After three years of reading your amazing entries in our annual Ultimate Road Warrior contest, we've noticed that while many of you have mastered the ins and outs of extensive travel, you don't seem to make time for respite. So this year's questions were aimed at finding people who are successful at both traveling well and playing well. After sifting through almost 10,000 entries, these five people stood out as Road Warriors who know how to make the best out of life on the road, and (almost) effortlessly balance work and play. Turn the page for a closer look at our winners (pictured here at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort), as well as excerpts from their answers to the question, "What's your funniest, strangest, or most memorable business trip?" Then keep turning the pages to read tips, stories, and more from dozens of our other entrants.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
My job takes me to all parts of the world. It is a great gift. I design and deliver corporate training courses around the world. We use high-element outdoor courses that we design, build, and adapt to challenge our clients.
But there are some moments in one's life, no matter how remarkable or not, that stand still in time. Such a moment happened in Indonesia last year.
My job was to design and build a four-day cultural-change course that would include one day in the rainforest. We located a site high in the mountains south of Surabaya. It was barely accessible up there, and pretty much inaccessible if it rained. We hit the tail end of the monsoon [season]. So there we were, Americans in a Muslim country, in a monsoonal downpour, high in the rainforest.
On the mountain, there was a tent big enough to shelter 80 people for eating purposes. There was also a prayer tent, as it was important to respect the frequent prayer times that Muslims take during the day.
The rain was coming down so hard the drops bounced a foot off the ground when they hit. These conditions seemed to strengthen everyone's resolve, so there was a feeling of relinquishment of power to nature! Far in the distance, among the trees, I could see the brave souls hanging from ropes, climbing and swinging in the air, whooping and hollering with delight and joy.
My good friend and partner stood silently beside me. We were both caught in the moment. The strains of Kenny G wailed into the jungle, and in front of us were the faithful in their prayer robes over their soaked bodies, kneeling and standing in a silent homage to their god, oblivious to Kenny G.
As quickly as it started, the rain stopped and it hushed the crowd. Kenny G was between tracks, and the clatter and chatter stopped. The only sound was the dripping of water from the trees on the tents and the murmuring of the prayers.
My friend and I said nothing and time stood still. We realized that we were witnessing a confluence of events that was by no means earth-shattering, but hugely meaningful. In that hushed moment of 20 seconds, we realized that no matter our creed or belief, no matter our race, wealth, or differences, we are all in this place together. There is no difference between us in our hearts. We make ourselves be different. In that one moment of hushed silence, my friend and I turned to each other simultaneously and grinned from ear to ear. "This is weird," he said. "Very weird," I replied. We turned away together, and at that very moment, the rain fell hard again and life continued as we know it.
President, Mohala, Inc.
2003 AAdvantage Miles: 115,219
The above is just a small portion of Archie's answer to his most memorable business trip, but it perfectly captures his attitude and personality. Originally from London, and a classically trained actor, Archie visited Santa Fe 26 years ago to shoot a commercial. It was there he met his wife, fell in love, and eventually settled in Santa Fe. He and his wife have called that home ever since - a home that's grown to include three mustangs, an Arab/Morgan, five dogs, one cat, and an African spur-thighed tortoise.
Archie's joie de vivre was infectious, and when our group gathered at Hilton's El Conquistador in Tucson, Arizona, to have their pictures taken, he kept us entertained for hours with his humorous, insightful, and touching outlook on the world. Although business travel is inevitable, Archie views it as an opportunity to learn from and help people in other cultures and share his good fortune wherever he goes - no matter if he's in Kuala Lumpur, Venice, Tucson, or Dar Es Salaam.
I was in Dresden, Germany, teaching classes for two weeks. All of the engineers in my classes understood and spoke English fluently, but I rarely heard English on the streets or on TV. I was craving conversation. It was Saturday night. I was alone and feeling isolated due to my lack of conversational German skills, so I chose an Italian restaurant - spaghetti is spaghetti in any language.
I sat down at my table for one and I heard English being spoken. I focused all my energies on figuring out where it was coming from. It was two tables over, so I craned my neck to see who it was. There were two guys, and I could only hear snippets of the conversation: "If she labors tonight … breeding for color ... ." And then a bit later, a cheerful toast "... to Picasso!"
I must have been staring them down. I can be a crafty eavesdropper when I try, but I wasn't trying. I wanted to talk to them. Finally, one of them came over and said, "Does staring at us mean that you would like to join us?" Trying to be cool, I replied, "Um, sure." We sat in awkward silence for a couple seconds. I launched into, "So, what do you do?" I was expecting answers like OB-GYN or art-history major, but the response was, "We are alpaca farmers."
They were speaking English because that was the common language between them. The West German guy, Hartwig, was starting an alpaca farm a half-hour outside of Dresden. The Chilean guy, Louis, was brought in to help and consult. They were expecting a baby alpaca to be born that night. I was invited to the alpaca farm. It was an offer I could not refuse.
The next morning I drove the autobahn to a tiny village called Remsa, and was put to work herding and stabling alpacas. I learned more about alpacas than any city girl should know. There are 22 natural colors of alpaca fiber, and some farmers breed their animals with the intent of creating new colors.
They honored my visit by allowing me to name the baby that had been born early that morning. As the first American to ever visit the alpaca farm, I selected a "strong name" (based on the Natalie Portman movie about a baby born in Wal-Mart). I called him Americus.
A month after my visit, I received an e-mail from Hartwig with a link to his farm's webpage. To my surprise, I was pictured on the entry page. He had snapped a picture of me with one of his red alpacas. Our hair matched exactly!
I have a million more quirky travel stories. For example: I walked into my hotel room in Kuching, Malaysia, to find three maids clomping around in my shoes. I ate live lobster - literally crawling off the plate - with my class in Tianjin, China. Another instructor and I decided to cook authentic Mexican food for our classes in Hsinchu, Taiwan. It was my impossible mission to find tortilla chips. I could go on, but I'm out of space.