GreenAroundTheGlobe - Part 2

This is the third and final (for now) post in a series documenting the differences between traveling as a backpacker and as a business traveler. Click to see the first or second post in the series about the differences in the Flying and the Staying.  Next I wanted to cover the differences in working while on the road.

This is where the real tradeoffs come in.  While it would be great to stay in amazing hotels and fly business class as a backpacker, you just can’t afford to because it is so expensive.  And if you are working while backpacking it is usually not for more money than covering your blog hosting costs and maybe a nice night out (in Thailand), hence the hostels and coach class seats.  But since J&J is paying, I have a job to do when I get to wherever I am going.  And all the sightseeing, eating in great local restaurants and even sleeping in those big comfy beds (no matter how jetlagged you are) comes second to doing excellent work.

Now with good planning and prioritization I have been able to do most of the fun things in addition to delivering great work.  On my most recent international work trip to Brazil, I was able to fly down 3 days early and spend some time sightseeing over the weekend in Rio.  A couple of my pictures are below.

I also spent some of that time at my hotel doing emails, working on PowerPoint decks and making phone calls.  Although most of it was on Monday while it was stormy and raining.

I would also like it to be known that by taking my detour to Rio I managed to save J&J $650 off the direct flight from Newark to Sao Paulo and back.  So not only did I get to enjoy the trip with a short personal stay on the front end, I saved the company some money.

And while I gave up a weekend at home with Amy, I was able to ensure that my first trip to Brazil was not entirely spent in conference rooms like this one, which turned out to be much nicer than many of the ones we have in New Jersey.

So what is your best business trip extension?  Let’s hear about it in the comments below.

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This is the second post in a series documenting the differences between traveling as a backpacker and as a business traveler.  To see the first post in the series about the differences in air travel, please click here.  Next, I want to cover the differences in accommodations.

One of the biggest questions people asked about our backpacking trip was, “What was it like to stay in hostels?” often asked with an intonation that implies that hostels must be dirty and terrible places to “have” to stay when traveling on a budget.  So I thought I would compare my Singapore accommodations on both trips.  While backpacking, Amy and I stayed at the lovely Sleepy Sam’s in the Arab section of Singapore, just down from the Masjid Sultan mosque.

We sprung for a private room ($62/night), but shared the bath, toilet and kitchen facilities with everyone.  Included in that nightly fee was a simple breakfast of toast, jam and coffee, so we never really had to use the very nice kitchen.

Compare that to the luxurious Fairmont Hotel, which is located across the street from the famous Raffles Hotel, the birthplace of the Singapore Sling.

My room at the Fairmont ran $265/night, but did include a magnificent buffet breakfast every morning (which was most likely a huge contributor to the approximately 5lbs I gained on this trip despite working out 4 days in the Fairmount’s huge gym).  The biggest difference probably has to be the beds.  At the Fairmont there was a very comfortable king size bed with fresh sheets every 3 days. At Sleepy Sams the bed was a pretty thin mattress on a small platform.  However, I will note that the free lobby wifi was MUCH slower than the wifi at Sleepy Sam’s.

All in all I am not sure that the Fairmont is worth the entire $1,100 premium that they charge over a place like Sleepy Sam’s for 6 nights in Singapore.  In fact, at the Sustainable Brands 2011 Conference in Monterey, the second stop on my business trip,  I learned about Google’s travel and expense system, Trips, that employs gamification principals to save the company money.  As it was explained, the system works by allotting employees a set amount of funding for a trip to a city or region.  If the employee is able to book and travel for less than the set amount, my understanding is that the employee has two options on what to do with the savings:

  1. Bank the savings to use on a future trip – allowing you to stay at a luxury hotel; or
  2. Donate the difference to charity.

If we had that system at Johnson & Johnson, I think that I may have honestly considered the option of staying at Sleepy Sam’s if I knew that I could bank the savings or donate it to charity.   The potential $1,100 savings would have been a bit of an inconvenience and a little less comfortable, but if I am willing to take it on, I should share in the savings, right?  What would you do?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if you work for Google (Kristin, I am talking to you) and I have this wrong please correct me.

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I have just returned from my second RTW (round-the-world) trip in as many years.   The first took me to 18 countries on 5 continents, took over 9 months to complete, cost me $31,124 (my half of the total) and was done as a self-funded backpacker.  I just completed the second RTW trip as a business traveler.  This time, the route took me east, over Northern Europe to Singapore, on to San Francisco, before the final eastern leg back to Philadelphia on June 12th.  The trip took just over 2 weeks and will cost Johnson & Johnson a shade over $10,000 for me to attend a key regional meeting and an industry conference.  To compare and contrast the two experiences, I will publish a series of upcoming posts about what was better, worse and just different between traveling as a backpacker and as a business traveler.  Let’s get things kicked off with one of the biggest differences, flying business class.

While we did get a couple of nice upgrades on our backpacking trip, including an upgrade to economy-plus on the United flight from Chicago to Munich and the very clutch business class upgrade on Korea Air from Sydney to Seoul,

we were mostly back in economy.   This was not too bad as most of the flights we took on the backpacking trip were less than 5 hours.   Just enough time to read a magazine, write a blog post and maybe have a meal, as most international airlines, even the budget ones, still serve meals on flights of only an hour or two.

That is a huge contrast with my recent 18.5 hour flight on Singapore Airlines direct from Newark, NJ to Singapore, the longest direct flight in the world.

The entire plane is business class, with lay flat beds, personal entertainment systems and meals of seared tuna and fresh bread served on real china.

And while the amenities and services on the plane were a huge benefit, and made being in the air for that long not only tolerable, but downright enjoyable, it was the benefits in the airport that made the most difference in my flying experience.  It all starts with the check-in.  As I was traveling for business, I had a suitcase for luggage rather than my Osprey backpack, and there was no additional charge for checked bags (I am sure it is covered in the $6,500 ticket cost). I was then directed to the business class lounge which had complementary wifi, beer, wine, and small bites before boarding.

The flight was long, but covered the nearly 10,000 miles in astonishing comfort and speed.  One of the key benefits of this long flight is that Singapore Air is a Star Alliance member, resulting in me achieving Silver status on US Air from this one flight.  With Silver status I was able to get a free upgrade to domestic first class for the final flight back to Philadelphia, which allowed me to complete the entire trip in business/first class.   And as Amy remarked when we quickly checked our luggage ahead of a very, very, long, bleary-eyed and irritated looking economy class check-in line at 5:15am in the San Francisco airport, “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure does get you a whole lot of convenience.”  Not to mention a free bloody mary or two on the flight home.    What do you think, is business class worth the dedication to slavishly flying one airline?

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