One day in the fashion capital of Belgium
23 April 2020
As the owner of Petite Passport, all things that make me happy have to do with traveling. From deciding where to go to the moment you open the door of the hotel you wanted to visit so badly. From the enthusiasm of the people behind the spots to the messages I receive from readers telling me they had such a good time in Barcelona, Berlin or Copenhagen. Ever since Petite Passport was launched, and even way before, my whole life has been dominated by travel. Until COVID-19 came along.
People ask: ‘Isn’t it extra difficult for you now you have to stay at home?’ But I don’t experience it that way. It gives me peace, clarity and time to not only look back at the last ten years, but also to look ahead. What will travel, and especially the places we love to visit, be like after corona? I’m not a futurist, but as I’ve had many conversations with inspiring entrepreneurs and traveled to many future-proof places these last couple of years, I like to share my insights with you.
2019 was the year when the term ‘flight shame’ became a thing on every traveler’s mind. Young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told her story at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York and decided not to fly there, but to take the boat. Her speech made people from all over the world think twice about going to Bali for a weekend. And many of them started looking for destinations accessible by train or car. Now the COVID-19 virus has completely shut down airline travel and we are learning to live in a society where social distancing is the new normal. Will you then gladly drop yourself in the middle seat of Economy Class this summer?
Air traffic will certainly be up and running again, but not in an instant and on a more exclusive scale. Imagine more space or even plastic screens in between seats, more health checks and more interest in business class or private jets – which of course means more expensive tickets. Travelers are therefore challenged to come up with alternatives. Why not make a long journey every five years, and take more time for it? In the coming months travelers will look for places they can visit by train, car of even bicycle. The borders are closed and when they open again you like to stay closer to home. A good development as it brings us back to the essence of what travel really is. And before I explain more, I would like to ask you what travel means for you. What’s the reason you pack your bags and like to explore another country?
When I asked myself this question, I thought back of my recent trips and a feeling of urgency came up. As if we only have a year to live and we need to visit every place on earth and take pictures of it (just google ‘Mona Lisa crowded’ for the extreme version). And because there are so many beautiful addresses in Milan we just have to get going. While this is obviously not the essence of travel at all. The best journeys slow you down. They let you notice things you normally won’t see. They let you taste something you will still remember years later. And they inspire you by a spontaneous conversation with a local or a visit to a museum.
Now is the time to revalue your own backyard. In order to sharpen all our senses for the moment we’re allowed to get back on the road, I invite you to explore your neighborhood with the eyes of a tourist. For example, the Amsterdam canals can feel normal to you as you cycle there every day, while someone from a modern city like Singapore is in awe of all that history. Ask a neighbor what his favorite hidden gem is. Support small business owners. And take the road less travelled, better said: the street you’ve never entered before, to learn more about your city.
Apart from discovering your own city, this time also invites you to think about a holiday in your own country. No jetlag, hardly any CO2-emission and a lot more affordable. The purpose of vacation is to rest and that has nothing to do with distance (however it has to do with a distance of your ever-growing to do list, so don’t take it with you ;)). Personally, I have a lot of fond memories of my stay at Atelier Gaasterland in a nature reserve in Friesland (The Netherlands) where you will see deer in the morning. Or of Le Barn in France where you’ll stay in a stylish hotel, but you can see the surrounding forest on a horse. Or of Cabanas no Rio, two architecturally transformed fishermen’s huts with a panoramic view on an hour’s drive from Lisbon.
Will this then be the end of city trips? Of course not. I do think hospitality will change. It will be smaller, more personal and the community aspect will play a more important role. Chefs who had to close down the doors of their restaurants now deliver their recipes and ingredients to your home, they just don’t cook it for you. In the future I will see more small-scale restaurants such as 212 in Amsterdam, Wolfgat in Paternoster and Maos in London where it feels like you’re in the kitchen of the chef. On a different scale it happens at places like Rooftop Smokehouse in Barcelona or Ostergro in Copenhagen. Think of the idea of a living room where the chef does what he loves the most: cooking for people who are in the mood for a night out.
The farm brings us back to the place where it all starts before their produce finds a way to our plates. It’s not a coincidence that farm stays, such as Ross Farm, The Newt and Deplar Farm are now so popular. We want to experience nature to see and taste what our hinterland has to offer. That brings us to restaurants in the city that only use ingredients their country has to offer, such as Wilder in Shoreditch. That earthy aspect also makes a way to restaurant interiors: you’ll see lots of wood, earthy colors such as terracotta, sturdy furniture and above all, not too much fuss.
Hospitality concepts can also transform themselves completely. Carousel has been successfully doing this for years in London now. They have a restaurant space that never changes, but the chefs change every few weeks. This means their guests won’t have to fly around the world to see Niklas Ekstedt at work in Stockholm, the so-called vegetable whisperer Toshio Tanahashi in Kyoto or Javier Rodriguez from El Papagayo in Argentina. At Carousel you share a communal table with a select group of people who, like you, want to experience the culinary sensations of the chef of that evening.
This bringing together of a select group of like-minded people to form a community will grow even more. Before Corona we all lived very individualistic lives and the tide seems to be turning now. We need each other: after all, we’re stronger together. What Soho House does with their rock-solid event program may, in my eyes, travel all over the world. Every city will have a place where a community of people with the same (design) interests come together and you’ll organize a stargazing evening or a bookbinding workshop and you’ll automatically make new friends. No phones, but real conversations. Soho House, Ace Hotel, The Hoxton, The Audo: the ‘design churches’ of post-corona.
Hotels are no longer places where you only stay the night. They have restaurants, a coffee-to-go corner, an exhibition space and while you’re there you can also learn something via a workshop or get some work done. Hotel V in Amsterdam no longer received any bookings for their rooms and now invites local people to work there silently. Birch, just slightly North of London, is also a hotel and co-working space but also organizes ceramic workshops, beekeeping lessons or sourdough making mornings and they have a vegetable garden that supplies the restaurants with fresh ingredients.
Small-scale hotels can also make a difference: because it’s so personal, you’ll be pampered even more, and the chance of getting a scary virus is much smaller than sharing the breakfast room with dozens of people. Look at places like My Home in Porto, with only three rooms, but with a host who takes away all your worries and also makes you a delicious breakfast. Also interesting: stay the night with a designer such as Stephen Kenn in Los Angeles – who now also makes masks in the same army fabric as his popular sofas.
Now that we have to stay indoors and our expansion drive is tempered, we will notice our internal dialogue more. That makes us worry at times, but it also brings us room for new ideas, to clear up all the cupboards, to try out new recipes and to walk ourselves healthy. I’m convinced both mental as physical health will play a major role in our future holidays. The first yoga hotel in a metropolis such as Paris has recently opened the doors. Bathhouse in Williamsburg has the function of an old-fashioned bathhouse, but with a super stylish design. Remedy Place in Los Angeles is not a gym, but invites members to take an ice bath, follow a guided meditation, and try out a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to work preventively on a healthy mind and body. More and more young people are walking the Camino. And who doesn’t dream of a yoga retreat at Mandali at 850 meters above civilization where the air you breathe gives you an instant boost?
If we turn down the volume of our busy lives, shopping doesn’t really seem that important anymore. Retail stores have been under attack for some time now and you don’t have to travel to see the popular shopping streets anymore as they look the same all over the world. Graanmarkt 13 in Antwerp questions the rhythm of the fashion seasons. How often do you really have to buy something new? Isn’t it better to buy a sweater that might be a little more expensive, but you can wear it for the rest of your life? Instead of a sale, they invite their customers to return their old clothes and resell the items to someone else who might enjoy it for another seven years.
Personal service will become even more important in a new retail landscape. The owner of your favorite store knows you will fall in love with that leather jacket she just received and gives you a call. You can also take it a step further: is a brick-and-mortar shop still necessary? Now that we have subscriptions for our favorite movies and music already, why not with a retailer you love? I would love to deliver my guides personally, give some extra recommendations and check in with you afterwards to hear your stories. And if we have ‘design churches’ in every city: wouldn’t it be an idea to invite a young designer/artist every Wednesday afternoon? We get to know him, learn the story behind his work which will give a lot of extra value to your purchase.
And what does all of this mean for a platform like Petite Passport? I think we can incorporate all the concepts mentioned above in my site, books, magazine and socials. Staying close to home, going back to the essence of travel, slowing down. Don’t recommend 1000 places, but only the absolute best so you have time to really feel the city in your own unique way. Don’t post on Instagram every day, only if you have something to say. Take time to create and dive deep into learning something new. And make it even more personal: instead of creating for those intangible number of 100k+ followers, I prefer to see the faces of the people I share my recommendations with. I hope to make our community even stronger. Perhaps by delivering those guides personally, perhaps by organizing workshops or events. Who knows: maybe even by doing a city trip together. Or the biggest dream: creating the House of Petite Passport, with a b&b, workshop space, bookstore and a dog – designed by a fantastic architect.
I may have a somewhat idealistic view of the future of travel and hospitality. Maybe the planes will be packed again next month as Ryanair presents an offer we can’t refuse. But let’s go inside ourselves again and again and remember why travelling is so important to you. For me it’s to be there completely, without my head wondering off somewhere else. To enjoy, slow down and appreciate.
Take care! Pauline
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Jules Bordetstraat 5, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium