A workday inside a China Airlines 777-200ER

I just spent the majority of a 24 hour period on an airplane. Sound hellish?

Consider this: I was in business class on the 777-ER200, and more or less had my own little cubicle, which had a chair that folder out to 180 degrees flat.

I slept – and worked – well.

I have been in the business class lounge most of the time since I arrived in the Taipei airport. The airport is very clean, very quiet, and everyone is quite orderly. It feels less stressful than an American airport.

I’ve seen a few things here I’ve never seen in any other airport, though I’d love to learn about other airports that might have these things:

  • a sit-down calligraphy desk, where someone helped teach me how to draw a couple names in Chinese characters. At the end, I drew her name in roman characters.
  • a library – a completely non-commercial space in the airport. They were not selling anything, but instead just had this space for people to quietly work on a computer or read, complete with walls full of various types of books.
  • a workout area, with a shower – I don’t know who could use the shower, but I assume anyone. The workout area was very spacious, although it had only 6 pieces of equipment: 3 bikes, a treadmill, and two weight machines. It was connected to a small Adidas store, but there was zero sales pressure… though perhaps the language barrier had something to do with that.

I’ve spent a long time in the Turkish airport, and this time is flying by in comparison, because:

  • a quiet space is much more calm, and the hours go by smoother there… at least, when you’re my age, apparently
  • lots of good food and drinks – I’m sipping on some single malt scotch right now before bed, and I had Bailey’s and some red wine since arriving here
  • there was a shower, complete with towels, toothbrush and toothpaste, cologne, and soap, shampoo, and conditioner… all for free, within the business lounge. Considering I will be spending over 12 hours here, it’s not too far off from a hotel experience.

Wifi is solid, food is delicious, and there’s issues of Time, The Economist, and Bloomberg to read if I get bored… which, trust me, I’m not, with all the work I’ve got to get done.

China Airlines wifi

I asked online whether wifi on an airplane crossing the Pacific Ocean would be reliable or any good. People said it was bad. I disagree. I worked for about 7 hours on the flight, from 9am central time until touchdown around 4pm central time, and the wifi – although too slow to, say, stream videos – was perfectly fine with the text chat, file downloads, and web browsing I was doing. I was committing just like I was sitting on the earth. I’m sure your results may vary depending on weather and other unexpected technical difficulties, but I had zero problems.

China Airlines Business Class

It was a great experience! Everyone was nice, the food was good, and the TV screen was huge (I drifted off to bed to Ted 2, after leaving LAX at 11:45pm). The noise-canceling headset wasn’t branded Bose, and it didn’t seem as good as some other ones I’ve used, but at least they had one, which came in useful early in the flight.

Overall, it’s been a great first day of adventure … spent mostly in an airplane and in an airport lounge.

An adventure across continents and years

I am going to fly around the world.

I just took off from Boston on an American Airlines flight. We have power outlets so I can charge my laptop and phone, although they are both full of charge and don’t really need it. However, I want to make sure I have all the power I can, because my livelihood depends on a few key things:

  • my laptop
  • electricity, whether in my laptop’s battery or at a wall plugin
  • internet
  • my fingers

These things are important to me in many ways, because I really enjoy:

  • making software
  • making websites
  • playing video games, although I do it very infrequently these days
  • playing piano
  • keeping in touch with family and friends
  • learning

All of those 3 or 4 of the things above, except that last one.

That’s what this trip is all about. Learning about the world.

Why am I going on this trip?

My girlfriend Diveena asked me on the way to the airport this morning, “Why are you going on this trip?”

I have thought about this question a few times since I first thought of redeeming 275,000 frequent flier miles on Delta to get a Round the World (RTW) ticket.

Diveena didn’t ask it accusingly, nor because she has no clue why I’d go or want to go; on the contrary, she encouraged me to go on the trip, since I had talked to her about this crazy RTW ticket long before I knew Delta was eliminating the ability to redeem miles in exchange for one at the end of 2014.

Before the end of 2014, I thought I’d save up my miles for an indetermine time in the future when I would have enough vacation to simply take off a few weeks, maybe even a month or two, and see the world. I had a vague notion that I would do this in one of the following scenarios:

  • I quit a job, and take a few months before starting on my next job
  • I retire, then go see the world

That’s about it.

I’m not sure why I limited myself to just these two scenarios, but I think it’s a variety of reasons:

  • Most companies rarely give¬†any ability to take more than 2 – 4 weeks of vacation off at one time.
  • I’ve been very busy with Third Iron, the company I co-founded in 2011, and there’s still so many things to do with the company, taking a full week off is a fairly big luxury, let alone multiple weeks in a row
  • Almost nobody I know has ever done anything like that

Without someone paving the way to do something, it can seem very difficult to do. However, I did have a role model for this: Dima, a friend I met in Iowa who has done the very thing I’m about to do. More about him in another post, though.

Seriously, why am I going on this trip?

Although I thought about why I was going close to deciding to go, and after I got the ticket, I did not ponder this question when I started saving up for this ticket. Since 2007, when I first heard about this round the world ticket things from my good travel buddy and friend Jessica Sander, I have been saving all my frequent flier miles in hopes of earning enough for this ticket. Three things helped me with this:

  • getting a bunch of miles for signing up for the Delta WorldPerks Gold American Express card
    • 30 or 50 thousand, I believe
  • preferring Delta over other airlines
    • if a flight cost less than about $50 more, I’d typically go with Delta… and because I would frequently fly out of Minneapolis or Iowa, Delta was typically the lowest priced option
  • using that Amex fairly frequently, especially for large purchases (computers, car repair, recurring bills, flights (with double points when flying Delta), etc)
  • flying
    • I really like to travel, so I certainly did fly and earn up miles that way, too!

So I just started slowly earning points, and after a couple years, I had enough for the economy-class Delta RTW ticket: 185,000 miles.

So earning the miles wasn’t too big of a deal to me, because I knew I was in no rush to go on this trip. Instead, I wanted to have them banked, so in case I lost a job or quit, I could take advantage of it.

But I never questioned why I wanted to do it when Jessica first told me about it.

Instead, my inherent thought was, “why would anyone NOT want to do that?”

I suppose I can think of a few reasons:

  • health problems
  • children
    • can be difficult to travel with them
    • taking them out of school for an extended period would be rough
  • fear of traveling alone
    • I’m lucky to be born a guy – we generally don’t have too much troubles traveling alone, but the same cannot be said for women
  • no desire to travel alone

That last one is a big one for me. I traveled alone around Germany and Austria during a two week period in 2008. I spent three weeks in Europe during that trip. The first week was spent with my work teammates, doing a multi-day presentation about the software my team was building for a helicopter upgrade we were selling to our German government customer. The next two weeks I spent most of the time alone, with a few breaks to meet my friend Amanda King, who was au pairing in Austria, and some family I never before met.

At the end of two weeks traveling largely alone, I was ready to be home and see friends. I was happy to get the opportunity to do it, but I thought I wouldn’t travel alone again for awhile.

Why, then, am I doing it now? Especially now that I have a great girlfriend?

One reason is because I have a great girlfriend. That may seem counter-intuitive to most people; why would you want to not be around your partner? In this case, though, Diveena saw that this was something I really wanted to do, since:

  • I had been saving for a long time
  • talked about it, even though I had zero plans to do it anytime soon
  • was quite unhappy when I found out Delta was discontinuing the ability to redeem miles for the RTW ticket
  • I love to travel, as does she

Diveena pointed out that I am in probably the 1% of people in the world who both want to and can do a trip like this, because:

  • I’m not married
  • I don’t have children
  • I have a job that allows me to work anywhere I have my laptop, internet, and a little electricity

Not everyone’s partner would be understanding enough to let someone live out a trip like this, let alone encourage it. I wasn’t early thinking of going, since I thought even though I can work remotely, some of my free time would be taken finding lodging, ensuring I had good internet, and I wouldn’t be able to travel with anyone else. My company, Third Iron, just seemed to have too many things going on for this to be a good idea.

Then I thought about the example my friends with children point out: there never is a right time to have kids. There is always a reason or excuse to not have them: we’re too young, our career is too overwhelming, we want to do too many other things, and eventually, we’re too old.

I thought about it some more, and since I started Third Iron in 2011, I have worked while visiting:

  • Bismarck
  • Seattle
  • San Francisco
  • Minneapolis
  • Rochester, MN
  • Boston
  • Connecticut
  • New York
  • Denver
  • Las Vegas

…and I’m sure a few more I’m not recalling.

I’m no stranger to working on the road. In fact, getting focused time to work on one single thing while I’m on an airplane is – however perverse this may sound – a joy to me. Throughout my working life, whether working for KB Productions, Rockwell Collins, or Third Iron, I’ve relished the time on an airplane as an environment where, free of anything else to do, it’s just me and the screen in front of me. I enjoy chatting up a friendly person in the seat next to me, but since a comfortably chatty person can be somewhat rare on airplanes, I generally look forward to them as a time to get something done… such as writing this very piece you are now reading. I believe I’m somewhere over Pennsylvania at the moment.

Seriously, you still haven’t said why you’re going on this trip

Well, I kind of did:

  • I have a girlfriend who encourages me to do the big things I’ve always thought about, but perhaps I never thought I could do
  • I have a job that lets me work where I want, and I’ve proven in the past that I’m able to handle traveling and working
  • because the world

I want to see more of the world up close.

I feel every place has many lessons to teach.

Every person you meet has a unique story, and can help you learn something new.

Putting yourself into an unfamiliar environment challenges you to reconsider what’s right, what’s pragmatic, and what’s possible.

What better way to put yourself into an unfamiliar environment than literally leaving the country in which you’ve grown up, and placing yourself into a place where people have spent generations growing up and living differently?

Some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past from traveling:

  • * If you don’t understand the local language, life gets difficult, and you rejoice when something is written in your language, or a picture, number, or symbol you understand is visible
    • After coming back from Europe the first time, I localized my Car Care iOS app into multiple different languages… it’s just so much easier when things are in your native language!
  • Plans are temporary – flexibility, and being open to change, is a cornerstone of being happy in life
    • We can’t predict what will happen – 99.999% of the world is outside of our control, so if change from something other than us causes you stress, you’re going to live a pretty stressful life
    • Don’t get too stressed out about being late – do your best to be on time, but if something happens and you don’t make it, apologize, and proceed to watch life go on
      • Corollary to the corollary: Being late for an airplane really sucks, so… try to be on time for that
  • Good people are everywhere
    • Creepy people are everywhere, too, but they’re vastly outnumbered by good people

So there’s another, and perhaps the most important,¬†reason for going on this trip: to add to my list of life lessons.