Travel tips with Mickey Ashmore, the jet-setting founder of popular leather footwear brand Sabah

Living in New York and clocking regular trips to Sabah’s international locations, Ashmore gives the top travel hacks he’s picked up along the way

Mickey Ashmore launched Sabah in 2013 out of his apartment in the East Village in New York City. Image: Ricky Rhodes

Mickey Ashmore is the owner of shoe brand Sabah, which he created in 2013. It produces leather shoes inspired by the traditional Turkish slipper and has five retail outlets globally.

A new flagship store in New York City’s Noho, Sabah House, opened last year. At that location, he can showcase the lines the company he now produces beyond its core collection, mostly small leather goods and accessories. One of Sabah’s latest brand extension: a fragrance, inspired by two of Mickey’s favourite places, Turkey and the American Southwest, is now shoppable, for instance.

Ashmore and Ali, a leather upper sewer, in Gaziantep Turkey

Ashmore’s annual miles tally is almost 120,000, and he’ll default to Turkish Airlines any time he can. “It has the best food and general hospitality of any airline I’ve ever flown on,” he says, “There’s a dish called kofte in Turkey – meatballs, to us – and one of the best versions of that you can find is on Turkish Airlines.

It’s the only airline where I wait to eat, because I want to eat on the plane.” Ashmore also touts its stopover programme, which allows anyone connecting via Istanbul to break up their trip without charge. “What’s cooler than flying across the world and then spending two days in Istanbul before you hit your next leg?” The 35-year old lives in Nolita in New York, and shares his top travel tips.

This small item is the ultimate friend-maker and time-passer on the road

I always carry a leather roll-up backgammon board – it’s a vintage corduroy one from a friend in Dallas, about 12 by 18 inches, made by Skor-Mor. One of the most fun ways to break the ice and invite a stranger or new acquaintance in for conversation is to offer up a spontaneous game of backgammon on-the-go.

I started doing it when I was dating someone; when we would travel, we would bring a board along with us. We went to Brazil once for three weeks, and after a week together, sometimes you want to be out together but you just can’t chat any more. The backgammon board is something to do.

Looking to pass the time in the airport? Make backgammon your friend, says Ashmore

We found people asking to play, and then it became something I did. I recently travelled solo to Patmos in Greece, and I would bring my backgammon board to the beach, and probably I met 12 people who would just see the board and say, “Can I play a game?” Chess requires a lot of concentration – you can’t really drink a beer or two and play chess well, but you can have as many as you want and your backgammon game doesn’t necessarily get worse. It’s more social, and you can teach someone to play in about 20 minutes.

There’s a magic number of trips it takes to really relax into a destination

I call myself a repeat offender as a traveller: I like to travel to the same place over and over again. That’s why I’ve been to Mexico City 10 times, or go back to Oaxaca every winter. There’s something really nice about travelling back to a place, seeing the same faces again, and you get to sink a little deeper into it.

I stay in the same hotel, and even try to request the same room. The trip becomes less about seeing it all and more about being there. By the third trip, you know what to do and naturally find more things – that’s the magical number of visits, three, when you start relaxing into a place.

The Middle East is renowned for cutting edge luxury – but Ashmore recommends an alternative

I went to Oman with a friend from Dubai for three days, and we spent them hiking and camping – it was the opposite of luxurious in the classic sense, but it was a luxury in that we were totally alone.

We camped on Fin’s beach, right at the end of a wadi, one of those waterways that goes back into the desert. I remember waking up on that beach – we’d got there very late at night, so we didn’t exactly know where we were. And suddenly that view! The emptiness of it all was amazing, the huge beach, the desert behind us, and the sea in front. I remember feeling very small, and very happy to be there.

Musandam Governorate

There’s a place called Musandam, right at the tip of the Arabian peninsula and cut off from the rest of Oman, where we took a boat tour through all these fjords. You see Telegraph Hill, which is where the British ran the telegraph from India to, and connected all the way back through Europe.

Ashmore’s work trips to Turkey means he has the insider’s guide you need for a visit to Istanbul

People don’t think to use the Bosphorus as a mode of transportation: There are public ferries, which are a lot of fun, but there’s always a really well developed network of private boats and taxis, which aren’t very expensive and can move you up and down the shore quickly.

If you’re staying at a hotel, you ask and they’ll give you someone’s number to just call and get picked up or ferried back and forth. It’s the most magical way to see that city, especially around sunset.

Here’s where to go, to sidestep your fellow tourists

People always spend way too much time in the old city of Istanbul, around the tourist sites. That’s a great place to spend one afternoon, maybe, unless you’re a super history buff. I spend a lot of my time on the water: a neighbourhood called Kuzguncuk, and it’s on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and it’s a pretty artistic part of the town, and not very well known. You would think you’re in a small town, with no idea you’re in a city of 18 million people.

Another charming neighbourhood is Kandilli, and on the ferry dock there is a restaurant called Suna’nin Yeri, or Suna’s Place. It’s a fish restaurant right next to the mosque, so they don’t serve alcohol – wink, wink, because they do, just in a red cup.

The trick is to go about five or six p.m., as the sun starts to set because you’re looking back across to the European side. It’s like you’re on holiday in the middle of Istanbul. It’s not expensive, and it’s no frills, but it’s the coolest crowd.

Kanlica, Isatnabul, Turkey

In Kanlica, another neighbourhood, when the ferry pulls up, people come on and sell yogurt because it’s so famous there, and in Çengelköy, they have a place called Çengelköy Borekcisi. Borek is a filo dough pastry that’s famous all over Turkey, and you can sit on the Bosphorus at breakfast, having this flaky pastry dough with a coffee or a tea, and watch the city wake up. There’s a hotel there in Çengelköy called Sumahan that a family bought and turned into a really charming hotel where the rooms let out right onto the Bosphorus, so you can take a boat to get there.

Turn on your out-of-office email and forget about the rest

I was just in Patmos for eight days, and I turned off my phone and laptop the whole time. For photos, I have a Fujifilm digital camera I travel with, but honestly, I didn’t use it that much. To me, the greatest luxury these days is disconnection, not distance.

In my mind, the phone is the greatest threat to actually being where you want to be. I sent a message to my company saying “Hey guys, I’m off” and I gave them the number of my friend I was travelling with, François, and I told my parents and my closest friends. I’ll tell you: Nobody called him. So many messages and calls are sent and made that are just unnecessary. By the end of that week, I was so reluctant to turn my phone back on, I found myself almost annoyed at it after that for a few days.

For design and art, Ashmore recommends this Middle Eastern city

There’s a lot of interesting fashion happening in Beirut. Just walking around Achrafieh, I’ve come across really interesting designers. There’s a business there called Creative Space Beirut, run by a woman who’s working with really young designers to give them a platform and a voice.

And there’s a man named Kamal Mouzawak: He’s more in the hospitality space, but he’s so inspiring from a design perspective. He has a series of spaces called Beit. The hotel to stay at is Albergo, which must be one of the oldest in Beirut and has been owned by the same family for a really long time. I think people worry that Beirut isn’t safe. In every part of the world, there’s danger – in New York City. But I’ve been there 10 or 12 times over the past 15 years, and I’ve always felt welcome and safe there.