How To Get an Authentic Experience Every Time You Travel
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.
Journalist Jo Piazza is a former editor at Yahoo Travel and author of several fiction and non-fiction books, including If Nuns Ruled the World and The Knockoff, a worldwide bestseller that has been translated into 13 languages. She and her husband live in the Bay Area, and in an average year, she logs between 80,000 and 100,000 miles in the air, usually through Alaska Airlines.
Her forthcoming book, How To Be Married (Penguin Random House) explores the various attitudes toward getting—and staying—hitched in different cultures. To interview husbands and wives for their hard-earned advice, she traveled to five different continents to meet her subjects first hand. Here is her advice on how to get the most authentic experience during your travels.
Go for a Run
One way to make meaningful connections is to join a running group—most hotels have one these days, and I’ve met some awesome guys through those. Concierges, also, can be your wingman, because they know everyone in the hotel, too. I’ve had a concierge say ‘You should go talk to that guy, because you’ve both asked me where to go hiking.’
Crowdsource Recommendations with Instagram
I stopped trusting the Internet about 3 years ago, whether Yelp! or Google. I want a decent word of mouth recommendation instead, so I use social media. I don’t find Facebook or Twitter useful, but Instagram is great for tips and connecting with other human beings. I post a beautiful picture of wherever I’m going and add hashtags to bring in people from outside my network. I typically search for the place plus #sunset in order to find the most scenic place to take photos in the city. For food I search #foodporn and #yummy, and I always do the #travelgram and #instatravel because the travel bloggers all use it.
Learn an Ice-Breaker Phrase
I banned ciao a few years ago when every investment banker in New York City adopted it to try to sleep with models, but other than that, I try to memorize one or two basic greetings in whatever country I travel to. At the very least, ‘Sorry, I don't speak Klingon’ goes a long way toward charming the locals as opposed to waltzing in and speaking English in a loud voice. A quick search on Google Translate and you can keep that phrase in your phone at all times.
Talk To Your Cab Driver
The most interesting people I ever meet are cab drivers. When I find one I really like, I’ll hire him to be my guide for the week. I’ve done it in eight different cities now. It started on a trip to Athens, which is a difficult place to navigate. We were coming from the airport, talking about what we wanted to do, and he corrected something we talked about, like, ‘Oh, don’t go to that temple, go to this one instead.’ So I asked what his rate would be to be our guide and driver for a few hours per day over the next week.
Order Room Service Off-Menu
Ninety percent of the time, if I’m ordering room service it’s because I’ve come home really late or forgotten to eat. And any time after 9pm, the food has already been prepared—it’s been sitting around for hours—so I always order off-menu. It means they pay more attention and have to make it fresh. At a four- or a five-star hotel, they’ll usually make you whatever you ask, so never be shy about asking.
Pick a Souvenir Category
I buy hot sauce in every destination that offers it, and we now have an entire kitchen cabinet now filled with foreign hot sauces. It’s a cheap but dangerous habit.
Don’t Forget Duct Tape
I could tell you to pack a fabulous cashmere scarf, but duct tape does it for me every time. I’ve used it to mend a heel in the Maldives, seal a cabin door in below-freezing temperatures on Kilimanjaro, fix a broken suitcase zipper, and right a wobbly table. Carrying a roll of duct tape makes me feel like MacGyver with better hair and more expensive lipstick. And I always pack some Tabasco sauce and good flaky salt in tiny containers to make airplane food tolerable.