‘TIS THE SEASON FOR TRAVEL GIFT TIPS

The end of 2017 is already upon us, and how this year has flown by. I believe in using this time to put a pause on daily busyness and focus on the important business of taking extra care of those we love. For me, one of the absolute pleasures that is almost equalled with frustrations is the gift selecting that comes with the festive season.

I fly often. A lot, in fact. And I truly enjoy sharing and exchanging travel tips. But in recognising the time of year, rather than travel tips, I wanted to give some more thought to my sharing and as it’s the season of goodwill and giving. I immediately thought about the questions I am frequently asked about when it comes to travel accessories and what great gift ideas I might have. So here are some of my personal favourite gifted tips plus gifts you may like to seek out, road tested, across many miles and continents, that have certainly smoothed the way on my myriad travels. I hope that these may make your holiday season shopping easier and your intrepid traveller’s journeys more enjoyable.

First, and foremost, the most essential of them all, suitcases. My belief is simple, invest in the best from those who know travel not fashion. The pieces of luggage we buy become the peace of mind we travel with. One should never have to worry about luggage letting you down. Cutting corners and cutting costs cuts directly into your ease of mobility. All it takes is one broken handle, or one loose wheel, and your ability to easily and effortlessly go from A to B falls apart (and your travel tolerance levels may also do so!)

Speaking of wheels, they are critical. However, as wonderfully functional as they are, it intrigues me that no one ever thought of putting brakes on four-wheeled suitcases. I therefore only use two wheelers. Neither you, nor your lawyers, want your baggage to show they have a mind of their own and become a giant bowling ball. And in case you are wondering, my most trusted brand: Tumi.

Tip number two: Life on the road of with a plethora of planes and time zones, when it comes to being healthy while travelling, the struggle is real. When travelling for work or pleasure it is imperative to hydrate (see tip on this below) and ensure you exercise.  There are very some simple, yet effective, strategies that will help you continue to remain healthy while travelling in order to maintain balance and reduce stress. My two invaluable and compact travel companions are my Manduka light travel yoga mat and my TRX, an over the door, very transportable, bodyweight training apparatus. Both do an exceptional job when you have limited time to train before one of “those” early morning departures.

It is always tough to begin one’s journey trying to recover from another flight, hence grabbing sleep on a ‘plane is always a good idea. Eyeshades are another essential you need to own in life – from sleep-inducer to do not disturb, they are a great anti-invasive investment. This is one where comfort outweighs cost for me and texture is all-important to rest: cashmere with silk lining is hard to beat.

All airplanes are loud. A pair of comfortable noise cancelling headphones will make every flight shorter as they reduce ambient noise significantly; making every voyage more peaceful. A few years ago, I moved from over to in ear headphones (size) and Bose are without question the best in class in this regard. The sound experience is truly transporting, in any mode of transport.

Airplane attire never ceases to amaze me. I am always surprised by those flying in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. I always travel with a zip-up wool sweater and without fail, a large scarf. A recent new addition to my in-flight attire was introduced to me by Scott, who runs our New Zealand office, when he gave me my first pair of Allbirds, the most comfortable merino wool sneakers known to man. Not only do they keep your feet warm, but now that evening trip mid-flight to the bathroom seems less concerning.  At this point, it’s worth highlighting that some people advocate sitting by the window is better for sleep, I personally always find it colder than the aisle.

The next gift tip is more about conservation and consciousness than comfort: a personal hot/cold water bottle (and hydration too). We all know that plastic bottles are becoming an increasingly present peril for our environment, especially our oceans and you cannot get them through security. I therefore like knowing I am playing my part by carrying my Swiss made Sigg bottle with me when I travel. After all, every little bit helps.

When on the road, one of the biggest pleasures comes from not only having the time to read, but also considering what we might read, whether books, magazines or newspapers. Thanks to the remarkable iPad or a Kindle, they have officially ended that need for extra kilos in the tightly-packed travel bags. Unless you are my   wife – who still delights in lugging multiple books around.

The newest addition to my travel accessories is my first Apple Watch, the 3. I have eagerly awaited this and the opportunity to be Maxwell Smart; communicating telephonically via my watch. But come on Apple, surely you should have thought about the time zone automatically updating (it requires is both iPhone and iWatch restarting, not just from flight mode).

We all know that travel can change us and how the smallest of effort can make the biggest difference at times. Don’t dispose of all your local currency before leaving a country, don’t force yourself to have that last cup of coffee or buy that non-essential useless gift. Save your change to help make a change. Almost every airport in the world and many airlines now collect currencies that are used for a diversity of worthwhile causes. It’s a timely reminder during the season of goodwill. And it’s a small gesture that can have a big impact if we all do our bit.

Lastly, my final tip, is one very close to my heart, that I feel every traveller should have a personal totem. What do I mean by this? Something small, of personal value and/or significance, that you can always carry with you and that keeps your spirit connected to you. I have carried the same Tibetan sandalwood prayer beads with me for years. I can only imagine how many air miles they have travelled. Every time I hold and quietly play with them wherever I may be, I can feel myself centering. This ability to pull out, hold, touch and absorb something highly personal is essential to carrying that precious piece of home with you wherever you are in the world. Its value is never quantitative. It is always about the emotional connection, irrespective of what it may be.

With that, I wish you and yours all the very, very best for a happy, healthy holiday time. May the gifts of the season leave you feeling prosperous with health and love and ready to travel. And, as 2018 awaits, I wish you all that you wish for in the year ahead.

KEEPING TRAVEL DOORS, MINDS AND HEARTS OPEN

I love travel. For me the ability to freely discover new places and people is a fundamental part of the fabric of who I am. It is what turns my profession into my vocation.

I have never given much thought to the possibility of this right coming under threat. That is, not until recently, when I, or rather we all, noticed that matters started to go very wrong. My view of the world has always been that of a global community, and yet today our world appears to be facing unprecedented challenges not just to our unity, but also to our humanity. Basic privileges are disappearing. Boundaries are being created. Such measures, unless stopped, will not only make travel inaccessible, but also increase the inhumanity amongst us.

I am quite certain that none of us will ever forget the alarming sight of a traveler – a doctor no less – with a paid seat, being forcibly removed from a plane. Why? Because the airline crew needed to fly. Policy or not, the actions of the Chicago police, requested by the airline personnel, were inexcusable and unforgivable. Finally, after much backlash, the airline CEO even admitted so. Humanity came second to policy.

It’s easy to draw parallels to another unacceptable situation ongoing in the same part of the world: an American President attempting to place ‘un-American’ travel bans, of what appears to be outright discrimination and violation of not just democracy, but human decency.

My confusion around where our supposedly ‘civilized’ world is heading is multi-faceted. I was born into the hospitality and travel industry. My grandfather, at the tender age of 14, left Russia, alone, hidden under potato sacks with just 12 gold sovereigns sewed into the lining of his jacket. By 1920 he had established a new life for himself in South Africa, laying the foundations for future generations, where he purchased a small hotel in a remote fishing village. His vision of caring, inclusive, exceptional service, has been a guiding light for our family for over three generations. I must add that I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, where our hotels refused segregation laws, opening our doors to all, at the explicit risk of a harshly negative response. Despite the risks, my family was, and remains, steadfast in the commitment to ensure that all guests feel both honoured and respected.

I myself, admittedly in very different circumstances, have been fortunate to run a global travel business. However; I am also an immigrant, three times over in fact, having moved from South Africa to the United Kingdom, United States and now Switzerland. Every time I moved forward, I was discovering the individuality of each culture, running a business firmly rooted in a belief of individuality and respect, always putting the guest is at the forefront of all that we do.

What we are seeing today is beyond comprehension. Despite the importance of travel to economies and business that should put people and service first and foremost, sadly we find ourselves in an environment led by narrow minded political rhetoric, and poor business practices. Humanity is being pushed aside, hostility (in the name of security) is being given priority. In truth, these political and corporate policies appear to want to keep people out.

I firmly believe that travel is, and must remain, our world’s great educator and unifier – the unquestionable basis for greater understanding, respect and peace. It is the quintessential bridge that connects us all. We need to be building bridges in humanity, not walls. This truism is known by all of us in the travel industry.

Mark Twain captured this wholeheartedly: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

As an industry, and as consumers, we need to ensure that whilst fresh in all of our minds, we speak our minds. Regardless of our standing from CEO, or leaders of the free world, we must not allow this spirit of poor service, this overt segregation, to spread. There is no policy that can make the sentiment of ‘stay away’ acceptable. Never has it been more important to venture outside of our familiar surrounds, to go and discover the culturally rich and diverse wonders of the world we live in. And the people with whom we share it.

I have lived and loved the United States for many decades. Actions being taken, be they Executive Orders or inexplicable removal of airline passengers, are not what the land of the free has ever stood for and neither should it. It’s imperative that we realign ourselves with what made the United States and indeed our entire shared global community extraordinary.

It is the shared responsibility of each and every one of us to inspire, motivate and collaborate, and not separate and alienate.

Let’s return to a time when common sense created common bonds, a time when civilisation put civility front and centre.

For if there is one thing I am absolutely certain of, it is this: we are so much better than this.

DEFINING MOMENTS

The world unites in support for France

They happen when we least expect them – moments in our life that immediately, dramatically, profoundly and irreversibly shift our view of the world, and sometimes even our place in the world. I’ve experienced a few, and every time by their very nature, they catch us off guard, causing our true selves to be exposed: how we think, how we feel, how we immediately respond and of course, how we then move on.

Personally, one of those times was just over a week ago. Paris. It was a night I wont forget. By happenstance I was there with many members of my family. So were a number of our Trafalgar guests from across the globe – some readying to leave that weekend, while others elsewhere were excitedly looking forward to arriving into the city of lights. None of us had any idea that the lights were about to go out, plunging the city into darkness.

As the people of Paris and France stood teary-eyed facing down in shock, as the loss of life climbed to 129, the world stood together with the people of Paris, as one. And along with the people of Lebanon, 43 souls taken in an attack on their own streets, and the people of Russia who lost 224 souls in the skies over the Sinai.

I was one of those people, walking the streets of Paris early the next morning, trying to find some sense of calm, quiet, trustworthy footing after the ground had been shaken underneath us. Every one of my senses was heightened – the sounds, the smells and the movements around me. And, completely to my surprise, the cautious smiles of complete strangers who, for the first time I have ever found, engaged eye contact. A garbage collector, a retiree, a shop owner looking to open, a child. That morning they were eyes still tender from tears, yet willing to look at passers by, to really see them, as if to say “Nous sommes tous Parisiennes.” Whether local or tourist, male or female, whatever class, colour, creed, country, “Nous sommes tous Parisiennes.” An inner strength and solidarity united us together.

Why was this such a defining moment for me? The tragedy of the night before? There is no question about it – the terror hits you at a cellular level. But it did not stop there. My spirit experienced truly defining moments in observing, raw and unedited, what the word ‘resilience’ meant. It was a time that felt, and still feels, like the people of Paris are tightly, carefully held together by a giant Band-Aid. And they, with the help of the world, will heal.

What was also absolutely clear to me was the following. This wave of terror is trying desperately and deviously to wash over the world.

It is random.

It is heartless.

It is a few trying to exploit the masses.

It is trying to break people, communities, and religions apart.

And yet, through its unthinkable actions, it is unifying.

The weekend of the tragedy, as mentioned earlier, a number of our Trafalgar guests were scheduled to move on. And they did as per their itineraries, but with no sense of escape. Those who had the option of a few days extra in Paris chose to stay on. Our guests scheduled to arrive in Paris from Lucerne four days later? Each and every one arrived, and entered into this beautiful city with a determined spirit of “Nous sommes tous Parisiennes.” The solidarity and resilience of the Trafalgar guests, of all people, shone through.

This, dear friends, is why we travel.

This is what it means to be an ‘insider’ – living and feeling the real places, moments, milestones, memories, of the lives of people around the world with whom we will forever be bonded through a love of one shared hope – a peaceful, shared, compassionate and ever-curious world.