“How many flights have you been on in the past year?” – the Lisbon airport employee is holding a stack of papers as she runs down a check list survey, the bright morning sun is filling the room through the glass walls. Despite my sleepy state I have a pretty good idea of the answer - 20. “Business or pleasure” – she asks in a routine manner, not taking her eyes off the paper. My work is my pleasure, I see friends and do work everywhere I go – so both, I respond. She doesn’t seem impressed with what I always think is a cool-guy answer to give, not to mention that its the truth.
6 hour lay over in Lisbon, city that I love and has played an important role at almost every stage of my life. 2 hours the day before at Newark airport, a place that few people speak well of, yet I always feel at home as I wait for the flight back to Europe. I know exactly what terminals are where, what gates are for what airlines, and around what time flights for different continents leave. The people who have such knowledge are usually the business types. A category of traveler I might sound like, but I am most certainly not.
Unlike the business travelers who travel as much if not more than I do, I’m not part of any special club that gives me extra perks. I don’t stay at multi-star hotels, I couch surf. I don’t go to convention centers directly to the hotel-bar, I make time to wander around the places I travel to and speak with people who live and work there, a side effect of my personal journalistic mission in life. I don’t drink myself to sleep off free booze on the plane and I don’t try and make one more phone call as the plane is pulling away from the gate. My travel itinerary may look like that of an international business veteran, but the truth is my travel adventures have been constructed out of clever planning, the goodwill of others, and work that values my expertise enough to fund the trip. Some might know all about what club lounge has the best buffet, I know about what seat in couch gives me the most comfort and ease with getting off and on the plane. Where they may know who’s first class has the best sleeper seats, I know what airlines let coach passengers bring an extra carry-on item to help avoid lost or delayed luggage claim upon arrival.
A few months ago I mentioned (on twitter) a concern for the cost of a conference where I was going to be speaking. This concern was met by some criticism among some who said that for all my traveling, how could I complain about money? Back in the US I know some who say they’d love to visit other countries, but don’t have the money. What neither of these groups realizes is that when it comes to traveling, there is a long list of ways to do it on the cheap. Even with the cost of flights being what seems to be higher than ever, a clever planner and a passionate explorer can find a way. Managing to see some of the world, doesn’t mean you need to be rolling in dough. Money may play a role, but the desire to really travel matters just as much, if not more. I’m no businessman, but I’ve managed to get around so far in my life – I say you can too.