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.
In his role as Hilton’s global head of luxury and lifestyle brands, John Vanderslice oversees every aspect of the Conrad and Waldorf Astoria hotels. Before joining Hilton Worldwide Inc., he was chief executive officer of Miraval spa in Tucson and helped launch its real estate arm, Miraval Living. He also logged time as president of Club Med Americas, helping reposition the all-inclusive operator as a luxury destination. He estimates that he flies about 150,000 miles each year, usually on American Airlines Inc., at least for now. He and his wife have two children; they live in McLean, Va.
The perfect airplane outfit is probably already in your drawer
I travel in golf pants. The ones made from material that feels like Dri-Fit are the best. You look pretty professional, and they never wrinkle, but they feel almost like wearing pajamas. They’re waterproof, or at least stain-resistant, too. Pair that with a Dri-Fit polo shirt, and it’s the best way to fly.
How to pack a week’s worth of dining into a two-day business trip
My brother and I don’t travel together very often, but when we do, we have this tradition. We go to the best restaurant in any city—Michelin-starred, maybe, or best-ranked—and have an appetizer and a drink at the bar. Then we go on to the next five-star restaurant up the road and have the same thing, and keep going like that all evening. You’re not sitting down, committed to a lengthy meal you might not enjoy, and you can really get the feel of the locality.
Why you need only two pairs of shoes for every trip
I have a size 11½ foot, so I really have to think about packing. I always pack my running shoes, and I’ve found that a sockless shoe from Nike or something from Saucony are the most packable options. I also take a pair of loafers with tassels. You can kinda club them up, wear them with suits, or they’re fine for anything casual. I like to have them custom-made; my wife is an equestrian, and she was buying Vogel riding boots, so I went there. They make a cast of your foot, and anytime you need a new pair of shoes, they have my foot there forever in their vault.
His new favorite destination is an overlooked old standby
I’ve just spent a week with my wife and another couple in Edinburgh. I don’t know what your impression of Edinburgh is, but I think in Europe it’s [seen as] a little more industrial, a has-been city. I gotta tell you, it was unbelievable. It’s not too crowded. We golfed, we tasted high-end Scotches. And the restaurant scene there is outrageous. There was one called the Kitchin, and the chef’s name is Kitchin. It’s Michelin-starred, and the food, the paired wines—I don’t think you expect it in Edinburgh.
Keep your cuff links close at hand
hiltonI keep my cuff links, pretty much all of them, in my travel bag. Otherwise, I always forget them whenever I go away. So if I’m going to a formal event with my wife, I just go to my one travel bag and dig out whatever I need.
The value of an inexpensive bag
The luggage brands that offer aftercare and repair? Forget it. We’re all executives, and it’s a huge time commitment to return that thing and wait for it. Are you kidding me? So I always buy relatively inexpensive travel bags from Travelpro . I noticed that’s what all the flight attendants have, and they go on sale all the time at Macy’s. I’ve gone through three of them in the last three years, but it’s much more convenient. And you can’t plan on what’s going to happen to your luggage. I was coming out of Hong Kong, right during the avian flu epidemic, and they put us on a bus at the airport after we landed. We were packed in there like sardines. Standing next to me was a woman with a surgical mask on, but as the shuttle started moving, she dropped her mask and threw up—all over my bag. There was no way to move, so I had to wait until I got to a bathroom to wash it off. That’s one reason why I’d rather have a disposable bag than an eternal one.
How to stay in contact on the road
When my kids were younger, I didn’t bring them home any gifts from traveling, because a lot of business travelers will tell you this: It becomes about the present and not about your return. Social media, though, has really helped [keeping in touch], and when I was in Istanbul recently, I used the My Talking Pet app. You take a picture of your pet, then record a message into your device and it will make it look like your pet is saying those words. It modulates your voice, so it can be squeaky, or more like a dog. At bedtime, I sent a message using that to the kids.
Why he switched to a new Gulf-based airline
I’m about to hit 2 million miles on American Airlines, but I love the new carriers like everybody else does. I mean, Etihad is unbelievable. A lot of my team now chooses to fly either that or Qatar. The lounges are unbelievable, the planes are new, and there are separate security lines at the airports in Doha or Abu Dhabi. And the flights are almost always on time, because there’s virtually no weather [conditions] that prohibit that. Meanwhile, the problem with American is that if you don’t buy a business- or first-class ticket, they board first class, Executive Platinum and all the other credit cards they’ve sold together, so it’s like a gang rush to get on board—and we’re supposed to be their best customers.
The cultural barriers matter more than language barriers
I always learn “hello” and “thank you.” In any country, if you don’t speak the language, it’s all you need. In France, just say ça va , and it opens so many doors. In Brazil you say tudo bem , and they’ll say tudo bom back, and just love it. But whenever I do presentations [in English], especially in Asia-Pacific, I remember that a lot of times English isn’t the audience’s first language. So don’t be afraid if you don’t feel it from the audience when you’re speaking, or if your jokes are not being well received—they’re really concentrating so they can understand.
To contact the author of this story: Mark Ellwood in New York at [email protected]
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