For die-hard travelers, their approach to trips may forever be divided into pre- and post-pandemic mindsets. Model Ashley Graham welcomed her first child, a son named Isaac, at the beginning of 2020, which has further contributed to her whole new approach to vacation time. “Everything has now changed because I have a child,” says Graham, whose business and leisure travels have brought her to nearly every continent. “Before the baby, it was about relaxing with a little bit of adventure.”
Graham has recently partnered with Affirm, which works with companies like Expedia, Vrbo, and Priceline to allow travelers to split the costs of a vacation into multiple payments over time.
“They’re giving people the flexibility to purchase their ideal summer vacations without having to overextend their budget,” she says. Graham chatted with Condé Nast Traveler about her own post-pandemic travel plans, the flight where she had her own bedroom, and swimming with sea turtles in the Seychelles.
The first country she wants to visit post-pandemic:
I can’t wait to go back to Italy. My husband has a bunch of family in Reggio Calabria, and they have a little beach house in Scilla, which is right by Sicily. The food is incredible, the people are so nice, and it just feels like home. We can’t wait to go there, and his family hasn’t met Isaac yet, so it’s another really special moment we get to all have together.
What she prioritizes when planning a vacation:
My husband and I vacation differently: I would love to drink a bottle of wine by the beach every day, all day, and he wants to go skydiving and jump out of airplanes. So we meet in the middle, and we end up on a boat or we go on a hike or something. I don’t know if that’s meeting in the middle for him! The beach has always been an ideal thing for me, but it’s not a necessary [destination], because right now I’m upstate New York and I’m renting a house for the summer in the middle of the woods and it just feels so relaxing to be surrounded by nature.
Her go-to plane outfit:
Well, it kind of looks like my COVID outfit, which is sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I don’t want to dress for the destination because airplanes are so cold, but I want to make sure I’ve got layers on. Usually where I’m going is warm, so I’ll have my sandals in my bag or a tank top underneath a sweatshirt. Comfort is key. And also knowing that whatever I’m wearing is definitely going to get dirty because I’m going to have oatmeal or something [else] spilled all over me. Traveling with a kid is a whole other ball game.
Her tried-and-true trick for traveling with a toddler:
I don’t think it’s any new tip, but something that I learned—I just went to Dallas with Isaac alone on the plane and what I did was, I had two new toys and three new types of food. It was entertaining for him because it was something completely different, and I have to say it did eat up a chunk of the time.
Her simple travel beauty routine:
I think that half of the battle is just not really caring as much, and realizing that I’m going to take care of myself for myself, and not for others. I love Muji. Everything’s in my Muji bags. I have two of everything, so basically everything is already in my carry-on, and I just have to remind myself to refill the bottles. Rose water is my best friend, sunscreen is in my back pocket, and I keep Aquafor on my lips. I just keep it simple. I always get my eyebrows dyed before I leave for vacation, also, so I don’t even have to think about that, and then I can just brush them up with either gel or hair spray. On vacation, I don’t really wear that much makeup, because you’ve got a glowy tan and you’re good to go.
Her most insane first-class flight ever:
I remember my first “apartment in the air” experience. I was flying to Thailand to host Miss Universe on Etihad—it’s one of the only airlines that has the experience of an apartment. You have a butler, a chef, your own living space, a bedroom with a corridor that leads to a bathroom, and a full-size bed with the most delicious comforter you could have ever asked for. I took the long way there, through Dubai, on purpose so that I could have a full experience. I have to say that trumped any business or first class!
The most epic vacation of her life:
My husband and I did a three week vacation where we started in Senegal, and we did Senegal for six days. Then we went to Dubai. We rode the ATVs through the sand dunes and rode camels and did that whole thing. And then we went to the Seychelles and stayed in tree houses and snorkeled with Nemo and played with a sea turtle. It was so sick. I think we did it in 2017, and we were like, “Will we ever have a vacation like this again?” We totally splurged. And it was the end of December until the top of January. And I have to say, I’m so glad we did it, because then it was two years later we got pregnant, and we were like, “Wow, we’ve really traveled.” Being able to go from the west side of Africa all the way to the farthest east country, it was remarkable.
The destinations she could go back to a million times and not tire of them:
Italy, definitely. The Seychelles, I wish were closer, but oh my gosh, my husband and I have the most amazing memories. Also Morocco, I love it there. Really, I could eat tagine every day. And I bought so much furniture there too.
On exploring the United States during the pandemic:
Growing up, some of the biggest joys that me and my family had, that I can’t wait to instill with Isaac and Justin, was road trips through America. We did a little bit of that last year. We went through the Rocky Mountains and the south. We just did all-American road tripping, historical sites. Sometimes there is a joy being in the car with your family, and sometimes there’s not, but knowing that there’s something cool at the end of the trip where you guys can all enjoy it—whether it’s a hot spring or a really cool destination where you’re hiking—I think that’s really fun and totally underrated.
What she recommends people see in her home state:
When you’re in Nebraska, you have to remember that there’s a lot of farm land and there’s loads of corn. You just kind of have to get ready, because the highway can get a little long and treacherous. There’s really good kayaking, loads of lakes that you can go down, and I did that while we were there last summer. There’s all kinds of campgrounds. It’s very outdoorsy. I would definitely suggest going in the summer time. It’s also one of the top five happiest states of America, so everywhere you go, there will be a friendly face, lots of home-baked goods everywhere. The farmer’s market in downtown Lincoln is fantastic and so fun. It’s a really great place for kids, too, with loads of playgrounds, very family-oriented.
Her favorite hotel amenity:
The one that is the kicker is the unpacking service. I am a sucker for an unpacking service. I hate unpacking and I hate repacking, so if there’s a service that I can pay to have [repacking], I will pay for it. There’s only some hotels that do it, and the ones that do, I’m always incredibly grateful, especially now with a kid. And I also have to say, one of my favorite hotels, the Peninsula in L.A.—every time I go, they have a monogram robe and pillowcase for me, Justin, and Isaac. It just makes you feel at home.
Her favorite hotels:
Six Senses is one of my favorite places to stay. It’s like, ‘we believe you are the sixth sense,’ so you don’t have to even think. They think for you, and they just lavish you. I mean, think of something, they’ve already done it.
Her travel pet peeve:
That’s a hard one because I used to see kids in a line and I would go the other way. And now I’m that lady with a kid! I guess a pet peeve is when people are blasting their movie or their music without headphones. Really? Come on. Just be considerate.
And her best travel advice:
We went two Christmases ago to Ethiopia, and we went with my best friend who’s Ethiopian. And I have to say one of the top travel tips ever is: Find a local. Find a local that you love, even if it’s word of mouth or a friend of a friend of a friend, because you will have the best experience. Yes, I like luxury, but I also like to just rent a car and go on my own. And when we were in Senegal [back in 2017], it was so nice—we stopped on the side of the road, we had tea with some of the locals, and we had some thieboudienne, [the Senegalese fish dish]. And the same thing in Ethiopia. To me, one of the best things about traveling is getting to experience the culture and the people of the country that you’re in. I love that.
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