The favourite places of Dave, aka The Private Traveller

The Private Traveller is a resource for adventurers who seek top luxury travel destinations, bespoke travel inspiration and insider tips. Mr Hudson speaks to Dave, aka The Private Traveller, about his passion for 5-star travelling, his blog and some of his favourite places among over 60 countries he’s visited so far.

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Tell us about yourself

I guess I’m now a middle-aged gay man (having had my 50th birthday during lockdown), but who feels much younger, with a massive passion for travel and everything associated with it. I’ve lived in the UK all my life but have been lucky enough to visit 60+ different countries all across the globe and have a voracious appetite to see and experience many more. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years now, so health and fitness are important too, looking after myself inside and out. I have ongoing aspirations to be much better at yoga than I am and have been married for over 10 years to a wonderful man, with no children except for many four-legged furry ones.

Machu Picchu, Peru | Photo: The Private Traveller

Madagascar | Photo: The Private Traveller

“For me, it’s not about selling something or making it commercial, but to share my passion for independent luxury travel and hopefully impart some helpful information on how I go about things”

What is your blog about?

I had wanted to become a travel writer for such a long time but actually felt that I’d left it too long and would be too late to the party by starting a blog and social media profile when I did. That said, a travel acquaintance convinced me that I should do it regardless, so one Sunday afternoon, I suddenly decided that I would create myself a website and a blog; having no experience whatsoever and nothing other than self-taught ability as I went through the design and creation process. For me, it’s not about selling something or making it commercial, but to share my passion for independent luxury travel and hopefully impart some helpful information on how I go about things. I absolutely love it when someone reaches out to me (as they did recently to ask about a Madagascar trip), and I can share what we booked and why, what we did and what we thought about it. On the website itself, I share travel itineraries; detail all the places I’ve visited; hotel, flight and train reviews; travel diaries of experiences when away; and then various blog pieces on what it was like, say, flying in Covid times, how to book independent travel etc.

Denis Private Island, Seychelles | Photo: The Private Traveller

How has your content evolved over the years?

I should really let readers of my ‘The Private Traveller’ blog answer whether they’ve found it has improved, but to my mind, I started with just factual information (lists of continents, countries, cities and hotels I have visited, basic itinerary details) whereas now I hopefully contribute more by adding ‘the why’ and to try and recreate more of the experiences I have gone through in all aspects of my travels – the planning, the preparation, the actual ‘doing’ and then the writing about it during and afterwards. A new angle for me recently has been to have more interaction with people in the travel industry (I did a Q&A with a Senior Captain at Virgin Atlantic). I plan to do more interviews, have recently been creating YouTube videos and (with all the lockdown restrictions on travel) have also created a sub-profile This Man’s Journal, where I focus on other areas like male spa reviews, craft gin, men’s and travel accessories etc.

“Aged 11, I noticed the picture in an Indian cookery book of my mother’s and was desperate to know where it was and, more importantly, what it was”

Describe a favourite childhood holiday memory

I’ll give a politician’s answer here of not really answering your question, but for me, a memorable travel trigger event in childhood was noticing a picture of (what I later found out to be) the Taj Lake Palace Hotel at Lake Pichola (Udaipur) in India. Aged 11, I noticed the picture in an Indian cookery book of my mother’s and was desperate to know where it was and, more importantly, what it was. Remember back then there was no internet, so I took the cookbook to a local travel agent’s office to ask them – they gave me an Indian travel brochure in which the hotel was featured, and at that point, I think my travel passion was imprinted. The hotel was featured a couple of years later in the 1983 James Bond 007 film Octopussy, but it would be another 25 years or so before I did actually have my first trip to India (absolutely incredible) and did get to stay in the hotel itself. That’s a story for another day.

Madagascar | Photo: The Private Traveller

Jardin Majorelle, Marrakesh | Photo: The Private Traveller

Where did you go on your latest trip?

There were many trips that had to be cancelled during the various UK lockdowns (not least having to cancel a long-planned round the world itinerary for my 50th), but we were lucky enough to visit Croatia as a new country during lockdowns 1 and 2 and to go back to Seychelles before lockdown 3.0 started. I’ve written quite extensively about Seychelles on my website. It’s a favourite country and never disappoints – this time we visited three different islands; the capital Mahé, the second largest island Praslin and a tiny privately owned island (Denis). Three very different experiences but all phenomenal, and I’m so lucky to have finished off a very odd year in such a wonderful location – amazing weather, stunning scenery, excellent hospitality and great warmth from the local people.

“A happy day starts with early morning yoga in a scenic location, a relaxed late breakfast with my wonderful husband, a chilled out day by the pool or on a beach followed by massage or treatments at a hotel spa”

Where in the world have you felt happiest?

I think this can be anywhere in the world when I’m on my travels; being away from work allows downtime and relaxation, even on activity holidays. I love flying, so a very happy place can be at 35,000 feet; but for me, an example of a happy day starts with early morning yoga in a scenic location, a relaxed late breakfast with my wonderful husband, a chilled out day by the pool or on a beach followed by massage or treatments at a hotel spa. My mind is always very active, and I can find it very difficult to relax, but having spa treatments is one of my favourite things, and a great treatment by a fantastic therapist can allow me to zone out completely.

Laamu Six Senses, Maldives | Photo: The Private Traveller

“I’ve been to Japan a few times, and the experience each time is just magical […] an all-encompassing experience for sight, sound, culture and soul that I want to repeat again and again”

What destination has lived up to the hype? 

I’ve been to Japan a few times, and the experience each time is just magical. From the planning and the meticulous detail that hotels or travel providers will go into with you to ensure that any stay is exactly what you want to the exceptional cleanliness, organisation, efficiency and genuine warmth of the Japanese people (where tipping for service is seen to be offensive). Travelling on the bullet train as an example, where they run exactly on time, and the staff (from cleaners to conductors) treat the train with utmost respect and admiration; I love the experience from start to finish. That’s not to say that sometimes cultural differences come to the fore, and food (for a vegetarian) can often be a challenge, or being quite tall can draw unusual attention. Still, overall, it’s an all-encompassing experience for sight, sound, culture and soul that I want to repeat again and again. Visiting one of the outlying Japanese islands a few years ago, Miyako-Jima, we were the only western couple on the flight there and the only Westerners staying at the resort. English was not prevalent throughout the resort, so it made us appreciate that we were visitors in a different environment and that we should never take widespread use of English as the norm – it was a wonderful, unique experience and cemented my love of Japan.

Prefektura Kioto, Japan | Photo: Marek Piwnicki

What destination hasn’t?

As much as I loved Havana and Trinidad, we always try and balance out a trip with staying somewhere relaxing at the end, with either a great pool or a beach, after city breaks. I would never generally book an all-inclusive, but finding usual favourites weren’t an option in Cuba; we opted for an (allegedly) deluxe 5* over 18’s only resort in Varadero, which was only available as all-inclusive. Not unsurprisingly, this was undoubtedly our least favourite hotel or resort of all time; and now, 15 months on are still waiting on a promised refund because there had been so many issues. I’d be first in the queue, though, if ever any of my preferred hotel groups opened up here.

“I always like to have a few trips planned ahead, and as much as it drives my husband wild, I’ll often be planning and booking a holiday when on holiday”

What is it about travel that you enjoy most?

I think it’s fair to say the answer here is everything – the only aspect I don’t like as much is probably the coming home part or leaving somewhere I’ve had an incredible time. I always like to have a few trips planned ahead, and as much as it drives my husband wild, I’ll often be planning and booking a holiday when on holiday. I love the research aspect – for example, when staying at a Constance Hotel in Seychelles a few years ago, we noticed that they had a sister property (Tsarabanjina) in Madagascar. From there, research led me to establish that it was, in fact, the location for a Joanna Lumley (you might know her as Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous) TV programme from 1994, Girl Friday. That chance encounter with seeing incredible photos of a (now) luxury barefoot island paradise led to one of our favourite trips to the island of Madagascar, full of diverse experiences, landscapes and culture and an introduction to the uniqueness of the Malagasy people.

Spa Constance Ephelia, Seychelles | Photo: The Private Traveller

“Palm Springs is an amazing city to visit anytime, but if you’re a modernist fan, I can’t recommend it highly enough to visit during Modernism Week”

Which is your favourite city, and what makes it so special?

Again I find it really hard to single out one, but one that is very special is Palm Springs in California, USA. We’ve visited a few times now and just love the combination of mid-century modernism, culture, weather, desert landscape scenery together with amazing places to stay, great bars, restaurants and shops. We had always wanted to visit during Modernism Week and were so lucky to have made it there last year in February, just before the Pandemic really took hold. We spent a week in downtown Palm Springs itself and partook of many of the organised events – visiting many of the private mid-century homes, a cocktail evening at the Sinatra estate, talks and shows on modernism and architecture at the museums, and guided tours of some amazing locations like the Annenberg Estate, Sunnylands. Palm Springs is an amazing city to visit anytime, but if you’re a modernist fan, I can’t recommend it highly enough to visit during Modernism Week – definitely an experience we want to repeat again sometime.

Palm Springs

Photo: Greater Palm Springs Tourism Board

Tell us about a great little place you know

My immediate thoughts went to three restaurants; the first a French bistro in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) – Bistrot Langka, up a side street in a bustling metropolis, but so good we went twice. The second being a favourite we’ve visited every time in VeniceLa Zucca, again another very small local restaurant, on the side of a canal. The third and final was just inside the old city walls of Dubrovnik Old Town – Trattoria Carmen. What they all had in common was an unassuming appearance, but all oozing with local charm, phenomenal food and great service. On the subject of Croatia, I can’t help but mention BackLane Craft Bar off the old town port of Hvar – another wonderful find; great craft cocktails, unassuming setting on a narrow cobbled street, but with fantastic welcoming service and the most handsome waiter to boot.

What is the best hotel you’ve stayed at?

This is such a difficult one to answer (no, not difficult – actually impossible). I love a whole different mix of properties from boutique and unique to luxury large-scale ‘grand-dame’ style, from city centre to countryside, from beaches to rice fields, from islands in the middle of nowhere to massive continents, and once staying in the middle of a lake in India where you had to be taken to and from the hotel by boat. I love the individuality of one-off family-run hotels or small groups like The Royal Portfolio in South Africa to larger luxury chains and collectives like Leading Hotels of World, Six Senses, Aman, Belmond, Four Seasons, Rosewood and One&Only. So many to choose from, but all incredible in their own right for lots of different reasons – I love that each has its own special ‘handwriting’ and all create a very different travel experience.

South Africa | Photo: Austin Distel

Temple of Heaven, Beijing | Photo: The Private Traveller

Have you ever stolen anything from a hotel?

I’d like to think of this more along the lines of the lack of a recycling and reuse opportunity, but something I’ve done for decades now is to keep a room card key (and the wallet sleeve too) from every hotel I’ve visited that uses the card type for room entry – if it’s actual keys, then those are always returned. I just think it’s so nice to have a collection of mementoes from all the fantastic places I’ve been to, and now they’re all stored in a box, although every so often, I still keep finding random ones stashed away. I used to also keep paper boarding passes, but over the years, these have dwindled, and it’s not quite the same keeping an image of a Passbook entry on my iPhone. I’m worried that with RFID technology and the ability to check into rooms online and that you can get entry with your phone that in time room card keys will become obsolete too. Then I’ll just be left with my postcard collection – the third and final thing I tend to collect is to send a postcard to myself from every destination. I do sometimes get funny looks if I ask a hotel to send a postcard, but for now, there is still that option. Depending on where they’re sent from, it can often take weeks to months for them to arrive (only yesterday one came from a private island we had visited in Seychelles over two months before), but it’s a nice surprise when they do turn up, often with amazing stamps.

Sunnylands Visitor Centre, Palm Springs | Photo: The Private Traveller

What is your best-kept travel secret?

I’m not sure if it’s a secret. I did publish a ‘How To’ guide on my website with travel tips, but things keep evolving, so it could probably now do with a refresh. If you’re like me and really enjoy the planning and research part, read on, if not, then reach out to Mr Hudson Explores, and they can do all the legwork for you. My best advice would be to research where you want to go and why, then find out if there are any particular experiences you would want when there – like for me, visiting the Iguazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina, Machu Picchu in Peru or becoming a Panda Keeper for a day in China. I find Skyscanner invaluable for helping to work out how you can get somewhere or fly between places once there, and basically now there is really an app for everything (like Seat Guru to see plane layouts and pick seats) or the internet as a source of information from everything on hotel reviews to blogs or vlogs on where to go, what to see, where to eat etc.

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