It must have been after college, when I started writing for major consumer magzines. I took my first trip with other travel writers — to Telluride, Colorado — and fell in love. If I could do this and make a living? This was the best job ever. Growing up, we didn’t travel often, but when we did, it was lavish. As a result, I’ve spent most of my career covering luxury and ultra-luxury hotels and destinations.
So how often do you travel?
Less than I used to, thanks to my puppy and significant other at home! Probably twice a month — one short haul and one long.
January is a busy month! I’ll spend the first week of the year in Las Vegas, then head to my annual weekend at the Four Seasons in Toronto, where I hit all of the post-holiday sales. Then it’s off to a girl’s spa and wine weekend at the new-ish Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Va., the heart of Virginia wine country.
Do you typically travel by yourself or with others?
I’d prefer to have a companion with me. When I’m writing a feature, I like to write for my audience, who generally travels with a significant other or their family. I like exploring– particularly in cities– on my own, but if I can, I like to share the experience with someone. My close friends and family are on the trip rotation list; they always know when and where my next assignment is!
What is the place you most like returning to and why?
That’s hard, I have so many favorites! When I want to veg on the beach, I love Los Cabos for its amazing high-end hotels, perfect service and great food. Las Vegas is on my must-visit at least once a year for shopping, spas, and general sightseeing. My mother and I hit up Toronto every January for the post-holiday sales and a fun girl’s weekend — it’s a cheap and easy direct flight from my home base in DC. I also adore New England — particularly Ocean House in Rhode Island — for a classic beach weekend getaway. In Europe and beyond, I like to pop around; there’s too much to see to return anywhere time and time again!
Of all the places you’ve been to, what’s your least favorite? Why?
I love Switzerland, but I made the mistake of spending five days in Geneva with a girlfriend. The city is beautiful and has many great hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions, but it’s ridiculously expensive and feels way better suited to a business trip than a pleasurable week.
What was your most embarrassing travel moment?
On my first-ever trip to France, I had to change planes at CDG in an early morning layover. I was sitting in bulkhead seat, so my bag was up in the overhead. Somehow, my passport fell out and I didn’t notice until I was in the line for customs … somewhere about a mile later. In my jetlagged state, I couldn’t find my way back to the gate. There were tears. On the plus side, I did eventually find my passport. Now it stays in a zippered compartment.
What’s your least favorite airport?
Charles de Gaulle, and not just because of the above passport mishap. The place is a labyrinth and extremely confusing to navigate!
What are the top 3 places you’re burning to go to?
1) Tuscany. I want to start in Venice and meander my way down to Tuscany, where I’ll end in a gorgeous farmhouse and spend a week working on my novel and taking cooking classes.
2) An African Safari. Singita and Four Seasons are on my list. Bonus points if someone wants to fly me there in a private jet.
3) The Seychelles. A week in an overwater bungalow, with a stop in Dubai or the UAE for some fun culture and visiting friends on the way there or back.
Can you share some of your travel secrets and tips?
Pack light. I love to combine black leggings / flats and multicolored blouses and scarves together with signature jewelry to form various looks. Plus, they’re comfortable on the plane. I also always slip my large Longchamp Le Pilage in my bag – it folds to nearly nothing, and then I have an extra bag if I buy things!
Eat & Drink with abandon. I adore wine tasting when I’m traveling — I hunt out signature bottles that can’t be found in the States. I’m all out of my French and Swiss stashes, so I think another trip is in order soon! But don’t always go for the expensive, fancy dinners — hunt out dives, local spots, and plan late lunches. It’s a great way to save money and get a more authentic experience.
Fly by the deals. The Flight Deal and Airfare Watchdog both have great alerts for crazy fares — like $250 roundtrip, with tax, from NYC to Copenhagen. If you see one, grab it, and deal with the logistics of the trip once you’ve booked.
Consider a private home. If I’m traveling in a group, I almost always look at villa or home rentals instead of hotels. You’ll save tons, and enjoy the benefits of a common space and kitchen. With the savings, you can hire a chef or enjoy extra experiences.
Go in “shoulder” season. I don’t do beach resorts between Christmas and New Years or on peak spring break weeks, nor do I ski over President’s Day weekend. Try the Caribbean in June, or a mountain resort in October. You’ll save oodles, miss the crowds, and still enjoy a fun trip. Similarly, I book resorts Sunday – Monday – Tuesday instead of over a weekend.
Go big, or go home. I’m all about traveling as much as I can, but I’ve learned that I’d rather splurge for 5 nights at a GREAT place than 7 or 8 at somewhere ‘eh.’ Also, don’t pack too much in — staying in a different hotel every night to hit all the sights in Europe is a recipe for exhaustion, not fun. Pick a few cities and explore like a local.
McLean Robbins has been writing professionally for more than a decade for publications including Forbes Travel, Robb Report, The Washingtonian and many more. She is also co-editor of Pursuitist.com, a luxury lifestyle magazine. Her main focuses are travel, spas and spirits. She holds a Masters in Journalism from Georgetown University and lives just outside of Washington, DC. Learn more at www.mcleanrobbins.com.