Turn off your phone and more travel tips from a frequent traveler celebrity

Mickey Ashmore, former CEO of Microsoft Corporation, is the owner of shoe brand Sabah, which he founded in 2013. She makes leather shoes inspired by the traditional Turkish slipper and has five retail stores worldwide.

A new flagship store in New York City called Sabah House opened this year. There he can showcase the lines the company now produces beyond its core collection, mainly small leather goods and accessories.

Sabah’s latest brand extension: a fragrance inspired by two of Ashmore’s favorite places, Turkiye and the American Southwest.

Ashmore’s annual flight mileage is nearly 120,000 and he will default to Turkish Airlines whenever he can. “In Turkiye they have a dish called köfte – which are meatballs – and one of the best versions of it is on this airline.”

Ashmore also promotes its Stopover program, which allows anyone arriving via Istanbul to break up their journey for free. “What’s cooler than flying around the world and then spending two days in Istanbul before moving on to the next leg?”

The 35-year-old jet setter lives in Nolita, New York. Here are his travel tips.

1. A board game can be the ultimate friend-maker and pastime on the road.

I always carry a leather roll-up backgammon board – it’s an old corduroy board that a friend owned in Dallas. One of the most fun ways to break the ice and invite a stranger or new acquaintance to chat is by offering an impromptu game of backgammon along the way. I started doing this when I was dating someone; Whenever we traveled, we brought a board with us.

We went to Brazil once for three weeks and after a week together sometimes you want to be together but you just can’t chat anymore. The backgammon board is something to do.

Board games like backgammon can be a great way to start conversations with locals while traveling.  — FURKANFDEMIR/PexelsBoard games like backgammon can be a great way to start conversations with locals while traveling. — FURKANFDEMIR/Pexels

We found people asking to play and then it became something I did. I traveled alone to Patmos Greece a few weeks ago and brought my backgammon board to the beach and I probably met 12 people who just saw the board and said “can I play a game?”

Chess takes a lot of concentration – you can’t really have a beer or two and play chess well, but you can have as many as you want and your backgammon game won’t necessarily get any worse. It’s more social and you can teach someone to play in about 20 minutes.

2. There’s a magical amount of travel it takes to truly unwind in a destination.

As a traveller, I consider myself a repeat offender: I like to travel to the same place over and over again. That’s why I’ve been to Mexico City 10 times or go back to Oaxaca (Mexico) every winter. There’s something really beautiful about going back to a place, seeing the same faces again, and getting a little deeper into it.

I stay in the same hotel and even try to request the same room. The journey is less about seeing everything and more about being there. The third trip is when you know what to do and of course you find more things – that’s the magic number of visits, three, when you start to relax in one place.

3. The Middle East is known for cutting-edge luxury, but Ashmore recommends an alternative.

I went to Oman with a friend from Dubai for three days and we spent them hiking and camping – the opposite of luxury in the classic sense, but luxury in that we were all alone. We camped on Fin Beach, right at the end of a wadi, one of those waterways that leads back into the desert.

I remember waking up on this beach – we got there very late at night so we didn’t know exactly where we were. And suddenly this view! The emptiness of everything was amazing, the huge beach, the desert behind us and the sea in front of us.

I remember feeling very small and very happy to be there.

There’s a place called Musandam, at the very tip of the Arabian Peninsula and cut off from the rest of Oman, where we took a boat tour of all these fjords. You’ll see Telegraph Hill where the British ran the telegraph from India and connected all the way back through Europe.

4. Turn off your phone while on vacation.

I’ve just been in Paris for 8 days and turned off my phone and laptop the entire time. For photos, I have a Fujifilm digital camera that I travel with, but to be honest I haven’t used it that much.

For me, the greatest luxury these days is separation, not distance. In my opinion, the phone is the biggest threat to actually being where you want to be.

Ashmore in Lebanon in 2019. He recommends a visit to Beirut if you're looking for fashion inspiration.  — MICKEY ASHMORE/InstagramAshmore in Lebanon in 2019. He recommends a visit to Beirut if you’re looking for fashion inspiration. — MICKEY ASHMORE/Instagram

I sent my company a message saying “Hey guys, I’m gone” and gave them the number of my friend I was traveling with, François, and I told my parents and my closest friends.

I’m telling you: Nobody called him.

There are so many messages and calls being sent and made that are simply unnecessary. By the end of that week, I was so hesitant to turn my phone back on that I almost got angry about it for a few days afterwards.

5. For design and art, Ashmore recommends this Middle Eastern city.

A lot of interesting fashion happens in Beirut. Just walking around Achrafieh, I came across some really interesting designers. There is a shop there called Creative Space Beirut run by a woman who works with really young designers to give them a platform and a voice.

And there’s a man named Kamal Mouzawak: he’s more into hospitality, but he’s so inspirational from a design perspective. He has a series of rooms called Beit.

The hotel you can stay at is the Albergo, which must be one of the oldest in Beirut and has been owned by the same family for a long time.

I think people worry that Beirut is not safe. There are dangers everywhere – in New York City. I have been there (Beirut) 10 or 12 times in the last 15 years and have always felt welcome and safe there. – Bloomberg


Ashmore’s Turkiye tips

Ashmore spends a lot of time in Turkiye at his local factory and has a deep insight into Istanbul.

1. How to get around

People don’t think of using the Bosphorus as a means of transportation. There are public ferries which are great fun but there is always a really well established network of private boats and taxis which are not very expensive and can get you up and down the coast quickly. If you are staying in a hotel ask and they will give you the number of someone you can just call and be picked up or taken back and forth on the ferry. It’s the most magical way to see this city, especially at sunset.

2. Where to go to avoid your fellow tourists

People always spend way too much time in the old city of Istanbul, around the tourist attractions. This might be a great place to spend an afternoon unless you’re a big history buff. I spend a lot of time on the water: a neighborhood called Kuzguncuk, which is on the Asian side (Anatolia) of the Bosphorus and is quite an artistic part of the city that is not very well known. You would think you are in a small town without realizing that you are in a city of 18 million people.

Another charming neighborhood is Kandilli, and at the ferry dock there is a restaurant called Suna’nin Yeri or Suna’s Place. It’s a fish restaurant right next to the mosque. The trick is to go around 5 or 6pm when the sun goes down because you’re looking back at the European side.

It’s like being on vacation in the middle of Istanbul. It’s not expensive, and it’s no frills, but it’s the coolest lot.

In Kanlica, another neighborhood, people come by when the ferry docks and sell yoghurt because it’s so famous there, and in Çengelköy they have a place called Çengelköy Borekcisi. Borek is a filo pastry that’s famous throughout Turkiye, and you can have breakfast by the Bosphorus, enjoy this puff pastry with a coffee or a tea and watch the city awaken.

There in Çengelköy there is a hotel called Sumahan that a family bought and turned into a really charming hotel with rooms directly facing the Bosphorus, so you can take a boat to go there. – Bloomberg

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