The best travel hacks according to an elite event and party planner
Maestro of events planning David Landgraf has clocked up an impressive travel tally with his events business Make It Happen Management – here, he shares his top travel tips
As an event planner, David Landgraf always goes big to create spectacle and surprise. For example, when he was tasked with planning the celebration for Blackstone’s 30th anniversary at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, attendees danced under dinosaurs and mingled beneath a 94-foot-long blue whale.
“I think we have the opportunity to make a difference. People will remember the night they danced under a dinosaur,” Landgraf said.
That’s how the long-time event expert built his reputation over the past two decades. Call Landgraf and he can make it happen.
He was the global head of conferences, events, and hospitality management at Blackstone, where he organised a veteran-hiring initiative summit and conference with former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as an event with tennis champion Novak Djokovic. For a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, he had to get Park Avenue closed so President Barack Obama could attend the event he organized on the Upper East Side.
In 2018, Landgraf left Blackstone Inc. to found Make It Happen Management, his own private events consulting business. Having started his career as a computer systems analyst and operator at the National Security Agency in 1982, the maestro of the event brings transferable skills such as risk management and a keen eye for detail to his business and travel experience.
That could be part of why he always takes a double-sealed bag on his trips. Here are his travel tips.
Always bring an Apple AirFly
One thing that I really, really, really love is the AirFly from Twelve South and sold by Apple. You plug it into the television so you can use your Bluetooth headsets.
I’ve given them away at conferences and events, and people love them. It reduces the need to rely on the low-quality headphones airlines distribute on planes because you can use your own Bluetooth device.
Use an itinerary manager for businesses and leisure travel
An itinerary manager is very important for my business and personal travel. I use TripIt, which allows you to put your travel plans into your digital calendar and builds an itinerary that can also help with expense management.
And it allows you to keep all the secure travel documents that you’ll need. You can also track your airline and hotel points. You give it permission to track emails and then upload the data right into the system. It’s very, very powerful.
If you’re planning a party, test the overnight staff
Most of the time, events can go late into the night or long after restaurants close. So during the staff selection process, ask the management what their work limitations are, especially post-Covid.
Make calls to the front desk, and introduce yourself to the manager on duty to find out what the transitions will be through the night. If I am dealing with a population that has many international delegates, who might be up at all hours of the night, then you need to know the needs of your attendees to plan for their guest experience.
You want to make sure that the venue can accommodate them. If they’re coming in from Hong Kong, Australia or Europe, I need to know exactly what can be served.
Take the rooftop bus tour to get your bearings
One thing that I really love when I travel: I suggest everyone take the double-decker bus tours around a city. I remember a trip to London very early in my career when I took the bus to get my bearings.
And then you can start driving to wherever you want to go. They have tourist buses in almost all major cities. I find it very useful. If you just need a quick tour and you wanna get around on your own, it’s an invaluable experience.
Use double-sealed bags in your luggage
It’s funny because everyone laughs at me, but I literally carry double-sealed plastic bags on my trips. Bath products in one. Electronic cords in another. If anything spills or bursts, everything is protected. They’re always packed.
I put my vaccination card (the real one, not a digital one, because if your phone dies, you need the real one), my Global Entry, a credit card and my real passport into a double-sealed bag.
And if I’m going sailing, I don’t want anything to get wet. And especially when I travel internationally. I also like to use Heeta’s dry bags, which are $16 for a pack of five.
Taxi drivers know the most about any city
I always talk to the car driver or the taxi driver. They are the most resourceful people in the entire world. And they love to tell a story. You just start talking to them, and you get a lot of great tips, even at the last minute.
I will never forget a trip I took from north Vietnam to south Vietnam. Our driver had served in the Vietnam War for the United States and was a translator on the front line. He was a reporter. And he eventually became a taxi driver and a guide for international visitors to Vietnam. He told us a story of how he saved lives because he was a translator. The stories were endless.
Eat at the bar instead of a table
I love local restaurants and getting a real flair for the local people and culture. I like to bring myself into a community when you go to a restaurant.
I always talk to the people when I eat at the bar. I won’t eat or sit at a table by myself. I’ll eat at the bar because I think that it facilitates much more conversation, and you never know who you’re going to meet or what you’ll learn.