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.
René Gross Kærskov is co-chief executive officer of Hirsch Bedner Associates, the world’s top hospitality design firm with 23 offices and 1,500 employees worldwide. The Danish-born Kærskov has spent almost three decades with the company, joining it in 1990 as an office clerk in HBA’s London office in 1990.
HBA’s notable projects include the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York, L.A.’s Beverly Hills Hotel, and the Four Seasons in Beijing.
Kærskov lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children, age 12 and 14, but travels some 150,000 to 200,000 miles every year. Here are the best things he's learned.
The secret to never leaving anything behind in a hotel room again:
“I am extremely organized. As soon as I get to my hotel room, I line up what I need for the next day: underwear, socks, shirt, toothbrush, vitamins, all in a line and ready to go. I don’t unpack other than that at all, because I live out of a suitcase—on Sunday, for example, I go to Asia and visit five cities in five days, so I only take out what I need for the next day."
The best airport for a stopover (and the snacks to buy when you get there):
“I always use Narita for a stopover—Delta routes me that way. And I love it because they have green tea[-flavored] everything. Even green tea Kit Kat chocolate—and that’s one of my weaknesses. For the same reason, I love Copenhagen, where they have a lot of candies and chocolates I recognize from when I was a kid, like Johan Bülow licorice, which is made from organic raw materials. And of course, I like the Danish pastries there, because they’re made properly, by a Danish baker, and they use the proper butter: salted Lurpak. You can taste the Lurpak.”
The best place in the world to try parachuting (if you’re only going to do it once):
“I think I am an adventurous traveler, but I like to take calculated risks. My wife, she said, ‘I’ll let you parachute once,’ so I parachuted at the North Pole. It was on March 31, to help promote the World Wildlife Foundation [where Kærskov is a presidium member in Denmark]. Parachuting at the North Pole is risky because the nearest hospital is 6,000 miles away. When I landed on a little Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean, I met the Russians who were flying the helicopter I’d be jumping from. They couldn’t find the parachutes, and when they did find some on a shelf, they had to clean the floors to roll out the parachutes and fold them up. I was a little bit worried in the last 10 minutes or so before the tandem jump, but afterwards, we celebrated. I had a bunch of Russians around me on the ice doing high fives. I had no idea what they were saying.
The way to improve an airline lounge: Learn some names.
“I’m very Delta loyal. The team at the LAX lounge, I’ve gotten to know a couple of them by name. But I was surprised when I saw them, standing in front of me, with a birthday card and some cupcakes, because they’d seen it was my birthday on the computer. Loyalty like that, from the people around you in particular, that makes me more loyal."
How to make your own, utterly unique souvenir:
“Here’s what I’ve done a few times. I brought a bit of snow in a water bottle back from the North Pole, and the same from the South Pole. Even in North Korea, where you’re not allowed to take anything, there was an old creek in the ground, and I filled up my water bottle there. So I bring water back from my exotic trips.”
The one trip he’d recommend to anyone:
“I was one of the first people to sign up for Virgin Galactic, because space is the final frontier at the moment—it’s somewhere we can go, but it’s almost impossible. Since I signed up, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, I’ve flown MIGs over Russia and done zero gravity training so much they’re giving me a frequent flyer pass. Some people take a motion sickness pill before that, but I never have—but I don’t eat beforehand. You get 30 seconds of zero gravity on these flights: Count to 30 and imagine you’re hanging in the middle of the room. It’s an amazing experience. If you don’t ever go to space, at least do zero gravity training once to see what it’s like.
How to tell if a hotel room is well-designed—or if you’ve been dumped in a bad room:
“The biggest turnoff is if you can see the toilet from the room. You never want to see the toilet from outside the bathroom—that means you’re dealing with someone who didn’t plan the room correctly. Bathrooms are crucial for business travelers, and I always check how easy it is to get in and out of the bathroom, too—after all, when you’re jetlagged, you often get up in the middle of the night and need to find it easily.”
What to pack on every single trip:
“Imodium. The whole thing started when I first set up our office in India about 15 years ago. India was, well, more India then than it is today. I figured out pretty early on that Imodium was a good thing to bring, so you only wasted half a day instead of two days. It has other benefits, too. Psychologically, because you know it’s there, you end up being more adventurous in what you eat. The exception is breakfast. I focus on a simple breakfast and never skip it. Let me put it this way: I’ve seen a lot of interesting breakfasts, but me, myself, I’m an oatmeal kind of guy. I always, always have oatmeal.
The best way to approach a stopover of a day or more: Turn off the TV, book a local guide.
“As a business traveler, you often end up somewhere for the weekend, and you can’t just sit in your hotel room and watch CNN. I like to make the best use of my time during every trip I take, but I use every minute I can to soak up the local culture. I seek out local tour operators that can show me around the city in as little time as possible. Like the time I was in Seoul, I thought, ‘What could be interesting is to go to North Korea.’ I managed to find someone who could do it; I think it might have been easier because I have a Danish passport. We spent the day there, with a full-on military escort, probably a few KGB guys. The week after I went they shot a South Korean female tourist who crossed a barrier or something.
How to prep to run a marathon in sub-zero temperatures:
“I went down to Antarctica to run a marathon there, and I’ve read about guys who run in a butcher’s freezer before they go, but I just ran on the beach here. You have to go out and buy running shoes with thick soles, about two or three sizes too big, because you need to wear plenty of socks. So I did look a little funny on the beach in shorts, shoes, and lots of pairs of wool socks. When I flew down to the pole it was December. There was a snowstorm, which they’d predicted, and it didn’t look like I could run the marathon before the last flight out before Christmas. So I said to the Irish guy who was arranging it, ‘I’m going to run out to the one-mile marker and back, 13 times. Time me.’ You have to keep to the same track so you don’t sink in, but I did it. By the time I finished, more and more people were coming out to watch me. It took me seven or eight hours.
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland