Do you remember where you were in April 2000? What you were doing and who you were with? It may well have faded in your memory as another uneventful month. However, for me April 2000 was the month when I received a phone call which changed my life. And I’ve never looked back since.
I was sat in my employer’s office in the north of England. My work load was light; it was respite from a hectic few months. Then my routine day was interrupted by an unexpected ring of the desk telephone.
An unfamiliar voice from our London office wanted to know if I was interested in working on an overseas assignment. My mind began racing immediately. I had few commitments at home so I may be open to opportunities; maybe it is America, Australia, Eastern Europe?
“Where?” I asked.
Then totally unexpected I received the reply “Saudi Arabia”.
Well I certainly wasn’t expecting that. Why would we even be involved in a project in such a non-Western country?
I sensed that the caller had experience of this type of call so he immediately began going into the hard sell of why it was a great opportunity to go.
The benefits included:-
- – Immediate 30% uplift in taxable salary
- – $75 USD per diem for each day I was in the Kingdom (weekends included)
- – Settling in bonus
- – They provided shared accommodation and shared car
- – 1 week off per month (on top of my annual leave) to go and do whatever I wanted
- – 1 Business Class flight home or a £1,100 flight allowance per month!
This all sounded too good to be true. Often when it sounds too good to be true it is and there’s a hidden catch. However this time there was no catch. He’d been upfront and told me of the location. That was the only catch.
Saudi Arabia is a relatively unknown destination for many in the West. It is known to have a restrictive culture and getting a visa to travel there is quite difficult.
I was working for a highly respected employer so I knew I’d be in safe hands.
Initially I said I’d go for 3 months since it really was the unknown for me. This wasn’t quite enough for him and he pushed me to agree to 5.
As it turns out I stayed for 17 months. It really was a once in a lifetime experience.
The whole experience changed my life and my experience of the world. Until now I’d only ever travelled around the UK, Ireland, one month interrailing around Europe and one trip to California.
Now the only restrictions would be visas.
In this time based in Saudi Arabia I explored so much of the world. I saw much of the Middle East, Malaysia, Australia, Switzerland, Hungary, a return visit to Prague (which I love) and trips to the US.
Suddenly all of my “must go to” places were being ticked off.
Bucket List? You better re-write that since it changes every month.
Life in Riyadh was restrictive but the freedom and adventure of travel was opened up beyond the wildest imagination of many.
By late 2001 my time in Saudi Arabia was heading to an end but there was always hope for an extension. It had happened before. Then a world changing event happened. We arrived in the month of September 2001.
Suddenly the world was not the same anymore.
Previously there had been attacks on westerners in Saudi Arabia with a few foreigners killed. Local authorities played it down and refused to acknowledge any presence of terrorism in the country. My level of concern about this had grown yet it had little impact on those back home.
Now, suddenly (after 11th September) I was receiving e-mails from many at home:
- “Are you safe?”
- “Should you be there?”
- “Come home”.
The events of 11th September 2001 did speed up my return home as my boss on the assignment sought to wind things down. It is fortunate enough that we did, since in May 2003 the very compound I lived in was attacked by Al-Qaeda.
So what of the future?
I arrived home and had to try to slot into work in the office. Yet was my heart really there?
I didn’t relish the work. I missed the expat lifestyle and the lack of frequent travel.
Thankfully timing was on my side and I found a new opportunity.
By the end of 2001 I’d found a new employer. Now I was able to perform the type of work I enjoyed plus travel to the company’s operations all around the world.
Since joining the company until the present day I’ve been flying away on business almost every single month. A million miles on a frequent flyer card is a given.
Now every year I travel to places in North and South America, around Europe, South Africa, India, China, Singapore and the fabulous Australia.
My life has changed since that unexpected call in April 2000. From that moment on, global travel moved from a dream to a reality. In fact I now can’t imagine life without travel. It is a part of me. It is how I see the world.
I’m forever thankful for that phone call in April 2000 that changed my life.
About the author
Writing under the pen name of “The Guy”, the author can be followed on his own travel blog called Flights And Frustration. You’ll be able to follow his adventures to 6 continents as well as flight, hotel and destination reviews plus the odd amusing rant.
You can also follow his adventures via social media