Distinguished Travel Hacker

Here’s the Secret to Having the Most Fun on a Safari Trip

What you eat and drink out in the wilderness can make or break your adventure, says world traveler and interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud.

Alexandra Champalimaud

Photographer: Gerald Forster

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—to learn about their high-end hacks, tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.

Interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud was born in Lisbon and now lives in New York. She’s one of the world’s top hotel designers, having overseen décor for the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, The Pierre and the Carlyle in New York, and Aspen favorite the Little Nell. Her latest is a personal passion project, Troutbeck, an ultra-luxe country guesthouse in New York’s Dutchess County designed by Alexandra and run by her son, Anthony.

She doesn’t track her miles, but she’s banked plenty. “I’m on a plane at least twice a month. I’ve just come back from London and Portugal, Toronto is next week, and so is Palm Beach. I must have hundreds of thousands of miles.” She has lifetime gold status on British Airways, but has recently been partial to OneWorld partner Japan Airlines. “They have the most wonderful selection of things you can watch.”

Champalimaud relies on an Ayurvedic in-flight ritual whenever she travels.

For years, I have been using essential oils from Floracopeia as a scent and as an air purifier.  I have an array of favorites that help my mood, assist my sleeping, and are wonderful in my bath to hydrate my skin. Small bottles of Floracopeia oils come in tiny packages, take no room, and are easy to carry.  So I never leave home without them. Scent jogs our emotions and memories that are comforting on the road. I am careful in my traveling to create an aura, or a space—a cocoon, if you would—around myself. That way, the stresses of travel are limited. I also have a beautiful shawl that I often put over my head and face, wrapping myself up once I’ve dabbed oil on my wrists and behind my ears. I actually love patchouli because it fortifies your inner strength, too. I take that. Only once in my life did I have someone perk up from the back seat and say, "What is that? Is that patchouli? I hate patchouli."

The secret to a great safari experience doesn’t involve the animals, necessarily. 

Tusker and Serengeti are two local beers available in the wilderness. 
Photographer: Onnes/Getty Images

Safari clothes are uncool, OK? So don't pack safari clothes; bring relaxed clothing that is practical: versions of jeans and light cotton things, not in bright colors. Definitely cover your head with something, because you're going to get burnt, guaranteed. Definitely take something warm, like some fleece, because at night it's always cold. And some [sarong-like] kikoys for relaxation. One pair of proper boots to hike in, and a pair of flip-flops. You don’t over-pack. As for food, I eat masses of fish when I'm there, and I drink lots of alcohol. The combination of those two things is the best recommendation I can give anyone. Lots of fish, lots of alcohol, because that's always great fun, and the beers are amazing, especially Tusker. It's also a product that is so local, that they're very proud of. Today, absolutely everyone drinks it. It's super-refreshing and you can get it anywhere, wherever you stop, anywhere in Africa, at every little hole in the wall.

Want to get a sense of the people in a particular place? Try this simple trick.

I make eye contact with people. It’s something that not everyone does, and when I do, I smile. When you go somewhere, and someone doesn’t smile back, it tells you a lot about the atmosphere of the place—either people are too hurried or too threatened. It’s one of the reasons I love Japan: Everything is done with such great ceremony.

Though she’s designed many spas, her favorite is a simple destination in Kerala, India. 

Kalari Kovilakom is a total healing experience: You can stay the full gamut of 21 days or leave, as I did, after a week. (I ran out of time.) You will probably not find very many other tourists. You will walk on the beach, you will do yoga. Indeed, you will do yoga twice a day. You will eat incredible Indian food, and you will have all-oil-based treatments on your body for hours during the day in these open-air—beautiful spas with local people taking care of you. [The treatments] play to your dosha, the Ayurvedic way of understanding people's DNA. I think it is an extraordinary thing altogether.

The best shopping for artisan works is in a lesser-trafficked European capital.

View from Miradouro da Graca, over Lisbon’s historical center. 
Photographer: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

Lisbon is divinely and essentially Portuguese. In some ways, it barely feels like it’s in Europe. It has its own soul. And Portugal’s craftsmanship is superb. You can find jewelry, embroidered items for the house, like bed sheets, napkins, and tablecloths, there. Leitão & Irmão has been around for about six generations, and it has incredibly beautiful, modern porcelain and silver. They have the coolest ice buckets in the entire universe. And I buy tiles—all the time, tiles. [Portuguese] tiles are on a par with Morocco or Persia, all of that. Our buildings are covered in tiles of all different types. The best place to buy them is Dorey.

Five-star hotels can teach us something about decorating our own spaces: simplicity.

We all tend to decorate, and that's a mistake. People take decorating classes; people think they have to decorate their houses. It's a tragic word, and it needs to be dropped. The environment can come together by using one-tone-only on ceiling, walls, and woodwork, everywhere. It becomes a background, an envelope, to the whole atmosphere. What stands out are extraordinary pieces of furniture, or appropriate pieces of furniture that you want to live with. You don’t need a whole lot of colors in a room so that what stands out are extraordinary pieces of furniture, or appropriate pieces of furniture that you want to live with. It just has this sense of calm—of peace—and you want to just belong.

Champalimaud took four teenagers on a trip up the Amazon, on her own —and she says you could, too.

There are no rules on a trip like that, except that the adult is in charge. My children were 15 and 12 years old then, and I took them up the Amazon, along with my nephew and niece, who were 17 and 16 at the time. We spent 10 days in dugout canoes, staying with local villagers along the way. I remember [my son] Anthony was fishing, age 12, in the Amazon, with a little cane, and then little piranhas jumped into the canoe. They weren’t very big, about five inches long. There was a little baby croc on the bow, too. You have to do these trips, because they form your children forever: It teaches them, I think, the spirit of adventure, which isn’t a joke in life. It teaches you not to be afraid.

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