From the category archives:

Personal Travel Updates

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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Yes, We Can Too!

These words were splashed across the screen on CNN’s all day broadcast of the uprising in Egypt.  If you had told me a year ago that one day I’d see the people of Egypt staging an uprising, echoing the words of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, I would have suggested you lay off the hooka for a while.

The hostel we stayed in is only one block from the main protests in Cairo

Because, you see, for me, the news about the civil unrest in Egypt came as quite a shock. It’s not that we didn’t see the deplorable living conditions first hand.  We choked on the brown air, were approached by children in rags chanting what seemed like the only word they knew, baksheesh (tip or money), and learned about the crushing poverty during our meeting with CEDARE.  We even experienced the corruptness of the local law enforcement, being taken behind the velvet ropes by officers in uniform for better photos of the Citadel only to then be refused exit without paying a bribe.

What is so surprising about the images on the news is that the palpable sense of hopelessness among the Egyptian people just one year ago seemed impossible to overcome.  Never did I imagine that a people so broken and depressed could be inspired to stage such an uprising.

River on the way to the Great Pyramids

Unfortunately, what has not surprised me is the looting and destruction of Egypt’s treasured antiquities.  We saw how the pyramids were strewn with trash, and how shopkeepers swept garbage into the Red Sea reefs.  We grappled with the notion of a country so focused on getting through today that there was no idea of tomorrow, let alone a better tomorrow to strive for.

I am often asked how travel has changed me.  My usual response is that travel doesn’t change who you are, but it does change how you see the world.  Two years ago the headlines about Egypt would have been interesting, but nothing more.  After spending more than three weeks there, I now feel a personal connection to the country, and find myself often wondering about the safety of the hostel owner in Cairo whose building is right in the heart of the city, or how the staff at CEDARE and their families are coping with the chaos in their country.  As I watch the terrific and all too often violent images on television, all I can do is hope that the Egyptian people get the government they are seeking and begin to rebuild their country with a renewed sense of hope.

Keith with Ibrahim, his Egyptian Dive Instructor

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Being a goal-oriented, type-A professional, I always look to define clear Goals and Objectives for any significant undertaking.  I am fine with leaving the tactical elements or “details” to chance and because of that was fine with not having every aspect of our trip planned ahead of time.  In fact, one of the things I miss most about our trip is that at home we are so scheduled.  I know that this Wednesday from 12:00-1:00 pm I will be dialing in for a “Beyond Ecolabels: Green Marketing – Communicating Sustainability Initiatives” conference call, whereas most days while traveling I did not know what I was going to do that very afternoon.

While I enjoyed the freedom of a not having a detailed schedule, I could not spend a year without a clear set of Goals and Objectives to help guide our decisions while traveling.  So before we packed our backpacks, or even thought about destinations, I set out to draft a clear set of Goals and Objectives for this great investment Amy and I were about to make.  Now the time has come to see how we did.  And while we were not courageous enough to share these publically at the beginning of the trip, except for some health goals below,

I feel the need to air our successes and shortcomings now that we are back.   After reviewing below, let us know how you think we did.  The goals are italicized with the results following.

Overall Objective: Take an unforgettable RTW trip that will be a catalyst into lives and careers aligned with our passions for a more sustainable future: Result: An unequivocal success for Keith; still TBD for Amy.

Professional Goals

  • Utilize this free time to explore and clearly articulate our ideal career path and goals when we return. Keith: Result: Complete, as I articulated the “Was Our Trip Career Suicide?” post I was able to come home with a clear vision of what I wanted to do next professionally.
  • Gain fluency and demonstrated skill in utilizing social media as a way to connect with advocates creating a “tribe” of followers. Result: We were able to successfully create a presence on social media gaining a tribe of followers and friends.
  • Create a website that is credible in the travel and green space:
    • 1000 average monthly visitorsResult: 1,047 rolling 3 month average.
    • 300 Facebook fansResult: 170, but you can still help us by becoming a fan here.
    • 200 email/RSS subscribersResult: 154, most of which came after we were listed on almostfearless’s best of 2010 post – never underestimate the power of a fellow blogger to help drive traffic!
    • Google Page Rank of 3: Result: Exceeded, current page rank is 4.
  • Establish professional connections with key sustainability Opinion Leaders in our relevant industriesResult: Achieved, we have been able to make connections at: Masdar City, E+Co, SME-RE, KEA and other relevant companies in the business of sustainability.
  • Secure placement of our story with two credible outside publications: Result: Achieved with placement of our story for GreenBiz.com and multiple articles on other blogs including Briefcase to BackpackAlmost Fearless and eLifeMentor.

Personal Goals

  • Create a shared positive experience that we will treasure for the rest of our lives. Result: Absolutely achieved

  • To ensure we are living our lives with no regrets by “seizing the day” and the tremendous opportunity that lays in front of us. Result: By undertaking this trip, something many people talk about but never do, we have proven our ability to seize the day and pursue our dreams with meticulous planning.
  • Connect with family and friends through visits and sharing this experience through our website. Result: We were able to spend significant time with our families both before we left and when we returned.
  • Challenge ourselves mentally:
    • Read an average of 1 book per week each: Result: Total books read Keith = 48,  Amy = 68
    • Become better creative and persuasive writers. Result: The challenge of regularly writing blog posts increased our writing skills.
    • Improve ability to use technology; iMovie, iPhoto, WordPress, Still and Video cameras. Result: The challenges of developing and maintaining an interactive and visually interesting blog has increased our ability to use these software tools as well as lots of practice with the camera.
    • Learn and use key phrases in local languages. Result: We were able to learn key phases in most countries we visited including: hello, delicious, thank you and importantly for Keith cilantro.
  • Challenge ourselves physically:
    • Travel in challenging conditions with patience, humor and a positive attitude. Result: For those that have heard the story the best example of meeting this goal is traveling on in hard sleeper class on  14hr train ride from Shanghai to Xi’an where Keith had a pretty nasty stomach bug and Amy couldn’t sleep.  More info here.
    • Keith to learn to scuba dive, completing 25 dives:  Result: 27 dives completed across Egypt, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.
    • Snowboard in New Zealand. Result: Did not complete in New Zealand, but did snowboard in Dubai.
    • Try surfing, hang gliding and bungee jumping: Result: We both surfed at Bryon Bay in Australia, but did not hang glide or bungee jump.
  • Improve physical health. Result: Keith BMI (Body Mass Index) <26 and cholesterol <200: Achieved half: BMI 25.5 cholesterol 240. Amy improved strength and flexibility:  Completed couch to 5k running course.
  • Gain a global perspective by connecting with fellow travelers and locals. Result: Connecting with Gillian and Jason from One-Giant-Step and Akila and Patrick from The RoadForks were a couple of the highlights from our trip.
  • Volunteer in 2 locations as a way to further give back and fully experience the people and culture around the world. Result: We did not complete this goal.

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