Welcome to Mojo Moments. I'm your host Thane Calder. Now we are still knees deep in COVID and let's be honest, I live in a microcosm of comfort and privilege and in no way represent the reality of what so many other people who are scrambling to make ends meet while staying safe have to live.
In my world of zooming on zoom and for many folks that I interact with in this little world, our biggest thing that we're missing during this pandemic is travel. You know, picnic by the vineyard in Tuscany, walking the steps of Montmartre in Paris and hanging out with monkeys in Costa Rica getting wacky at Coachella. I mean, whatever your travel thing is, when people think travel, people think mojo.
So today we're going to talk about travel mojo and to boost our chat. We're going to talk with a travel guru and expert. His name is Charlie Scott, who is Charlie? Well, he's a travel entrepreneur, a master traveler. He spent 25 years of his life in the travel world. Not in the hotel business, but in real travel, even though he hails from a teeny town in Quebec, he's lived in Morocco, India, France, Bali.
He's a founder of a travel advisory company called DITOUI. Say yes. He's, prior to that, he co-founded a high end travel company called Truffle Pig. They would essentially sniff out the best places to go in the world. And he also worked with the luxury outfitter called Butterfield and Robinson. He actually wrote the book for the founder, George Butterfield, et cetera, et cetera.
This guy has traveled chops through and through. So listen up.
So Charlie, know why we're here?
I think so, you wanted tech support, right?
No wrong podcast. Dude you are on the Mojo Moments podcast? Charlie Scott, the world famous podcast. So welcome aboard.
And you know why we're here?
I think you wanted to talk about relation.... travel or relationships?
No, no, no, not relationship. I'm not going to you for relationships.
They're the same thing.
That's the other podcast, but you'll have to change your name. So, Charlie Scott, what are you doing these days, bro?
I am in Knowlton an hour outside of Montreal in the country, in a little village, where you are, and I'm doing a bunch of things, renovating an old house and doing a bunch of various consulting projects. Walking the dog, doing a bit of skiing, a bit of this, a bit of that
So, for Mr. Worldliness, and I did this intro that I didn't include you on because then you get all embarrassed. Cause I play you up, man. You're like the master guru traveler, but with all your worldliness of travel and now you're back in the little tiny town that you've grown up in years ago. Is it weird? Is it good? What's it like?
The only thing that's weird about it is that it doesn't feel that weird. And if you had told me a year ago that we'd be here, living here at this time of year, I would have said, nah, you know, maybe in 10 years. And the idea of living here a year ago was pretty weird and very abstract and really hard to imagine.
And here we are now, and it feels like the most normal thing and it feels, it doesn't feel weird. It feels weirdly exotic in a way. And even though it's a very familiar place that I've known since I was 10. Um, everything feels a little different and I don't know if that's because the world is weird. So this feels normal, cozy, or if it's because I am coming back to a place that I know really well after having left many years ago. I don't know. But it doesn't feel that weird to answer your question.
Well, tell me, where were you just before little Knowlton, Quebec.
So immediately before, we were living in Bali and we were there until April and then we came back at the beginning of April.
So from Bali to Quebec.
Bali to Quebec, B to C, B to Q , C for Canada.
So, I play you up as a travel guru and those aren't your words. Those are mine. But what makes you travel? Like what's your pedigree, you know, like make your case, man.
Well, I've never sold myself as a travel guru, but I do know travel pretty well and I love travel.
So growing up it's worth mentioning, I didn't actually travel that much or nothing very exciting, you know? Banff national park, which is great, the Laurentians, which is great, but I didn't leave Canada until I was, I think, 16 or 17 and I did a school exchange to France. As soon I got a taste for travel and I kind of swore that as soon as I finished university, I would take off and go backpacking in Europe. And I don't know if it was because I was really keen to go backpacking or because I wasn't sure if I would actually get a degree. I left as soon as the last class was done and took off and backpacked around Europe for three or four months. Totally loved it and thought: I need to do more of this, but I should probably grow up and get a real job.
So at the end of backpacking, I reluctantly came back to Canada and moved to Vancouver where I decided I was going to go into the investment world, in Vancouver. I started interviewing and I got really close with one job and I woke up the next day in cold sweats and thought if they offer me a job, it's going to feel really awful.
So I thought maybe that's a sign that it's not really the career for me. So I stayed in Vancouver for another year and worked as a bellhop and parking valet and saved money. And then it was actually your brother who was staying on our couch and he said in passing, “you should go guide bike trips in France”.
And I said: “Guide? what do you mean? What is that, how do you do that? Why, what?” So he explained that there was a job where you could go to France and you could guide bike trips. And you can stay in beautiful hotels and eat great food and have fun or ride your bike all day and get paid. And I thought that is what I need to do at least at least for six months or three months,
It's kind of the test. If anyone said no to that, you'd be like, okay?
Yeah, it was the perfect job on paper. And, then I went and I did it and it turned out that it was actually the perfect job in reality. So any ideas or aspirations of going into finance evaporated for good. And before I knew it, I was kind of hooked on this thing, not just in sort of a vacation sense, but in a professional sense.
And I stayed in travel for, and I guess I'm still in travel, but I was kind of actively full-time in travel for the next, I don't know, 20, 25 years.
It's interesting because in my little intro thing, before you being on here, I set you up as guru traveler, but not the traveler type that worked in hotels, but I forgot you started out in Vancouver, your actual first real job in the travel industry was as a bellhop. And I remember something about your first day parking. Can you tell that story because...
I'll tell you two stories and they're connected, but they're kind of a fun example of how strangely small, the world can be.
So the first story, my very first day, working as a bellhop and parking valet at the Wedgewood hotel in Vancouver. I was taking cars up and down a valet parking and it was great fun. And most of the cars were automatic, which was strange for me because I'd always grown up where we had manual cars, standard transmission cars. So my brain, somehow over the course of the night started getting confused between manual transmission and automatic. And towards the end of the night, when I was probably a little tired, I went down to get a car and I started it. And as soon as I took my foot off, what I thought was the brake, the car just lurched forward. And I couldn't figure out what was going on and to make a long story short, I had confused, it was an automatic car. So it was a standard car. I thought it was automatic and the car rolled in the parking lot. Um, it sort of jumped out of its stall and rolled into the back of another car and I smashed the hood and some lights. And so I went upstairs and told the duty manager. And as you can imagine, I'm totally like, can I say shitting myself?
You can say whatever you want, we're not CBC.
And I thought, how do you screw this up your very, very first day on the job?
So I went up and I thought, I'll just be totally honest. I explained to the guy what had happened. And the last question he asked me was, were there any other cars involved? And I said, no. And then I remember that there actually was, but I hadn't done any damage to it. So I explained that I had rolled into the back of a Toyota land cruiser that had such a big steel bumper that I didn't cause any damage to it. And he started laughing like crazy. I'm like, what is going on?
Anyway, it turns out that it was his Toyota Land Cruiser that I rolled into. He said that he thought it was really funny. I recovered and returned to work the next day and ended up working there for another nine months and from there forward was extremely careful about whether it was manual or automatic transmission.
I love that, cause you pride yourself on your driving skills.
Yeah, so that second part of that story though. So that was in 1993. And so flash forward until 2008-2007. And I was trying to put a trip together in California in the Napa Valley.
I had contacted this really small, really beautiful, little hotel called Poetry Inn, and I hadn't been there and I'd read about it and it sounded great. So I thought, I had these really special clients, so it had to be perfect. So I called the hotel and I thought I'll call and speak to the manager. You know, and see if I can arrange a visit in advance of the trip. I called him and I'm speaking to the manager, and the whole time I'm thinking, I know that voice, I know that voice. And it was this really distinct English accent and sort of halfway through the call. I said, this is kind of a long shot, but in 1993, did you own a Land Cruiser?
The guy started laughing and it was the manager of the Wedgwood who was now working in Napa Valley.
Did he remember you from whacking his car?
That's a good way of starting.
So a month later, I went down to do research for this trip and we went out and had some drinks and...
Stayed away from the car. Right?
I took a bus or bike or something.
So you did all the bike tour, travel tour stuff at Butterfield and Robinson. So when you really got into the travel thing, you started a company, in which I still think is the best name ever, the Truffle Pig, like what was the essence of Truffle Pig? What were you doing there?
What was the essence of our business? So the essence of the business was, I guess, on the surface, what we were doing is we were planning high-end custom trips. So that's pretty simple. People would call us and say, I really want to go to New Zealand. I want to find out how to shear a sheep. I'm really into red wine. I want to go sailing on an American Cup yacht, and I like fancy hotels, for example. And we would put a custom trip together based on them, their interests and the ingredients that we had found in New Zealand based on our research. So that was kind of what we did, but the spirit of the company was really playing on the whole metaphor of the truffle pig.
You may or may not know that truffles are like a kind of fungus that grow underground and they grow in a lot of places, but we usually think of it as France and Italy. And so these truffles that are fungus, kind of like a mushroom, hard mushroom, about the size of a marble or golf ball, they grow anywhere from six inches to a foot or more underground. And there's nothing above ground that tells you they're there. There are no leaves. There's no nothing. And the only hint that they're there is a chemical that the truffle emits that is almost exactly the same as a pheromone that pigs emit when they're in heat. So the pigs are used by farmers to go into the woods to find the truffles because the pigs have a very acute sense of smell and they can walk through the woods where there's apparently nothing. In this scrubby dry landscape, they can smell the exact spot where truffles are growing. And then the farmer pulls the pig back, digs up the truffle, takes the truffle, goes to the market and sells it for...
The whole metaphor of us as a truffle pig or us as a tool to help people find the things that are really hard to find, and that are simultaneously really precious and super valuable luxurious, but also very earthy and very real and very pungent.
That's what we did. Our trips tended to be high-end, but it wasn't that we were excited to just go to a country and, you know, drink champagne and stay in fancy hotels. That wasn't the idea of the trip. That was a comfort level that our clients expected, and many of them actually needed to feel comfortable in a foreign country.
But the thing that they wanted from us was the texture of the place and the sense of the place that would really help connect them to the spirit of wherever they were. Barcelona, the Sahara, wherever it might be, that's what we did. We basically connected the dots.
I love travel too. And interestingly, like the things that you listed there, I didn't do New Zealand, but you know, the good hotel and Oh yeah, I got to go and do this and that, but I got to say the stuff I remember when I travel, it's usually the stuff that are not planned for, you know, the serendipitous stuff that takes place.
Is that just me or is that a truism in good experiences and travel?
I think that's most people, I think there's a physical aspect or a tangible aspect of travel that we can't ignore and deny, and that is everybody has a threshold or a level of need for a certain comfort and a truffle pig behind the scenes. We would just call it our fancy-ometer. Some people need hotels and restaurants and cars or flights that are super fancy. That's what they're used to. That's what they're comfortable with, whatever, and that's fine. Then other people are less fussed and their fancy-ometer might be a little bit lower scale in that they don't need a gigantic room. They don't need 11 rain shower heads, they just need great service. So regardless, that fancy-ometer. I think everybody has, all of our clients had it and they all varied. And anybody I know who travels has it, but the reason they travel, I think a lot of people think they're traveling because they want to go stay in a great hotel in the Bahamas. But I don't actually think that's the real reason.
I think the deeper reason is they want to break familiarity and they want to go somewhere. That's going to sure, relax them, but it's going to excite them in some way and challenge them in some way physically or intellectually. I think the thing when we think back to travel, yeah, we do remember the hotels and the restaurants for sure, but really what we're usually remembering, even with those physical things, is something more kind of esoteric. And it's the chef at the restaurant who comes out to meet you or it's the service at the hotel? Um, I just was writing an Instagram post about a hotel in London called the Connaught or the Connaught (pronounced differently) and it's a...
It's Cannaught actually, I'm just saying, because I'm thinking of Connaught Place in New Delhi, I don't know.
I always get it wrong. So this hotel has been around for a long time and it's a very fancy hotel, so it's expensive and it's got nice sheets and all that stuff. But the thing that I remember about it. Is the way they treat you and the way that they made me feel. What I was writing about when I wrote this thing the other day was, I've never had a hotel that made me feel like a gentleman, and that's kind of a pretty abstract thing that you would travel for.
If I asked you, why are you going to London? I doubt you would say: because I want to feel like a gentleman, you would say, Oh, I want to go to check out some, you know, museums and galleries. I want to do some shopping, but I think there are always, when it comes to travel, there are things that drive us, aspirations, to feel a certain way. In an environment where we might not be able to get at home and stay at that hotel, which I'd always wanted to stay at.
And I'd always wanted to stay there because I heard it was really fancy and really, you know, beautiful. And it is, but that's not what I most remember about it. I remember the way the staff treated me and, you know, arriving at breakfast and by the second day, they knew exactly what I liked for breakfast in what order. and what newspaper and without any fanfare or fuss, they would just like, bring it. And they would speak to me as an equal and not as sort of a, you know, kowtowing servant and that sort of human element of it is what made it so special.
Yeah. A few years ago, I was lucky to go with my family and we went for a month to Buenos Aires and then to Uruguay. My son had a sailing thing down there. You put me in touch with a local guide. They kind of organize some things that you need to do in Buenos Aires eat a great steak, do some tango, all those things. But she threw in there, knowing the age of our kids, a big part of Buenos Aires, street art. And we actually went and discovered street art and actually did some spray painting. You don't find that in a classic guidebook, this is what you should do when you travel, you know, between me and the kids remains one of those super super memorable moments.
Like, and what were we doing? We are in a back alley, right? Spray painting on a wall. That was a highlight.
Yeah. Yeah. And the thing that's so cool about that, you know, we, in a sense, I feel badly that I've defined much of my career in travel, much of my professional career in travel, in high-end travel because I don't, I love beautiful hotels for sure and beautiful places, but I don't actually care about them anywhere near as much as the experience and the best things in travel really are if not free, they cost pennies.
So there, how much was the spray painting? Sure. You had to pay for the guide, but it's like a can of spray paint. And it's not expensive stuff. And so usually the memories that are really great and really mark your, your impression of a place, have nothing to do with the physical. They're all about that kind of experiential and connection and they usually don't cost much money.
That's what we always found so much fun planning, and I still love planning travel is you have to build a framework that is the tangible stuff, you have to stay in hotels and guides and restaurants and all that stuff that are going to be a good fit for the comfort level, the fanciness of the traveler, but then that's just literally the starting point. It's kind of like a house where you have to have a plumbing system. You have to have toilets, you have to have a sink, a kitchen, all that, but the thing that makes the house feel special is. The decor and the ambiance and the smell of food in the kitchen or whatever it might be. It's that color, the texture that you remember and that stuff most of the time is just not that expensive, especially if you're creative about it.
So let's take right now, you know, we're in pandemic, COVID , and for the few of us that are lucky, you know, the thing we miss and that is probably our biggest sort of sacrifice right now is travel. And I know you and I, as we're, you know, talking about getting you on, on the Mojo Podcast here, just talking about how now we're stuck. We can't travel, but weirdly little journeys around even our local communities can be interesting. So what's the connection between that and travel like?
So I would say: that is travel. So travel is when you walk out the door, like when you go to take the dog for a walk or take your kids to school that is potentially travel. And I guess it depends how you define travel, but I would define travel as an experience that you can have the minute you leave the house. An experience that's going to be interesting and engaging.
And so I think you can have it, you can, you don't have to go very far. Yesterday, I went to pick up plumbing fixtures, a super sexy day. And as I was driving back home, I thought: “I'm going to take this different route” and I looked at Google, which is so brilliant because you can always know where you are and you can always find the options in a way that when I started in travel, you just couldn't, you had to guess.
I thought I'm going to find a way back from the town where I was getting the plumbing fixture, which is say 30 kilometers away back to where we live and I've driven most roads around here. But I thought for sure, there must be tons, you know, or some that I haven't. I found a road and I drove on this road and there was one of the most exquisite little churches built in 1852 out of these huge blocks of blue slate, like super rare, unusual architecture.
You've probably never seen this church. It's called the Frost Village Church and it's this tiny rural church and it's kind of boarded up, the windows and doors. I don't think they use it, or not very often. And it's the middle of January, so it was gray and white and cold and quiet and lonely. But this little church was just captivating, so I thought you've got a bit of time, get out of the car and have a little experience with this church. Sounds a bit weird.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially with, you know, the priest stories, but anyway,
There was no one there, it was me and my phone. So I took a few pictures and then I thought, okay, I'm going to see what else is around here.
And then, I drove up the road a little bit and there was this amazing barn that was falling down. And then 200 meters later, it was this beautiful old brick colonial house. And so within a kilometer, were these three sites, you could call them, that weren't the Duomo in Florence. And you know, they weren't...
The country house in the Hill in Tuscany
They were very kind of close to home things, but they were really interesting.
And so for that hour long period, 45 minutes, whatever it was, to me that actually felt it hit all the sort of buttons of excitement that I get when I travel, you know, wherever I go.
You know, Butterfield and Robinson that had the tagline: “slow down to see the world”. It's kind of what you're saying, when you step out the door, you don't have to be in Tuscany to have a travel moment. It's almost an attitude. It's a mindset.
Yeah. It's the frame of mind that you're in. And I agree with you, I think “slow down to see the world” is the absolute best slogan or line of any travel company. It just hits the nail right on the head. And that's usually the problem we have when we're at home. We move too quickly. So we are in production mode, taking kids toskating practice. We're in production mode, going grocery shopping. We're in production mode, doing all these things that we're so used to doing that we've kind of forgotten the charm of doing them. And we just want to get them done.
We want to get to work. We want to crank through the day and that's totally fine, but this is where travel or vacation. And I think for many people vacation would mean travel, is so valuable and so brilliant because it forces us to put ourselves in a different frame of mind, which is: slow down, change the pattern and see if you can experience the world differently”.
And I think that can be walking out your door and going for a walk. Just as easily as it can be flying to Japan and going for a walk there.
Which seems very far away right now Hey, so totally shifting gears here. I think that we have a huge following on our podcast, by the way. I'm sure there's people out there with their families because now they're in family lockdown mode, a lot of them, and they're working from home. Their kids may be doing school from home. Kind of a parallel to that. What you did a couple of years ago, you, your wife, two kids that were what? They were about 10 & 8 at the time?
Yeah. 8 and 10? Or 7 and 9? 8 and 10!
You did the thing that we hear people do, but you did it, which is travel around the world as a family.
Unpack that a little, how does that happen? How did that happen? Would you recommend it?
It was an idea, both my wife and I just have travel in our blood. And I think everybody has travel in their blood in some way, but for us travel is kind of always simmering to boiling over. We need to travel a lot. We just, we love it, so ever since we met, both of us are like that. And so it doesn't take much convincing to get the other person to go somewhere, away for the weekend, travel anywhere. So we kind of, as soon as we had kids, we started dreaming of this idea where we would unplug from our conventional world and unplug from all the patterns that I was mentioning before those sort of production patterns.
And we would just like bugger off. Go have fun travel around the world with our kids, teach them all sorts of life lessons and things they might not learn. Expose them to all sorts of beautiful places that we had enjoyed.
And so this dream kind of floated around for a while, but it is at least on the surface, it's tricky. It is expensive. It takes time. It takes planning. It takes resources of every kind. It seemed for a number of years like it was kind of going to be impossible, but the itch kept growing at about, I don't know, three years ago, three and a half years ago? We realized that we actually, we had to figure out some way to do it and we'd been slowly saving.
And so we kind of got to a point where we both needed a break and a shift from what we were doing work-wise and we had saved like, just enough to do this big adventure. And so we thought, man, if we do not do it now, we'll never do it. So, I quit my job and my wife had left her’s just maybe six months or so, maybe a year before.
And we rented our house and we took off. And when we landed, so we flew to Japan and we were basically ready to go for a year. And when we landed in Japan, I think that was the only flight we had booked, we had maybe one domestic flight in Japan booked, and we had a notion of what we wanted to do. And that notion was pretty abstract.
It was like Asia for three months and then maybe Europe for two months, and then maybe South America and that was really it. We just jumped and of course, as it always happens with travel as with most things in life. Once you jump, you realize that actually, you you've got some wings you didn't realize you had, you have some courage that had been asleep and our kids were, as I think all kids are programmed to be, were amazing, because they just didn't get fussed about much stuff at all. So we took off and ended up traveling for just under a year and we're in, I don't know, 16 or 17 countries and some places we stayed for a longer time and tried to set some temporary routes so the kids wouldn't feel like they were totally nomadic and other places we moved through really quickly.
And it was just mind blowing. I mean, it really, really was extraordinary. I think we're just only now actually going through the photos and as we go through the photos, we're actually, for the first time, since we had the experiences, we're actually beginning to digest the experiences.
If you had advice for that family out there, what would it be? If they want to consider something like that, one or two little nuggets.
My advice would be, if you want to do it, then do it. The money side, I'll address that because there may be people thinking: Oh my God, this guy must have a trust fund or something like that, or so much money in the bank.
And that is absolutely not.. Well I had to pay you a lot to get on this podcast. So right off the bat, that depleted things. And no, we had a very modest, let's put it this way, the amount of money that we spent for a year of traveling around the world for four people was less money than what it cost us to live in Toronto as a family of four. And I would say it was about 30% less. So that's kind of crazy when you think of it. It cost us 30% less to travel around the world than it did to work in our jobs. Now. Yes, it's true. We had no income coming in, or we had rent from our house, which actually covered quite a chunk, but we had to wrap our minds around that being a reasonable and feasible thing to do.
I think that is probably the best advice that I could give someone who's thinking about it, disregard the expectations that others have of you or disregard the expectations that the pattern of your life might have on you.
And you know, all the people who say that's crazy, you know, why are you leaving your job? It's going to cost a fortune. You have to kind of silence those inner and outer skeptics because they're not much fun to travel with. The reality is once you go, most places are cheaper to live than where most people actually live and work. Spend some time in Indonesia and it's a lot cheaper than living in a two bedroom apartment in Toronto.
So tell me this, in our podcasts, we do the rabbit hole five. It started out as a rapid five, but it never ended up being rapid. So it's the rabbit hole, five quick questions, maybe long answers, what's the worst experience in your travel that actually maybe turned out to be fun?
The worst experience? Oh man, well, tell you one of the worst, one of the scariest. I was guiding a trip in Nepal a long time ago. The way that it would work was before the travelers or the clients came, as guides we would go and we would kind of run through the trip at high speed and we'd visit all the hotels, we'd meet the hotels and make sure that everything was all set and it was usually pretty uneventful and you just kind of go and have fun. And then the trip would start. I was doing this trip in Nepal, which I'd never been to. It was the first time in about a year that this company had run a trip in Nepal. So we got there and we're racing through and we got to this place that was way up, getting near Everest base camp, really up high. This is right at the time of, remember that book Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer, with the story of climbing Everest and everything goes bad, it's kind of a crazy tragic story. So that had happened maybe three or four years before. This area we were at was kind of hiking up the exact same trail that they had hiked up.
And so we're kind of getting near-ish base camp and we were at the last stop of the itinerary which was sort of the highest village that you can reasonably get to, called Namche Bazaar. In my notes, it said we were staying at, I want to say something like The Rainbow or The Golden Rainbow Hotel, Panorama, maybe that Panorama...
I like the Golden Rainbow. Let's call it Golden Rainbow.
It sounded amazing. We were really excited because most of the hotels up there were pretty basic. This was 25-30 years ago. So we were really looking forward to this brand new hotel and we hiked for the day and we got up to this town and we got to the village. And I started asking around, you know, where's this Panorama Hotel? So, people are pointing and we walk out of town, we go up even higher and we're literally walking across this plateau and there's nothing there. I stopped and I asked another person and said: where's the Panorama Hotel, and the guy pointed to literally a pile of dirt and a little cinder block building that was about the size of a garage and a couple of guys digging and he said, it's right there. He's got this big smile on his face. We looked at each other and we're like, you gotta be kidding. So, we walk over and these guys are digging a hole and they are so excited to welcome us to the Panorama Hotel, which they assure me is going to be ready in 10 days.
And I'm like, you gotta be kidding. We have 20 high octane New Yorkers coming here, they're gonna skin us alive. So we, you know, made our way back down and we ended up being...
This hotel is not built!
And the hotel is literally not built, literally not built. And the hotel is a pile of dirt and a little cinder block building and nothing, no beds, no windows, no doors.
We had to find somewhere else, which we did, and it all worked out. You know, it all worked out fine, but it was, to this day, I'm like, God, you've got to do a little bit of planning because if you arrive at the Panorama Hotel of your dreams, wherever it may be, and you haven't done the research and you haven't called ahead to say: "why don't you just take a photo, just send me a photo, just so I can see what it looks like today". If you don't go to that extra little step of planning before your trip, then you're kind of setting yourself up for drama and pain. And, it's just not fun.
Unless that's your thing, you know? Just a little bit of trouble.
Unless that's your thing. Unless that's your thing.
You told me a story, but maybe it's too long ago. We can maybe do as an extra bonus, but your Bali scam story.
Oh, when I got scammed?
Yeah, come on! Travel is often about being the con artist, you know, the con artist. Now you being Mr. Pro.
I'll try to tell it quickly because I can go on for hours.
So, this happened just over a year ago when we were living in Bali. And I'll preface it by saying, as I did, you know, as I do now, as I did then, I kind of feel like, not that I want to brag about being a great travel planner, but I've done a lot of travel planning. I have been to a lot of places. And so if someone gives me a challenge that relates to travel, deep down I'm thinking I can totally fucking do this. I'm a Samurai, there's nothing you can throw at me, I can do it.
So I got, out of the blue, I got a call in November of last year, 2019, a year and a bit ago. It was the personal assistant to a billionaire Singapore business woman, who is a business owner. She has got a bunch of hotels and fashion businesses, and I had been speaking with her daughter about doing a consulting project.
Nothing had ever happened. And it was just going nowhere. So had kind of put it out of my mind. Then out of the blue, I get a call from the personal secretary, the personal assistant of the mother, and this fellow said, Mrs. I'll call her Mrs. J. Mrs. J would like to speak with you. She's got a project that we think you'll find very interesting. Are you available for a call tomorrow? So this is now Sunday night. And I said, of course, so Sunday night rolls around and I have a phone call with Mrs. J who explains that she's just bought a very well-established printing company, book publisher, and she wants to do a series of books about the places in Indonesia that are really off the radar and kind of gritty, but interesting.
She's done some research on me and she's heard about me from her daughter and she knows that I like to do a bit of photography and I like to do a bit of writing and that I like to do research and that it seems like the kind of challenge that, you know, I might be able to do. So I'm listening to this woman speak and I'm just nodding my head, I'm thinking I am going to hit this one right out of the park. I'm very enthusiastic and so she got really enthusiastic and said, you know, how soon can you go? And I said, well, I said I could be on a plane tomorrow morning at nine.
And she said great. Then let's do it. So I said "great, send me a contract’’. Just so everything's clear. Cause I want to make sure I meet your expectations. And she said: "perfect". So later that night, or maybe early the next morning. Now Monday morning, she sends me a contract and it's kind of like a bit hacked, but you know, it's fine. This is all happening really quickly. I got the contract and I packed a bag so that I can fly from Bali to Jakarta, which is about an hour or two hours and spend a few days researching these sort of places I've never even heard of. This little Island, this fish market in Jakarta. And so I can do kind of a preliminary, like a test run and take some photos and write it up so that it's like a pitch for this book project, and she kind of wants to see how I perform.
I'm thinking I've got to strike while the iron's hot. I pack an overnight bag, a tiny little backpack, and I call a taxi, which is a scooter, and I'm on the back of the scooter at like seven o'clock in the morning, going to the airport through the busy streets of Denpasar Bali and I'm literally signing the contract on my phone thinking: this is amazing. I am amazing. This is going to be amazing. I got to Jakarta and there are some guys there to meet me and there's a bit, it all happened quickly. So there's a bit of confusion. I've got to get a bit of money to pay for the guide for the day. And that's not unusual when you're doing research trips and things happen quickly. So I get some money, I give it to the guy and he escorts me to the car and driver. So I jump in and the driver speaks no English, but I know that my first stop is this fish market in Jakarta.
But you chose this place or, they chose this place? The fish market.
They chose this place, so I got to the fish market, I left my backpack with my passport and computer and everything. I leave them in the car and I grab my camera and I do what I do, which is jump right into the deep end of this fish market and figure it out.
I spend probably like four or five hours in incredible heat and humidity. I'm sweating like crazy walking through this market. There's no one there who looks anything like me. It is Indonesian fishermen and it's all business, no tourism, and it's smelly and it's gritty. It would be, I think for some people, would have been kind of scary because I was so out of place and literally the fish out of water, but all I'm thinking is: this is my element. Like this is when I do my best work. So I'm taking photos and anyway, I have a great day. They dropped me off. The driver is waiting for me at the end of the day.
He takes me to my hotel, which has been booked, but there's been a bit of confusion about the hotel booking. So I've got to pay for the hotel upfront. Meanwhile, throughout the day and that evening, the personal assistant is in regular contact with me to make sure that I'm happy and I have everything I need. And he's explaining that, you know, if I can send my invoice with my banking information right away, then he'll send, you know, payment for my, my fees, my time and expenses right away.
So, of course I sent my invoice right away. I sent my banking information for my Indonesian bank account. I go to bed and I wake up the next morning, the driver's there again. This time we're going out to a bunch of islands that are off the coast of Jakarta that I've never even heard of. I get dropped off by the driver who speaks no English and I'm met by some other guy who speaks no English. And I'm put on a boat, sorta like a small ferry or taxi boat with a bunch of people who don't speak any English. I just get on and I give them this little piece of paper that shows where I'm supposed to go.
So I get off on this tiny Island. It's about the size of a couple of football fields and I'm the only person that gets off the boat. And when I step off the boat, there's this long pier and it kind of feels like Fantasy Island because there's a woman standing on the pier and she's got a tray with a cold refreshment, cold drink and a cold towel. She's got this big smile and she takes my little piece of paper and she speaks no English, but she sort of gestures like wait, wait.
So I just kind of wait and it's getting pretty hot and I start, as I'm waiting, I don't really know. I think I'm waiting for another boat to pick me up and a guide, but it's a bit unclear. Now I can't reach the personal assistant. He's not answering his phone and time goes by, it's 9:30 and then it's 10. Then it's 10:30.
I decided to walk around this little Island, which is basically a resort. There's no one staying there and it's probably built in the seventies or something. It's a little bit long in the tooth and it's super weird. Everything about it is weird. There are these giant lizards that keep skittering all around me and it sort of smells a little funny and the light is bright, but it's a little cloudy or misty.
And I walk around the Island in a loop and as I'm walking around, I just started getting this feeling that something is not right. I get back to my starting point, by the time I'm back to my starting point. I'm thinking, how do I know that this is Mrs. J? Like, I can't be sure.
I get on my phone and I start looking up videos to see if I can hear her voice to see if it matches and I can't find any videos. So finally I call the daughter to find out: is this thing, where's your mother? Who, when I had spoken with her, was shopping in London and this is like a day before.
And so the daughter doesn't answer. And I called again and she finally called me back. My first question to her is: where is your mother? Because I have been told the day before that the mother's in London shopping and she says, Oh, she's just, she's here in Singapore. All of a sudden, my stomach just drops.
And I think I just said: Oh shit! And I hung the phone up. Initially, before I hung the phone up, she said, where are you? And I said, I don't know, I'm on some little island off the coast of Jakarta doing some photo shoot and research for your mother. And she said, Oh, that's a scam. I'm like what? So apparently, this is a very well-established scam and it's someone who is kind of trolled through the family, Instagram or address book and they've been calling freelancers and hooking them or trying to hook them on this crazy scam. And so I hang the phone up and, and then I'm thinking I have got to get off this island.
There is no way, no one speaks English. There are no boats, there's no ferry and it's starting to get super hot and I start to sweat. Then I'm thinking, what's the angle here? Like they've got my bank information and my passports in the hotel that they booked for me.
So, I call a friend and I transfer all my money out of the bank account to him. I call the hotel. I tell the manager to get my stuff, but I'm still stuck on this Island and I'm thinking, am I going to be kidnapped? Are they going to kill me? Like what the hell is going on? So I start trying to wave fishing boats down, that are like a hundred yards off shore, so they can't hear me. Every time I wave, they just wave back and they smile and keep on going. I don't want to start yelling and screaming because maybe the people on the Island, like this nice woman who gave me the refreshment, the welcome drink, maybe they're in on the whole thing. What if I raise an alarm, like then what happens to me?
I am getting more and more sweaty and time's going by. I call my wife. I'm like, babe, I don't know what to tell you, I'm just gonna try to get off the Island. And so I hang the phone up again. Then I see this boat and it looks like a police boat coming to the island. So, I walk over to the pier and they're like five or six coast guards and police who get off this boat and they're getting a picture taken in front of the big sign for the resort and it was totally random. They were just there for this photo opportunity. I knew that it was my chance to get off the Island. I just jumped in the boat and they're trying to get me off the boat and I'm shaking my head and they don't speak English and I don't speak Indonesian and everyone's confused. And the woman who gave me the welcome drink is wondering why I'm not staying for my free lunch. And I'm like, I'm not getting off this boat.
Anyway, I finally convinced these coast guards/cops. They realize that I'm not going to get off the boat and they're sort of confused, but they agree to take me back to Jakarta. So they take me back to Jakarta and I'm expecting, you know, the cops will be there and I'll catch this person, the scammer. Instead they offered me a cigarette and waved goodbye. And so, I'm getting out of here.
Did you take the cigarette at that moment?
I should have taken the cigarette. I needed it. I needed a drink. So, I got back to the hotel, grab my stuff. As soon as I had my stuff from the hotel, I knew that at least I wasn't going to get killed or kidnapped and I flew back to Bali. I never found out, I tried to follow up with the "personal assistant" who unsurprisingly didn't return my calls. I was trying to play a macho big guy like, yeah, "you're going to be in so much trouble when the authorities find out" and they just went silent.
So, why were they scamming me, was it for the little bit of money that I got out of the bank machine to pay for the driver, maybe? It was pretty elaborate and I don't know what the end game was, but there was several months later, an article in Vanity, or I found out about several months later, an article in Vanity Fair about an Indonesian con man who is incredible at impersonating voices and who has been running this incredible racket all around the world, has been scamming people in Hollywood and Europeans. There's actually a podcast about it, which I haven't listened to. So, I don't know for sure, but it sounds all the indications are that I was scammed by this ultimate scammer, who still, as far as I know, has gone free. So it's the first time I've been, as far as I know scammed, but I was royally, totally, completely scammed. So, now. I don't trust anybody.
Do you know what the end game was? Is it your bank account?
I have no idea.
It's just like a thrill of throwing people on these jaunts.
If it was the same person, and it's called like the Scam Queen of Indonesia or the scammer has a name. I can't remember, something queen. And so if it was the same person, I presume it was a money thing because I had never heard any stories of people getting injured, but you know, why, why they went through it all with this elaborate plan, for so little money. It just left me with this weird feeling that maybe there was some other angle, but I have no idea. I don't think I'll ever know, it was a really good lesson. A good life lesson, even when you think you're total like hot shit. Don't get too big for your boots. Don't think you're too smart, too clever, too experienced. If it smells funny and if it sounds too good to be true, then pretty good chance.
Just like that lottery ticket I bought the family. Question, we're in an era completely different. That story, so freaking awesome. I got to go bring him back to the basic thing. Let's talk about dressing for flights. Are you a sweatpant guy or business casual? What's your...
I am not a sweatpant guy. I don't travel with sweatpants. Primarily, because most places I like to go are kind of hot and humid and sweatpants and hot and humid places are kept pretty disgusting.
So I am a very light traveler. For the year we were away. I had a tiny carry on that I had to share with my wife and kids, so I only had about two thirds of it. So, I travel to be comfortable, but I also travel, I don't want to look like a total slob. Up until the age of like 28 or 29, I would always wear a tie traveling, because I had this theory that if you were friendly, you looked respectable and you wore a tie that you might get an upgrade. And I actually did before the airlines got clever. I actually, it did, it worked. I got a number of upgrades, but I don't wear a tie. I don't wear a sports jacket.
I usually wear dress shirts because they always look kind of respectable. And from a practical standpoint, even when they get really dirty and stinky, they still look pretty good in a way that a t-shirt or a pair of sweatpants do not.
That's good advice. Wear the dress shirt and roll up the sleeves. Question: for an object or souvenir that you've picked up that's super memorable in your travel jaunts.
I tend to remember places by photography, but also by physical objects. So. I'm a complete pack rat when I travel and I will find a way to bring back anything that I happen to fall in love with. And that could be an armoire from South India. It could be carpets from Morocco, it could be a prayer wheel from Bhutan. All things that I brought home and I don't know that I can identify a single thing is the most important to me. They all kind of are because every single thing, whether it's a shell or a piece of furniture or art, or some found object. The physical object, when I see it back home, instantly connects me with the moment and the place, and often the people that I was interacting with when I travel. So, any object that I pick up when I'm away is incredibly valuable for me and meaningful and important. But I couldn't boil it down to a single one.
So, okay, you could only do one more trip outside of the country you're in now. Let's just say, one last trip.
One last trip. I mean, that's a really tricky question. A little bit, like what's the favorite place you've ever been? Which is impossible, you know, which of your children do you like better, type of question, but I would have to say, and I know this is a country you know and love.
I'd have to say probably India, which I've been to a few times. And I love because it is endlessly eternally baffling. The beauty of it is baffling and incomprehensible to the human condition. Everywhere on the spectrum, extreme poverty, something in between and extreme wealth, it's all there, but it's just, it's captivating. The thing that I most love about India is the spirit of the people. And there's this openness and this just sense of, contentedness may be a bit rich because I'm sure there are a lot of people who aren't, who would rather be in different situations, but there's an acceptance of where they are in life physically, financially, and in a way that in, especially in the developed world, we're so resistant to our station and our place in life.
We always want a bigger house. You know, we feel like we deserve more. We should get more and in India, there's more of an acceptance of: this is my life. Because you have so many people and you have such a thick and rich history and culture, and because it's so foreign to what we know, it's like this knot that you can never untie, but it's endlessly fun to try and to fiddle with. So I always say to people, India is like the triple PhD of travel. You're never going to nail it. And like a triple PhD. You're probably never gonna finish it.
India for me, the thing that strikes and it goes way back, for me, but it is the odors. I can remember being on a bus and urban bus going somewhere and just, or on a train, you know, you had the smell of like, sweat cause you're packed in there. You have the smell of heat, which has a smell, the diesel of the polluting bus. Right? Then you'd have this woman in her sari with her jasmine flowers as part of her costume or dress that would give a nice hint of like a little sweet. It was just like this mix of odors all the time. That's it?
It's a sensory punch in the face, nonstop. As a traveler visiting, you're kind of like a little punching bag, in India it's just like throwing you, one after the other, these really hard hitting smells, sounds, ideas and visuals. I said to friends, trying to explain India, I've said the best things I've ever seen in my life have been in India, the most beautiful things, the most exquisite things, people, places, landscapes, and the most upsetting things, smelly, disgusting, incredibly upsetting, revolting I've seen in India. And I've usually seen those things within the same minute. It's that unrelenting toggle between good, bad, beautiful, ugly, rich, poor, sweet, sour, that is to me so remarkable about India and you do find contrast and variety in any place you go for sure. But it's the thickness of it, the unrelentingness of it in India that is so totally mesmerizing for me. It's the thing that drives me when I travel, it's that quest to try to understand the place and to try to get under the skin and to feel what it's about.
And in India, you just never even get close. You know, you get these little glimpses, but it's the complexity of it is, for some, incredibly off-putting, but for me, it's wildly intoxicating and appealing.
Last question for the rabbit hole here, believe it or not. What advice would you give yourself, your 17 year old self? I say 17 because I'm using this to give advice to my eldest son, he was 16, now he's 17. But let's say you're talking to yourself, your 17 year old self. What advice would you give?
So, this is like, you're talking about general life advice?
But obviously you have probably some lens through the travel thingy, but yeah.
Yeah. Jeez, I guess the number one thing, if I had to really boil it down would be: don't underestimate the value and importance and impact of fun. I mean that in the way that as we grow up and get older and certainly in that kind of 18-20,-21 year old zone, we shift from having had a tremendous amount of fun as kids and, you know, then university and to being slowly, subtly programmed by our environment to be less focused on fun and more focused on things like money, or having a house, or stability.
Obviously I don't want to take away from the importance of those things, but fun often takes a back seat as people are moving into adulthood. I think that's a total shame because if you let fun maintain a high priority, then you're going to be happier. If you're happier, you're going to do better things. And I would say, you know, that lesson of, have fun, was really kind of drilled into me when I was at Butterfield and Robinson and George and Martha Butterfield, who I will be forever in debt to the guidance they gave me and the example that they provided, that if you have fun and you're serious about your fun, not just frivolous and selfish about it, but if you're serious about your fun and you pursue your fun in a kind of professional way, that you can actually either make whatever career you want fun, or you can maintain a kind of degree of happiness the whole way through whatever life throws at you.
That's pretty deep, man. That's awesome. That was fun. Look Charlie, thanks man. Thanks for jumping on the old Mojo Moments podcast.
Totally my pleasure. Totally my pleasure. Thank you.
We're going to have to get those King cans and drink some beers somewhere, in a social distance way.
We'll do some local travel.
Yes. Hey, thank you, that was Charlie Scott. That was our discussion around travel mojo and playing us out here is Chris Mellon, our favorite musician in the house. Thanks.
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