Travel has always been such a big part of your life – how has the way you viewed travel as you’ve gotten older?
I still love discovery—that sense of being in a place for the first time and how alert one feels when something is totally new, whether it is a landscape like the desert in Namibia or the salt flats in Bolivia or a ritual like the bathing ceremony in Japan or entering a temple in Bhutan. Discovery fuels new inspirations and perspectives and there is an excitement and energy that I always feel when landing someplace totally new to me. However, I have found as I have gotten older that I also find inspiration and renewal in returning to places. Now I get a different kind of pleasure and insight from revisiting places where I have already created memories and relationships—whether that is Paris, where I was lucky enough to live twice; or the Caribbean, where our family has memories and friends from annual visits; or Venice, which I visited during every decade of my life, so it’s like sifting through photos of the past each time I visit.
When did you first get the idea for Indagare? How long did it take to get up and running?
I was the travel editor at Town & Country for more than a decade and started their Weddings and Travel magazines and after a number of years I found myself frustrated trying to plan my own trips, even though I had access to lots of great information and contacts. I felt that information was too broad and the internet could be a place for curation and crowd sourcing, but that it needed an editorial perspective and real expertise behind it. So the idea really came from a need that I knew others had for travel-planning assistance. I spent at least a year talking myself out of the idea, because I had a great job and didn’t have business experience, but my husband told me that I would be filled with regret, if I didn’t try. Less than a year after I left Town & Country, I had raised money, hired a small team and launched a beta version of the site. It has evolved a lot since then, as we now have more than 80 employees and members from every continent except Antarctica.
What are the biggest travel trends coming up this year?
Overtourism is a growing problem as many popular sites are truly overrun with visitors at certain times of the year, so figuring out how to visit places and make real connections with local people and experience authentic cultural rituals is something that many people are craving. You do that by going behind closed doors, choosing non-peak periods and out of the way neighborhoods. We have lots of tricks to avoid crowds. Visiting places that still feel remote and untouched is another growing trend. I am encouraged by the emergence of “thinking travelers,” those who really want to use their travels for education while addressing social and political issues. We all have the opportunity to be ambassadors and global citizens, but that starts with curiosity and awareness.
You have the dream job! Is being a travel expert as fabulous as I think it is? What is something people don’t realize about your job?
I love what I do, but you are right that people see only the glamour, and there is a lot about building a business and traveling that is not glamorous, including spending a lot of time in airports. I do spend a lot of time on the road, but to find the best experiences or hotels often means visiting the places or having the experiences that don’t make the cut—and I have traveled miles on long, windy, bumpy roads to reach dead ends so to speak. Put another way, we kiss a lot of frogs to share only the princes.
What are your biggest travel tips?
Whenever I travel out of the country, I make sure to take probiotics and Pepto-Bismol pills every day. The probiotics build up healthy bacteria in your gut and the Pepto-Bismol acts as a prophylactic that coats your digestive track and can help filter out organisms in contaminated water or food. Last year in Asia, I met a gastroenterologist from Harvard Medical School who endorsed my stomach insurance ritual, but also cautioned me against eating dairy products, especially cheeses and yogurts in Third World countries, as they will likely not be pasteurized and have local bacteria unfamiliar to our systems. As a cheese lover, I took that advice as a bitter pill to swallow, but the advice has served me well.
How to be a light packer and a shopper
I only travel with carry-on luggage. As a family, we have traveled for two weeks and to wildly different climates with only carry-on bags. It takes a lot more planning in the packing and you have to submit to a uniform look often, but you will never lose a bag, waste time wondering what to wear or spend lots of time packing and unpacking. In fact, by carrying less with you, I find that you are able to be more open. You are literally not burdened by your things so can be present in a purer way.
But I love shopping on the road, so I put a tote bag within my carry-on tote, and I pack a duffle that folds flat into the bottom of my suitcase or I buy one. I recently found fabulous hand-painted ceramic plates and hand-woven beach towels in the new Watershed shops in Cape Town. I packed the plates in my wheelie bag and bought a duffle for my clothes and the towels and checked it on the flight home.
Back-up credit card with my passport
When I canceled my Amex card in Japan last year because of what I thought were fraudulent charges—my 16-year-old son sending roses to someone—I could be amused instead of inconvenienced, because I had the back-up Amex in my passport holder. It stays in the safe with my passport always.
Favorite travel gadget
A friend gave me a Skyroam, mobile hotspot, a few years ago. It doesn’t work in every country but in many, you pay $10 a day and you have mobile Wi-fi that works for multiple devices. I have been able to get family and friends on Wi-fi on long drives in Italy, Mexico and Japan, but I also use it in airports, which often have notoriously bad Wi-fi even in the lounges.
I also avoid eating on planes, because I have found that it really helps with jet lag. A flight attendant on Singapore Airlines on what was, at the time, the longest flight in the world (17 hours from Singapore to New York), told me that her tried-and-true trick was not eating in-flight. She had been told by a doctor that at high altitudes your blood flow to vital organs decreases, so your digestion slows down in a comparable way to being put under anesthesia. The more you eat, the more work your body has to do once you land, so you become more tired. I eat nothing on flights, drink lots of water, and I always begin to shift on to the time zone of the destination that I am traveling to a few hours at a time in the days ahead of departure. If it is midnight in Tokyo, when I board the plane in New York at noon, I will have gotten up at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. that day and will go right to bed for at least seven hours; then when I arrive, I force myself to stay on the clock. The mental shift, melatonin and a sleeping aid allow me to adjust my body clock pretty effectively.
Figure out how to meet locals
Whenever a friend says, ‘You should look up my friend when you are in X,’ I do it. I view local connections as a golden opportunity, and today when screen time occupies so much of our days, people are more eager than ever to make meaningful connections. Recently, I was introduced to an expat living in Morocco who is trying to adopt a child there and learning about that process offered incredible insights into the culture, even though I’ve been there more than a dozen times. For individual travelers and on our small group trips called Insider Journeys, we build in these interactions. We may go out with a fisherman in the lagoon in Venice; attend a dinner party in India with senators and CEOs; meet geishas and sumo wrestlers in Tokyo, journalists in Cairo, lamas in Bhutan and graffiti artists in Brazil. I was in Namibia a month ago and stayed in spectacular camps, had great game viewing and loved flying over the Skeleton Coast and climbing the Sossuvlei dunes, but one of the highlights was tracking animals with a bushman and learning from him about how to read trees for signs of elephant and the myths behind desert fairy circles.
What’s the craziest vacation that Indagare’s ever planned?
The most ambitious vacations that we have been lucky enough to plan are family sabbaticals. Some have been for six months and others up to a year, moving every week. They tend to involve incredible educational experiences like working with wildlife trackers in Africa and paleontologists in Mongolia and cultural interaction such as spending time with families in Morocco or Myanmar. Last year, we also helped someone celebrate his 60th birthday with a bike ride across America with friends and family joining him along the way.
What is your favorite vacation you’ve ever taken and why?
I absolutely love going on safari and I remember almost every day of the first one that went on when I was 12, but going back with my own kids was probably my favorite vacation. Whether it is a feeling of returning to our genetic roots, which happens in the Serengeti, when you feel this odd sense of nostalgia even on your first visit, or returning to a simpler, purer existence or being more deeply connected to the earth and the people we are with, because of the lack of distractions or the power of wilderness to remind us of our fragility, there is something about being in Africa that makes me feel more awake to the wonders of the world, which of course is one of the great benefits of travel.
Where are you most excited about going next?
I am headed to Madagascar this fall on one of our Insider Journeys, small group member trips, and I have never been before but am really excited to see the wildlife and natural beauty. From everything I have heard, it feels a bit like the wild west of tropical Africa still. I am also returning to Egypt, which I love.
Where do you see Indagare in five, ten, fifteen years?
Indagare truly is a community of passionate travelers who share a deep commitment to appreciating the diversity of experiences in the world. Our mission is to inspire and empower people to change their lives through travel, and when we first started, we did that for a few hundred people. Today, we work with thousands of people and I believe that our community will continue to grow and evolve to include ever more experiences and inspirations.
Just for Fun:
What’s one product you would add to our list of Groove-Approved items?
I love my Alexandra Knight drawstring pouch, for keeping all of my electronics and cords in one place when traveling. http://www.alexandraknightonline.com/drawstring_pouch.php
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
I am reading Microtrends Squared, which is fascinating but I also loved The Power of Moments.
What’s your favorite hostess gift to give, and the best hostess gift you’ve ever received?
I love the selection of candles at L’Objet that come in special porcelain containers so you give something ephemeral and something lasting at once. My favorite hostess present was a small cuff engraved with the words, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
How do you treat yourself?
I love wonderful meals, massages and time in nature and with those I love. All of those are treats that I can make happen almost anywhere and any day.
What would your superpower be?
Traveling through time.
What is your go-to outfit?
Black pants and t-shirt and a great jacket.
If you had a warning label, what would it say?
Little warrior. Or Do no harm. Take no shit.