The Glamorous Life of an International Business Traveler

Family and friends who see my travel pictures on social media often comment on how gorgeous they are, how lucky I am to see so many countries, and whether I need any assistance on my trips (e.g. bag handler, perhaps?). While I certainly enjoy seeing new cities and am grateful to have the opportunity to travel internationally, it is not always as fun as it looks.

Let me take you on my journey last week, to a behind the scenes look at the glamorous life of a business traveler.

Sunday

I was traveling to Porto, Portugal via Madrid, where I would have a 3.5 hour delay to relax in the lounge and prep for my meetings later that day in Porto. I would be meeting with a number of colleagues from various European cities to co-deliver a training over the next few days.

I arrived at the Philly airport at 4:30 pm for a 6:30 flight and checked one suitcase, carrying an overnight bag with a change of clothes and my laptop bag with me to the gate. There was a threat of thunderstorms, which had been prevalent all week, but my flight at that point was on time. When I got the gate for boarding at 5:30, I saw the flight had been pushed back 30 minutes. It then moved back another 30, and we finally pulled out of the gate at 7:30 pm. Once on the runway, the lightning started and we remained on the ground until 9:30. I had not yet eaten dinner, as I was waiting for the in-flight meal service, and was ravenous when the meal came after 10:00. I then fell asleep for an impressive four hours (which is the maximum amount of sleep you can usually get on an overnight flight to Europe), and soon it was time to land.

Monday morning

My relaxing 3.5 hour delay was now 40 minutes because of the late arrival. I managed to get spotty internet as we were landing in Madrid and saw there were no additional available flights from Madrid to Porto that day (shhh… I know the phone is supposed to be in airplane mode but I needed to quickly figure out options!). The plane landed around 10:50 am, and a flight attendant was waiting at the exit with my boarding pass for the next flight. She informed me I might not make it and needed to run, as they would close the gates 15 minutes before the plane took off.

It was a very big airport and as I ran, I had flashbacks of two other situations in Doha and London where I was also making a mad dash through airports to catch connecting flights. This seemed to be a pattern. The sign above me announced the gates were 30 minutes away, and I bolted down moving sidewalks and up and down escalators, finally arriving at customs and a huge line moving very slowly.  #$@&%*!

I saw someone who appeared to be in charge, but she did not speak English. I tried to explain in Spanish that my flight was leaving in 30 minutes and I needed to get through, but she pretended to not understand and directed me to the back of the line. Panicked, I texted my colleague who was waiting for her flight from Brussels to Porto that I probably wouldn’t make the connection. She wrote back, “Barge your way in! Say you need to be ahead of everyone! Don’t be polite. Just do it!” Easier said than done when most people didn’t speak English, but I decided to give it a go.

I turned to the family ahead of me. “Mi flight (could not remember the word for flight so I made a waving motion like a bird with my hands) esta en treinta minutos. Por favor…” I gestured to the spot in front of them and they nodded. I continued to move through the line – just cutting my way in front of most people as it would take too long to try to explain to everyone – but stopping to explain in Spanish every so often. People were either confused and didn’t know what to make of the crazy woman waving her arms, or understood and motioned for me to go ahead.

I finally got close to the front and used my “Mi flight… treinta minutos” speech on a family. The dad said – in English –  “Of course, but we’d prefer you change your shirt first.” I looked down at my Eagles hoodie in confusion, and they told me they were from Dallas. We all laughed, and their fluent Spanish helped me get through the remaining people in line. I was now at the front.

After customs and with 20 minutes to go, I had to put my carry-on bags through a security screening. I quickly took out liquids and electronics, threw everything into bins, walked through the screening machine (where I thankfully did not set off any alarms), and got to the end of the of the luggage screening area to grab my stuff. Except – one of my bags was flagged for additional screening – and I now had to go off to the side to get it checked. #$@&%*!

 “Por favor, mi flight (waving arms) esta en veinte minutos!” I begged the agent for a quick check and thought to myself, I really need to learn the Spanish word for flight!

They did check my bag quickly and I was soon running again, for another five minutes, and arrived at the gate in time for last call – sweaty, thirsty, and probably smelly.

As you can see, my day had been super glamorous so far.

Monday afternoon

We landed in Porto a little before noon (Madrid is an hour ahead of Porto so I gained time back), and I found a restroom to change into a new shirt and jeans (I always carry a spare set of clothes which are much needed after flying all night). I then walked to baggage claim. When I arrived, the bags were already on the carousel, and I suddenly got this feeling that mine would not be among them. I was correct – my suitcase was not there, so I went to lost and found to report the missing bag. The man there said that although I managed to make the flight in Madrid, my bag was probably not as fast, and it would likely come on a later flight that day. He gave me a number to call to check the status and said they would deliver it to the hotel when it arrived.

At the hotel, I met up with the rest of the team and we worked until around 6:30, when we decided to break for dinner. I called the airport to check on my bag and was informed it actually never left Philadelphia. It would be on a flight the next day. OMG. At this point in time, some of the group decided a shopping trip was in order. While I actually needed clothes, the others were more than happy to shop with me for moral support. Since we were all teaching together, we ended up purchasing matching T-shirts to wear to the training that said Citizens of the World. (I bought a few other essentials, as well.)

Over the next few days, we experienced a successful training event, lots of great networking, many laughs, and exploring a little of Porto. And while my suitcase did arrive by 5:00 pm on Tuesday, it was shut tightly with a zip tie, and I needed to call the front desk for a scissors to open it.

Now let’s fast forward to the end of the week.

Friday morning
To avoid a long layover in Madrid on Friday, I had decided to fly to Lisbon Thursday night so I could take a direct flight from there to Philly in the morning. I met a colleague for a very late dinner on Thursday, and given my newfound love of Portuguese wine (Vinho Verde is delicious!), she suggested going to the duty free airport shop to buy a few bottles before leaving.

The next morning when I checked my bag, I was told the flight would board at 10:45 am rather than 11:15. Still, I thought there would be plenty of time for a quick trip to duty free. I had forgotten how many checkpoints there are in the Lisbon airport where I had to show or scan my passport and/or boarding pass. And the line at duty free was insane. Despite this, I did make it to the gate on time (albeit a little sweaty) and then waited in a line for what I thought was boarding the plane. It was actually a line to walk down a long corridor to exit the airport and board a tram that took us to the plane. My arms were killing me by that point, as the two bottles of wine along with all of my other stuff made things quite heavy.

Friday afternoon

Following a decent flight where I napped for a few hours and watched some good movies, I made it quickly through customs at 3:15 pm to baggage claim. It seemed like every arriving flight had a carousel except ours – London, Zürich, Budapest, Rome, etc. Someone finally announced that unfortunately, there was no carousel for the Lisbon flight and it would be awhile until one was available. Of course it would be. I didn’t expect anything less from this trip. I made myself comfortable on a ledge and spent an hour catching up on emails until the luggage finally arrived. In a rare change of events, mine was one of the first bags out! And after an almost two-hour ride home (Friday afternoon traffic was insane!), I collapsed on the sofa, happy to see my family and share with them my glamorous international travel experience!

The List

Tonight, I’ll be flying to Zurich for the week, and I’m reflecting on how much preparation it took to get us ready for this and every business trip  — and why all of that effort is worth it.

I’ve always related to the phrase ‘it takes a village’ when it comes to raising a family, particularly a child with special needs. We are very lucky to have family close by who come after school to help with Ryan’s homework and drive both boys to and from various afternoon activities. Dan’s been in a new job for five months which cut his commute in half, and he’s able to help out much more in the evenings now that he’s home at a decent time. However, like many working moms, I am typically the one bringing the details of our lives together – emailing teachers, figuring out logistics for various extracurricular activities and events, staying on top of homework and forms to sign, making sure gym uniforms and other necessities are packed on the right days, scheduling doctors’ appointments, and planning our weekends.

When you are the primary organizer of your family and you travel for several days, it’s a lot of work to get everyone else in your village ready to take on the load. I will pre-arrange carpools, prepare worksheets for Ryan to practice Spanish, speak to teachers, and do as much laundry as I can so Dan starts with all clean clothes; but what’s needed most is one place that outlines all the details for every member.

A few years ago when I started traveling internationally, I created The List. The List (yes, capitalized given the importance it holds with my family) maps out the days I am gone by morning, after school and evening. It includes what has to be done related to each aspect of the kids’ lives, who will do what, and every phone number and email address the family could possibly need during that time. My parents, Aunt Sue, and Dan anxiously await receiving their copy of The List before I go away. (And my dad, being the supreme list maker in our family, usually goes through it with a fine tooth comb and comes back to me with his own list of questions and corrections. 🙂 )

Six weeks ago, I traveled to Athens. The Athens List was more complex than most because 1) this was the first international trip I’d taken since high school began and therefore, the first List with all of the new high school details; and 2) I was away an entire week including a weekend, which is not typical.  I was also unusually busy leading up to my trip and did not have a chance to finish The List until a few days before leaving. Which led to a little panic.

“You haven’t sent the list yet,” my dad said anxiously after school, two days before my trip. “When will you have it?”  I actually had a printed copy ready and handed it to him.

“Look, it’s 25 pages,” my mom joked. My dad’s eyes lit up with excitement. He grabbed a pen and began reading.

Sue texted me later. “I don’t think I got your email with The List. Can you resend it?”

“I haven’t emailed it yet. Sending now,” I texted back.

Later, Dan sat on the couch and read it, asking questions along the way.

“I think I’m good,” he said. “I can do this.”

That confidence right there is the reason all the preparation is worth it. Because my family was now ready, I could go away and focus on just me. Let me tell you, it is an amazing change of pace to be away for a week and not have to worry about anyone except yourself. It’s kind of like a vacation. (albeit a vacation where you’re working crazy hours and not sleeping very much!) I was seven hours ahead of Philly and could not have gotten involved in the home stuff even if I wanted to, which made it easy to disconnect from the day-to-day. I did not even glance at Ryan’s Google sheet, where his teachers provide updates and tell us what the homework is, and we reply with our questions and concerns. Dan, my parents and Sue had it covered. I did not reply to any home-related emails, knowing Dan would do it. I didn’t look at grades on Schoology – those could wait. I did catch up with Dan and the boys as many days as possible around midnight by FaceTime on all the fun stuff and texted the family often. Ryan is not very into talking on the phone, but he loves social media and commented on all of my posts that week. For example, “Great pictures. I miss you and can’t wait to see the presents you bought me.”

A week is a long time. By Thursday night, I was ready to go home to see everyone. And the big, beautiful smile on Ryan’s face when he and Dan came to pick me up on Friday night was the best welcome home present.

Within 24 hours of returning….

Jordan – “Mom, ads for my show are due on Monday.”

Ryan – “Mommy, I have a Spanish test on Tuesday. When are we going to study this weekend?”

Jordan – “Can you sign this form and write a check for the unity walk? It’s also due Monday.”

Dan – “Ryan doesn’t want to do the unity walk, but his teacher said we should discuss it and let him know Monday. Here’s the form. What do you think?”

Ryan – “Mommy, who’s picking me up from Wings club on Tuesday?”

Dan – “Can you take a look at Ryan’s Google sheet? It looks like he has a grade for a test I don’t remember him ever taking…” 

Ryan – “Mommy, where’s my charger?”

Dan – “Which suits should the boys wear to the Bat Mitzvah tomorrow?”

Ryan – “Where are we having dinner Sunday?”

Ryan – “What are our plans next weekend?”

(These are just a sampling of the many questions and requests!)

Athens, take me away! 

Now it is time to do it all over again. This week’s List was also complex due to multiple activities some without clear schedules yet and an overnight theater conference for Jordan. But I think (I hope!) everyone is ready, and I’m so grateful to my family for jumping in once again. Goodbye, wonderful village – see you next weekend!