Restaurant Doctor Hospitality Resources

Why We Travel

Perhaps it's just a stress reaction to economic difficulties, but recently a couple of subscribers told me they were irritated to see that I was traveling somewhere in the world while they were struggling to keep their businesses afloat. I don't think these folks thought their lot would have somehow magically improved if I'd chosen not to make that particular trip, but human nature is what it is.

In case you might also feel a bit put off when you see the extent of our travels, perhaps even thinking I must have been raking in massive amounts of money to travel [I wish!] to travel so far and so often, here's the back story I hope will put a few things into perspective. Am I being defensive? Perhaps a bit, but just think of it as another exercise in learning to know less and listen more.

Many people spend [a lot of] money on their children -- from doctors, clothing and school supplies to cars and college tuition -- and think nothing of it. Household pets are an expensive proposition. Perhaps you have a boat ... or a hobby that eats up your spare time and cash ... or perhaps every available resource goes into your place of business. We all have different activities that bring pleasure and cost money ... and we each get to choose what they are.

Margene and I had no kids or critters to support so we chose to spend our money [significantly less than college tuition, by the way] to see more of the world while we still had our health and strength. Now that we've retired to Europe, the sites are even more accessible [except during the pandemic!]

Of course, we realize there are many beautiful areas of the US we may never get to see (although a two-week driving trip across the USA would be more expensive -- and probably more of a hassle -- than flying to Italy for two weeks) ... but yes, whatever the destination, we do love to travel.

To make this possible, I intentionally created a business I could operate, at least for brief periods, from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. We also learned how to spend three weeks overseas for far less than you spend to take the kids to Disney World for a week. Really!

Back in the day, my speaking and consulting work involved a lot of travel. Many admitted they wouldn't want to be jumping on and off airplanes as often as I did ... and every year I was less excited by it myself. But frequent flyer miles are the consolation prize. Thanks to frequent flyer miles, we rarely spent a dime on airfare, aside from the mandatory fees and taxes.

These "free" miles come at a real cost -- both physical and financial -- but I accumulated a bunch of them ... and we used them. As the airlines continued to make it more difficult to get award tickets, we planned ahead, snagging hard-to-get seats as soon as they are released, usually a year in advance ... and before they raised the award requirements yet again.

Occasionally we'd run across an airfare so low it didn't even make sense to use miles. These deals often popped up during off-peak times, but with no kids in school, no animals to board, a wife who didn't work and a mobile business model, I had a lot more latitude than most people.

So, for example, when a two-day British Airways sale offered a $200 economy class roundtrip from Seattle to London a few years back, we grabbed it ... because we could. When we found a deal where we could fly from Seattle to somewhere in Europe for less than the airfare to visit my sister in New England, it was certainly tempting, particularly when it also put more miles in the frequent flyer account at the same time!

To our way of thinking, travel is not typically about traditional sightseeing (although to be in India and not see the Taj Mahal would have been unthinkable!) As someone in New Zealand once pointed out, we are travelers, not tourists. For us, the highlight of any trip is always in meeting the people, stumbling upon something totally unexpected and generally getting a feel for what daily life is like in another culture.

This meant experiencing the controlled chaos of the rail system in India, driving on the "wrong" side of the road (while shifting gears with the left hand) in Ireland, puzzling over a transvestite fashion show in a Chinese crocodile park (true!) and actually carrying on a conversation with someone in Slovenia in the only languages we remotely had in common -- a smattering of German and Italian!

It also meant being invited to dinner with the Marquis in the medieval kitchen of Chateau Brissac in France, riding a camel through the Thar Desert on the Pakistan border, strolling through the magical Christmas lights of Tivoli on a frosty night in Copenhagen and sipping wine with good friends on the terrace of a cliffside villa on Santorini while we watched another perfect sunset in the Greek islands!

Experiences like these won't happen on an organized tour. You won't be able to really explore multiple restaurants to collect ideas or open yourself up to serendipity when a commercial company plans the itinerary. You will move more smoothly through the typical tourist attractions, of course, but you'll be effectively insulated from any extended meaningful contact with the locals or their culture.

A tour may be a more efficient use of time, but you'll never learn much about another country if you just come back with pictures of old buildings. We always rented a car and drove ourselves around (except in China and India where it would have been foolhardy) and figured the real trip always started when we got lost and ran into "sudden surprises" we never expected.

To invite the unexpected, we belonged to a travel club that allowed us to stay with other members all over the world for a few dollars a night ... or we rented a house with a group of friends and become temporary locals for a week or more ... or we just rented a car, hit the road in a foreign land and made it up on the fly.

Traveling this way, we get up close and personal with the country and seldom pay anything close to the price of a hotel room ... sometimes to the chagrin of my bride! If you want to know how to travel comfortably on the cheap, just ask me -- I got it down to an art form!

Professionally, the benefit of international travel was that I notice things in other countries that I didn't notice in my own. Immersing myself in a strange country is humbling -- a reminder that life goes on in many different languages and in many different ways ... and it goes on quite nicely, thank you.

I'm afraid we Americans in general are far too insular in our views, scarcely acknowledging that anything of importance happens outside our borders. I found travel was the key to gaining a more global perspective on what is increasingly a global marketplace.

New experiences can trigger powerful insights. These "aha" moments not only enrich my own life, but lead to valuable tips I then pass along to my subscribers, clients and audience members -- ideas to help make their restaurants stand out from the competition and appeal to their guests in new and refreshing ways.

I like to think an ever-expanding world view is a good part of the reason I've developed and retained a loyal following in the hospitality community. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

Because I can continue to actively run my business while I'm out of the country, because my wife was an officer of the corporation, because we used the trips to discuss business matters and because I studied local restaurants and wrote up daily insights in my trip reports (it took at least two hours a day just to do that), the trips were also fully deductible. Just tell me what the rules are and I'll figure out how to play the game.

The bottom line is that travel probably served a different purpose in our lives than it might in yours. Sometimes I think it would have been nice to be surrounded by the children we never had, but I promise not to feel jealous that you have kids, grandkids, a houseful of pets and a boat on the lake. (Besides, it's always better to have a friend with a boat than to actually own one yourself! Invite me aboard ... I'll bring the beer!)

By the same token, please don't waste a nanosecond feeling ticked off that my priorities differed from yours. When you don't have the kids they let you keep the money ... and you can spend it any way you want! I wouldn't be nearly as effective at what I do if I hadn't traveled.

In life there are lots of right answers. Pick one you like.