Saudi Arabia

Yes, you can travel to Saudi Arabia (most people) and yes it is safe. It was a delight to have an opportunity to visit a country that has changed enormously the past 2 decades and see it first hand.

I had an amazing opportunity to speak at BlackHat MEA and it was an amazing experience. I do want to call out the overall conference organizations, staff and logistics which made the experience rewarding for all stakeholders.

Riyadh is becoming a major economic hub for the whole region,

…and BlackHat MEA had in excess of 10,000 people per day attending.

A LOT has changed in this country and I must honestly say and evangelize that the reality is much different than the perceptions many have of the country and in media.

There is the normal cautionary and nervous anxiety when you arrive, but within minutes, you realize it is a modern country and operates much more familiar than many would expect. Riyadh is a modern and clean city and its architecture, design and style stand out the moment you exit the airport.

I was fortunate and was able to use the local conference “shuttle cars” but you can get around anywhere using Uber just like every other modern city.

The hotels have everything you need and are comfortable for everyone.

The only restrictions are spas, gyms, fitness centers, pools, prayer rooms, etc. are segmented by gender. and many people may ask, what about attire? In general, everyone is free to choose and although most locals and visitors tend to be conservative, there are no strict barriers.

If you have a favorite fast food (Western) restaurant, they are ALL here in Riyadh. Everything. Believe it or not, there is even a Chuckie Cheese pizza joint next to the Hilton Residences.

Myself, I wanted to explore and try out some of the local cuisine and restaurants.

One great restaurant (although a little pricey) is the Sulhail Restaurant. The interior design, the staff and all the local food delicacies around Saudi Arabia were AMAZING. Highly recommended.

Another great restaurant was the Library Club. I did not take any pictures, but the food and atmosphere were amazing. You do need to be ready that many residents in the country are smokers and the water pipes are used and popular in many restaurants.

Note: nobody eats out before 8:30 PM, so expect much later meals, dining and overall events. Most things start much later in the day, and many will not return home or return to the hotel before 11 PM.

The traffic is pretty bad in Riyadh, but not as bad as many other emerging countries. The mitigation is you get to see some amazing buildings, architectures and designs. I am not sure I saw a single piece of trash or debris laying out in the city which is very different than many other middle eastern countries.

Some great artwork, murals and “graffiti” was always intriguing to see. There is now growing interest, demand, and venues where music, concerts, etc. are all now occurring in Saudi Arabia which did not exist 5 years ago.

Running

For those of you who know me, of course I went running! You can wear shorts and normal running clothes. No restrictions for men, but woman also run, but do need to wear more conservative running clothes. It is not too hot early in the mornings and is very delightful to explore parts of the city when there are almost no cars at 6AM 🙂

Another country checked off my list and proud to add to my continually growing collection! Some of my other favorite running spots:

Visas

Yes, most people will need a visa. Check out iVisa which is my choice when planning and booking my business and personal travel with my family!

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Emirates Airline Review

I had an opportunity recently to fly Emirates Airlines recently in business class and I thought it would a perfect time to conduct a review for all my fellow travelers.

The first surprise, and I am not sure many people know this, but Emirates offers (free) complimentary
chauffeur” service for business class customers. You just register and they assign a service to pick you up for your flight 3 hours in advance of your flight.

Nice pickup in a new Lincoln Navigator through the global Blacklane service which I like historically.

The Seattle Lounge

Does the Emirates have a lounge in Seattle? Well, not a dedicated one. They use the “The Club”.

It basically a stripped down and limited service lounge that used to be former Delta S-Gate lounge, Nothing to get excited about, but at the same time, it is spacious, not crowded and not noisy.

Oh yes, Qatar and Emirates also have a first class lounge as well with premium seating! What a major upgrade!

Boarding

Like most large airplanes, it is a little chaotic and massive crowds, but they had good lines for the various boarding classes that made it easy to get onboard quickly.

Seating

The seats were very modern and spaced far apart for some privacy

The electronic video and audio were impressive. They even had tablet devices on the side of the seat to control the entertainment without having to stretch forward to touch the screen.

The amenities kit was HUGE. I am not sure the next connection security will let me take all this through.

The Flight

You have to love the modern 777. Very quiet, stable, fast and so reliable you can fly over the North Pole. I have to admit I was a little nervous as we flew over both Russia and Iran…I never thought in my career, I would fly over Iran.

(sorry the picture of the screen showing the airplane camera was not that clear)

Food

Of course, they served a glass of champagne when you board, and it was a delicious Veuve Cliquot, but was actually even more pleasant was the amenities all in place as part of your seat.

The menu was delicious. How to choose?

The food was delicious, but I must admit the service is a little slower than most US based carriers based on my historical experience. After almost 2 hours, and not loading up in the lounge with snacks, I must admit, I was a little hungry.

The entrée was a hard choice, but I chose…

The lamb. It was small, but it was so tender, it was one of the best I have had in years in any country or restaurant.

Dubai Lounge

The Emirates lounge in Dubai is massive. It is like an entire wing of the airport. In fact, I think it is the entire second floor of the B gates in Terminal 3.

Check out all the food choices and areas you can park based on your needs.

They have special, isolated “sleep” areas for people who have long layovers and need to take a nap. I should maybe try one of these since I have a 6 hour layover at night…

But I liked the private lounge suites better. Spacious, quiet and away from other people.

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Simple Tips Before International Travel

I thought I would jot down a few tips for both business and vacation travelers that are starting to explore and travel again since the COVID waves and infection rates seem to be calming down right now.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Tip #1: Plan and understand your destination requirements.

Every country is different and do your research well in advance. The Internet is your friend.

They all have different entry requirements and paperwork, see below!

Tip #2: Get your Passport and VISA ready

Many countries do require Visas and sometimes that can take time and process. I personally use and recommend iVisa is which is a great choice in workie through your needs in this area.

Tip #3: Understand their COVID vaccine and testing requirements

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

I know some people do not like this, but countries do have different documentation and attestation requirements for vaccine, PCR testing, quarantine, etc. based on your length of stay, citizenship, etc.

Tip #4: Power Adapters

Here is an easy one to forget about when traveling internationally again: will you need power adapters?

Not all countries are the same and it is important to have the right adapter/sockets for your electronics, chargers, etc. before you travel. Although many airport stores have these, they are often very expensive.

Tip #5: Luggage Trackers

Photo by Edgar Okiog

I have discussed this topic before earlier this year: have good luggage tracker(s). Yes, the airports and airlines are getting a little better about managing all the luggage, but if you are risk averse and want to chance checking luggage through multiple connections, I recommend considering luggage trackers to monitor the state of your luggage closely.

Tip #6: Always pack a change of clothes in carry-on

If check luggage, it is a best practice to have at least one day of clothes refresh in carry on. There can be delays and cancelations in many flights and logistics and let’s not forget about lost luggage! Even if you have a delay or lost luggage, you can much easily survive if you have a 1-day refresh in your carry-on.

Tip #7: Medicine and basic toiletries in carry-on

Similar to number #6 above, make sure you have your medication and basic toothbrush, travel deodorant, toothpaste, etc. in carry so you can be ready if there is lost luggage, delays, etc. You can survive almost all scenarios when you have these items ready in your carry-on.

Tip #8: Use services/apps like International SOS

I think International SoS can provide the best information on every country and contacts for when emergencies occur and you may need help.

Tip #9: Register your trip with your embassy

As we have seen in the news, many situations and weather can change quickly and unexpectedly around the world. It is very helpful with a disaster or dangerous event occurs for your embassy to know where you are and how to contact you. In the United States, it is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Tip #10: Pack your passport early!

The final obvious, but very important tip, is to pack your password, paperwork, identity cards, and even your ATM/credit cards early in your carry-on so you know that will NOT be forgotten or last minute!

I some people find this valuable reminders and best practices as we start to travel internationally again. I will have some new reviews and sites to share soon!

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Exploring Arizona

We decided to take a long weekend and explore some parts of Arizona that we never visited before.

Everyone is raving about Scottsdale are (near Phoenix), so we decided to check out the Royal Palms resort that is at the base of the Camelback mountain.

It is a great place to to run, walk and hike. It is very safe and conveniently located to many restaurants and shopping.

The Royal Palms is built from a very old Spanish home/mansion which is turned into a hotel. It is settled amongst all the mansions and (I call them) castle that are nestled in the slopes. They look like they at 10,000 – 20,000 square foot homes selling for $3M.

We had a lot of exploring the area…and I must say that it is the largest collection of expensive stores and restaurants I have seen in any city, The lady at Nordstrom said that the Scottsdale Mall Nordstrom is the busiest and largest in the United States,

We also went south to check out some of the National Parks.

One fun and easily accessible was Picacho Peak.

It is full of flora and fauna. The crows are HUGE here.

It is very hot and you need to pack lots of sun screen and water in addition to wearing good clothing to avoid all the scratchy cacti and bushes.

It is not crowded, but I do recommend good hiking shoes as it is very rocky, somewhat technical (even though it looks easy) and some people may choose to buy gloves at the the small Ranger store at the entrance.

and…after a hot hike, what is the favorite rest stop for most locals? Eeeges! Everyone recommends the icees/shaved ice drinks to cool down 🙂

In case you missed it, here is the major site we visited on this trip which is unique to Arizona at the world actually!

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Titan II Missile Silo

Did you know that there is a (real) former Cold War ICBM missile silo that you can actually tour with all its original equipment and missile? Probably the only one in the world?

It is in a formerly Air Force restricted area near Tuscon Arizona.

You have to drive through some dust storms to reach eat, but it is quite an amazing and in depth tour of the entire nuclear command experience.

After reading the Titan II book, you want to visit this national landmark site in person. And as a Cold War veteran myself, it is nice to see some of these places memorialized.

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New York City in the Fall

It has been almost 4 1/2 years since I last visited NYC in the blizzard winter and it is hard to believe how much time has passed since the COVID pandemic disrupted everyone’s travel timelines. Let’s talk about the latest experience!

In the Seattle airport, maybe only 1% of the people wear masks any more which is disappointing. We will see if that changes when the next wave hits us.

The number of people on the subway wearing masks in NYC was maybe 5 percent. I could not determine on any statistics based on demographics on who was masked versus not.

On the airplane, maybe 10-15% of the passengers wore masks which was comforting (slightly).

I do admit it was nice to get a warm meal again on the flight and not just “snacks”. The improved seating was much more comfortable and less confining that previous configurations.

The traffic is just as brutal as before and it takes a full hour to get from JFK airport to Manhattan even at 9 o’clock at night. Times Square never sleeps.

As mentioned above, it has been a long time since I have been to NYC and I must admit the vibe and vitality stand out. It was cool to see how the hotel welcomed me back with a gift and a card as soon as I arrived, I must admit this is how programs like the Marriott Bonvoy frequent traveler program build long term loyalty…

It has been many years, but Times Square is still the shopping Mecca for tourists

Even many people come to NYC to visit this one specific store.

The Swatch store has a rare watch that many people are looking for around the world. As a watch aficionado which I have posted in the past, I could not resist!

I have to admit, one of the challenges in NYC is choosing where to get various meals. There are so many choices – maybe even a dozen different choices on the same block/street!

I even got a chance to check out the University Club and have a cocktail in this great historical and relaxing venue. Seems very similar to the Rainer Club in Seattle.

Tip: NYC Dunkin Donuts has the best coffee, not Starbucks!

Of course I went running (as always) since Central Park has the best running club(s)!

I just recommend you leave your hotel around 6:00 AM so you do not have to deal with traffic slights, traffic, and people filling up the sidewalks.

I have done this route before, but it always has great scenery and sports atmosphere in the mornings.

It is hard sometimes to not stop and take some photos with your Windows 8 phone that you also use for music and picture taking on your runs.

For some reason, there were a lot of police and people talking pictures on this side of the park, but I am not sure why…

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The Fall Jabs (Shots)

The Bi-Variant COVID Booster

The Fall 2022 Influenza (Flu) vaccines

Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

OK – what in the world am I talking about?

I am sharing my experience with the new bi-variant boosters that have been recently approved by the FDC and CDC for people 12+ years old. Some people call them bivalent. It is like “potato potatoe” – they are all the same thing.

Photo by Artem Podrez

and I just received my fifth shot/booster! To mix things up, I received the Pfizer booster for the first time, when the first 4 were based on Moderna, For some reason, the Moderna bivalent was very popular in the Seattle area, so I had to try our Pfizer. In any case, I thought I would be a great test case and share my experience with the community in what it is like to mix the different manufacturers.

All the research and reports indicate that is safe to mix and match. Let’s roll!

Why Now?

Very simply, for the same reasons I cited in my previous booster posting and 4th jab discussion. I am an international travel for business and personal and one of the last things I want to encounter is a restriction that may be imposed or required that requires a recent booster shot. I do not like being surprised, I like being prepared and proactive.

The reality is everyone – we are going to need these once to twice a year like the Flu shot for the rest of our lives. Yep, I am getting a little older and I do not want to be one of those “unusual” cases where people are healthy and then get infected from being in the wrong place at the wrong time with super spreaders and then dying as a result. I already died twice, not ready for the 3rd one due to COVID!

And NOPE, I am not drinking that fake Kool-Aid that the vaccine is killing more people and causing more harm than good.

Bivalent Side Effects

Now, let talk about the side effects as I know this is what most people fear and hinders them from getting the boosters.

Here is what I felt for the 5th shot and first Pfizer booster – they were a slightly reduced from my second booster and original Moderna shots which I shared online.

  • After 6 hours, I felt almost no soreness in the arm or tenderness from the shot location. Positive!
  • After 8 hours, maybe a hint of a headache. Very slight, maybe a 1 Tylenol headache.
    • After about 12 hours, I started to feel slightly fatigued. But was also a Friday night and the end of a long work week.
  • Overnight, my arm finally got a little sore. Not as bad as previous shots, maybe 50-60% of the previous intensity. It was a little annoying when sleeping, but not too bad
  • In the morning, only slight fatigue, not bad at all
  • This morning, I felt slightly achy, but not bad at all.
  • The arm felt a little tender, but no major restrictions or limits of movement. Nothing that two ibuprofen cannot take of

Similar to last shots, I did a nice workout (10K run) and that seemed to ward off all the side effects and minor fatigue. Highly recommeded!

End result: feel great and back to normal!

Summary: The bivalent booster seems to be a great choice to stay up to date and the side effects seem to be less after each shot.

Update: I received my fall 2022 influenza vaccine two weeks later.

Symptoms? Mild soreness in the arm, some fatigue/exhaustion at the end of the day. Minor nausea in the morning.

Solution? Go for a long run like I do for the COVID vaccines and the vaccine hangover is cured 🙂

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Advice for Traveling Entrepreneurs on Staying Healthy

There’s no getting around it. Ambitious businesspersons must eventually leave the comfort of their offices. Doing so is necessary to meet partners face-to-face and conduct on-site investigations. Staying healthy is always a challenge, yet it remains even tougher when on the go. The following tips can help anyone stay in top condition while conducting business activities away from headquarters.

Image via Pexels

Eating Well

According to travel experts, 52% of travelers dine out ten or more times per week. Restaurants like to give customers oversized portions. Their recipes focus on taste rather than dietary excellence. Simple choices mitigate this obstacle. Avoid deep-fried goodies, opting instead for salads. Order appetizers instead of entrees, which are easier on both waistlines and wallets. For dessert, grab a fruit-centric treat. Many hotels offer kitchenettes. If you have time for cooking, this path allows maximum control over ingredients and calories.

Staying Hydrated

Drinking water is vital to maintaining good health. Hydration regulates body temperature, staves off infections, and allows organs to function. Carrying a thermos is the most basic hydration strategy. There are other tactics for absorbing enough fluids. One is starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk. Another is taking an oral hydration solution. These supplements are great for eliminating hangovers and speeding up exercise recovery.

Keeping Active

Getting in workouts away from home can be tricky. That said, it’s always possible. Before booking accommodations, find out if there’s a gym. If no formal exercise space is available, there are other methods of getting the blood pumping. Walk to meetings instead of taking cabs. Choose stairs instead of elevators. Many aerobic routines require zero equipment. Design an on-the-road workout plan before leaving home for efficiency’s sake.

Being Safe

Jogging in unfamiliar areas puts you at greater risk of assault. Avoid running alone, especially at night.

It’s similarly wise to have a partner when prowling the streets, even during the daytime. Limit the amount of cash you carry to only what you need. Navigate discretely, and make efforts to blend in with crowds.

Safety in hotel rooms is a further consideration. When checking in, request the second level or higher, as ground floors are more often the targets of thieves. Secure the deadbolt at night. Before leaving each morning, keep your luggage locked and tucked away. Review escape passages in case there’s a fire.

Bringing Companions

Having a piece of home with oneself enhances mental well-being. A photo or memento may deliver necessary peace of mind. Taking a dog along tends to be a more powerful comfort. The benefits of animal companionship are well-documented. Plus, needing to take your four-legged friend for walks forces you into moving. This scenario is perfect for freelancers and solopreneurs.

Journeys with tail-waggers require forethought. The right animal travel products are essential to keeping fur babies happy. Shop for portable bowls, a doggy travel first aid kit, and calming treats. Before buying anything, it’s best to read online product reviews. Choose unbiased sources for superior information.

Seeking Wisdom

These are only a few suggestions on how businesspersons can be health-conscious while on the road. Some businesspeople, such as David Cross, regularly share their travel experiences in blogs. Read his stories along with those of other entrepreneurs. These tales are bound to provide valuable insights.

Staying healthy and safe while being a traveler is a common struggle. That said, remaining in shape is easier with the right approach.

Image via Pexels

Catherine Workman always wanted to see the world. As soon as she was old enough to travel on her own, she began taking trips to new destinations, far and wide. She created Wellness Voyager with some of her travel mates as a place to chronicle her adventures and inspire others to leave their comfort zones and embrace all the world has to offer.

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Hood Canal Washington

We decided to to explore one more area of Washington State that we have not visited yet over the past 30 years…

and decided to check out the Hood Canal area. We stayed in the Hoodsport area.

At first glance, on Google Maps, it looks like it will be a easy 90 minute drive from the Seattle area, but with the summer travel season, post pandemic, it took almost 4.5 hours to drive to an AirBNB rental.

I have to admit the cabin options are incredible and are fantastic escapes from the crazy high tech/fast paced culture of the Seattle area. The cabins along the water are so relaxing and comfortable at fair rental prices.

It is a very rural and simple area, so many big city folk may need to change their expectations a little…overall it is a friendly town with no stop lights. The local restaurants are limited, but you can get a good pint and some pub grub at the local sports bar to watch the Seahawks the same as the big cities 🙂

But you must be patient during peak times as small restaurants may only have 1 cook and 1 server, and when waves of people come in from out of town and are renting places with a demand to eat out only…it take 1+ hours to get service in some cases. The town culture is different than you would see in the Seattle area…

One of the highlights of the area is to go exploring with kayaks around the area.

One fascinating historical site near our cabin is an old float plane dock and shelter.

The local stories say that back in the 1930s, this was one of the favorite stops that Charlie Chaplin flew in and out of when he was visiting the area on vacation/holiday.

Another popular activity and food choice is Oysters! You can find them easily when the tide is low and they are plentiful and large.

Here is one cool one where three oysters are bonded together from all the barnacles. If you were harvesting them and cooking them cup side down, not sure you would be successful in getting this one to be easily grilled on the BBQ…

All the locals go out and check their crab traps at night too. The boys made some friends playing who could grab each other (claws) and not get snapped. Believe it or not, this picture was taken in the dark and using the Pixel NightSight mode, it almost appears like daylight. You can see the landscaping lights in the background which are on.

The best place to east the Oysters is Hama Hama Saloon which is so popular on the weekends you MUST make reservations to eat the famous roasted oysters and climb on the mountains of shells that are piled after the constant harvesting of oysters from this massive farm.

The risk is not the local draft beers, but the local root beer. The bees crave it so much, they will swarm you and take it over in minutes.

If interested, here are some other of the great explorations we have checked out in WA state over the past two years of travel lockdown and restrictions:

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Luggage Trackers Review

Sharing some first hand experiences on some luggage tracking devices that I tried out.

Photo by Edgar Okiog

I have been travelling a lot lately and the airport chaos has been quite dramatic across the world, so I spent a little time and money testing out various luggage tracking devices.

There are some great blogs on this topic around the industry, but here is my experience and assessment of several tracker options over the past 3 trips!

Trackdot

Trackdot was cutting edge when it first came out. It was ahead of its time.

I had this one in the past, but since it was based on 2G, it has been pretty much been discontinued and useless going forward. Do not use.

Tracki

Tracki was an interesting experiment. After only relying upon the airline tracking app and limited information, I wanted to see if there was any alternatives to AirTags or a replacement for Trackdot.

It is a battery powered GPS tracker and here are the advantages and disadvantages based on my usage on two trips:

Advantages

  • It does have have GPS signal tracking
  • It can help you determine where a bag may be sitting if it is outside
  • It is most helpful in determining if you bag is in an airport or not
  • When my flight was cancelled, I had confidence that my back was still in the airport and I was able to show an airline luggage employee that they were all out on the tarmac and needed to be brought to the arrivals areas

Negatives

  • It requires a monthly subscription which can be expensive
  • It has a hard time getting a signal indoors, inside luggage carriers, inside the airport
  • It may not update itself for long periods of time
  • The mobile is not very usable and very confusing
  • It takes a long time to get an update when they can find a signal

Summary: It is primary used for external vehicles, devices, etc. so you can track where they are moving (i.e. cars, bikes, etc.) It is helpful to determine if a bag was left behind, but the reliability of signal tracking is so low, it is not worth the cost for using for luggage.

Tiles

Tiles were another experiment that I wanted to try after my first experiment with Tracki.

I do not have an iPhone, so I wanted to compare and see what alternatives may exist for the Android community. Here is what I found after one international trip and one domestic connection.

Advantages

  • Very easy to determine if your bag is close to you
  • We found that we can detect if the bag is near or in the plane
  • You can detect when the bag has arrived in the conveyer at the airport
  • Very easy to use
  • Very low cost

Negatives

  • It is only useful when the bags are close and within Bluetooth range
  • It cannot be used to determine where a bag may be elsewhere in the airport
  • It does not have precise locations, only general vicinity detection

Summary: When travelling, it is handy to know your bags are nearby, on the bus, arriving in luggage., etc. but they are not true trackers and have limited usage.

Apple AirTags

The AirTags are probably the best of the bunch, but they have some limitations too.

Advantages

  • They provide a combination experience of Tracki and Tiles
  • They have the best visual application experience on the phone
  • They can provide quick confidence the exact location of your bag when in populated areas

Negatives

  • If nobody with an iPhone is around your luggage, there is no data
  • They do not provide locations when they are enclosed in spaces where are no people around

Summary: When you want confidence if someone other than yourself has your luggage, this is probably the best solution. Or if someone might have stolen or grabbed the wrong bag. However, if a bag is lost and not being stored near people with iPhones, the tracking will not provide any help in locating the bag.

Conclusion

In general, BlueTooth trackers are great in the airport and finding a piece of luggage when there are masses collected together or bags coming out on the conveyer belt in large crowds. However, I have not found a broadly available and holistic solution outside of these so far.

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