Dervla Louli is the founder and editor-in-chief of Compare Retreats, a booking portal and online publication for the world’s leading luxury wellness retreats. A multi-marathoner and certified yoga teacher, she turned her passion for wellness into a career and hasn’t looked back since. Jetting around the world for work and pleasure has made her a seasoned traveller, with lots to share in terms of how to do it best – wait till you see what Dervla has to say about surviving longhaul flights (it’s simpler than you think) and going from plane mode to party mode – all of which she’s generously told us here.
“Money is better spent on experiences than things.”
What’s on top of your travel bucket list?
My travel bucket list is always growing. I’m ticking Nihi Sumba, Royal Mansour, The Maldives and Whistler off in October, November and December this year and hope to get to Cape Town, Komodo and Argentina to learn how to play polo next year. The majority of my travel revolves around visiting Compare Retreats’ luxury wellness retreat partners all around the world.
Where do you travel to most often?
Ireland is where my parents are so that’s a boomerang bucket list item that I visit multiple times every year. Cathay Pacific, who I fly with religiously now, have a direct Dublin to Hong Kong route which makes going back and forth very efficient.
Where are you travelling next?
I’m about to fly to Italy for the Global Wellness Summit for work followed by Sumba Island with my husband for his birthday, Bangkok for a Global Shaper’s conference and Vietnam for a family holiday. That’s all in October and in November I’ll be going to Morocco for a yoga retreat with my teachers Patrick Creelman and Rinat Perlman who I did my yoga teacher training with.
How much research do you do before a trip?
I look at about 20 different websites, ask friends for recommendations and look at Instagram before compiling a list and plugging everything into a Google map. When I travel to a city I usually plan everything beforehand from workouts to restaurants and reunions with friends. For more remote locations I make sure to book the best restaurants in advance for a few nights, but after that I tend to go with the flow and look up my Google map whenever I need some inspiration.
Do you prefer travelling alone, with a travel buddy or in a group?
My favourite travel partner is my husband because he balances out my tendency to over-schedule everything and makes sure we hop on a boat to relax or make time to chill out for a few hours. This summer we drove from Tuscany to Positano via Monte Cassino, Naples and Pompei in one day (my idea) and he made sure we had nothing planned but a chilled out boat trip the following day. In general, I’m happy travelling with friends or solo.
What are some things you always pack in your carry-on?
My phone, laptop, charger, reusable water bottle, Clarins lip balm, Bose noise-cancelling headphones and a cashmere throw.
What are three things you’ll never leave home without?
My phone, aforementioned water bottle and duck-egg blue Smythson notebook.
What’s your packing strategy?
I’m definitely an overpacker because I shoot on location a lot so bring a lot of outfits. I’m a folder, I still don’t quite believe in the rolling strategy as everything gets so wrinkled. I always travel with a Rimowa suitcase, Tumi travel-on and Louis Vuitton tote.
What are your tips for getting through the airport quickly and efficiently?
Lululemon do black leggings with side pockets so I put my phone in one and my passport in the other. I keep my liquids and laptop in my tote until I get through security and have everything I need on the flight like my headphones, lipbalm and toiletries in my tote bag instead of zipped up in my carry on suitcase.
How do you spend your time in airports?
I’ve never missed a flight in my life (I’m going to regret saying that!) but I also don’t like to have extra time in the airport so you’ll usually find me stopping off at Estée Lauder to buy some foil sheet masks or picking up magazines at the newsagents and walking quite quickly to the gate. But if I’m departing from a European airport, I’m usually at the tax-back counter as I tend to shop in Europe.
Any longhaul flight advice? How do you pass the time?
Headphones on, lights off and I go to sleep. I travel too often to be able to use jet lag as an excuse for not getting my work done or not being on at a meeting. I learned my lesson the hard way after a 12-hour Vikings binge-watch on a long-haul flight that I now need to try my best to sleep in the air.
Any travel apps or gadgets/equipment you rely on when travelling?
I really like that Cathay Pacific now have PURE’s founding teacher doing yoga tutorials as part of the entertainment channels. Headspace is another channel on the TV that I listen to when I can’t fall asleep. Bose Headphones are a must as well.
What are your favourite airline and airport?
Cathay Pacific because they’re reliable, very clean and the staff are helpful and friendly. They also reward loyalty and I use my Amex x Cathay Pacific credit card to earn AsiaMiles when I shop that I redeem for flights. I just booked my Bangkok–Hong Kong flight for 10,000 miles; last year I flew to LA to see my best friends using points too. They’re brilliant. My favourite airport is Hong Kong because it’s so efficient.
Aisle or window?
It depends. If I’m in economy I like the emergency exit window seat and go for a raw vegan meal which is basically just vegetables. If I’m in premier economy or business I go for the aisle seat. If I can’t get an emergency exit row seat in economy then I like the aisle as I get claustrophobic on planes if I’m trapped inside a row of seats.
“I learned my lesson the hard way after a 12-hour Vikings binge-watching session on a long-haul flight that I now need to try my best to sleep in the air.”
What’s the first thing you do when you land in a new destination?
I set my watch to the new time zone and stick to my routine of intermittent fasting, working out and sleeping as best I can. That said I don’t believe that strict and rigid guidelines are beneficial so I’m very flexible and go with the flow. I travel back to Ireland a lot for weddings and celebrations which once meant doing a quick change into a gown and heels at a gas station before going into full-on party mode.
What do you look for in a new destination?
Either an incredible wellness retreat or spa, iconic cultural attraction, great food, shopping and scenery. I plan my travel well in advance and it usually revolves around wellness retreat research or visiting friends and family.
What’s one place you’ll never tire of?
Paris. My uncle, aunt and cousin who I’m very close to live there and the vintage shopping, fashion museums, Four Seasons George V Spa and eggs Benedict are just the best.
Read also: Airbnb could be banned in Paris
Which destination has surprised you the most?
New York always surprises me, I need to add about fifteen new spots to my Google map every time I visit which is usually once a year. If you only have a day and are into wellness there check out The Class by Taryn Toomey, ToneHouse, Dr Smood and walk around The Met for some culture and cardio.
What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learnt during your travels?
That money is better spent on experiences than things.
What’s the best souvenir you’ve ever bought?
My parents technically bought it but it’s a photograph of my whole family dressed up as ancient Egyptians which is hilarious. My dad is from Cairo and we all look a little bit Egyptian so it looks very authentic.
Do you shop a lot while travelling?
Not really. If I’m in Paris I only buy vintage items, I sometimes shop in Brown Thomas in Dublin because I love their edit and I might pick up locally-made items at markets. I get more pleasure spending my money on experiences rather than things and try to consume in a more conscious manner these days. I’m going to Morocco soon and have some traditional wedding blankets, berber carpets and balgha slippers on my list.
What’s your shopping philosophy when you travel?
I try to buy things local to that destination, the exception is vintage which I hunt for in Paris, London, LA and New York.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your travels?
My mum’s lasagna or anything that she makes.
What’s your favourite foodie destination?
I’m not a foodie but I grew up in Saudi Arabia and am half Egyptian so any Middle Eastern country has my vote for the best food.
If you could spend a day travelling around the world for each meal, where would you go for:
Breakfast: Four Seasons Paris George V for the eggs benedict and coffee
Lunch: Dr Smood in New York for the kale salad and golden mylk
Tea: My parents’ kitchen, drinking Barry’s tea and chatting with them at the table
Dinner: De Paolina in Capri where we went for our honeymoon
Drinks: With friends in London by the pool at White City House
Read also: How I travel: Michael Gray aka @mikevisuals