We asked Rachael Summers, a travel expert with Walt Disney Resorts and a seasoned traveler in her own right, how she would define “traveling in style.” At first, Rachael tried to break it down according to travel occasions, but she realized that a lot of her criteria applied whether she was traveling for business or pleasure, with or without the family. Then, she asked the most important question: “Does money matter?” We assured her money was no object; but until she got to the top of her list, Rachael listed little do-it-yourself amenities that added little to the cost of her trips. Among the top ten ways to travel in style, almost all of them depend on the choices you make, the people you meet, and the ways you manage your time. In Rachael’s own words, “It turns out that traveling in style is mostly a matter of honoring the reasons you travel in the first place: you want to do things, meet people, have fun, and make memories. You do not need a whole lot of money to have a whole lot of style.” Specifically, the travel expert recommends…
1. Everything private!
Sighing, Rachael says, “If money really were no object, I would make everything private. Private jet. Private ground transportation. Private accommodations. Everything. As a matter of fact, if I were traveling in Europe, I would book my stays at rental homes, which have cars included with them.” Clicking on several world travel websites, Rachael shows several “all inclusive” vacations that include luxury accommodations in a private residence with a full staff, all the amenities, and freedom to go where you want when you want. “No one would ever know you were a tourist,” Rachael grins. “Believe me: That’s a good thing.”
2. Always, travel with your best friend.
“It’s nice if you have the good fortune to marry your best friend,” Rachael smiles. “But make it a rule always to have your best friend with you wherever you go. You know he or she always has your back, will protect you from your own impulsiveness and bad judgment, will keep all your secrets, and will share your guilty pleasures.” Rachael concedes that family vacations do not always accord the best friend privileges, but her work with Disney resorts has taught her a good strategy. “Without making a big production out of it, make each of your children your best friend for one day of your trip. And try to save the last day for just your husband…if you can.”
3. Travel light.
“Even if you are traveling to the third world, they have everything you need.” Rachael emphasizes the word “need,” pointing out that people pay far too much attention to making the whole world seem just like home. “You travel to get away from home,” Rachael reminds. “Why do you want to take it with you?” By her own rules, Rachael says she could hit the road in a minute, because her travels have shown that, as long as she has her iPhone, her journal, and her American Express card, she is ready. “Anywhere I really need a blow-dryer,” she smiles at the thought, “the hotel will have one.”
4. Carry only 1 electronic device.
“When I travel, I take only two essentials: My iPhone and my journal,” Rachel nods her head emphatically. “The phone includes a camera, an internet connection, lots of games, and all my music. My journal does everything my laptop can do, and it actually gives me time to think about it.” Rachael points out that most people carry around a lot of extra electronic gear they never use, allowing that business travelers probably need their netbooks or laptops, but allowing only that one exception. Rachael’s insistence on only one gadget connects naturally, almost inevitably with her next recommendation.
5. Travel by Rail
Cars and planes stress-out experienced travelers who know the system and all the veterans’ tricks; for beginners and families, cars and planes guarantee frayed nerves, panic, frustration, and occasional outbursts of uncontrollable rage. Especially if you plan to travel during one of the peak travel periods, avoid cars and planes. “Take the train,” Rachael encourages, “because you will see more of the country with fewer delays and far less aggravation.” Rachael recommends working with a travel agent to arrange train travel, because an agent can arrange deluxe accommodations and first class service.
6. Go somewhere to do something.
“If you go to any major destination, you will have way too much to do in way too little time. Face the fact that you cannot do it all,” Rachael takes this point very seriously. “Paris is my perfect example,” she says. “You cannot see all the sights, take-in all the art, dine sumptuously at every five-star, and learn all of the history. Even if you somehow could tour 24/7, you still could not do it all in one trip.” Rachael suggests you travel with a theme; hers is art. “I went to Paris to see the art. I got busy immersing myself in Parisian art.” She did the same in New York City, Rome, and of course, Florence. “You go to a theme park for the rides, a ski resort for the skiing. Treat each new city as a theme park for your own special interest. Then, do it!”
7. Befriend the Concierge.
The Hotel Concierge is your connection to everything in this new city. Find him or her—in person. Let the concierge know what you want to do, what you want to eat, everything you want to accomplish during your stay, and ask for help arranging it. Naturally, this kind of personal service requires a fairly liberal tip or some other “promotional consideration,” but the gratuity represents a very small price to pay for the insider’s guide to the best of the city.
8. Wherever you go, get lost.
“Orient yourself to north, south, east, and west as soon as you settle into your lodgings,” Rachael emphasizes. “Then, ask someone where you absolutely should not go, and go everywhere else—walking, of course. Just wander around, looking at everything, listening to and catching the aroma of everything. At the middle of your get-lost-and-find-your-way-home adventure, find a café and write in your journal. Try to capture all you have seen, heard, and sense, so that you have a narrative to go with your pictures. Then, find your way back to the hotel.” Rachael does recommend a couple of safety measures: Always take your cell phone, especially if it has a GPS system to guide you turn-by-turn, and always carry the number of the taxicab company in case you need to make a quick escape.
9. Mix pleasure with business.
Especially if you are traveling to a conference or a convention, you must get away from your professional peers; if you wanted to see them, you could have stayed home. Get out of your business attire, take off your silly badges, and get into the resort destination to which the company has transported you. Every major convention city has all kinds of great attractions far away from your pasteurized, homogenized, sanitized corporate hotel. Discover. “Most of all,” Rachael stresses, “get out and dance! Just like food, each resort city has its own music and local dances. Find a bar where the locals play live music; enjoy a few local beverages and dance until your thighs hurt.”
10. Food. Chocolate. Chocolate. Food.
“I cannot imagine traveling internationally or domestically and not trying all the unique cuisine in each place I visit,” Rachael stresses. “In New Orleans, I want beignets and everything cooked Cajun style. In Paris, I want to taste everything I cannot pronounce; same in Italy, of course. In general, I want whatever is not on the menu. And throughout the United States, I want to sample the fare in each city’s very best hamburger place.” Rachael also emphasizes the importance of satisfying her sweet tooth. She recommends the all-chocolate Sex and the City tour in New York City and a very long visit to Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. “In Paris, any place called a chocolatier sounds like a must-see to me,” she smiles.