Sarah Dandashy is the travel companion you’ve always dreamed of. She grew up in Saudi Arabia (yes, she speaks Arabic), has been a concierge at some of the most prestigious hotels in the world, and is the creator of Ask A Concierge, an online travel show for discovering the best way to experience Los Angeles.
How does she get such sought-after insider info? Sarah is a member of the extremely exclusive Les Clefs d’Or, an association of the top hotel concierges around the world (think Monsieur Gustave H from The Grand Budapest Hotel). A regular day for her is anything but regular – Sarah thrives on the unexpected and the absurd.
Keep up with Sarah’s high-octane adventures on Instagram.
I’m Sarah Dandashy, and this is How I Travel.
What do you love most about traveling?
Perspective. For me, travel is all about perspective. Travel reminds you of all the comforts of home that you may take for granted. It also introduces you to different cultures, foods, and people, inspiring you to maybe bring a little piece of your experience home with you, be it a new dish, clothing style, or habit. I am half-Lebanese, and I lived abroad for a good portion of my childhood. So from a young age, I always had a multicultural sense of perspective. It’s probably what has made me such a good concierge!
How has travel changed you as a person?
Respect. Ok, some might argue that I must be pretty respectful to be in the service industry. But when you travel, the one thing that carries over language and cultural barriers is respect. I have been in many situations where I don’t speak the language, or I may not understand the cultural norms, but being respectful to those that I encounter has helped me immensely. Why travel to be judgmental? Why be rude when you are the one that doesn’t speak the local language? With so much to learn out there, if you go into situations when you travel with the attitude of respect, you will come out enjoying your interactions and experience ten-fold–and probably with some great stories to share once you get home!
On another note, I work with travelers on a daily basis. So when I have the opportunity to travel, it serves as a refresher on what it is like to be on the other side of the desk. I love to interact with other concierges and hotel staff because sometimes they surprise me with a great idea that I can take home to my desk! For example, the last time I was in Los Cabos, I visited the One and Only Palmilla. Their staff members are trained to do a lovely gesture of placing their hand over their heart and slightly bowing to their guests. I just LOVED that! To me it was so heartfelt. So, I have brought that home with me, and for certain guests, I greet them the same gesture.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through all your travels?
Self-awareness. When you are traveling it is so important to be aware of how you fit in, or stand out, in daily situations. So personally, I try to blend in as much as I can. Maybe I minimize the amount that I talk if it’s obvious I don’t speak the language or have an accent. Other times, like in the Middle East, I cover my hair and body in a way that makes it less obvious that I am not a native. It is also important to be observant of your surroundings. You are in a new place after all, around strange people and different customs. So being aware generally minimizes the likelihood of falling into the usual tourist stereotypes.
What’s the one travel-related purchase under $100 that has had the biggest positive impact on you in the last 12 months?
OK, I’m going to get really geeky about this for a second: TSA Pre-Check! Seriously, it has streamlined the whole check-in process for me. There are a few steps required to obtain it, and it includes a trip to the airport for an interview. And believe me, going to the airport and not actually catching a flight is such a tease! Granted, it is not available at every airport or for every airline, but most of them! And when I can use it, I love being able to get through security quickly… more time to buy a magazine for the flight!'Travel inspires you to bring a little piece of your experience home with you.' @AskAConcierge Click To Tweet
Sarah’s 9 Favorite Travel Items
I love to work out, even when I travel, so I am always a fan of packing a pair of running shoes. From hotel gyms to exploring the local neighbors or parks on a run or simply touring a city on foot, running shoes are must for me. Personally, I love the Nike Free Flynit because they are cute and super stretchy. If you have to wear running shoes, always nice to do it in style! The Nike Free Flynits are also particularly light shoes making them ideal to pack or travel in. And let’s face it, you never know when you are going to need to run to the next gate to catch your connecting flight.
So I only recently discovered Trader Joe’s Head to Toe Balm, and I am seriously in love! There are so many uses for this balm that it is a perfect travel essential. Aptly named, it is perfect for moisturizing your skin, head to toe. And because it is made with a combination of natural ingredients, like shea butter, mango seed butter, cocoa seed butter, macadamia nut seed oil, and more, it works without leaving you feeling greasy.
The mixture of fragrant oils, from orange peel, lavender, rosemary, and eucalyptus leaf, also create a fresh neutral scent. This moisturizing balm can relieve chapped lips and overly-dry hands, fingers, and cuticles. It works well on elbows, knees, and heels too. As girl with lots of hair, my favorite use of this balm is to tame my mane! It keeps flyaway hairs in check, ideal when traveling to humid destinations. I also hear it works great on beards, but I’ll leave that to you men to chime in on!
Pro Tip: While stocking up at Trader Joe’s grab some of their Tea Tree Oil Face Cleansing Pads to keep your skin clean and clear, au naturale.
Baby powder isn’t just for babies! There are so many useful ways to use it that it has become a staple of my travel essentials. My favorite use of baby powder is for my hair. It is a great natural dry shampoo, keeping my hair fresh for an extra day or two. And of course, it is great on the face for women prepping their make-up or for men after they shave to keep the skin smooth and dry. If you are traveling to hot climates, baby powder is useful in keeping you from getting sweaty—some even say it works better than deodorant! Baby Powder is perfect to sprinkle in your shoes to keep them fresh. And for those beach lovers, note that you can sprinkle on baby powder to keep sand from sticking to your feet! The uses for baby powder are endless!
Pro Tip: Pack it in a separate ziplock bag. This way you can avoid getting powder everywhere should there be a leak in the container.
A cozy pashmina scarf is a necessity for my travels. I always tend to get cold when I am on planes, in trains, or automobiles, so I love to have a warm pashmina scarf to wrap around my neck. I try to find a large scarf that can double as a blanket for long flights. Even better, the scarf can add to my outfit, cover my shoulders if need be, or even my head! A wise man once said “A Lady with a scarf is a smart and classy.” OK, so that wise man was my father, but he had a point. A scarf is an excellent accessory that can be used for nearly any occasion. I usually travel with a black and a navy scarf, as those colors are the most versatile and can be dressed up or down!
OK, so disregard my earlier comment about trying to blend in with the locals – it’s hard to do that with a selfie-stick. But before you totally laugh at the thought of owning a selfie-stick (I own two!), there is a reason why the inventors are multi-millionaires now, they are really useful! Not only can you grab shots of you and your friends without asking a stranger to hold your phone, but you can also get some cool angles. And if you’re traveling solo, how else are you going to document your experience and capture those Instagram-worthy moments? This is a judgement-free zone, and you should absolutely put this on your travel purchase list!
For those that saw the Oscar-winning movie The Grand Budapest Hotel and wondering if the concierge world really is as connected as the film depicted—the answer is 100% yes! One of the advantages to being a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge is that you are part of an tight-knit professional organization of concierge. And what does that mean? Well, basically, it means I have a concierge friend located in every major metropolitan city and in most countries. And if you have ever used a concierge before, you know that a good concierge truly holds the keys to the city. The concierge should be your best friends when you travel. And don’t be concerned that they will only send you to ridiculously expensive places—they can do that if you like—but if you are looking for something more accessible that locals enjoy, they can totally hook you up with advice on what do within any budget.
As a member of Les Clefs d’Or, I have a Book of Members directory. I travel with this book for reference when I am in cities where I might not personally know a concierge already. If it’s not out of the way, I try to introduce myself to at least two concierges. After all, the concierge network is as strong as our connections, and there is no better way to connect than in person!
Now that I have totally convinced you to use your concierge when traveling, don’t fret if you are staying in a smaller hotel or B&B without a concierge. If you find yourself near a larger hotel, feel free to walk in, politely share that you are not currently staying at the hotel, but just needed some quick advice. Any true concierge will gladly assist. And worst case, just say that you are a friend of Sarah’s! (Totally kidding!)
Urban Expressions is one of my go-to brands for travel purses. The main reason that their bags and accessories are vegan—that’s right, faux leather! Faux leather is amazing to travel with because you don’t have to worry about ruining it or getting it dirty. If you spill something on your bag, an easy wipe will make it clean again. Now the cross body feature is huge for me for several reasons. Firstly, I like to be able to have both hands free, whether I’m shopping, carrying suitcases, or eating a crepe on-the-go. It’s nice to be able to have a bag that hangs securely across my body. Secondly, the cross body strap is an excellent anti-theft feature. If someone tries to grab your bag, they are less likely to grab a bag that will bring a whole body with it. There’s no bigger way to spoil a vacation by having your wallet stolen—so I say, be proactive!
Pro Tip: Be sure your purse has a zipper top, and keep it zipped closed at all times!
Let’s be honest, in the world we live in today, we travel with so many gadgets that need to be plugged in. From our cellphones to our hair dryers to electric shavers, traveling with a universal adapter is imperative. Since every country wires different voltages, a universal adapter with a built in voltage converter is the way to go. I usually carry about three with me, because inevitably I leave one in a hotel room or plug one in and blow a fuse. So multiples are a must. Worst case scenario, most hotels have a few on hand to borrow, or you can always ask the concierge to point you in the direction of the nearest store that sells adapters. But traveling prepared leaves you with more time to explore the city, and less time scouting out the local version of “Best Buy.” How do you say “adapter” en Español? Pack one and don’t worry about it!
A face moisturizer is pretty much essential to me in my daily life, traveling or not. I absolutely love this moisturizer because it gives you a little glow and it’s oil-free, so your skin won’t freak out. Generally when I travel, I wear little to no make-up, so the little boost of color keeps my skin looking fresh. Also, with the various changes in humidity, from super dry air on the plane to local weather climates, this moisturizer keeps my skin balanced. Another bonus is that it has built-in SPF 20, so it works as a sunscreen as well. I usually keep mine in my purse or travel bag. And since it comes in a 2 oz bottle, it comes in well under TSA’s 3 oz rule, so you can pack it in your carry on. By the way gentlemen, this is not just for ladies. My boyfriend has found this product quite useful as well!
Sarah in 60 Seconds
Also, since so many of you have been asking us for them, here's our full list of country-specific posts outlining how to ship anything from Amazon to any country in the world. Our 2-step method makes it as simple as humanly possible, and takes about 3 minutes total: Austria, Bahrain, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.