by Shubhransh Dixit: At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel…
And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globetrotters in all of our luxury fields (food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate) for their tips, tricks, and quirky high-end experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.
Jim Kitchen knows how to travel.
The 57-year-old businessman and investor says he is the only person on Earth to have visited all 193 UN-recognized countries, as well as space: He was part of the civilian crew of the Blue Origin rocket, the same trip he took. comedian Pete Davidson was originally scheduled to fly in March.
In addition to that 62-mile milestone, Kitchen estimates he has logged 7 to 10 million miles in the air, at least 3 million of them with American Airlines. However, his favorite airline is Emirates. “It’s just the wood paneling in those business class suites, those huge video screens, the best beds,” he says, “God, I hate to admit this publicly, but I still think I have one of their blankets.”
Having worked in various capacities in the travel industry for most of his career, including founding (and selling) group travel company SBT, he now acts as an angel investor and lecturer focusing on the entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. where he lives with his wife Susan. Here are some of the best travel tips from globetrotters.
When packing, bring a cheap shirt, but leave your wedding ring at home.
I had done a bike tour and we had played tejo, a unique game in Colombia: you throw like a 3-pound weight, and there is a circle, and if you hit in the center of the circle, everything explodes. My guide asked me when we were playing, “So where next?” And I said: “Oh, tomorrow I fly to Venezuela”. And he says, “In those shoes?” He was wearing a pair of sneakers, nothing fancy. He said thieves often measure foreigners by their shoes and jewelry.
So we went to the local flea market and bought an old pair of leather shoes. I proceed to put them on, in this kind of scratchy polyester shirt, like I’m a Chevy Chase character walking through the airport. If you have the means, traveling the developing world is not the time to express that. It’s time to fit in and go unnoticed. I also don’t wear my wedding ring, because I don’t want people to know that I’m married, because they can kidnap me and call my wife and say, “Hey, we’ve got your husband,” and I’d probably pay the ransom.
Don’t eat at restaurants that offer great views.
In my 30+ years of travel, I have experienced that restaurants that offer spectacular views of the city or sunsets often have terrible food. I’ve found this notoriously true in the Caribbean: Pier One in the Bahamas, for example. There’s a beautiful long pier with a restaurant built on top of the pier, and the views were spectacular, a million dollars, and the food was horrible. You were happy to feed it to the sharks, it was so bad.
Why you should keep and personalize an additional credit card.
I always put a credit card in the sole of a pair of tennis shoes, so if all hell breaks loose, like I’m robbed and everything is taken, if they don’t take my shoes, it’s probably okay, because at least least I will have a credit card to buy a ticket or to get something. It is also a Visa card that you can personalize with a photograph. I have a photo of myself and my family, so it will also be a kind of visual identification. At worst, I can say, “Hey, yeah, that’s me. “It has my name and photo on it.
On a long trip, the one thing you won’t leave home without.
Some people don’t care. They are used to sleeping on polyester. I am not; I’ll be itchy all night and won’t sleep an eye. So if I go for three [or] four-week trip, I’ll take a 10-pound suitcase, and three pounds could be an old cotton sheet. It is a sheet that has been in the kitchen hearth at some point on a bed. I cut a king size in half, covered it up and wrapped myself in the sheet. I don’t sleep much when I travel, so being able to sleep five or six hours is worth the weight.
Tourism in Africa is much more than just going on safari.
One of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had was in Gabon, meeting a guy named Tatayo, who looked like Keith Richards and practices this religion known as Bwiti. They eat iboga root and go into a trance for three to four days. And it confuses you, but it cleanses your mind. I didn’t participate, but it was fascinating. I would say, having been to all 54 countries in Africa and being a beach snob, that Gabon has the best beaches there, especially the part of the country’s peninsula that juts out into the Gulf of Guinea. I love Pongara – it’s a white and beige sand beach where you walk right into the water, crystal clear blue water, and see fish swarming in it. I stayed at Pongara Lodge right there. Animals like elephants live by this beach, and I mean, they have fun on the beach. It was a lot like if you had to imagine what Eden would look like.
When you’re planning a trip to space, this is what the astronauts tell you to wear.
I hate to say this, but I was actually encouraged by a guy who was one of the astronauts who flew on a Hubble mission, Mike Good, to use an adult male wet guard, I don’t want to call it a diaper. We had a 45 minute delay. [at take-off], because there was a telemetry problem. So you load into the pod, you’re there, it’s harrowing, you’re waiting. You don’t know if you’re going to pitch or not. And my concern was, “God, what if you have to go?” The last thing you want to do is worry about the bathroom; It’s a short enough flight and you want to enjoy every second, right? Mike said, “Hey, just do the full astronaut experience, man. Just don’t worry about it. And so I accepted it. The reality is that I didn’t have to use it, but I just wanted to take that risk off the table.
Create a routine around what you wear on any long trip.
About 10 years ago, I think I was in Nauru, I got off the plane and started to panic because I couldn’t find my phone. I was lucky, because I asked security to go look for it and 15 minutes later they found it. So I almost lost a phone and started packing clothes that would keep me organized. I will bring two pairs of shorts with four pockets in the front, they are ex officio.
In my lower right pocket goes my passport, and I keep it there at all times. After going through customs, I stop and take the time to put my passport back in that pocket. Why there? Because that’s where it resides, always, and being there keeps me organized. If it’s not there, something feels wrong. Same with the other pockets: my bottom left pocket is where my phone goes, and my wallet stays in my top left pocket; it has a zipper so I know someone can’t rob me there. I leave my upper right pocket free for my boarding pass and anything else.
Do you want to make your own trip to space? Do some additional preparation.
I was physically unprepared for the G-forces that, going from zero to 2,300 miles per hour, was like Macaulay Culkin holding his face: your face melting from your skin. I downplayed the importance of those G-forces. I think [more] centrifugal force training would be helpful, and I did mine at Nastar, outside Philly.
The five star family resort you return to again and again.
Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo is a true luxury hotel and one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. It sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but the gorgeous tropical view is just one thing that stands out. For me, it’s an easy one-stop flight through Houston or Charlotte, NC. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time there with my family: surfing lessons, ziplining, volcano tours, rafting, hiking. We volunteered at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, with some local communities there. To me, that area feels like Hawaii before Hawaii was really built.
I’m not an avid golfer, I could play five or six times a year, but if you stay on property, you can play one of the best golf courses in Latin America: the Ocean Course on Peninsula Papagayo. Most of the holes have beautiful views of the ocean or bay, and can easily distract players trying to get a low score.
Kitchen is not a fan of street food on his travels, and here’s why.
I want to de-risk anything as much as I can. My biggest fear when I travel is getting sick, so I avoid eating most of the food that is for sale on the street. Yes, I have made exceptions to this rule, but I generally choose not to seek out street food, no matter how tempted I am to eat it. There are those who advise the opposite. For them, trying new foods, especially street food, is part of the adventure. I am going to assume that, unlike me, they have never suffered the consequences of eating goat curry from a street vendor in Jamaica. You spent months getting visas for these places, and you did something stupid like eat goat curry, and I was sick for a week. Almost dead.
My thing is I’m trying to see the world and experience the world and talk to people. I don’t necessarily need to eat food like Anthony Bourdain did and make food the center. My center is talking to people and meeting people, learning about the country through the most common people in markets around the world. That’s mine.