Travellin’ again

We’re all on the road again. After four months with some restrictions, business travel in my region is hotting up again for those of us covering SEE (Southern and Eastern EMEA).

I enjoy my job and I enjoy the travel I do, in general. I always say that I enjoy being in the places I go to, but getting there is not something I typically enjoy.

Having four months with no work-related trips has been fantastic, at least on a personal level. Chatting with colleagues who’ve been in a similar situation, we all had the same comments –

– Losing weight and getting fitter.

– Enjoying time at home with family.

– A healthy rhythm of being in one place, seeing friends, doing the same stuff on a regular basis and enjoying it.

I’ve been going to circuit training two to three times a week and am the fittest I’ve been for years. I also fit nicely into all my clothes and feel great. Actually, that’s not strictly true – the Levi 501s I still have from when I was 21 are still too tight round the waist, but there you go.

I’ve really started to appreciate living where I do. Yes, the soundproofing issue is raising its head again now that we’re all leaving our AC off during the day, but I am absolutely loving the Old Town and its ever improving environs.

Mrs Saul and I have spent more time together over the last four months than we ever have since we got married in 2005 – and we enjoyed it! Mrs Saul has always been completely supportive of my needing to go away for work- fortunately she enjoys having me home as well.

Not travelling has been interesting in terms of my own personal finance. You start to notice having to pay for your weekly existence yourself. Car mileage and wear and tear goes up and precious airmiles balances go down or stay static, supermarket bills increase, that sort of thing.

The travel pause and my getting back on the economy class whirlwind has made me think about how much things have changed over the last five years – yes, five! – of whizzing around my region, with occasional US and European trips.

One obvious sign is smoking bans creeping across the world. Even Turkey and Athens now have a smoking ban, with most of the airports I go through restricting smoking more and more. A good thing and a real indication of social change.

Lots of regional airports have gone through some serious improvements. Dubai’s new Terminal 3 is superb. Amman airport, from where I type this, has a fantastic new lounge and more and more cafes and restaurants, sadly most of the junk food variety. Algiers and Ankara have new terminals, as do a fair number of other places. Emirates’ dedicated lounges are often situated right next to the gate.

Even Riyadh airport has a new Costa Coffee – an island of mauve modernity in the middle of a sea of beige.

Technology is improving life.

E-tickets are now standard, it seems. No more worrying about a stupid piece of paper to prove that all the information already in the airlines’ computers is correct.

Every airport I’ve been to recently has a choice of ATMs. No more worrying whether I’d be able to get cash for a cab, or stocking up with wads of $5 bills, just in case.

How did I survive the long hours of idleness when I started out? During my early trips I didn’t even have an iPod – no music and certainly no TV to watch. I had to rely on books and the inflight entertainment. My first trip to San Francisco? Seven hours on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, layover and 10 hours or so to San Fran without even a TV screen in the seat in front of me. I didn’t even have a blog at the time, so couldn’t even pass the time by formulating a rant about the rude way the staff treated those of us in cattle class.

Wifi is now ubiquitous – almost – meaning I can work and be entertained during layovers in the airport. My BlackBerry also keeps me efficient and make better use of my time. In the old days, I’d have to wait till I got to my hotel before I could (hopefully) get to email – and that meant being forced to sit at an uncomfy hotel desk. Now, more often than not, I’ve cleared most of my work email in the taxi on the way to the hotel, thanks to my good old Bold. When I do get to my room I can relax on the bed to finish things off, before watching TV on the laptop or generally surfing whilst safely tucked up in bed.

Spotify, when connected in the hotel, gives me instant access to all sorts of great music that I don’t already own – much as I love the stuff I have on iTunes, Spotify keeps me entertained with any kind of music I might fancy listening to, for free, legally. It’s like having a great radio station always to hand.

All of this makes for travel time being easier, much more productive and a lot less lonely. Just five years’ advances have made life for the business traveller a lot less wearisome. I wonder how my father managed, particularly in the 90s, when he was going to former Soviet and Eastern bloc countries? I remember he used to carry a small can of insect repellent with him. That would have been handy during a flight on a certain North African airline I took last year, but isn’t something I’ve needed on any other occasion.

Let’s see what the future brings. Whilst there are still lots of places that I would like to visit, both for personal and business reasons, a slightly more static existence wouldn’t be too upsetting. Given what I do – and what I need to do to keep being able to do what I do – I think airports will continue to play the same role the 65 bus stop used to when I was younger. I’d also rather be doing this than, say, driving around the UK all week.

Time to get to the gate for my connection…

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