Free diver and conservationist Hanli Prinsloo shares her tricks for packing the most useful clothes you’ll ever wear, taking care of your ears while traveling, and the importance of matching underwear. Most of the travel advice here is sound stuff, but a sarong? Well, that won't be for everyone, even if it's useful.
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.
Hanli Prinsloo grew up on a horse farm outside Johannesburg, where she dreamed of being a mermaid. This led to her passion for free diving and a decade-long competitive career in the sport, breaking 11 national records in South Africa.
Her love for the marine world inspired her to found the nonprofit I AM WATER Ocean Conservation in 2010, which works to protect aquatic environments and educate young people in underserved communities. The organization hosts workshops for middle-school students, in which they spend two days at the beach, snorkeling and learning about marine ecosystems.
She also leads free-diving trips through her I AM WATER Ocean Travel organization with her partner Peter Marshall, a former American competitive swimmer who’s broken eight world records.
Prinsloo’s career has taken her around the world to such places as Madagascar, Mexico, and Mozambique.
She currently lives in South Africa with Marshall. Here are her travel secrets.
A Sarong Is the Ultimate Multitasker
It started with always taking one because it’s so comfortable to have on the beach, just as a towel of sorts, to cover up. And then I started realizing on layovers in cities just how practical they are.
Your sarong can work as a headscarf, or one time a dog was lost on a mountain, and we were able to use a sarong as a leash to bring it down. While hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town, we found a dog just running around frantically, and it was going to overheat.
We managed to catch it, and we first used the sarong to create a bit of shade for it to rest in, and then were able to tie it onto the collar of the dog to lead it down the mountain.
Sometimes, all you want is to cover the ground and feel like you have a space you can make your own. Earlier this year, [my partner] Peter had a back injury, and we were using the sarong as a way for him to lay down on the floor.
Also, if you’re in a Mediterranean country during fig season, you can use it to put bunch of figs into and use it as a basket. I have one that I love from Bali, then I have one very bright one from Madagascar, and right now, I’m very much in love with a linen one from Istanbul.
I love supporting local artisans wherever I travel.
Always Wear Matching Underwear
My friend Bridget’s trick is to wear matching underwear that’s not see-through, so if your luggage gets lost, at least you can go for a swim. If nothing else, you shrug your clothes off and go right into the sea in your matching underwear.
Usually, when I travel, I try not to buy too many things. I don’t want to just have to walk into a shop in the hotel lobby and buy a swimsuit that’s not the kind of material I want to support.
Only Pack What You Would Wear at Home
What often happens when we travel is we pull out clothes and think: “Ooh, I’m going to wear this pretty skirt,” or “This is my chance to wear this dress.”
But if you don’t wear it in your everyday life, don’t take it with you, because you’re not going to end up suddenly having the opportunity to wear something you don’t like at home.
I ended up realizing the staples I like when I’m at home are probably going to be what I want to wear [when I’m traveling.]
Take Care of Your Ears
As a free diver, your ears are your most valuable commodity, because if you have issues with your ears, you can’t dive. So now I’m always traveling with a sunhat and a beanie, in case it’s going to be windy.
Anytime I’ve been anywhere in salt water, I rinse my ears. If I think that a hotel or a public pool looks like a busy place, I make sure not to dip my head under.
And never in hot tubs—ugh. When I was a kid, my mom told me a story that everyone who dips their head under in hot tubs, their earwax was melting out.
We all have to equalize our ears when we’re flying, and if your ears are not in a good state or if you have congestion, you can really get pain in your ears when you’re traveling.
Africa Offers More Than Just Safaris
With Africa, I wish people would just understand there’s so much more to it than safaris and the private islands. For example, if you’re into surfing, you can get some of the best surfing in the world on Angola on the west coast of Africa.
And it’s so much more affordable and a completely uncrowded lineup. I really love the South African coastline, I feel like people come to Cape Town for the mountain and the wine and the food, but diving around the Cape Peninsula, for me, is some of the best diving in the world.
Along the South African coastline is just phenomenal surfing and diving, and once you hit Mozambique, you’re in a tropical paradise.
Even places like northern Sudan, on the border to Egypt—for diving—is phenomenal. And Egypt has taken a bit of a bad rap lately for people not wanting to travel there for safety reasons.
The media reports on a few bad things happening, and the whole country gets written off, and the local people are really suffering from that.
I love a small village on the Sinai Peninsula called Dahab; that’s where I do some of my best free diving.
I would really love to see if one could get to do some diving somewhere around the Somali coast. You would probably need to make some friends with pirates, but can you imagine how absolutely pristine the coast must be, because nobody has been there, because the pirates are there!
Do Yoga on the Plane
I have this rule with myself that I have to empty my water bottle on the plane, and then I have to go pee, and as soon as I go to the toilet, I do some yoga in the passage.
So I’ve designed this whole little sequence of stretches that are easy to do on the plane and don’t require [your hands] to touch the ground.
It’s a series of standing poses and stretches that really work into your glutes, your hamstrings, your quads, into your shoulders, open up your chest.
Everything is getting compressed when you’re sitting for that long. And your hips: I hate sitting at 90 degrees for so long.
I literally just do it in the back of the planes, where the loos are. People don’t care, people are asleep or watching movies. You bend your knees and go into chair pose and then lift your right ankle up and put it on your left knee.
Then I put my hands up over my head and come into a standing tree. And then I take a big step back and go into a low lunge and drop my knee on the floor. And then I bring my arms up into a stretch while my one knee is still on the ground.
I have a whole little standing vinyasa flow without doing a chaturanga, so I don’t have to put my hands on the ground. It’s this little flow I developed to teach people how to do yoga on the beach without getting your hands sandy.
The Airport in Qatar Has a Pool
The airport in Qatar [Hamad International Airport] has a 25-meter (82-foot) swimming pool in the roof. They have an airport hotel, and if you’re staying in the airport hotel, then you have access to the swimming pool.
But even if you’re not staying in the hotel, you can pay $50 to use the swimming pool and the adjacent steam room and showers, and they have a whole spa up there.
If you’re getting an $80 massage, the pool is free, and then I’ll go for a shower and feel like a whole new person.
Let Your Uber Driver Know You’re Not Alone
When I’m in an Uber, I make sure that my driver has done a lot of trips, that he has a really good rating. When get in the Uber, I share my ETA with Peter, so that he can track where I am.
I even send Peter a voice note on my phone saying, “Hi, I’m on my way, I’m in the Uber, I’m passing this place, I shared my ETA with you, and everything’s fine.” Then the Uber driver knows that someone is tracking my drive.
Display Your Souvenirs
We often end up buying beautiful—whether it’s carved or made out of ceramic or porcelain—small ocean creatures. I have a bohemian one from the Indonesian islands, a manta ray from Mexico.
We have various kinds of whale sharks, a humpback whale, a sea turtle, a dolphin.
Peter and I have a shelf in our office with all of these creatures on it, and we call it our shelf of inspiration so that whenever we get tired or fed up [with our conservation work], we look up and say, “it’s for you guys, it’s for you!”
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Photo credit: Manchester City's Tessel Middag and Karen Bardsley do yoga on the plane to Russia for the Champions League match in 2005. Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC / Bloomberg