Sunday, June 28, 2015

Life of a Road Warrior

Working in an international-facing role at a Korean company for the last 3 years has not only forced me into a lot of late night and early morning conference calls, but also has put me on the road a fair bit. I also have had a long-distance relationship with a lady in Vietnam for over a year — Skype cannot fully bridge the gap between us. And, living as an expat in Asia means I am tempted by the many travel opportunities.
The pride of Incheon Airport — Korean Air

This entry will not reveal anything unusual for someone with a career in consulting or sales, but for me moving to Samsung in 2012 has kicked my life into travel overdrive. Every expat I know here has developed his own system for coping with the physical torment of overseas travel. This is my story.

Unlike for consultants, Samsung flies its employees below director level in economy class on all international travel (except for Brazil, which requires 23 hours flying time and is about as far away from Korea as you can get). Thankfully, we are usually (although not always) flying one of the two Korean carriers (Asiana or Korean Air) which offer more leg room and better service than most airlines (especially United and American … yuck!). Yet, flying 13 hours to reach New York or 11 hours to reach London is still quite a chore. There is only so much you can do when your seat bends just 10 degrees and you are trying to catch some sleep.

My glasses go on before a long flight
On top of that, I have walked off the airplane at JFK Airport in New York and traveled straight to a meeting — my counterpart looked at me like I was a zombie about to collapse. Alternatively, on my last business trip to the UK the Samsung Korean dispatchers insisted on taking us out for Korean food and drinking the night we landed at London Heathrow. My body did not know where it was and the soju shots compounded my narcolepsy.

Trying to mix business and personal travel can prove even more problematic. In late March, I flew from Germany to South Korea, leaving Saturday evening and arriving Sunday afternoon. Then, straight back to the office on Monday, jet-lagged and having lost much of my weekend to transit. I already had a trip planned to Singapore with my girlfriend departing Wednesday night — I unpacked, re-packed, ran out of the Samsung office in Suwon at 4:30pm to get to Incheon Airport (10 minute taxi ride + 70 minutes by bus from Suwon). Needless to say I was exhausted when I finally saw my girlfriend at 1:30am in Singapore’s Changi Airport. I enjoyed 4 days with her, then back to Seoul on a Monday morning red-eye. One can only push his body like this when he is young.

Everyone has their own coping tactics and I am no exception. For long intercontinental flights, I prefer the aisle seat on the inside of the plane — I like having the flexibility to walk around whenever I want, and by sitting inside you are less likely to have someone next to you. However, on red-eye flights from Southeast Asia I want the window — please don’t bother me! I put on my eye mask and headphones in my ears to block out the noise … if I do this right I maybe get a 4-hour nap before landing at Incheon Airport. Then, I head to the airport sauna — yes, Incheon Airport has a sauna in the basement! — take a shower and head straight to the bus for Suwon. I can usually take another 1-hour nap before arriving in Suwon, catch a taxi and plow through a workday… with plenty of coffee, of course.

For jet lag ... well, I still have not unlocked the secret to beating that. A couple things I try ... no napping when I arrive at my destination — this usually allows me to sleep well, at least the first night. I have tried taking a sleeping pill in the airplane but did not like it, it did not settle well in my stomach and actually prevented me from sleeping effectively on the plane. Some expats here swear by Ambien on the airplane, but that has some scary side-effects (Google it). I usually carry melatonin and feel safe taking that for a couple days after landing.

I curse United, but the Tokyo Narita to Washington Dulles flight is not bad

Traveling in Asia is certainly easier than in the USA — better airports, better airlines, fewer nerve-wracking flight delays and connecting flights, fewer strict cabin baggage policies, less crowded planes, and looser security policies. Nevertheless, I still yearn for the day when I can fly business class, or at least figure out the frequent-flyer game enough to get upgraded once in awhile :)

1 comment:

  1. Good write up dude. I enjoyed reading your life in this fast lanes of your career.
    Work smart in Asia, don't work too hard like them and you will rise to sit the business class soon.
    Your post reminds me of my late uncle's words that often echoed about his years being the pilot for SIA, jetting from country to country across the globe with little rests but added stress. Unfortunately he died young, of a heart attack on his off day.