My friend Graham Garvie is a business consultant that splits his time between a compound in Saudi Arabia, an office in London and hotels in New York City. Three years ago Graham decided he wanted to live and work abroad so he strategically made the switch to a global consulting firm. After developing a track record of hard work at the firm, he took the jump and asked for a move to one of their international offices.
With one brother living in Bangkok, his sister living in France and parents booking one way tickets to places like Istanbul, it was only a matter of time before Graham’s natural desire to explore new cultures took precedence in his plans. He had originally hoped to work in Hong Kong and won’t deny the disappointment he felt when his firm returned an offer at the UK office with a project in Saudi. He was never going to turn down the offer but it wasn’t until his parents pointed out that he wanted “foreign and exotic,” and Saudi was even more foreign and exotic than Hong Kong that he started to feel the excitement.
Since then Graham has fully transitioned to a minimalist life on the go. When I asked how he lives in a constant state of travel, guessing it was a variation of life out of a suitcase, he shrugged and said, “I’m a simple guy. I wear this pretty much every day.”
When did you decide to switch to a global firm with the goal of working abroad?In mid-2011 I started looking for more creative roles within the strategy consulting industry. I knew that working for, and in, international markets was important to me. This helped me prioritize which companies to target. I mentioned this interest during my interviews with Lippincott, where I began working in early 2012.
Could you describe the transition to working abroad? How did you prepare for the move?
My desire to be mobile motivated me to pursue a minimalist lifestyle. Having fewer material belongings helps me feel flexible. It also made practical sense given my small, New York City apartment. When I ultimately had a chance to relocate, I got rid of my lease, shipped my cold weather clothes home, and found a new roommate in just a few days. Craigslist makes it easy.
Transitioning to Saudi Arabia required good friends and patient mentors. They’ve helped me adjust to each new phase of the process.
What is a typical day like living on the compound?
It’s a quieter, simpler life. The compound is dry (no alcohol) and there’s obviously not much dating to speak of given the culture. I usually work from 7 to 4, then work out in the evening and get another 2-3 hours of work done before bedtime. Juggling the in-person day meetings and the evening phone calls with the London and New York offices makes for quite long hours. Fortunately, I love what I do and weekend trips help balance it out!
Do you have any other advice for someone who wants to work abroad?
It can be hard for the company to send you to the number one spot on your list. It’s probably easier for them to send you to where they need people the most. So, be open minded.
Give yourself at least a year abroad to fully adjust and experience the new place. Write down your observations upon arrival. They are fun to read after you’ve adjusted and see things differently. Fully expect to go through the high ups and low downs of a transition.
Where have you traveled since you started working in Saudi?
Within Saudi I’ve been to Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Khobar and Qatif. I spend 7-10 days each month in London for work. I’ve explored the city quite a bit and enjoyed Oxford too. I wanted to see a lot of the Middle East, so I’ve done weekends in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon and a week with my parents in Turkey. I enjoyed Cairo and Sharm in Egypt. I’ve met up with friends in Munich, Verbier and Madrid in Europe. I’ve spent at least a half dozen weekends in Bahrain, which is just a cab ride away from my home in Saudi.
Any other funny/interesting stories from life in the Middle East?
Here’s a top ten list of things that come to mind (in no particular order):
- Sweating through my shirt at a BBQ in Saudi (see: Instagram) so badly that I was asked to leave
- Scuba diving in Egypt at a Red Sea resort completely full of old Russians
- Learning how to drive 140kph in the shoulder to survive on the roads in Saudi
- Dancing sober for four hours to American and Arabic music with my clients at a dry wedding in Bahrain
- Being too scared to visit a nearby city in Saudi but when I finally went everyone wanted to give me tea and take selfies with me
- Eating nothing but kebabs and baklava for a week in Turkey with my parents
- Going on a secret dinner date to a fancy restaurant with a Saudi who was intensely scared someone was going to “catch her”
- Listening to the church’s bells and the mosque’s call to prayer play simultaneously at Noon in Beirut
- Doing a guy’s weekend in Madrid and getting upgraded to a suite with a huge balcony, which was great until my friend left all his stuff outside at night and it rained
- Going dune bashing in the Saudi desert and spending all night in the ER to make sure my friend didn’t break her neck when our Jeep went airborne. She was ok.
Anywhere else that you’ve traveled?
About half of the US, most of Western Europe, a couple countries in South America, and a few spots in Asia. Not enough!
Thanks Graham! I had so much fun getting to know your travel style.
I can’t wait to start sharing more traveler spotlights on the blog. I’ve made so many friends who live or travel abroad and each one has there own unique approach to the lifestyle.
*Photos by Graham Garvie