From beating jet lag to tackling airport anxiety, designer Sam Bompas’s unorthodox advice may just save your next trip.
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 tips and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.
Sam Bompas is a real-life Willy Wonka. With his schoolfriend-turned-business partner Harry Parr, he runs Bompas & Parr, a London studio best known for its wacky, food-centric installations, whether a cloud of gin and tonic known as Alcoholic Architecture, some megalith carving for Valentine’s Day, or the Jump for Joy bouncy castle in New York’s Museum of Sex. This summer, São Paulo’s MAM has also staged a retrospective of his firm’s work.
Bompas travels between 80,000 and 100,000 miles per year, mostly on British Airways. “I don’t find traveling long distances very hard at all,” he says, but Bompas is a laissez-faire frequent flyer. “Honestly, I’ve never claimed a single air mile.”
Combat jet lag like a Navy Seal during “Hell Week”—and with lots of booze.
I apply the principles of Navy Seals’ “Hell Week” to long-haul travel. During Hell Week, Navy Seal hopefuls are subjected to a relentless onslaught of ordeals, and if they make it through the week, they join one of the world’s elite combat units, whose motto is the only easy day was yesterday. Throughout the grueling week, I’ve been told they were allowed to sleep only twice, for 20 minutes at a time—once in a ditch, the other with a live firing exercise going on above them. The only way to survive [the week] is to increase the volume of food they consume exponentially, to 6,000 calories per day.
I take a similar approach when traveling, particularly for business: less sleep, five meals, and hours of exercise. I drink a lot of alcohol as well. The reason for that is one of the problems with jetlag is your body clock. You’re on your diurnal cycle, and what alcohol’s really good at doing is completely f–king your body clock up—you’ll stay up when you’re meant to go to sleep, you’ll sleep at times when you’re supposed to stay up. So you can disable your body clock with alcohol. Massively ramp up the exercise to speed up your metabolism, and then you can push through.
The best city in the world for sausages might surprise you.
Taipei is a total pleasure, and it’s rarely visited by Westerners apart from business. The foodscape there is varied and vigorous. I’m particularly obsessed with the Taiwanese sausages you can track down to the night markets. There is one that is so large it looks like the forearm of an adult man, and another which is a pork sausage contained within a rice sausage.
If you’re particularly adventurous, you must track down Shi Ba La, or Sausage Gambling. In the 1950s, I think, there was legislation put in so that you couldn’t sell food on the street so you roll a dice [instead]. You’re dicing against each other, and if the discrepancy is greater, you win more sausages. It’s great—you can end up winning, like, nine sausages. And you’re usually coming out of karaoke with a big group of people. Karaoke is a big culture there, and the people are very, very good at it.
The one item you need to maximize flavor in your in-flight food.
On planes, you’re in an incredibly arid environment, so all the food has much less flavor. I will literally [choose to] fly Asian airlines, because of their curried food or very, very heavily spiced food. The same thing is happening at NASA’s ISS or in the Antarctic research stations: It’s extremely dry, so you cannot taste in the same way you otherwise would. In those places, the most highly valued thing is Tabasco [sauce]—people maim each other for Tabasco. So it’s worth finding space in your bag for those little mini bottles. It’s the same choosing wines; go for a really full-bodied or quite rich wine.
His bucket list destination is electrifying.
I’d really like to go to the place that’s the most lightning-struck in the world. It’s in Venezuela, and it’s known as the Beacon of Maracaibo. It’s where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo, and it has over 260 lightning storms per year. Historically, people would navigate by it because it was so dependable, where these lightning strikes would be. It looks utterly spectacular and fascinating.
The only airport worth a long layover.
I now try [to] book a slightly longer layover in Singapore—ideally, three hours or so. It’s not long enough to leave the airport, but it’s enough time to have fun. I flipping love going through it. There’s a butterfly house, and the airport restaurants feature all the most respected Singapore street food. And there’s an outdoor swimming pool that’s open 24 hours and is part of the terminal complex, so I always pack my swimsuit in my laptop case. There’s a pool, Jacuzzi, and poolside bar. It’s really convivial. You only want to swim for, like, 40 minutes, and because everyone is transiting through, no one feels threatened if you just go and have a chat with them.
How to gauge a bar’s caliber in a single glance.
The first thing you see is how much ice [bartenders] are putting in drinks. When they pour me a drink, the barman needs to fill the whole glass up, and then a little bit more, with ice, then pour the liquids in. If you only have a little bit of ice, it melts [faster], so you get way more dilution and a really wet drink. That’s the first thing sh-t barmen will do: They think it’s actually better getting more liquid, but it isn’t.
The only travel motto you need: Always be late.
I have a problem because I’m always a little bit late. And everything [related to flying] is bred to make you get there on time, really early, so you get the plane. Airlines don’t want that unpredictability. I’ve seen a lot of research on the choreography of anxiety in airports: They want you to be anxious, but not too anxious. They have to get it just right, where there’s a bit of anxiety so they can get everyone through the security measures, and then there’s a moment of relief when you’re flooded with pleasurable endorphins—that’s when you’re more likely to buy things. Then there’s a growing intensity of anxiety to get you onto the plane, so you don’t miss your flight, because that’s really important for them.
But when you fly loads, you very quickly realize that there’s another plane coming right behind. It’s just like a really expensive bus. You’re not worried when you miss your bus, are you? It’s just a bit annoying. And I get onto planes late all the time—it’s a combination of being apologetic to people, and being really nice to them. They’re used to someone in that situation kicking up a massive fuss, and telling them it’s the end of their life, and everything’s ruined. It’s just because of the overall conditioning of how bad it is to miss a flight, which is a myth.