Category Archives: Negotiating Terms

Traveling On a “TwoFer”

In my last blog post, The Jews of Kochi, I described our visit to the historical city of Kochi, the capital of Kerala State in SW India.  However,  I didn’t say anything about how we got there.  One obvious answer is that I went on-line to a discount site like Orbitz, located the best deal (currently about $1,900 per person), and shelled out almost four thousand dollars to purchase tickets for my wife and myself.  Fortunately, the real answer is far more affordable and represents yet another benefit of working vacations–the concept of a twofer.

On every one of my working vacations (fifteen and counting) I was given a complimentary round-trip air ticket, purchased by my hosts, from my home in Minneapolis to the city where I would be working.  If you don’t provide your hosts with suggested routings they will almost certainly select one with the least number of legs and the shortest airport delays, thinking they are doing you a big favor.  However, that may not be the case.  Nothing says your travel must be on a direct flight and without long layovers, so long as you arrive and depart the host city on the required dates.  Once you realize this, you will begin to appreciate the many interesting side-trip possibilities that have fallen into your lap.

A great way to turn a working vacation into an even more enjoyable holiday is to take your free ticket from A (your home) to B (your destination) and convert it into an “almost-free” ticket from A to C to B, where C is any destination along the way to B that you would like to visit for a few days or weeks. Essentially, what you are doing is converting that free ticket into a twofer by adding a second stop, either on the way there or on the return.   For example, when I was traveling to Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, our hosts assumed we would prefer the most direct route:  Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Mauritius.  Instead, we asked them to route us home via Mumbai and London, with a three-week layover in India.   I gladly agreed to pay the increased $150 ticket cost per person since $300 is far less than the $4000 required to reach India from the central U.S.  We had a glorious time in Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, and Cochin before returning home.  We repeated this gambit on subsequent working vacations to Turkey (via Athens and the Greek Isles), Australia (via Fiji), Mongolia (via Beijing), and a threefer to Harare, Zimbabwe–via Lisbon, Portugal and Cape Town. In all cases the cost of extending our stay in the layover city was small compared with purchasing a full-fare ticket from Minneapolis to that same destination. In three cases (Turkey, Japan, Malaysia) my employer agreed to cover the added expense since the ticket costs still fell well within their overall travel budget.

The moral of the story is that when planning air travel don’t inquire into only direct flights, unless you are traveling with small children and that is the most important consideration. Instead, see what airlines fly to your destination, where they stop, and what the added expense would be for extending your stay in that stopover city.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how little it costs to add a few days or weeks in some attractive getaway to your already attractive working vacation.

(Read about our travels to Mauritius, India, and many other exotic destinations, at virtually no cost in On The Other Guy’s Dime.)

A Witness To History

One of the joys of a working vacation, as described in Getting From Point A to Point B In Style, is the ability to add one or more interesting stops on the way to or from the host country.  After you have agreed to a contract simply ask your hosts for permission to purchase an air ticket that includes a layover in some interesting intermediate city.  Given the amount of money being committed to your visit–transportation, housing, salary–they will often be willing to absorb the insignificant $100 or so that this stop might add to their bottom line.  (This is exactly what happened on my upcoming trip to Kuala Lumpur.  My Malaysian hosts were generous enough to cover the $150 surcharge for adding a three-week stop in Japan on the return trip.)  Even if they do bill you for the layover, the cost will still be far less than purchasing an air ticket from your home to the same destination–just try flying from Minneapolis to Tokyo for $150!

After accepting a three-month teaching offer from the University of Zimbabwe and receiving authorization to purchase my ticket, I booked a flight on TAP, Air Portugal, because I could later rebook at no cost and convert our flight to Zimbabwe into not just a “two-fer,” as I had done on our earlier trip to Istanbul, but a “three-fer” with a three-day layover in Lisbon followed by a six-day stop in Cape Town, South Africa before continuing on to Harare.

We arrived in Cape Town in the late morning after an exhausting eleven-hour flight from Lisbon. Forcing ourselves to stay awake and adjust to local time, we took a leisurely walk around the city ending up at the classic Greek-columned South African Parliament building in Company’s Garden Park, totally unaware that we were about to witness a momentous historical event.

South African Parliament Building in Company's Garden Park, Cape Town

The information booth in the park informed us that the South African Parliament was being called into session in just a few minutes. Thinking this an interesting way to pass some time and stay awake we secured our entry passes and went upstairs to the visitor’s gallery unexpectedly packed with reporters, photographers, and observers. Every seat was taken and there were numerous standees, ourselves included. Was something special happening or do South Africans simply have a greater interest than Americans in the proceedings of their federal legislature? My wife and I once visited the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC when it was in session. There were maybe two dozen visitors in the gallery and even fewer legislators seated on the floor.

The audience hushed as President F. W. de Klerk entered the assembly, stepped to the lectern, and began addressing Members of Parliament (MPs) but, unfortunately, in Afrikaans. I thought to myself how sad I would not be able to understand a word he said, but after five minutes he smoothly, and without warning, switched to impeccable Oxfordian English. To our utter amazement, now that we could understand, he announced to everyone seated on the floor and in the visitor’s gallery that his government would, effective immediately, rescind every remaining racial segregation law still in force–he had eliminated some, but not all, apartheid statutes in a speech to the legislature two years earlier.  At that point, the conservative Afrikaner MPs stood up, turned their backs to him, and stormed from the hall as the gallery erupted in cheers and photographers sprang to their feet to snap photos.

Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk Receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo in December, 1993

What had begun as simply an afternoon stroll to stay awake had ended with our witnessing one of the most significant moments in African history—the official end of apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. Eighteen months after listening to that speech, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize at a formal ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

Getting from Point A to Point B in Style

As I described in the post Cold Call: Take Two, I was the happy recipient of an offer of summer employment from Bogazici University that included, along with housing and a modest salary, one round-trip air ticket from Minneapolis to Istanbul.  When I sent e-mail accepting their offer I asked my hosts to purchase a ticket leaving one week earlier than their proposed date of June 7th, just prior to the start of summer classes, and to route me via Athens rather than on a non-stop flight from New York to Istanbul as they had planned. Since neither of these changes increased their costs they were happy to comply.  Then, after receiving the ticket in the mail (this was before the days of e-tickets), I contacted the airline and, for a modest fee, extended my layover in Greece from four hours to seven days!

Beaches on the Greek Island of Paros Where We Spent A Leisurely Couple of Days on Our Way To Istanbul

A great way to turn your working vacation into an even more enjoyable low-cost holiday is to take that free ticket from A (your home) to B (your destination) and convert it into a free or “almost-free” ticket from A to C to B, where C is any destination along the way that you would enjoy visiting. Essentially, you are converting your no-cost working vacation airline ticket into a “twofer” by adding a second stop.  My wife and I spent a glorious week in Athens, Thessaloniki, and the lovely island of Paros before continuing on to Istanbul to start teaching.

Beachcomber Island, Fiji Where We Spent Time on A No-Cost Stopover on the Way to Australia

We repeated this gambit on a number of subsequent working vacations, including Zimbabwe (via Lisbon, Portugal; and Cape Town, South Africa), Mauritius (via Mumbai, India), Australia (via the Fiji Islands) and Mongolia (via Beijing, China). This coming October I will be working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a three-week layover in Tokyo, Japan added to the end of the stay. In all cases the charge for extending my time in the stopover city was either zero or quite small compared to the cost of purchasing a full-fare air ticket from Minneapolis to that same destination. Even today’s $100 to $150 fee for modifying an existing reservation is a small price to pay for a holiday in Beijing, a week in Athens, or nine days in the Fiji Islands!

When planning air travel to a host country don’t search only non-stop flights, unless you are traveling with children and that is the most important consideration. Instead, determine which airlines fly to your ultimate destination, where they stop, and what the cost would be to extend your time in a stopover city on the way there or upon your return. Then inquire if your hosts would be willing to purchase an air ticket with an extended layover, either with them picking up any additional costs or having you cover the difference. You might be surprised to discover that, since the host institution has already committed to spending thousands of dollars on transportation, salary, and housing expenses, a $50 or $100 fee added to the air ticket will be of little or no concern to them–as was the case with my upcoming trip to KL.  And the end result is that you get to spend a few days, perhaps even a week or more, in some exotic getaway–an attractive perk added to your already attractive working vacation experience.

Cold Call: Take Two!

I subscribe to the Woody Hayes philosophy of life. Hayes, a legendary football coach at Ohio State University, would start each game by sending his best running back directly into the middle of the line. If the opponents stopped him for little or no gain, he would try something different. If, however, they couldn’t halt his progress, Hayes would run the same play over and over again until they proved they could. His reasoning was eminently logical­—why change a winning strategy?   My first attempt at a cold call to the University of Nairobi resulted in a hugely successful, once-in-a-lifetime East African experience. So, as Woody would say, why change?

In spring 1991 I sent unsolicited, “out-of-the-blue” emails to the computer science chairs at three universities with English-based curricula relating my desire to work in Istanbul, become a part of Turkish society, and experience its rich history and culture.  I attached a current resume, the names of professional references, some courses I could teach, and the titles and abstracts of talks I could present to faculty and students.  Although two of the three schools quickly sent polite rejections, within two weeks of my initial inquiry I received an e-mail offer of summer employment from Bogazici University–my arguments in support of cold calling described in A Little Mathematics Maestro were holding up quite well.  Furthermore, to show you this success is absolutely not unique to me, when I returned from Turkey I sent the names and email addresses of the people I worked with to a professional colleague at San Jose State University in California.  The following summer he and his wife were comfortably ensconced in Istanbul enjoying an identical three-month working vacation experience.

View of the Bosphorus from the Bogazici University Campus Located In the Lovely Neighborhood of Bebek

In his reply the chair proposed I teach one ten-week summer school class and give a series of weekly talks on new developments in the computer science curriculum.  In exchange I would receive a single round-trip air ticket from Minneapolis to Istanbul, no-cost on-campus accommodations for my wife and me, and a modest cash allowance. Modest, I might add, in terms of purchasing power, not in absolute amount. My wife and I were to become “Turkish millionaires,” receiving a monthly stipend of 1,200,000 Turkish lira, the local unit of currency. With lira then trading at 2,400 to the dollar, that three-inch thick wad of bills I collected and stuffed into my pockets each month amounted to just $500. However, when the Bogazici salary and free housing were added to my Macalester paycheck (spread out over 12-months even though I was on a 9-month contract) and monies from the rental of my house in Minneapolis, it was enough for Ruth and I to live quite well in Istanbul, a city with a modest cost of living.  In fact, there were sufficient funds remaining to support weekend and school holiday sojourns to Ephesus, Bodrum, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia.

By this fifth overseas working vacation I was coming to understand that these terms—one round-trip air ticket, on-campus housing (sometimes free, sometimes at a nominal cost), and a small food and living allowance—were pretty much the norm and roughly what you might expect to receive on your own working vacation.  One of the realities of negotiating with an overseas institution is that there may be little or no “wiggle room” regarding the financial terms of the offer. Pay scales are often set by the university administration or central government, not the dean or department head, leaving little room to maneuver. However, while salaries are often inflexible there may be room for negotiation with regard to workload. Don’t be surprised if the host institution initially proposes a heavy course load, dozens of public lectures, or consulting with a multitude of groups, since the director, department chair, or dean will want to squeeze as much valuable work out of your visit as possible.  The same admonition applies to other disciplines–a doctor may be asked to see hundreds of patients; the engineer may be assigned a six or six-and-a half-day work week; the consultant may be asked to meet with dozens of agencies. Don’t be afraid to respond that this is too great a workload for you to do a quality job, and it needs to be lowered to a more manageable level. Then discuss a compromise acceptable to both you and the host institution. You may not be able to negotiate the amount they are paying you, but you may be able to negotiate the amount of work you must do to earn that pay.

So, once again, on May 30, 1991 Ruth and I made our way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to begin a three-month summer working vacation in Istanbul, Turkey but this time, with an interesting, no-cost diversion included on the way.

(Sidebar:  Some people have commented that my blog is getting quite large, making it difficult to find specific topic material. Sad but true! I am not much of a designer, but I did make a couple of changes to make it more useful, especially to new readers who may have missed some earlier posts.

Change 1: I added categories to each post specifying what kind of helpful travel advice is contained in each article. There are currently sixteen categories included under the heading “Working Vacation” with many more to come as new posts are added and new topics are addressed.

Change 2: If you look in the right-hand column you will see a listing of these categories. If you are interested, for example, in the issue of housing in a host country, then simply click on the category “housing”and you  will get a list of all posts that have anything to do with that topic.

Change 3: I added a brand new page entitled Table of Contents. It lists, in chronological order, every post I have put up, along with its date and first few lines to give you a brief idea of what it is about. There is also a link (the word more…) to the full post.

I hope you find these changes helpful, and I would love to receive more suggestions about how to make this blog more useful . Thanks so much.)