As the London-based luxury travel company Original Travel expands into the United States, launching hundreds of adventurous new itineraries, we talk to the company’s co-founder Nick Newbury about transformative travel experiences and how he himself went from working in investing banking to curating these life-changing journeys.
How did you go from investment banking to starting a travel company?
Through my twenties, I was lucky enough to work in a dynamic investment banking team, focused on Africa, the Middle East and Russia, run by someone who did not believe in the unwritten rules of working in investment banking: face-time, pitch prep at midnight, weekend working. He felt, if managed well, all of this was avoidable. Around me however, in other teams, were people abiding by these unwritten rules. While I felt lucky to do what I did, I resolved there and then to work in a business I was passionate about. What better way to do that than start your own business? In banking, if you were ever away from your desk for longer than a week, it did not go down well, so I planned mini-vacations off the back of business trips wherever and whenever I could, from dog sledding in Arctic Sweden to taking in the huge expanses of Namibia. My passion for uncovering these experiences is a close match for a typical Original Travel member.
What was the inspiration behind this endeavor?
There are a number of reasons. My mum was Danish, my wife is Italian, I studied languages and I have traveled and worked in six of the world’s continents, including teaching and mining in South America, climbing peaks in the Middle East and Africa, and learning to fly in North America. While in banking and taking these mini-breaks, friends and colleagues started asking me if I could arrange some of these experiences for them. I did, and this led to the founding of Original Travel.
What do you think distinguished Original Travel from the beginning?
We carefully choose destinations that allow us to deliver our take on luxury, not in terms of gold taps and marble bathrooms, but in terms of sending clients to destinations where few other people have been and where we can major on the authenticity of the experience. This could be a market tour with pintxos (Basque tapas) and a cooking lesson with a Michelin-Starred chef in San Sebastian; a nest-to-nest chimpanzee trek in Uganda; tracking wildlife and finding out about ancient hunter gatherer culture with the Zu’hoasi bushmen of the Kalahari Desert; or stargazing with a private guide in the Atacama desert of Chile. We also understand how important it is to offer stand-out service – our Concierge service is completely unique to the industry. The Concierges live locally, know their destinations inside out and are a phone call away.
Are the people you have in each destination key to the company’s identity?
Absolutely. We are all passionate about travel, with first-hand knowledge, personal connections and experience to craft life-enhancing, life-changing and life-defining experiences. The team has traveled to over 160 countries and is made up of 17 different nationalities who speak 15 different languages. We have spent 15 years leveraging our contacts and experiences to build a black book of guides, specialists, enthusiasts, hotel owners and contacts who we know will enable us to live up to our proposition that ‘Life is in the Detail’.
Tell me about one of the most remarkable trips the company has curated.
Probably the most complex vacation we planned was for a client on a two-year sabbatical. His brief was that he wanted to learn his way around the world, avoiding staying in hotels as much as possible. The result was 92 stages, covering 66 countries. We took care of everything in minute detail, developing a website dedicated to the trip. Experiences included diving the Sardine Run in South Africa and piecing together the underwater video footage each evening with a BBC camera crew, riding through the mysterious kingdom of Mustang in the Himalayas before meeting the King of Mustang and flying back to Kathmandu in a helicopter, living with the Kalahari bush people in Botswana, and motor biking through the wilds of Kazakhstan with 20 of his childhood friends.
Of the new itineraries you’ve launched, which experiences stand out most for you?
Raja Ampat and Komodo are prime spots for marine species in the so-called Coral Triangle, the single most bio-diverse marine region in the world. With next to no high end hotels (yet), by far the best way to explore is on one of the superb phinisi ships that have been converted into luxury liveaboards. Even non-divers will love the region because the service on-board is amazing, there’s always amazing snorkeling, and the land excursions are world class, from volcano treks to picnics on wild beaches, cultural visits and trips to see the extraordinary Komodo dragons.
Original Travel also incorporates the luxury dive specialist, Original Diving. Where did this stem from?
Original Diving was inspired by the best-selling coffee table book, Dive in Style, written by Tim Simond, who co-founded this division. Our aim was to assemble a team of dive masters, rescue divers, diving instructors and marine biologists to provide the very best in dive travel. This wasn’t just for dive experts but for people keen to try this activity for the first time. By allying it to the rest of our proposition and broad range of expertise, we go a lot further than just diving by combining it with the best of everything else, including non-diving experiences and top notch accommodation. This remains a unique proposition in the dive market.
What plans do you have for Original Travel?
We are constantly evolving. We are always looking to develop the team, to deepen their passion for their expert areas, exploring lesser known areas, discovering original and authentic experiences and to share these with our clients as we curate bespoke, interesting, fulfilling and life-changing itineraries. And we are constantly looking to evolve what we offer. We have just launched in the United States, so we can better service our US-based clients with the most relevant offering. Although our proposition has been refined over the last 15 years, only now do we feel ready to bring it to America.
Where will you be heading in 2019 yourself?
I have two children, boys aged eight and seven, who are energetic and inquisitive. 2018 was the first year we started to open their travel wings. It is our fundamental belief that opening our children’s eyes to the world, its range of people, ethnicities, religions, geographies and cultures will make them more rounded and understanding people. Next year, we plan to go to South America to explore the remote corners of Patagonia’s National Parks.
Nostalgia plays an important part in travel. Every year we try to visit the Ionian islands in Greece. I still love them with the same passion I remember from when I was just 10 years old. Often in our thirst for new destinations, it’s easy to forget the joy of visiting a place that offers up no surprises at all. The crystal clear Mediterranean laps reassuringly on the rocks, Albania still sits mysteriously and tantalizingly close, the same tavernas serve up the same menus, and the same proprietors greet you with warm and open smiles.
Images: Instagram @originaltravel