We chat with Simon Westcott, CEO of stylish pocket travel guide LUXE City Guides, on underrated cities, travel trends and safety tips for the solo ranger
What is the most impressionable hotel you've stayed in? It's hard to pick one. But if you're twisting my arm, I'd say the Connaught in Mayfair. I spent Christmas there a few years ago. It's the perfect blend of old-school luxury and contemporary glamour. It has a Michelin-starred restaurant, an Aman spa and two of London's smartest cocktails bars. What not to like?
Tell us about the best meal you've ever had during your travels. I did get to El Celler de Can Roca a couple of years ago, which ping pongs between first, second, and third place on the World's Best Restaurants list. I got there in a No. 2 year, but it was still pretty much the most extraordinary meal I've ever experienced. You go as much for theatrical flourish as the culinary innovation, but the "Round the World in 80 Days" dish I will never forget for both.
What do you appreciate most about travel these days as compared to the past? I love visa-less travel, constant connectivity (on my terms), proliferating air routes, and the ability to get proper coffee anywhere in the world.
Which is the most underrated place, in your opinion, that we should really visit? I think Melbourne suffers from being the ugly sister to Sydney, and it surprises me how many people visit Australia and give Melbourne short shrift. Shopping, culture, and food is infinitely superior down south and the natural beauty accessible within a couple of hours of the city is breathtaking.
What are some travel trends that you see happening these days? I think people are being more adventurous in three ways; but there's an undertow, and a hidden conservatism too.
Firstly, people are going further afield, and often into much less populated places — Mongolia, Bhutan, Antarctica, Costa Rica, Iceland, The Galapagos. In many ways, the mythical Chinese traveller has graduated to this 'into the wild' habit very quickly, and in some ways is leading the charge.
Secondly, people are connecting more actively with locals and not just through staying in their homes; the provision of insider tours and experiences is also exploding — just look at the investment Airbnb is making in this offer from hosts.
Thirdly, the 'mix and match' economy means that nothing is really considered off limits. I'll book six months ahead for a Top 50 restaurant, spend more than I've ever spent on a meal in my life, but quite happily stay in the flashpacker boutique hostel round the corner. Or I'll swank it up in at the Georges V Paris but spend my days in free museums. There are few red ropes these days, at least few that savvy travellers will respect.
But I also see the globalisation of a kind of 'lifestyle' scene that actually creates the opposite effect — a very homogenous experience, say, of coffee culture in cities as disparate as Amsterdam, London, San Francisco and Hong Kong. Think concrete floors, handle-less tumblers, complimentary copies of Monocle and a hipster Australian barista, and you could be pretty much anywhere in the world.
At times a holiday can be more stressful than rejuvenating — how do you avoid that from happening? Don't overthink it. Find the right hotel in the right location, pre-book a good meal and maybe one private tour, and leave the rest to mood, weather and the advice of a trusty LUXE guide.
What are some safety tips you can share to someone who's travelling alone? If I go out at night, I'll often just take my hotel room key, my phone, one credit card and a little bit of pocket cash. Less to lose or be grabbed. Establish go, no-go areas with your hotel concierge, ask advice from people you meet and instinctively trust. Pre-book transfers from arrival points (airports, train stations etc), ideally with your hotel. This reduces stress and the likelihood of getting scammed.
What's the beauty of LUXE City Guides? They are rigorously curated, constantly updated, cut to the chase with incision wit and fit snugly into your jacket pocket or Gucci clutch. They never let you down.