About Tedd Evers

Founder of TripTuner - helping travelers and customers of travel companies find ideal destinations instantly.

Celebrating 8 Years of Travel Inspiration

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TripTuner turns 8 today!  What started as a thought while sitting on a beach in Barra da Lagoa, Brazil (shouldn’t all companies require creative beach time?) quickly turned into a few sketches, a working prototype and an MVP launch in October 2011.

TT 8 YR LI promoWith little to no traffic (and no marketing funds as a bootstrapped venture), we didn’t have any data to tell us whether anyone would actually use it.  So we had to rely upon qualitative validation from strangers. They tweeted “It’s like it knows me” and “Obsessed with TripTuner.” The most prescient remark – “my girl and I are planning a trip as a direct result of your site” – was ultimately reflected in our business model.

Today, we engage and inspire travelers to discover, share and book experiences and destinations fine-tuned to their tastes – on TripTuner.com and for leading airline, hotel, destination, online travel agency and consumer product brands.

We aren’t new, but we’re still bright and shiny.  We continue to innovate on the core strategic premise of our business: consumer choice will continue to expand in volume and nuance.  It’s more relevant than ever. Just look at the growth of the tours & activities sector.  

The long-term trend of expanding, more complex options will continue to drive demand for our intuitive, fun and practical approach to solving the paradox of choice.  In travel and beyond.  

Like any major trend, those who act first will benefit the most.  So if you’d like to learn more, hit us up.  

Meanwhile, when we shake that Magic 8 Ball, the answer we get for ourselves is the message we deliver every day to you:  You’ll Go Far!

Thanks for an amazing 8 years.

Stay Tuned,

Tedd

 

Magic 8 Ball is a registered trademark of Mattel, Inc.

4 Happiness Hacks For That Post-Travel Let Down

Tips on handling those returning-to-the-office blues.  by Tedd Evers

Conferences, vacations – any time out of the office, away from it all – are great times to reflect and learn ways you can be a better person, at home and at work.  But returning to the office can quickly sap that post-travel glow. If you’re like me, planning the next holiday break to a new destination is a great antidote – and for that, we’ve got you covered.  Unfortunately though, we still have to get back on track until we can getaway again.

Here’s to heel-clicking happiness, maybe just not in the middle of the street. photo: Andre Hunter

Putting Happiness Into Practice

All too often, the demands of our work quickly erase that kumbaya feeling you get after a vacation or listening to inspiring speakers at a conference.  As a result, important changes don’t happen because they require a ton of time or effort – like reading a book or completing some time-intensive soul-searching exercises.

Meaningful change though, is often the result of the cumulative effect of consistent, daily effort.  Like my high school Coach Stroker liked to say “get a little bit better, every day.” (It’s also a core team value here at TripTuner).

In the end it’s up to us to “be the change we want to see in the world” as Mohandas Gandhi once famously said.  Fortunately, there are a few quick hacks you can do today – right now – that are scientifically proven to improve your happiness.

Allow me to follow speaker Erik Qualman’s lead and “post it forward” by sharing a few happiness hacks for home and work from U.S. Travel’s recent ESTO conference in Austin.

  1. Work in 20 minute sprints.

Erik shared how focusing on a single task is critical in our always-on connected world of endless feeds.  He suggested a 20-20-20 rule: breaking the work day into 20 minute segments, taking 20 second breaks after each one to stand up and focus on an object 20 feet away.

The American Optometric Association recommends it as a proven way to reduce eye strain from peering into monitors all day.  As you can imagine, this can get repetitive over a full day, so for a more nuanced approach check out the Pomodoro Technique developed by Frances Cirillo, another easy to implement productivity method.

  1. Walk in nature, unplugged. 

This was part of a number of suggestions shared by Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome.  To be more precise, his R/X was for 20 minutes of brisk walking in nature – without your phone (that may be the hardest part for some).  Like many of these suggestions there’s science behind “forest bathing” – namely the phytoncides that trees give off lower the level of cortisol, a stress hormone.

  1. Write thank you notes.  To Yourself.

Another one from Pasricha – he talked about the power of gratitude and empathy in helping us get out of emotional ruts.  Thanking others should be frequent and routine (yes, I’m assuming the best of you, that you were raised properly). But we tend to be our own worst critics, so spending time each day to reflect and simply write down your thoughts and what you’re thankful for will go a long way.  Got writer’s block? According to Neil, even reviewing your past notes has proven to be beneficial.

  1. Read for Fun.

OK so citing a Lifehacker article within this happiness hack is sooo meta, but it does show how reading before bed has been proven to lower stress levels and get better sleep.  As Pasricha points out, literary fiction is best and even better if it’s an actual physical book – the glare from screens can interfere with sleep patterns. 

Bring on the phytoncides! photo: Aslan Can

Workplace Happiness, Delivered

Happiness is not just about your well-being — it’s also the right way to do business.  When we’re happier as individuals, we do better work and are more likely to succeed.

Just ask Tony Hseih, Founder & CEO of Zappos.  I read his book, Delivering Happiness after hearing him speak at a DC Tech Week conference 9 years ago when I was in the planning phase of TripTuner.

Happiness is a core value at Zappos.  It’s earned them a well-deserved reputation for amazing customer service – a direct result of their focus on building personal emotional connections with customers.

Creating customer empathy and establishing an emotional connection with your customers is a critical task for today’s digital marketers, as we’ve discussed before.  Developing a strategy for that at work may take some time, but it can start with you. Today.

Clap Along Now

Now that you’ve got 4 quick ways to do it, you can clap along and sing, “I’m Happy” all day!

Just don’t do it a) on your unplugged nature walk b) while you’re reading or writing or c) without headphones on – your colleague may be deep into a 20 minute work session!

Stay Tuned.

Tedd

Customer Empathy and Other Less-Obvious Travel Trends

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Recently, in the hallowed conference halls of Twickenham Stadium – the world’s largest rugby venue – I had the privilege of moderating a panel at the Digital Travel Summit discussing what trends will transform the travel industry over the next 5 years, and how companies may capitalize on them (spoiler alert: check the title).  I was joined by Finnbar Cornwall, Travel Industry Head at Google and Kamil Jagodzinski, the Chief Customer Officer of Kiwi.com.  The $125M richer Kiwi.com.  

DTS London 19Crystal Ball panel

Tedd, Finnbar and Kamil choppin’ it up at DTS London (IRL we’re less pixelated). Cheers Hollie Jeffries for the photo!

Nearly every conference in any industry has such sessions – so much so that they’ve become cliché.  But as some wise person told me years ago “clichés get that way for a reason,” and given what seems like the ever-quickening pace of transformational technological and societal change, it’s easy to see why “future-proofing” one’s business or indeed one’s self is so popular.

Human over Machine (for now)

Rather than move down a familiar checklist of the latest technical terms du jour (blockchain, AI, voice, AR/VR, etc) we took a different approach with this panel.  Technology is still a tool, a means to an end – and leading a discussion with technology tends to be a referendum on its merits. We wanted to focus on the broader trends that impact traveler behavior, whether they be the result of or a reaction to, new innovations.

Since one of the main themes of this conference was “Creating a Customer-Centric Journey,” we shared our thoughts on how each stage of the traditional travel booking process might change in the next 5 years.  It was done first from a traveler’s perspective, with plenty of insights for how we as travel marketers may adapt to this changing landscape.

Now, on to the main points.  Sorry, no numeric list here. It’s all about the context (and hopefully as a result for you, the Benjamins).

No Plan, No Problem

We began at the inspiration and planning phase of travel, and Kamil got us started by stating that “travel planning as we know it will disappear,” if it hasn’t already.  It’s already possible for someone to show up in a destination with little forethought and no hotel for the night – a niche that Hotel Tonight cleverly carved out for itself years ago.

Finnbar added that the increasing availability of Augmented Reality will eliminate the need to read up on an attraction, when apps like Google Lens let you point your camera and read about the story of an historic building for example.

If there’s no planning phase, “will this mean the disappearance of the booking window?” I asked, since it’s a key part of timing campaigns, offers and default search dates.

Yes and no.  As distribution, real-time pricing and merchandising capabilities continue to evolve, Kamil saw an opportunity to drive more last-minute group bookings – and perhaps the return of a last-minute distressed inventory model.

We’ve seen that model years ago with the likes of Priceline and Site59 (shameless shout out to my former squad).  But as Kamil pointed out, “Low Cost Carriers have trained travelers to book as early as possible to get the lowest airfare.”  So in that sense, booking windows will still be there if only driven by price.

So while planning the details of one’s trip may be easily put off till when you’re already there (perhaps that’s why so many trip planning startups have failed?) the actual booking – particularly for price-sensitive travelers – will likely require some forethought in order to obtain the lowest airfares.

Inspiration is Everywhere

What about the spark that starts the travel planning process?  Traditionally, the inspiration phase of the booking process has received little if only skeptical, attention (apart from a few startups who’ve tried) – mainly because it was not seen as a big enough problem (doesn’t everyone have places they want to visit?) and that it didn’t make sense to invest in since it was so many steps away from the actual booking.   This latter point makes a lot of sense given how much shopping around is done before making a purchase – Expedia states that some travelers visit up to 160 sites before booking!

But the sheer amount of choice confronting today’s travelers continues to grow (which is why I started TripTuner, to help travelers narrow down the options).  So as a brand or destination you can’t simply sit back and expect travelers to think of you, no matter how popular you are – just see how much Las Vegas advertises, for example.

Sphere is the New Funnel

It’s time to think outside the funnel, y’all!

As booking technology advances (e.g. reserve tables natively in Instagram, or book travel via chat on Facebook) the gap between inspiration and booking has shrunk tremendously.  Our panelists agreed that all you need is a few seconds on Instagram before you’re searching for flights.   What this means for brands is that you now have to think more holistically about where you are targeting travelers and remove whatever friction there is to booking along that path.  The traditional funnel has morphed into what I call the “Booking Sphere” – where it’s radius is the booking path and its surface are the various touchpoints – what I call “moments of inspiration” – leading to that booking.  Inspiration is everywhere, and savvy marketers would be wise to think of those use cases rather than over-investing in crafting clever personas.

R.I.P. Trip Planning 

Much of the inspiration happening on Instagram and other channels revolves around unique or authentic experiences.  The panel largely agreed that a sea change in travel planning behavior was facilitated by the ever-expanding amount of experiential content indexed by search engines, created by bloggers, influencers and other content marketers.  But trying to aggregate it or shoehorn the planning experience into an externally imposed, proprietary process can be considered a fool’s gold.   

The online travel landscape is littered with the carcasses of many trip planning startups over the past 10 years (the latest of which being Utrip), yet still some seek to solve the problem that everybody purports to have…with a solution they’ll never adopt.  I’ve personally felt that only Google would be able to construct a “one-stop shop” travel planning app, but even their Trips product will be sunset in August.

As more tours and activities product becomes bookable online, it will be interesting to see if a more commercially-driven “planning” product – less an itinerary builder, more of a customized, collection of bookable elements – will emerge.  As I stated in the panel, however, my vote is for the scientific principle of entropy – of things tending towards disorder.  

While there’s been some consolidation in online travel on a macro level, the larger trend will continue to be towards disorder and more specifically fragmentation – of the “types” of trips, booking sources, inventory providers and information sources.  In such a state, with technical barriers removed by the growth of the app/API economy, the only viable one-stop shop will be those brands that are: 

  1. used on a daily basis
  2. for which you already have a profile or login and most importantly, 
  3. whom you trust with your data.  

Which is why all of us on the panel felt that the main disruptive force in travel would be global players that meet those three critical criteria. 

Privacy Killed the Personalization Star

Personalization is a perennial conference topic because it’s an evolving, elusive goal.  For the online travel industry, it’s particularly difficult because the average person will only travel once or twice a year (for leisure at least).  So you can have all the machine learning and AI you want, but for true 1-1 personalization it will take a while to build up a truly complete picture of an individual’s behavior, let alone preferences.  In the absence of the frequent, nuanced conversations that a traditional travel advisor would have, it’s just damn difficult to really get a sense for traveler preferences.  

Personalization is also hard because there’s a myopia within the travel industry that results from some institutional navel-gazing.  We tend to divide each booking or trip into a given segment – corporate, leisure, family, romance – in a very rigid, binary fashion. We don’t look at travel more broadly as some of the disruptive players like Uber do: it’s whenever you leave your home.  I mean, when is the last time you saw an ad at your gas/petrol station from a destination that’s just a full tank away?

Asia’s “SuperApps” don’t seem to suffer from that problem.  They allow consumers to purchase travel along with many other goods.  With daily use, they’re able to get a much fuller picture of consumer behavior.  In addition, they are not bound by many privacy constraints such as those imposed by the GDPR.  All of us on the panel thought that this gave them a distinct advantage over western companies when it comes to personalization, brand awareness and ability to impact the entire customer booking journey.

It remains to be seen how much privacy consumers will be willing to give up in order to have companies “know us better.”  Starting with the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook debacle and other data breaches of privacy, there is a very real consumer backlash taking place.  Paradoxically however, there are also studies saying how willing consumers are to give up some privacy in order to obtain some benefit.

The way forward will require transparency though, and user control.  Companies can’t necessarily assume they have permission to use particular data on a customer.  It needs to be obvious and permission-based. 

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Empathy is the path to future success. Thanks Annie Sprat for the beautiful photo.

Tell Me If You Still Care

Building empathy with consumers was a recurring theme throughout the conference, and echoed by our panelists.  Connecting with today’s consumers – and those of the future – is not just a technical solution, but rather more about one’s brand and company values.   Recent studies cited by Wunderman show that 89% of consumers are loyal to brands that share their values, and 56% are more loyal to brands that “get me” and show a deep understanding of their priorities and preferences.

Finnbar also mentioned how Google creates empathy by creating tools that assist today’s curious but impatient travelers.  As he put it, “we’re in an age of assistance.” For Kiwi.com, it’s by showing travelers a wider range of flight options so they can more easily find the best deal.  Regardless of what type of business you run, both cases provide a clear direction on how to establish empathy: through an intentional, externally focused examination of consumer behavior.  As Steve Jobs said “you’ve got to start with the customer experience, and work your way back to the technology.” I can’t think of a better way to future-proof any business.

Stay tuned.

Caught in The Optimization Loop? Prepare to be Disrupted

Focusing on one’s core mission is critical to any company’s success.  For startup or growth-stage companies, focus can often mean the ruthless elimination of any effort that detracts from the path that will lead to success.  At large organizations, focus means a rigid adherence to the core business process or model that got them there.

In either case, companies all too easily get caught optimizing on their core process, opening themselves up to being unexpectedly disrupted.  They think they’re innovating when they should be OUTovating.  They get caught in what I call The Optimization Loop.

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Big up to Spencer Watson for an image that captures our themes of a loop, focus and myopia.

Optimization is Good…Till it’s Not

Optimization in this context refers to the practice of making continuous, incremental improvements to the core aspect of a business – whether it’s conversion, performance or processes – as opposed to more large-scale, sweeping innovations.

I’m not going to argue against focus – it’s been a key part of the successful ventures with which I’ve been involved.  Finding a key metric and putting necessary resources to drive that metric is a natural part of the growth of a data-driven company.  And it’s never been easier to measure performance in so many ways.

Sophisticated algorithms and multi-variate testing schemes for example, are easy to implement and can automatically determine the right business logic, process or content for a marketing initiative.  By harnessing this rich data, we can predict with increasing precision what will drive a business outcome.

But too often metrics become a proxy for motivation – what customers really want, and why.  The problem is that data tells us about a consumer’s actions, less so about their intentions and how they perceive your brand.

Blinded by The Light…of Success

Large, successful organizations can get complacent, taking for granted why a consumer chooses their brand: “We’ve got the best selection,” or “we’re the fastest and easiest to use,” or “we’ve got the most rewarding loyalty program.”  That value proposition is reinforced, refined and optimized over and over again, in a virtuous circle – with good reason.

Such a singular focus though, can lead to strategic myopia.  It makes an enterprise increasingly vulnerable to disruption, where a new entrant seemingly comes out of nowhere to become a market leader.  Think airbnb, the largest accommodation provider in the world that didn’t even exist before 2008.

This is not a new problem – it’s well-documented in books like the seminal The Innovator’s Dilemma. It’s also partly explains why large players rely upon acquisitions to scale.  Their operations and entire business model has been optimized for that singular core focus, so much so that to capture a new market demand it can’t pivot quickly enough.  In addition, with huge user bases accustomed to a certain customer experience, any change must be incremental since alienating even a small percentage of customers can significantly damage the bottom line.

Sure, they may have the resources to bring a competitive product to market quickly enough to stave off new competitors but it’s not in their DNA.  Because it’s more than the product. Just looks at Google Plus, or their soon to be shuttered Trips app.

Give The People What They Want

There are plenty of good products that never get noticed, or gain any traction.   Often it’s due to not being truly customer-centric, not understanding the value proposition.  What the consumer actually wants.

At the startup Site59, where I was part of the founding team 20 years ago, we thought we had the hottest product out there – enabling consumers to travel, go out or buy things at the last minute, at unbelievably low prices.  We featured all the hippest places, and launched (like many ventures) to the sound of crickets. No traction. No Sales. No bueno.

After conducting some interviews and surveys, we learned what travelers actually want.  They didn’t care about being at the hippest restaurant (alas, we were 20 years too early, before people took photos of their food).  They wanted to go on beach getaways and to…gulp…theme parks. Neither of these would have been a surprise to travel veterans.  But to a group of downtown NYC pre-Brooklyn 30-somethings, it was a shocker.  We were focused on and optimizing for what we thought was our core mission of spontaneous getaways and experiences.  Fortunately, we were humble enough to pivot.  Sales ramped up and within 18 months we were acquired by Travelocity.

Creating a Lean, Mean Customer-Centric Machine

This is why Lean Startup principles have gained in popularity over the past 10 years – with startups (including ours, TripTuner) as well as large corporations.  It demands that you build only what is necessary to understand if it will satisfy a real demand, measure how well it does so and then learn what you ought to have built in the first place.  It’s true user-centricity.

Mark Zuckerberg once famously asked “what is design?” But to be truly user-centric, you have to think more like a marketer than a product engineer.  Design is where ideas meet reality.

At Amazon, they don’t even think about creating a new product without first thinking of what the press release would say.  How would it be described, what problem would it solve and would it be enough to make consumers care to read about it? Entries are ruthlessly weeded out at the ideation stage by the most important criteria: would it move the needle from a consumer’s perspective?

Breaking Out of The Optimization Loop

Often larger enterprises have been optimizing so long on their core, they may miss out on the “why” part of customer behavior or disruptive new approaches.  So as a hedge, they acquire.

Acquisitions are not the only way large organizations are staving off disruption.  Many companies now have their own innovation labs, or venture arms that regularly identify, mentor and even invest in promising startups.  Another way is to partner with select technology providers that innovate outside of but are complementary to, the core business.

That’s how the major players do it.  For the rest of us, regular live user testing is one easy way to start.  You can get feedback on a new product from live users within hours.  It’s the most humbling, painful and clearest mirror one can hold up to a product.  Consumer sentiment quickly becomes very clear.  Putting up a test landing page with a modest campaign to gauge demand is yet another way.  Similar to Amazon’s press release test, you can create the copy for a proposed innovation to gauge how viable it will be, before writing even one line of code.

Both methods point to the right direction, with minimal effort and cost.  Measuring consumer sentiment – both quantitatively and qualitatively – is the right kind of optimization.  It’s also a great first step on the path to being truly customer-centric.

For Real Tho’: How Travel Marketers Think about #FOMO

At the Digital Travel Summit 2019 in Palm Springs, I had the opportunity to host a roundtable on the use of #FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in travel marketing.

FOMO is not new, of course.  It’s been a key ingredient in marketing campaigns since the dawn of Madison Avenue.  What’s changed is that social media’s pervasiveness has made FOMO a near-constant state of mind: an always-on reminder of what fabulous lives others (appear to) lead.

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Shout out to Tim Trad for the FOMO- and fear-inducing image of Chicago’s Willis Tower Skydeck.

We know social media feeds aren’t a completely accurate picture of reality, but they do get our attention, elicit strong emotions…and plenty of FOMO.  According to Venngage, some 61% of young adults (aged 18-35) say that social media magnifies the FOMO they already have.

FOMO can be a strong driver of travel inspiration – I mean, who hasn’t enviously ogled photos of friends in amazing places?  So to start our session I used a quick 10-question survey to get an idea of how travel marketers themselves felt about it.

SURVEY SAYS!

Usually, I’ve found that surveys often tell us more about what respondents want us to think, rather than what they actually do.  So we could expect people will underestimate their own FOMO.  That seemed to be the case: on a scale of 0 (none) to 3 (extreme), our group of travel marketers came in at a 1 – minor FOMO.  Only 9% of respondents had major FOMO (a 2).  Nobody had extreme FOMO (phew).

Digging deeper into the results, we see social media’s FOMO power – especially when it comes to our friends.  45% of respondents indicated they were concerned about a FOMO-related scenario “all the time.”  The 4 questions that elicited the strongest indicator of FOMO were:

  • I sometimes wonder if I’m spending too much time keeping up with what is going on.
  • When I miss out on a planned get-together, it bothers me.
  • It bothers me when I miss an opportunity to meet up with friends.
  • When I’m having a good time it’s important for me to share the details online (e.g. via Facebook or Instagram)

NO MO’ FOMO?

Assured (somewhat) that our esteemed panel of travel marketers were not biased towards FOMO, we delved into the main question (to be explored more in a future post): can FOMO’s shiny marketing tactics coexist with a travel brand’s quest to keep it real and connect authentically with the largest consumer demographic, millennials?

It’s an interesting question because influencer marketing often asks consumers to be inspired by “real” images of Instagram models living curated lives against a constructed backdrop of branding, made to not look like branding.  It’s not authentic, and is arguably unethical – as seen with the Fyre Festival debacle (BTW, so happy that sweet lady got her money back).

I asked our panel of experts if they felt any tension or conflict between the need to show more authentic imagery and the need to create FOMO with swoon-worthy photos, at scale?

5 TAKEAWAYS: WHAT THE EXPERTS SAID

1.”Of course” FOMO plays a role, such as when travelers announce/post that they’ve “arrived” (both physically and metaphorically, I suppose).

2. Even though FOMO was important, it isn’t necessarily an overt marketing tactic.  More consideration is generally given to whether an influencer is paid or not.

3. Authenticity is seen as a much needed counter to more polished imagery.  One destination marketer had no issue using images of buses on a tropical island, or video of a local man cutting up coconut as a way to engage today’s travelers (vs. the proverbial stunning beach shot).

4. When it comes to influencers, many favored the use of “micro-influencers” vs. the more well-known ones…another apparent nod to authenticity.

5. For hotel marketing, it definitely works in terms of limited-time offers.  One hotelier shared how the same offer performed 2X better when its availability was reduced from 10 days to 48 hours.

GOOD FOMO MOJO

Every teachable moment needs a mnemonic: to use FOMO effectively and ethically, raise a PINT!

  • Permission-based
  • Inspiration not Perspiration (positive, not fear-based).
  • Non-manipulative
  • Truthful

FO’ MO’ INFO

Are you not entertained? Enjoy these related links to delve more deeply:

Using the Fear of Missing Out Ethically for Marketers – 60 Second Marketer

What’s Being Done to Save Wild Places from Instagram – Outside Magazine

Stop Hate-Selling to Your Customers – Rafat Ali (founder, Skift)

This is Marketing book by Seth Godin

Stay tuned for more on this topic.  In the meantime, don’t you wish you were here? 🙂

A Camel, Me and “General B”

One of the #RTW98 series of posts looking back on the ‘round the world trip that inspired the creation of TripTuner 20 years ago.  It’s a story of personal growth and change, with impressions of fascinating places and people around the globe.  If you’ve ever considered extended travel, taking a sabbatical or gap year or just wondered what it may be like, this is for you.

“General Baksheesh” had all the ingredients to strike a commanding authoritarian presence: a distinctive uniform and beret, sidearm at his hip and a pair of AK-47 toting subordinates ready to execute his commands.

General Baksheesh sq

I wasn’t expecting to see armed guards when visiting Egypt’s famed Pyramids, 20 years ago on a solo gap year trip. But there was heightened security (for reasons all too familiar to us now) and a visible tourist police force presence at all main attractions.

It’s an alarming if not unnerving sight.   The soldiers’ mere presence makes you concerned for your safety. Then you realize paradoxically that they’re there for your safety.

Still, it’s a little uncomfortable to be 6,000 miles from home standing alone in front of armed men with whom you can’t really communicate.

Fortunately, after 6 months on the road I’d developed a cobbled together, sometimes successful technique for “breaking people down” – getting past the stoicism and awkwardness of confronting total strangers with whom you share nothing except a common humanity. The recipe: deference, non-excessive smiling, culturally appropriate hand gestures and a sense of humor.

General B was standing with his thumbs in his utility belt, pretending to scan the area (which was completely desolate). Behind him, a bored man squat beside a camel. Business was slow – not many takers for camel rides in the 140 degree afternoon sun. But I gotta do it, right?

Nodding sideways at the General with a forced smile, I shrugged my shoulders pleadingly and motioned to the camel. Like Caesar giving a thumbs up, he nodded to his comrades to left me through. Camel man leapt to his feet and helped me climb aboard the scratchy haired dromedary.

After a short ride, we returned to General B. As if on queue, he stomps out his cigarette, holds both hands in front of his face making the universal “want me to take your picture?” sign. I’ve seen this move before. All deference for the tourist soldier dissolves. But I’ve got to get that shot, and he knows it.

“NO BAKSHEESH,” I declare. “Baksheesh” is the term used by a service provider when requesting a tip or other monetary inducement to action that, in normal circumstances, would be considered ordinary and not worthy of remuneration (a.k.a. a shakedown).

“No, no baksheesh” the General shakes his head solemnly. I shoot him a look of disbelief and calmly but firmly insist: “NO BAKSHEESH.” General B repeats: “no baksheesh, no baksheesh.”

Reluctantly I hand him my camera for the cliché yet must have photo: me, on a camel, in front of a pyramid.  He snaps a few shots and walks towards me to return the camera with outstretched arms, as if presenting a special gift.

Putting my camera away, I look up to see him waiting for my parting glance. He leans his head to the side, shrugs his shoulders and turns his palms upwards. With the pleading face of a puppy dog wanting a treat, he lets out a long whiny cry:

“Baaaksheeeeeesh?”

Now you know how he got his name.

TE on a camel 28-7 pyramids sq

3 Timing Hacks for Travel & Work

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Understanding natural rhythms can make for a smoother journey, but it can also make us more productive and happier at home or the office.  As New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink points out in his latest book “When,” there’s an ideal time for everything.  Here are 3 takeaways from his recent talk at the Startup Grind event in Washington, DC.

Savvy travelers like you understand the importance of timing.  If it’s evening rush hour in London, don’t try to take a leisurely stroll down Oxford Street: it’ll be packed elbow-to-elbow with fast walkers.  If you’re planning a summer getaway in Europe, June is a little less frenetic since schools are not out yet.  If you get up to watch the sunrise, you’ll have the hotel pool to yourself (but please don’t hoard the lounge chairs).

What if you’re cajoling the almighty gate agent for an upgrade? Or asking your boss for a raise? Knowing the optimal time to do so can help your chances. Continue reading