My wonderful world of business travel – it’s not spinning around business class seats, black car services to and from the 5 star hotels and fancy dinners. The travel reports in glossy magazines and commercials seem distant to be. Still, I sense I collected some experience that might worth sharing as it shows how you can enjoy business travel on a budget. The list is subjective, not-representative and most of all, not sponsored by anyone.
So, let’s go, here are my Top 10 comments on traveling for business off the main track:
I have spent at least one night in over 30 countries in the past 24 months. The places I usually stay are not famous. Price, cleanliness, availability of internet connection and toilet paper are the requirements which I use to select my stays. Still, there are some highlights:
- 5Swiss in Kigali became my second home on the road, the team around William and Yannick close friends
- Humura Hotel in Kampala revised my opinion about hotels in Uganda as overpriced and under delivering. It’s called a resort for a good reason. It’s in the middle of the city, yet an oasis with a beautiful garden and a personalized service that prevented me from having a single meal outside the place in 2 weeks.
- Leon Hotel in Kinshasa offers the very best breakfast you can find on the African continent. Their croissants were the best I had outside France and the variety so big that I was fine with one meal per day. Not good for their ability to sell me a lunch or a dinner, but something that made my day – every day!
- Mandala Hotel on Boracay – overall a great place on a beautiful island. But selling the fact that your wifi is too weak as “Offline detox therapy” is really marketing at it’s finest
- Onkel Inn in La Paz – the tiny airport in La Paz, Bolivia, has a sleep box hotel inside the terminal. It was my first such experience anywhere and sleeping on 4000 meter above sea level is a challenge, but hey sleep boxes in Bolivia, who would have thought?
2) My travel assistants
Yes I book my travel/hotels on my own – it’s usually on expedia.com and sometimes directly with the airline. Once you get into the Expedia VIP program – service quality and speed is remarkable. Beyond that, a great day is when I wake up at a clean and simple place, have WhatsApp calls with my team in different time zones in the early morning, using free wifi, jump into an uber car to get to my client, have TripIt remind me of my next travel/check in/delays etc. If now only the battery life of a 2 year old smartphone would be better…
3) About Uber and other ride share services
I barely use Uber at home in New York. Why would I? The city has a far reaching network of public transportation and for the rest, I use my bicycle. (on a side note, the fact that some colleagues at a former job joked about that and treated me like a delivery guy, is actually more characterizing for them than for me). Yet, trips to Nairobi and Kampala, I realized, how great Uber’s service is: clean cars, reliable service, transparency and convenience and last but not least, prices which eliminated the surcharge I had to pay for coming from abroad.
4) My favorite Airlines and Airports and the not so favorite ones.
So, I do travel a lot. Between 120 to 140 flights per year. That’s 12 times around the globe and comparable to a flight attendant. The only difference: when I get off the plane, my job starts and their’s ends. All flight tickets are in economy class and free upgrades are rare. Some highlights:
- Emirates and Qatar are my favorites. New planes, spacious seats, decent food and great lounges are only just the beginning. It’s the personal service they provide for their status members which shows that they actually deserve their Skytrax ratings: there is a personal greeting in every flight. They even know my preferred juice and if I contacted customer service for whatever reason, the cabin crew follows up on the next flight, asking whether my issues have been solved. This does not cost much but impresses a lot.
- Talking about mileage programs: getting 31 status miles for a flight from MUC to IST in an airline that requires 100,000 miles to maintain the status is pathetic. It would take 3226 flight a year or 9 per day to maintain my status. At that pace I have no time for a lounge and no need for priority boarding (I just have to remain seated in the plane) anymore.
- Brussels Air – your Africa connections are great – but why does the inter-terminal shuttle start only at 8am if your flights arrive between 5am and 6am?
- Lufthansa, your MUC hub is still the best – Leberkaese, Weisswurst und Weissbier in der Lounge – really a wonderful idea
- The longest security line ever? For a long time Lagos (LOS) was on top of the list until Duesseldorf (DUS) did beat this record with 75 minutes on a Friday afternoon in July. 1 of 12 counters were open and while I was waiting I was even able to have a dialogue with the Airports Social Media staff online about it.
5) Redeeming Miles
So, now that I have all those airline miles, what to do with them? Using them for free flights is not much of an incentive, especially if the additional fees on round trip between the US and Europe are over USD 600! And here again Emirates makes a difference, allowing to convert miles into tickets for sports events. 10,000 miles for a VIP treatment at the tennis tournament in Miami or Indian Wells is sine-qua-non. OK, Lufthansa offered a similar deal in Stuttgart for 150,000 miles…
6) Power Supply
Power outlets exist now in many economy seats in planes. If you don’t find them, here is a little tip: Some of the planes do have outlets used by the cleaning staff for their vacuums. They are nearby the exit doors in the wall and sometimes a little hidden. Some of the flight crews are surprised when you use them, others don’t care. But your goal of having enough power to use your laptop for an 8 hour flight is fulfilled. Beyond that, my Anker is now part of the hand luggage.
7) And what is I think I deserve a little luxury
Everyone deserves a little treat every now and then. I found mine in the chain of Fairmont hotels. Their locations and properties are perfect for my taste. They even deliver the gym outfit to my room. One night in one of their places feels like a mini vacation. The locations are amazing. I tested many (Vancouver, Riviera Maya, Dubai, Ajman, Nairobi, Cairo, Baku, Singapore, Beijing) and recommend all of them.
8) Public Transport
As Erique Penalosa, the major of Bogota said: “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation”. In this sense, there are great alternatives that reduce transportation cost significantly: Geneva offers airline passengers 2 hours free public transport, Bus #36 in Singapore gets you to Orchard Road for SGD 2.50 and the Q70 select bus in Queens even put La Guardia Airport within reach of public transportation. So get online, download the local transportation app or use google maps. That’s all you need.
This is really not my strength. My spare time is primarily used to relax and stay put. You will barely find me in museums or galleries. Yet, the highlight of the year was a bike tour around Angkor Wat with Grasshoppers Tours. It got me to places with far less tourism and even added a little workout to the equation.
10) T-Mobile – you guys Rock!
@T-Mobile really made my travelling bearable and cut my expenses significantly. Free data in 200+ countries, cheap calls, and free text is just the greatest pricing plan I have ever seen and is something to brag about with clients. Now, if you guys add Ethiopia to the list of covered places, I promise, I will enjoy Addis airport even more.
I know that I am privileged to travel so much, meet great people and see amazing things. It doesn’t matter how you travel or where you go. Every day can broaden your horizon and helps you understanding the world a little better. I am glad I can share some (not so serious) impressions here and I am sure there will be more in the future.