My Travel Map

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Travel Tips

I started traveling as a consultant form April of 2002. I have now completed ten years of travel. For my assignments I travel both economy and business class and use a variety of airlines. To commemorate my ten years of traveling I have compiled some travel tips. They are aimed at reducing the stress of modern travel to enable you to have a pleasant journey with the minimal amount of discomfort and hassle.



These are my top travel tips based on my travel experience since 2002 and the post 9/11 world. (E6K9HKXKPPNE)


Clothes and shoes


1. Do not wear a belt – this will help you to pass through security without having to go through the hassle of taking it off and putting it on. It also helps in blood circulation.


2. Do not wear any items of clothing which contain metal buttons, clips, labels etc.


3. Do not wear clothing with a lot of pockets – you can forget a coin or a key and will set off the metal detectors


4. Do not wear tight clothes this will cut your blood circulation and make the journey uncomfortable.


5. Don’t wear baggy clothes; wear comfortable cloths that are close to your body – lets face it you will be profiled no matter what they say; so wearing baggy clothes sets off alarm bells with the security personnel. They are more likely to pad down a person wearing baggy clothes as opposed to someone wearing well fitting clothes.


6. Try to wear slippers or sandals, if you feel clod wear a pair of socks with the slippers or sandals. If you need to wear shoes wear thin sole shoes (without any metal fittings) with no shoelaces. This will either negate the need to take off your shoes or make it easy to take off and put on shoes


7. Try to dress in the thinnest possible layers of clothes instead of wearing / carrying bulky heave jackets / coats so that you can remove or add depending on your level of comfort. Thin clothes weigh less take less space in your hand luggage / carry on luggage.


Money and Travel Documents


1. Do not carry any coins. If you must carry coins in a small transparent plastic bag and put the coins in a pocket of your carry on luggage.


2. Always carry more than one currency: example if you travel via to London to USA carry British Sterling Pounds as well as Dollars.


3. Try to pre pay for as many expenses as possible before departure. This helps to minimize the amount of money you need to carry, as well as be able to bargain to the maximum and not be made to decide on the spot about your travel options. Use the internet and always cross check and read reviews of restaurants, taxi service and other services you are likely to pay for in cash so that you don’t get taken for a ride.


4. Carry globally accepted credit cards as a payment option and for emergencies.


5. Always take travel insurance; you never know when you might fall sick or get injured.


6. Always carry your passport, visa, travel insurance, hotel reservations, travel vouchers, invitation letters, letters of sponsorship etc in one safety pouch / folder. This way you don’t have to look for them in multiple places. Keep them safe and close to you.


7. Never ever give the bag containing these documents to anyone (except your family or personal assistant / colleague).


8. If you are using a VIP service to breeze through emigration and customs make sure that you have line of sight of the person at all times. Confidence tricksters pretending to be service providers will walk off with your belongings.


Baggage


1. First check the weather of your destination (12 hours before departure – weather forecasting gets better when nearer to the dates concerned.)


2. Finalize your clothes 12 hours before you travel, based on above.


3. Choose clothes that can be mixed and worn: Take white shirts / blouses which can be worn with any pants / skirts and jackets. Take a few different ties / scarf and accessories so that you look different but use the least number of clothes. I am a firm believer in the use of hotel laundry services. I prefer to get the items laundered at the hotel and avoid carrying your entire wardrobe with you when you travel. Make sure that you as well as the hotel has a clear understanding of the difference between dry cleaning and washing of clothing items.


4. Try to use the minimum number of bags as possible.


5. Golden rule is that: if you do not need an item during the journey / flight, then it goes in with the check in luggage. One of the benefits of the post 9/11 world is that the airline industries ability to track and link you baggage to you has improved tremendously. So you do not have to carry any back up clothes in your hand luggage just in case your luggage gets lost.


6. If you do not have any check in luggage then you need to ask the question do I really need to carry the item or can I buy it at my destination and use it. Remember most consumables (Soap, Shampoo, Mouth wash etc) are similarly priced everywhere and most hotel now provide them in the room). It’s worth trying a new brand of an item to reduce the weight and hassle of taking them in 50 ML clear bottles etc.


7. Have a good idea of your baggage allowance. Especially if you fly economy class; it may change from airline to airline. The rule of thumb is that if it is difficult for you to carry your check in baggage (Standard international size) it is probably over weight. An average person can easily handle 20Kg. Use this principle when standing in check in queues. Avoid standing in queues with people who have difficulty in handling their luggage. They will take longer to check in as they will have to pay for excess luggage or repack them.


Loyalty Cards


1. Try to get as many loyalty cards as you can. Before you embark on your journey have the relevant loyalty cards sorted out and keep them with your travel documents and put the rest in you carry on luggage. You never know when they may become handy.


2. In my opinion the top benefits of loyalty cards are:


a. Priority check in – the shorter the queue you need to stand in the less stressful it is to you.


b. Excess baggage allowance – you never know when you might need it, especially if you travel with your wife / partner who will shop while you are attending to business.


c. VIP services for priority emigration and customs clearance.


d. Access to a lounge with free broadband internet connection


I recommend you go for loyalty cards that provide at least one of these benefits and not bother with ones that just offer air miles for ticket discounts and free food.


Hotels


1. Where ever possible I recommend you insist on staying in an establishment with at least a 3 star classification. This should provide good enough comfort & facilities for a business traveler. However I have come across many hotels which are classified as 3 stars but are more like cattle sheds. If clients and budgets permit always stay at the highest class hotel in your destination.


2. The main facilities you should be looking for when selecting a hotel are:


a. Airport pick up and drop


b. Free broadband internet access


c. Complementary pressing of one set of clothes per day (shirt / blouse, trouser / skirt & Jacket) + shoe shine.


d. Free copy of the local English newspaper – This is a helpful tool to get a feel of the local environment, best places to dine and entertainment information and of course to get an insight in to what’s happening around you.


3. Always stay as close as possible to your customers / clients. This will reduce local travel time and getting stuck in local traffic, which you may not know about or will not be able to find out before arriving at your destination. Best is to stay within walking distance. By this you can avoid the need to haggle with taxi drivers every morning and evening if meter taxis are not available.


4. I recommend you stay on B & B basis; this gives you a lot of flexibility to move around the city and meet the locals during meal times. This will also help you get a feel of the general business environment, mood of the people as well as get exposed to the local culture.


Flights


1. Always use major airlines where possible. The trend now is to go for budget airlines. I too subscribe to this philosophy but with a few considerations. They are:


a. Safety – As with all one needs to be comfortable with the safety systems of the airline. Some budget airlines operate state of the art new aircraft, while others operate others which do not have a good safety record. So each of us need to make this choice for ourselves.


b. Reliability - Other than Europe and North America budget airlines are not regulated in a way they are liable for delays and cancellations. Unless you have a very good insurance policy you may run the risk of having to incur the cost of delayed and cancelled flights, additional hotel and transfer costs. Budget airlines will cancel / delay / amalgamate passenger manifests for flights if they do not have the desired number of passengers for a flight to minimize losses.


Major airlines will operate scheduled flights, and if for any reason they do cancel a flight they will look after the passengers better and try to route you to your destination with the minimum hassle.


2. Try not to use domestic airlines. As much as possible try to get to and from your destination via an international flight. Changing to domestic airlines may be cheaper but you need to consider the following:


a. How much time do you loose and is it worth. Most domestic flights operate at much lower altitudes and will fly at a lower speed. International flights will fly higher and faster and can provide you with considerable time savings.


b. You may have to go through immigration in one airport and through customs in another airport. This may actually take a longer time.


c. You will increase you total transit time (Time spent not flying) and for a business person time is money.


d. You may need to move your luggage over long distances between domestic and international terminals.


e. You may need to pay again for excess baggage


f. Domestic airlines too will cancel / delay / amalgamate passenger manifests for flights if they do not have the desired number of passengers for a flight to minimize losses.


g. Most domestic airlines operate very old aircraft which may have a bad safety record.


Jet Lag


1. Living in the destination time zone – From the time you start your journey try to do things such as taking meals and sleeping according to the destination time zone. This will give your body extra time to adjust to life in the new time zone. Most airlines try to do this using the cabin lights to mimic the time of day. Unfortunately only the modern aircraft have this feature.


2. Drinking fluids. – You must be well hydrated 24 hour before the flight, So refrain from:


a. Heavy exercises that make you loose water through excessive sweating


b. Drinking too much alcohol the day before you travel.


3. Reduce the build up of static electricity on your body and clothes. Once at your choice of accommodation at your destination find a wooden or cement / tile floor. Take off your shoes and socks and walk on the surface for a few minutes. The best solution is walking on grass however this may not be possible at your destination. However this may be an option for you on your return to your home.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Trip to Pakistan - Islamabad December 2011

This is my first trip to Pakistan after 9/11. The last time I was in Pakistan was in 2008, most of the contacts I had made during my last visits have not resulted in any business. However I was able to secure a training assignment which; believe it or not took 2 years to secure. It just goes to show how some clients work. The need for this training was identified over 2 years ago but due to financial and other ground realities they were not able to run the training course in Pakistan.



The travel plans were made and I set off to Pakistan on the 9th of December. The journey started well as I got upgraded to business class and had a pleasant journey to Karachi. I was scheduled to take a domestic flight from Karachi to Islamabad. Things started to go bad when I landed. I made my way to the check in counter to learn that the PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) flight to Islamabad was cancelled. They just did not bother to contact the agents or the passengers to inform them of the cancellation. The PIA ground staff were however polite and quickly arranged me to stay at the Airport Hotel and take the first flight out to Islamabad on the 10th morning. I had to call my client and the hotel in Islamabad to inform them of the changes to my itinerary. Hurrah to mobile roaming!


My perceptions of an Airport Hotel were based on the other airport hotels which I had stayed in (Dubai, Bangkok, Amsterdam); however the Airport Hotel in Karachi is another matter altogether. It is a real dump. I am not running down Pakistan or its people as I have stayed in very good hotels in Karachi and Lahore on my previous visits to Pakistan. This was a real house of horror. The rooms were dirty and smelly, the bathrooms were dirty and the dining hall was something else altogether. The table cloths were full of food stains and looked like they have never been bleached since the day they were made.


The management of this hotel needs major overhauling if it is to be an airport hotel. The staff of the hotel belongs in a farm looking after animals and not in a hotel serving weary travelers. They have no idea of how to handle guest in the hospitality industry.


I left the hotel early morning (on the 10th) and made my way to the airport to catch the flight to Islamabad. Things ran smoothly from then on and reached Islamabad on time. I was met by the Islamabad Hotel (http://www.islamabadhotel.com.pk/ ) representative at the airport and was taken to the car park to embark on the short drive to the Hotel. In the car park I saw this amazing site of a fork lift being used to move cars that had parked violating the parking rules.



I settled in at the hotel and met the client in the evening to prepare for the start of the training. The training on Institutional & Organizational Development will run for 5 days with 25 participants.


The first day of the training went well and the atmosphere in the training room was good and positive the client was very happy at the end of the day and was keen to keep the same momentum during then next 4 days.


The second day of the training also went along as planned and was well received by the participants. After the training I went to the shops (Jinnah Super Market) with one of the participants as my guide. Islamabad boasts of quite a few good shopping areas with some well stocked shops in clothing. The main thing that struck me is that you do not see poverty on every corner. Islamabad seems to have a majority of middleclass to upper class people living in the city. Quite a contrast to Karachi and Lahore where you do see poverty as it is common in other cities of South Asia.


The third day of training went smoothly without incident. After the training I met the managing director of a company which I met last when I was in Lahore in 2008. We were unable to build a working business relationship since we last met (9/11, war in Sri Lanka and the deterioration of the security in Pakistan which led to the Sri Lankan cricket team being attacked). We discussed the opportunities for joint collaboration and agreed to take the business relationship to the next level. Only time will tell is we are able to do this.


The fourth day of the training too went well and we will be going out for dinner with all the participants. We all made our way to Monal Restaurant located about 4000 feet above sea level (http://themonal.com/monal.htm ) at the top of the hill at Margalla Hills National Park for a night time view of the city of Islamabad.


I recommend to all who visit Islamabad to go for dinner at this restaurant, the view and the food was exceptional and so was the service. After dinner we went to Gelato Affair (www.gelatoaffair.com ) at the Gole Market to have dessert. The ice cream selection available was enormous and great tasting.


The last day of training went according to plan and was able to conclude the training program on time as planned. The participants were appreciative of the efforts of the trainer and received excellent feedback through the training evaluation. After the customary goodbyes and promises to keep in touch we concluded assignment.


The trip back to Colombo was on schedule; unlike while arriving at Islamabad the flight back to Karachi was on time and managed to arrive at Karachi without any hassle.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Trip to Bangladesh June 2011. Cont…..

The assignment is now over; managed to progress the milestones without much trouble given that I lost a total of 4 days to strikes. The draft evaluation report was well accepted by the client; now comes the tricky part getting comments on the report. There are basically 2 types of comments that a consultant is likely to get on a report. The first being, comments regarding the structure / formatting and style of the report and some times regarding the language. We have all had different educations and are used to a particular vocabulary; further at some point in our lives we have written a report and we generally stick to that structure while accommodating subject related topics. My rule of thumb is that I give in to these requests as it is just not worth the discussion regarding it. I prefer to use that time for some thing else. The second being, comments regarding the contents such as findings, recommendations etc. Here I generally play hard ball, unless I am presented with an argument backed by facts / proof. This goes to the hart of your position as an independent, unbiased professional consultant. I look forward to these comments as they challenge your thinking and help you to be a better consultant as well. I am supposed to get all the comments by next Friday as the end of the assignment / submission of the final report scheduled after 2 days of receiving all the comments.
During my last week in Dhaka my health deteriorated (food poisoning). My fault for eating some pastries (short eats) offered to me during a meeting. Momentary laps of concentration. . I have been coming to Bangladesh since 2006 and this is the first time this happened to me. My dread was the journey back to Colombo which I made with the aid of Imodium. I know this drug is banned in some countries but it is a life saver when traveling.
I do not have any other assignments lined up at this moment. Now that I am back in Colombo I need to tie up some outstanding issues. These are in fact 3 reports, 1) finalizing the report for the current Bangladesh Assignment, 2) finalize the Strategic Plan for my client in Batticaloa and 3) Submit a reflection I did for myself for the institute of consulting.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Trip to Bangladesh June 2011. Cont…..

The journey to Sayedpur went without a hitch. It was an 8 and a half hour drive and it took us through the country side of Bangladesh. It is all green and looks wet. You can’t get behind the fact that how featureless the geography was it was miles and miles of paddy field in absolutely flat ground. The poverty is also in your face all the time. The good thing was that I saw the people doing what they can to get ahead. The more rural it got the less begging I saw on the streets. The rural folk are a really hardworking lot; you got to come to Bangladesh to see “human power” at work. It was amazing to see it. I stayed the night in Sayedpur and went to visit the partners and other stakeholder in the Dinajpur District and returned to Sayedpur for the night. The pattern was repeated in the next 2 days visiting Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat districts.



On the way I encountered a road sign that I have not come across before; which is a sign for a “local market”. I thought this was brilliant as we all know how the supermarkets can get their branding across with the power of money. Guess the rural folk got the local authorities to go one better, good for them.


As mentioned earlier the geography in the Northern area of Bangladesh was indeed featureless. However the locals in the Lalmonirhat assured me that they can see the Himalayan Mountains on a clear day and told me to look for it at the Teesta River Dam / Bridge. For my bad luck it was cloudy and rained for the best part of the day. Anyway, this is the view from the Teesta River Dam / Bridge in the direction of the Himalayan Mountains.




On my way back to Dhaka I visited the archeological site “Mahasthangarh” an ancient Buddhist city which was later inhabited / colonized by Muslims and Vasu Bihar a Buddhist university during the period.
Mahasthangarh

Vasu Bihar
I also visited the museum and saw what was left over after the customary destruction of all effigies and other objects in the face of islamization that took place. The Buddhist and Hindu statues with the head chopped off or the face chopped off as well as some with tool marks but still intact. It is great to see the Bangladesh archeology department taking an effort to preserve the history of this nation and do it in a professional manner with the little resources they have, for the future generations of Bangladeshi’s. Being a part of good old India in the past, Bangladesh is quite rich in archeology with at least a dozen major archeology sites that can be turned into major tourist destinations. I saw quite a few Hindu landmarks / tombs surviving to this day in the North outside of major archeological sites. However I did not see many Buddhist landmarks except a few Bo-trees which looked really old with some sort of earth / stone / brick arrangement around them. I did not see any churches.

As mentioned in my earlier blogs, one of the strikes that took place was because the current government amended the constitution to reflect Bangladesh as a secular society. The “religio-politicos were not happy about it. Most of my Bangladeshi friends are embarrassed when faced with stories of persecution of Buddhist, Hindus and Christians in Bangladesh. In their mind Bangladesh is and should remain a secular country with religious freedom. The assignment continues and I look forward to the next few days as the data collection period is coming to an end.

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Trip to Bangladesh Cont.....

The assignment is proceeding well, the evaluation questions have been designed and the questionnaire and show cards are prepared and translated in to Bangla. I will be using an “In Depth” interviewing technique. The evaluation itself has 2 aspects to it. Firstly; to looking at the internal mechanisms which either makes them effective or not as the case may be (As an internal service provider) and; secondly, getting conformation from outside the Unit (As an external service provider) to establish if they were effective. The main internal interviews have been conducted and now I have to conduct the external interviews. The external interviews are going to be held in the districts of Dinajpur, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat. I will have to undertake an 8 hour journey over road to get to Sayedpur where I will be based. Hope to get back to Dhaka on the 15th.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Trip to Bangladesh June 2011

The assignment in Bangladesh is to evaluate the performance of a department within an organization. The interesting aspect is that the objective / mission of the department is, Organization Development of its other departments as well as partners of the organization. It’s going to be an interesting assignment. This will be a long assignment where I will be staying for 4 weeks in Bangladesh and travel to the north of the country.
The journey here was uneventful and arrived at my hotel tired but happy to be here. I am staying at the Asia Pacific Blossom Hotel; http://www.blossomhotel.net/ this will be my second stay at this hotel. I stayed at this hotel in 2006 during my first assignment in Bangladesh.
The assignment itself got off to a tuff start as the day of the launch of the assignment was a “Strike Day” in Bangladesh and apparently there are more strike days planned in the coming weeks. I am no stranger to Strikes / Harthal in Bangladesh and was in the thick of them when I was here on assignments in 2006 and 2008. At least this time it’s in support of oil and gas committee on the ConocoPhillips deal. The once planed during the week is for political issues; these tend to get violent and can be dangerous.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Trip to Batticaloa cont….

My trip to Batticaloa was one year in the making. In March and April of 2010 I was requested to do an Organization Capacity Assessment of a project which ran across 4 districts and to come up with scenarios for independent / sustainable operation. The Scenario that was selected was to restructure the project in to a single operating office in Batticaloa and to have a satellite operation in Trincomalee. It took nearly one year for the project to be restructured and to get a not for profit limited company registered. This is a rare occasion when the funders of the project seeing that the need is still there and that the services delivered through the project are still relevant wanting to develop a sustainable organization to continue to serve the public / target group. My experience in the past has been that most funders / donors say that they want sustainability but don’t put enough money and effort. “Hats off” to the funders of this project; they seem to have got it right.

This trip was to develop a 3 year Strategic Plan for the newly formed not for profit limited company. On my way to Batticaloa I took the routr through Habarana as the A 5 and the A 26 was under repair. On the way I encountered a wild elephant on the main road at around . (See my earlier post for a photo of the Elephant) It is rare to see the elephants on the road during the day. However during the night I have come across them more frequently.

The assignment went as planned and now I have to develop the documentation (Strategic Plan and the Process Document). On my way back I took the A 5 and the A26. The authorities are developing these roads really well. These roads will be fantastic to drive on once completed. It is a scenic route.

The view from the A 26 Road