Distinguished Travel Hacker

Learn a Foolproof Way to Avoid Bear Attacks, from a Star of Vikings

Jasper Pääkkönen travels nearly 100,000 miles a year and has travel tips on everything from safely hiking while solo to racking up double airline miles.

Courtesy of Jasper Pääkkönen

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.

Jasper Pääkkönen, 37, began acting as a child at Helsinki City Theater in Finland’s capital before becoming a breakout heartthrob in a Finnish soap opera at age 20. He quickly moved into English-language film and TV, including his best known role as cruel Halfdan the Black in History Channel’s bare-knuckle historical drama,Vikings.

A passionate outdoorsman, Jasper is an avid fly fisherman who has been tapped as a global ambassador for Patagonia. He travels around 100,000 miles each year, often between his two home bases across the world. Pääkkönen lives in Helsinki, where he is a co-owner of the new high-design public sauna complex Löyly; he also maintains a home in Los Angeles.

Want to scare away bears while hiking? Try NWA.

Last year, I started packing a portable waterproof speaker, a JBL Charge 3—you can drop it in the water and it still works, because it’s completely waterproof. But we don’t use it at the camp when we’re fishing or sitting by the fire. Music is one of the last things you want; when you’re completely removed from modern technology, all you need is the complete silence. But when I’m hiking alone for a couple hours from the camp, during the night, to reach the fishing rounds, I play music as loud as I can so I don’t have to be worried about encountering a bear. I’ve had friends who had really close encounters along some of those paths. So I play Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, or NWA as loud as I can to break the silence of the wilderness. That way, I sure as hell won’t walk into a mama bear with her cubs without her getting out of the way first.

Never trust a satellite phone you don’t bring yourself.

Next week, I’m going to the Russian tundra for a hiking trip for almost two weeks. We’ll fly an old, Russian Mi-88 into the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away from the closest road. We won’t have a means of communication other than a satellite phone, in case you have a life-threatening emergency. But we rent one to make sure we have one that actually works; each and every city in the world has somewhere you can rent one from before you go. That way there will be no failures, and we’re double certain—we’ve double-checked that if there’s an emergency, we can get evacuated.

Pääkkönen watches his cell service slowly go away for two weeks as he explores Russia’s tundra.
Courtesy of Jasper Pääkkönen

Before you plan a group trip, try this foolproof chemistry test.

When you travel to a very remote destination with a group of people, you want to be 110 percent sure that each and every person gets along with each other. It’s all about chemistry. If you have one rotten apple in the batch, that will easily ruin the energy of the whole week. The easiest way to find out whether people will make a good group is to have a night out together—some beers in a casual setting. Look, I’m not an advocate of drinking too much, but the more wasted you can get, the more it brings out the truth in people. So you see their true colors. It’s hard to play roles when you’re intoxicated.

How to hack the airline loyalty game,  Part One:

I always check Rocketmiles and Pointshound when I book my hotels. Sometimes you can get the same hotel room you were about to book anyway, but using these sites, you get a big bunch of miles as an added bonus in your airline miles account. You could end up with 10,000. These sites act as hotel affiliates but instead of taking the full commission, they give you back a portion of it in miles; they buy the miles from the airlines in chunks to do that. There was a time when I had to go somewhere—Los Angeles probably—at the last minute, and all the hotels were super-expensive. I found a room at the same price on one of these sites, but for a week’s stay in the hotel I ended up getting 20,000-plus miles in my account. That’s basically two flights within Europe or one flight across the Atlantic, in economy.

Pääkkönen relaxes inside his trendy, new, boutique sauna, Löyly (which means steam, in Finnish), in Helsinki.
Photographer: SAM KINGSLEY/AFP

How to hack the airline loyalty game,  Part Two:

I’m quite loyal to a certain [airline] alliance because of where I live. Helsinki is my base, and Finnair is part of One World, so it’s the natural choice to fly. But here’s one of the tricks that people don’t understand about taking full advantage of different airline programs: Remember that, within an alliance, you can log the points to whichever airline’s loyalty program you want and use those miles to buy flights within that alliance. So I log my miles to both American [Airlines] and British Airways, but I use them to buy flights on Finnair. Last minute flights within Europe can be extremely expensive, but I can find the same flights, for example, on American Airlines [using miles] and fly them for almost nothing. Using miles to buy last-minute flights has saved me so much money.

How to fly as much as you like, guilt-free:

Being an environmentalist to the core, I am extremely well aware of the impact of flying. For me, to be able to justify it in any sense, I buy carbon offsets from Carbon Footprint. In my personal opinion, the planting of trees, projects like that, are not as strong as things like building renewable energy plants in developing countries, or providing low-emission stoves for poor families there, which works at the grass-roots level.

Pääkkönen explores the Russian tundra.
Courtesy of Jasper Pääkkönen

The reason you should spend half as much as you think on your next hotel.

Take 50 percent of what you’re preparing to spend, or have gotten used to spending, on accommodation and [instead] use it on indulging yourself in the best the local culture has to offer: a daily massage, maybe. I enjoy staying in a very luxurious, five-star resort, but more often than not, I would opt to stay more casually and spend my money on something different. In the Philippines, for example, I have a destination in mind I’ll visit during this winter, a small island resort, San Nicholas. In the Philippines, everything is extremely cheap, so if you want to do barefoot luxury—kinda no-frills, very casual—you can add a little to it by indulging in massages, or having a chef cook you food.

Already been to the Maldives? Try these islands next.

Lakshadweep, aka the Laccadive island group in the Indian Ocean, is most likely what the Maldives were decades ago, before they were developed. There are 36 of them, but only 10 are inhabited, and only five can be accessed by tourists. But everybody knows it’s never been a possibility to visit, because the Indian government hasn’t really allowed any travel permits. But Solid Adventures specializes in arranging trips to the most remote destinations in the world, and it’s managed to negotiate special permission from the local government to access some of these amazing islands. Fly fishermen usually have a radar [instinct] of all the places around the world known to offer some of the best fisheries, and this is one of them.

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