way into the hotel lobby to celebrate with dancing and music.
The next day, I left for a day trip to the capital to explore the Roman ruins of Amman. I was standing above the city listening to the muezzin’s call to prayer. With only a brief stay I made the most of the time by having a driver as a local guide for about 12 hours a day. Fortunately, the distances were pretty close with the next day’s exploration focusing on the Roman ruins of Jerash. Its popular history begins in 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 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 just had time to contemplate the sea before retracing my steps towards Amman.
Keeping 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 best-selling British writer Agatha Christie, it’s a World Heritage site that rivals the Pyramids. Beyond the great Treasure there are a series of small buildings and outdoor cafes and crafts for sale. Of course, the tourist route to the entrance had to be done on the back of a camel, offering great photos.
After an enchanting week, it was time to head to Dubai for a conference and a brief visit. 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 mall. With limited expectations of a real workout, I knew this would make a great story and the perfect location for a vacation card photo. After a feast of Southern Fried Chicken in the food court at the Mall of the Emirates, I covered my summer clothes in a colorful ski outfit and hiked the ski and escalator poles up to the hand. After a few errands, it was time for hot chocolate at the adjacent St. Moritz Café and the perfect end to my Middle Eastern odyssey.
As a woman traveling solo in the Middle East, I have followed two practices that I find work for me in the world:
1. I organize a pick-up at the airport before leaving the house. In some countries taxis may not be safe for either men or women. Having gone through a low level civil war in sub-Saharan Africa, I learned to ask my hotel what they recommend, especially when I was traveling alone. In the big capitals when arriving during the day, I often opt for public transport, especially trains / subways or take a taxi.
2. I choose a 5 star hotel which has several restaurants conveniently in and nearby. Alternatively, when it was affordable as I found in Cairo I took a driver waiting for me or in Lisbon took a round trip taxi to try the best restaurants. In any new place, I always ask a lot of questions, especially to get the opinion of local women, before I go for a walk alone after dark.
In the Middle East, I also had 2 additional rules of thumb:
1. Although I was both sightseeing and attending a business conference in the very hot desert weather, I wore long sleeved shirts with pants.
2. When I was the only single female in local restaurants, I always chose a seat / table right next to other couples, women’s groups, couples, or families.
5 tips I learned when trying to combine work and pleasure:
1. To save on airline tickets, be sure to check connecting flights with extended layovers.
2. When possible, pay attention to business first, especially if complicated flights can cause long delays.
3. Arrive during the weekend and give it a try to locate the fastest routes to your meetings. Even with a GPS, it is easy to run into problems. In a city abroad, I found massive constructions in the vicinity of my first meeting. Even on foot it was almost impossible to pass, and the addresses were obscured by construction scaffolding. In another foreign city, I discovered upon arriving on a date that the outside door was locked and I was having trouble reaching anyone inside via my cell phone.
4. Take a plane or wear a suit or appropriate business attire in case your luggage does not 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 had a missed wake-up call or room service error before a flight for a day trip. (If you can’t function without coffee or breakfast, have a back-up plan, if necessary, if room service doesn’t show up.)
The key is to plan ahead where possible and have some time to monitor your destination. Otherwise, a video conference instead of a face to face meeting may be better value.