How to Hack Room Service, and Other Travel Tips From Curtis Stone
At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all of our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end hacks, tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.
Globetrotting chef and TV host Curtis Stone was born in Australia but now lives in Los Angeles with his wife actress Lindsay Price and their two sons. He doesn’t count his air miles but commutes worldwide to juggle his various businesses. Curtis is the chef-owner of Gwen and Maude in L.A.—both named in homage to his different grandmothers—and author of several cookbooks, including Good Food Good Life.
“All I know is that I fly to Australia at least five times a year and I cross the United States around 20 times,” Stone laughs. His newest TV show, Celebrity My Kitchen Rules, starts Jan. 12 on Fox.
Always pack a suitcase full of dirty clothes.
I’m a strange packer because I pack all my dirty clothes and have them cleaned when I get there. When you arrive at a place with a suitcase full of clean clothes, they’re all wrinkled by the time you open the suitcase, then you’ve got to stand there and iron them all anyway. So the first thing I do when I check into a hotel is walk into my room and call housekeeping and ask for laundry to be done. When I come back after a day’s work, you see half a dozen perfectly pressed shirts, your jeans, and all your clothes perfectly hung.
I remember early on in my relationship with my now-wife, we went to the Turks & Caicos, and I was sitting on the balcony having a cocktail while she was still unpacking. "Don't you have any stuff to put away?" she asked me, and I said, "Babe, it’s all in the laundry, but it’ll be back in a couple hours, ready and pressed to go."
Hack the room service menu and stay healthy on the road.
After a big day’s work, it’s easy to be tempted into eating poorly—and once you’ve ordered in your room, the likelihood of leaving to do some exercise is low. To avoid temptation, I don’t even open the room-service menu. I don’t want to see all the things that will tempt me, like a burger or steak with French fries and Bordelaise sauce, which is more like something you’d order when you’re out for dinner with your wife. I just call down and ask what soup they have on, or if not, ask for a healthy salad, blah blah, which will end up being very like something they have on the menu.
The signature Stone trick to finding the best restaurants no one tells you about.
I’m in a fortunate position, because I’m friends with other chefs—and I think it’s a good idea to Google, say, "Where do chefs eat in Berlin?" when you’re doing research to have that in your back pocket. But I chanced on a trick when I was in Amsterdam, and there was this one restaurant where I really wanted to eat, but the only night I was available they were closed for dinner. So my assistant e-mailed them and asked where the chef would suggest we eat instead, and he recommended four or five incredible places.
One of them, Bak, is one of my favorite restaurants in the world—it’s maybe 15 minutes from the center of town, on the third floor of an abandoned commercial building, but it’s a gem. So you should hit up a restaurant you know will be closed [for a reservation], and when they tell you they’re shut, say, "Well, I wanted to come and dine with you—where else would recommend I eat instead?"
Always travel with a bottle of fine Champagne.
When I’m traveling for pleasure, I usually take a nice bottle of Champagne with me, packed in the center of my checked suitcase and wrapped in clothes (And no, I’ve never had it explode). It means you have something nice to drink when you arrive—most mini bars are filled with pretty average wine, so I’d rather drink something nicer. And they’re also often not cold enough, so ask for an ice bucket to be sent up to your room straight away when you check in, so whatever you fancy drinking from that mini bar, even if it’s just a beer, you can drink really cold.
His fail-safe financial fallback, courtesy of his father.
When I left Australia [to move to the U.K. for work], my father gave me a couple of hundred dollars in American money as an emergency fund and said, "No matter where you are, mate, that will always get you where you need to be." I stuck it in a side pocket [of my wallet], that little plastic folder, and 20 years later I still have it. Now it has an emergency credit card, my old English driver’s license as ID, and some money in a variety of different currencies. I’ve heard stories of people that got stranded because they couldn’t prove who they were or pay for a taxi.
Whenever I’ve traveled to a place and ended up with 10 bucks in Canadian money or 10 quid, I stick it in there. And I never spent those original American dollars until I got stuck in Austria once. I was in my 20s, traveling on $100 a day, and at the ATM, my card got declined. I had a day and a half left and not a cent to my name. So I pulled the ripcord and went with the emergency $200 my dad gave me.
Why you should always talk to your seatmate on a plane.
I’m a talker, and I’ll especially talk to my fellow passengers if I’m going somewhere new—maybe you’re sitting next to someone who’s been doing business in that region for 10 years. Look, a lot of people hate it, but as long as you’re polite and realize that the time to chitchat has come to an end when someone picks up a set of headphones, it’s OK.
Just before we had our first son, I sat next to an older guy on the way to New Zealand. We ended up speaking for 5 or 6 hours and sharing a few scotches together, because he was an older guy, probably in his 70s, who told me his story about fatherhood. He had triplets at an older age—he was over 50, because he was flying home for his daughter's 21st birthday—so he was the most incredible resource for parenting. He gave me some of the best advice on fatherhood I’ve ever been given, like sometimes, when you hear your kid cry, if you turn around and there’s no blood, just turn right back and keep on walking.
The best way to sleep soundly on a plane, every single time.
Get on board tired. My dad always gets a full night of sleep and wonders why he can’t sleep on a plane at 10 a.m. I stay up really late and set my alarm so I’ve only had a few hours sleep before a long journey, which helps so much.
When in Rome (or Egypt), follow the $500 rule.
When I was a 22-year old kid, I was in Egypt with my then-girlfriend, and we were at Tutankhamen’s tomb. It was something like 10 bucks extra to go in, and we’d been to so many other tombs we thought, "What’s the point?" I look back and think, "Oh, you idiot, you saved $10, but you didn’t go see the tomb of the most famous pharaoh in history?"
So I keep some spare money for every trip—a $500 cushion—so I can always try to do something different, and spontaneous, [compared with] whatever I could at home, whether it’s an unplanned meal at a 3-star Michelin restaurant or a ticket to a beautiful opera house.
Try to hit the Mediterranean in the winter.
You need to go to places in the off-season, because you get a really interesting, different experience.
Take the Greek islands. I shot a Greek[-language] pasta sauce commercial on Mykonos one winter, and it was amazing—all the touristy stuff was done. It turned into this village again, which was quite beautiful. There was one bar where all the locals came out in the evening and stayed up all night dancing and drinking—suddenly the place wasn’t full of English-speaking tourists; it was a Greek village. I stayed longer past the shoot and even went back again.