The Jetsetter Series explores travel tips and tales from the industry’s most seasoned travelers. For this edition, we were lucky enough to speak with freelance travel writer Ann Abel. As a contributor to ForbesLife, Departures, AFAR and many other notable travel publications, Ann has amassed quite an unbelievable travel résumé, and she decided to share some of her top travel tips with us – from what to do on safari, to what’s “worth the splurge.” Here’s what she had to say…
AA: Getting to meet all sorts of interesting people, from general managers of luxury hotels, to high-end jewelry designers, to surf instructors and trekking guides. I have met people from all backgrounds and walks of life. As a journalist, I’m able to ask them questions that would probably be considered impertinent in another context.
VTG: How much time do you spend traveling – both personally/professionally?
AA: Two-thirds to three-quarters of the year.
VTG: Wow! When traveling professionally, do you ever have downtime to explore?
AA: I try to build in some time, whether it’s a couple hours one afternoon or a day or two after my work obligations are done. I’ll also stay up late for an authentic travel experience if that’s my best chance at having one. One of my best recent travel memories was leaving an official dinner in Madrid at 10:30 p.m. to have a second dinner with a Madrileño friend who took me on a crawl through tapas bars. Another time, I headed out at midnight to a dive bar in Seoul for kimchee pancakes and makgeoli with some friends of friends of friends.
AA: It’s hard to pick just one. Last year, after years of dodgy “Discover SCUBA” dives, I finally finished my Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certification course and was officially certified aboard a luxury yacht/dive boat in the Raja Ampat Islands in Indonesia, which is widely considered one of the premier dive destinations in the world. I finished the last of my open-water dives for my test on a day when we also had five-meter-wingspan manta rays swimming overhead, and I was presented with my certification on the night of traditional Balinese feasting and dancing. It was magical.
VTG: With the number trips you take and range of locations you cover, you must be an expert at packing for a last-minute trip. What are your top last-minute packing tips?
AA: Don’t stress. If you forget something, you can probably buy it where you’re going. Shopping for something like socks in a tourist town gets you off the beaten path and leads to interesting interactions with the locals.
VTG: Obvious items such as socks are always the first forgotten. What are your absolute must–haves when traveling?
AA: A scarf or pashmina for cold airplanes (and as an adult version of a security blanket for stressful travel days); my MacBook Air, which weighs nearly nothing; heavy-duty skin care products to counter the effects of flying; and Ziploc bags for dirty shoes or wet bathing suits. My packing list is the same for long or short trips; I just repeat outfits on longer trips. And if it’s cold, I might wear all my clothes at once.
Victorinox Travel Tip: Upgrade from plastic bags to the Lifestyle Accessories 3.0 Spill-Resistant Pouch Set to stash everything from carry-on liquids to damp swimwear.
VTG: How would you describe your personal travel style?
AA: Laid-back and open-minded. I don’t stress about forgetting items or not showing up in the perfect outfit. Always traveling with a carry-on is a minor point of pride. My clothes are bohemian but respectful—always covered shoulders and knees, or more in places where that’s expected—and largely acquired abroad. My mind-set is willing. My answer to almost any travel-related question is yes.
VTG travel tip: As a reminder of regional etiquette, print out a few basic tips before you leave and store them in the Lifestyle Accessories 3.0 Travel Organizer for easy access when you’re abroad.
VTG: When it comes to luggage, we know you’re a fan of the Victorinox Spectra Collection – do you typically stick with hard side luggage?
AA: Actually, no. I’ve had squishy carry-ons for the past decade or so, but sometimes things break inside them, and I’ve started to feel envious of the people who roll their hardside cases through the airport—it seems like a more glamorous, more chic way to pack. The next time I walk into the George V in Paris, I want to have a glossy hard case!
VTG travel tip: Get the sleek look Ann covets with the iconic and durable Spectra Collection.
VTG: You always know what’s “worth the splurge” – what’s worth the splurge for a typical traveler?
AA: That really depends on your priorities. I once took a vacation where I spent an absurd amount of money on lunch at a prestigious restaurant after flying economy on frequent flier miles and renting a cheap apartment through Airbnb.com. That lunch was worth it to me, but someone else might want to stay at the best hotel in town, take a day trip with the best local guide, book a fabulous massage or rent a top-of-the-line bike. But while worthy splurges are up to the individual, the idea of value is consistent. There are things that are expensive for the sake of being expensive, and there are things whose high prices reflect the cost of raw materials and the painstaking labor that goes into creating them. It’s the latter that I want to write about.
VTG: You’re the epitome of “global traveler” – how do you pick your vacation destinations since work brings you to so many exotic locations?
AA: It can be a fine line between work and vacation for me—I try to say “I’m writing about it” instead of “I’m going for work.” When I’m writing about a place, I gravitate toward somewhere I can challenge myself and get messy during the day, but then come back to a hot shower, good food and wine, and a comfortable bed—New Zealand’s luxury “super lodges” are a perfect example. But when I really want to get off the clock, I visit friends in far-off cities or go way off the grid where none of the usual hotel-evaluation criteria apply. Two recent proper vacations were hut-to-hut hiking along the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, and a backcountry horse-pack trip in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains.
AA: I’m actually in Kenya right now, at the tail end of a safari trip in the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti in Tanzania. Safari will never get old.
VTG: What are your safari musts?
AA: Take a balloon ride followed by a champagne breakfast in the bush, or course! Force yourself to wake up at 5:30 a.m. for the early morning game drives; it’s really the best time to see wildlife.
VTG: Where are you off to next?
AA: Roatan Island in Honduras, to check out a new resort and dive.
VTG: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. We’re so inspired – off to plan our next trip!