Interviews

Haddy Jadma

Haddy Jadama, Five-Star Luxury Butler

Have you ever checked into a plush hotel, been allocated a butler and wondered what on earth you could ask them to do for you without appearing to be a demanding diva?  
Many people have told us that rather than finding a hotel butler service a welcome addition, they have found the experience somewhat awkward. We took the opportunity to interview luxury hotel butler Haddy Jadama from London’s 5-star Savoy hotel to find out what it’s like to be a lady butler, how she puts her guests at ease and what you can and cannot ask a butler to do.

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Saeeda Ahmed

Saeeda Ahmed, Founder Education Partnerships UK

An inspiration and sparkling personality to boot, Saeeda Ahmed shares with us why she started her business, what she’s learnt about travelling and how she finds the beauty in the little things. 

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Lara Morgan

Lara Morgan, Founder Pacific Direct and Company Shortcuts

There is a certain lunacy about making £20 million from selling bars of soap, but that’s exactly what businesswoman Lara Morgan did. Voted in the UK’s 10 most powerful businesswomen by MSN, Lara Morgan is straight talking and passionate about selling, with several companies under her belt and global ambitions, she talks to Sara Dawson

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Lorna McEwan

Lorna McEwan, Chief Inspector, British Transport Police.

Chief Inspector for the British Transport Police Lorna McEwan, based in Yorkshire tells us why she loves her job and is passionate about keeping train travel safe for everyone. When not at work Lorna is a self-confessed coffee connoisseurwith impeccable taste in hotels.”

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Bea Tollman

Bea Tollman, Founder and President, Red Carnation Hotels

As president and founder of luxury hotel collection,  the award-winning Red Carnation Hotels, Bea Tollman is one of the most respected women in the industry.  Here she shares her passion for getting the hotel experience absolutely perfect for the female traveller and shares her tips for getting the most out of our business trips. 

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Amanda Bolt

Amanda Bolt, Founder BoardroomMum

Founder of BoardroomMum.com Amanda Bolt tells us about her journey from corporate life to launching a platform to empower women at all stages of their lives in both motherhood and the boardroom

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Divia Thani

Divia Thani, Editor of Conde Nast Traveller, India

When you’re as passionate about writing as you are about travelling, the only option is to combine the two. Divia Thani, Editor of Conde Nast Traveller in India, gives an insight into her role working for the luxury travel market and tells us why hotels should Google her ‘guest preferences’ before putting orchids in her room.

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Q. Divia, you’ve had an amazing career working on some of the world’s most famous magazines, such as Vogue and now Conde Nast Traveller in India, what attracted you to magazine publishing?

A. I never intended for a career in publishing, despite the fact that I was editor of my school and college magazines. I've always loved reading and writing, and I've been fortunate to fall into places where I adored the complete environment. I love art and fashion, I enjoy meeting interesting and successful people, and of course, I can't get enough of travelling. Most of all, I'm a magazine junkie. I love spending my time reading them from cover to cover, from Vanity Fair to Vogue and to New York Magazine to The Economist.

I don't watch Bollywood films, but I'll read Stardust. I barely cook, but I'll read Good Food. I love how magazines are put together, how they feel on your fingertips, how they're great for tickling your brain, but also a feast for your eyes. Each edition is a piece of art. And it's a wonderful, easy way of learning about loads of new things out there in the world without committing yourself to a long book. The digital space has amplified this – it's given us so many new opportunities. 

Q. How often does your job allow you to travel?

A. I would say two short trips a month – it varies. Unfortunately, I don't spend my time flitting from one luxury hotel opening to the other, checking out the infinity pools and spa treatments, even though that's what everyone would like to believe. I travel mostly for meetings, to present at conferences, to speak on panels; to provide a lot of feedback and guidance – essentially to get people involved in hospitality and tourism, to understand the luxury travel market in India better and to cater for it. It's a lot of business suits and not nearly enough swimsuits. 

Q. Which is your favourite hotel in the world?

It's a very hard question for me to answer. I grew up in South Mumbai when we had few entertainment options, so we spent a great deal of time in The Oberoi Mumbai and the Taj Mahal Palace. I feel like I've grown up in their lobbies! My birthday is on Christmas Day, and when I was little, the highlight of my year would be The Oberoi's annual Christmas carnival on their rooftop when Santa Claus would sing just for me. And when we launched CNT in India in 2010, Mr Oberoi generously opened the entire hotel for the party, including the members-only Belvedere Club, the first and only time he’s done it. Memories like this stay with you a very long time. The best hotels in the world know this; it's not just about the right beds and lamps, it's about giving people an experience they'll cherish long after check-out.

Outside India, it's even harder to choose. In the past three months, I've added Six Senses Yao Noi and Four Seasons Hangzhou to the list. I'm not going to forget either of those trips anytime soon. They've got all the details right, starting from their spectacular locations, to the build of the properties, every little thing they do is thoughtfully planned to contribute to the entire experience. 

Q. What little extras do you like to see when you are staying in a hotel?

A. Is free Wifi even considered an extra anymore? How about delicious, healthy, fresh, local food in the minibar? But what I really like to see is a hotel paying attention to what a guest has already told them. These days, it's inexcusable for a luxury hotel to not tailor for an individual guest's stay.

For a while now, I've been meaning to put my guest preferences online to make life easier for those who make the effort and research guests, if they're not in the system yet. For instance, I don't drink much champagne and prefer white wine. I don't really eat dessert and prefer salty, spicy, savoury snacks in my room. I adore fresh flowers (except orchids, I hate orchids). I get cold easily and need the air-conditioning set to 23. I want a fully-loaded iPod with lots of great music. I want a half dozen shower caps, why do they always give you just one, and why is it so tiny? I want a full-length mirror and a good, powerful hair-dryer and a curling iron. Hotels need to be designed by more women. 

Q. What has been your most memorable trip?

A. That's too hard! I went to Brazil on a vacation this year and spent a few days in the Amazon; the landscape is unlike anything I've ever seen. Ladakh is another spectacular destination, the blue skies and the snow-capped mountains go on forever. The most memorable trips are always the ones where you fall in love with a person, a place, the energy or the view. For instance, I fall in love with Mumbai during the monsoon, with New York in the summer, with Thailand almost every time when I stare into those turquoise waters. I find China really fascinating, and the best food in the world is in Tasmania. 

Q. What precautions do you take when you travel around the world?

A. You just have to be smart, alert and trust your instincts. I almost always have a hotel car pick me up at the airport – it's always the safest option, and after a long flight, it's just less hassle. I keep copies of my passport in my suitcase and handbag and the actual document in a safe. I love jewellery, but rarely travel with much. At night I avoid deserted streets, I make sure someone knows where I’m going and when I'm on my way home. 

Q. Over the last couple of years there have been a number of attacks on female business travellers going to India, what would you advise to stay safe?

A. Again, be smart, alert and trust your instincts. You have to read a little in advance and understand the culture of where you are travelling. As a business traveller, stay in a good hotel in the centre of town, hire from a reliable car service, and be professional in your interactions and dress.

Q. What are your top three packing tips?

Frequent travellers should always keep a kit of toiletries ready to grab and go. Mine has everything I normally use in a travel size, and includes a spare set of contact lenses, about a dozen hair-ties and a bottle of Moroccan oil. The kit isn't one of those fancy branded ones either – it's plastic, so that it wastes no time at all during security screenings.

Secondly, I practically fly in a uniform of stretchy black, boot-cut yoga pants, a black tank top and a black DKNY Cozy. The all-black attire is great because it doesn't show any creases even after a long flight, and the Cozy is stylish enough that you look dressed up. Plus, it's so comfortable I don't bother changing into the PJs they provide on Business Class. Finally, I have a set of favourite things in my closet in a little cloth bag that I can just throw into my suitcase in a rush no matter where I'm heading – a swimsuit, sarong, shawl, a light black dress and my noise-cancelling headphones. 

Q. What are your beauty must-haves when you are away?

Deep-cleansing face towelettes. It's the lazy girl's dream come true, just wipe your face clean. Flying is dehydrating so I carry body moisturiser; my favourite is Kiehls Crème de Corps for winter or Spa Ceylon's Ayurvedic Aloe Vera and Pandanus body oil for summer. All I carry on flights are Burt's Bee's tinted lip balms. And I’m really loyal (or boring) when it comes to fragrances, I wear Flowerbomb by Viktor & Rolf, which, I'd like to add, tragically does not come in a travel size, yet. I carry Forest Essentials' fantastic products from India to give as gifts to friends all over the world. The mogra-jasmine range is divine – everyone loves them. 

Q. What would we find in your business travel wardrobe?

A. Dresses! I wear lots of dresses, from DVF wraps to what my friend calls my Mad Men dresses, slim, sleeveless dresses that hit the knee. I don't stick with black either; I love wearing colour and even prints. There's something about wearing a dress that always makes me feel like it's an occasion. Plus, it's easy to slip on a cool jacket during the day or add a statement necklace and go straight to dinner. 

Q. When away on business, what is your on-the-go-gadget that you couldn’t leave home without?

A. I basically work off my iPad and iPhone. And I recently bought a Logitech case for my iPad Mini that uses Bluetooth and serves as a keyboard as well as a stand. It's genius, especially for travelling. I do miss my BlackBerry though, for emails and BBM. 

Q. What has been your funniest moment while away on business?

A. One of the funniest moments was when a hotel went a bit too far to impress me. I was checking in at about 3am and I had to wake up at 5am for another flight, so I was ready to crash. Instead, I walked into my suite to find about three or four hotel staff gathered around a massive chocolate cake. The icing on the cake, literally, was a picture of my face, which they'd obviously found on Google, blown up and printed. And around this horrific mug shot were marzipan roses—and candles. I couldn't wait to send a photo to my mother to prove it really happened. Coming face to chocolate-cake-face with yourself at 3am is just not a happy encounter! I mean, I would have settled for orchids. 

Divia Thani is editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Traveller India, which she launched in October 2010 and is already the country's leading luxury travel magazine. An expert on the luxury Indian traveller, Divia regularly travels across the country and around the world as a speaker and panelist. Prior to CNT, Divia was features editor at Vogue, where she covered the arts and lifestyle, and regularly hobnobbed with Bollywood's kings and queens and Pulitzer-prize winning authors. She's been in the magazine business for more than a decade, and now also oversees CNT's digital presence. Divia graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh, where she returned in 2012 to collect the inaugural Sheth International Young Alumni Achievement Award. She's an avid belly dancer and a bit of a science nerd. (If she weren't a writer, she says, she'd be a genetic engineer.

 

Sonja Salmon

Sonja M Salmon, CEO, Ebby Rane

Corporate executive turned business owner Sonja Salmon, shares what inspired her to launch her own luxury luggage range

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Stella Photi

Stella Photi, Founder, Wellbeing Escapes -

Arguably, somebody with one of the best jobs in the world, Stella is the founder and MD of Wellbeing Escapes, every day she is working with luxury spas and tailor-making those itineraries that dreams of are made of for women just like us..

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Marilena Narbona

Marilena Narbona, Founder and CEO Swann International

Marliena is clearly passionate about love and helping others find it. With a team of professionals guiding their clients, Swann International ensures that connections are made all over the world and at the highest level. In her words, “I simply want to create a legacy of love.”

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Lesley Everett

Lesley Everett, Personal Branding Speaker & Executive Brand Coach

Ever wondered what your personal brand is saying about you?  Lesley Everett shares her insight into what a personal brand is and how we as business women can use it to our fullest advantage.   

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Rima Al-Mukhtar

Rima Al-Mukhtar, Life and Style Editor, Arab News, King of Saudia Arabia

Journalist and Arab News Life style editor Rima Al-Mukhtar, works in the heart of a busy media centre. She shares her favourite hotels, her inspirations and why she is wary of baboons.

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Kate Bright

Kate Bright, MD, UMBRA International

The demand for female security professionals is on the rise. Kate Bright set up UMBRA to cater for this increase, particularly amongst high profile female clients. Here she shares what it’s like protecting wealthy individuals in today’s global security context 

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Sheekha Rajani

Sheekha Rajani, Account Director DiversityJobs.co.uk

Passionate about diversity and working for the worlds largest diversity careers company, Sheekha Rajani knows all about job satisfaction and making a difference.   

Sheekha talks all about her role at DiversityJobs.co.uk and their work with employers who take diversity and inclusion seriously.

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Audra Lamoon

Audra Lamoon, Livewire

We have the greatest of pleasure of sharing our interview with Audra Lamoon, author, radio & TV presenter, MD of Livewire Performance Consultants and recovering owner of a Boa Constrictor with you.  Audra is one of the warmest, most giving, inspirational, multi-dimensional and fun women you could hope to meet.  Meeting Audra is one of the quickest ways to a ‘legal high; ‘and I have to warn you, it has side-effects.

Audra’s company Livewire delivers corporate training, strategy and consultancy globally to clients across an impressive range of sectors and you’ll be pleased to know that she has a penchant for turning around the meccas, formally known as distressed shopping mallscompany Livewire delivers corporate training, strategy and consultancy globally to clients across an impressive range of sectors and you’ll be pleased to know that she has a penchant for turning around the meccas, formally known as distressed shopping malls. 

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Julie Tweedale

Julie Tweedale, Director, Freedom Personal Safety

We have the great privilege of meeting Julie Tweedale, a lady who is passionate about making every woman safe. Julie shares her own personal experiences and gives us invaluable advice about how we as women can keep ourselves safe whilst travelling on business.

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Q. We love what you are doing with Freedom Personal Safety and your passion for keeping women safe, what drives you?

I want every woman to be able to keep themselves safe. I know, from personal experience, that women often feel powerless when confronted with unwanted attention or threats and we are on a mission to change this. No-one has the right to hurt us and, all too often we put up with situations which make us feel uncomfortable or worse, because we don't realise that there is another way. At the other extreme, we work with many young women who feel invincible and believe that nothing will ever happen to them - raising awareness and empowering women is a huge aspect of our work. As a mother, our work with children is also very dear to my heart.

Q. How did you come up with this as a business idea?

Elaine (the other Director of Freedom Personal Safety) and I had our children at the same time, whilst working for an international cultural and educational NGO. We both wanted to reduce the amount of travelling we did and take more control over our lives. Elaine did a personal safety course whilst at university in America with the leading self defence organisation in the US, and when she told me, it felt like the right thing to do. So 3 months later we flew to Alabama and trained to run the course ourselves. We both passionately believe in what we are doing, and we knew that once we had trained, there was no going back. Last year we took voluntary redundancy from well-paid jobs to work on Freedom Personal Safety full-time.

In the US, the network of instructors running courses is almost 10,000 and over 1 million women have been trained to take control of their safety. We are the only instructors in the UK but are determined to replicate this model so we can reach as many women and children as we can.

Q. What are the most common safety issues women face and how can they avoid them?

We teach that 90% of self defence is avoiding risk. Being aware of what is going on around us, planning ahead and taking action when we feel scared or threatened is a huge part of keeping ourselves safe. Statistics tell us that women are more at risk from people they know than from strangers, and we believe that clear communication is essential in keeping safe. All too often women put up with unacceptable behaviour - this needs to change so that we can let men know when they have overstepped the mark or gone too far.

When I was younger and in a particularly vulnerable situation where I was under threat, I didn't believe that there was anything I could do as he was a man and older and more powerful than me. It is important that women 'give themselves permission' to take control of their safety and take away some of the power and control from the attacker.

Q. Who inspires you?

I am inspired by many of the women I meet in my work who have overcome terrible situations and not only survived but thrived - I wish I had an ounce of their determination, courage and spirit. My children are also a huge inspiration as they give me hope for the future and motivate me to do what little I can to make a difference.

Q. What advice would you give to women travelling alone on business

As a woman who travelled a lot for business, I know how difficult it can be to travel alone, particularly overseas. My advice would be to plan ahead as much as possible, so that you have maps, directions, transfers booked etc. and minimise where possible looking like an easy target. Walk confidently, make eye contact (culture permitting) and avoid risks whenever possible. Talk to your hosts or local contacts about the safe places to visit and where to avoid and if possible, ask them to show you around.

Q. Which company in your opinion really looks after it's staff from a safety perspective?

Since the launch of the Home Office's action plan to end violence against women and girls which states that large organisations have a responsibility to promote personal safety for lone workers or those who work anti-social hours, we are piloting a workplace workshop to help employers with this issue. Two organisations who have impressed me with their commitment to the safety of their staff are West Yorkshire Probation Trust and Lloyds Banking Group - both of whom we have worked with to deliver practical safety advice for female staff. It is clear that they see their staff as people with lives outside work and they approach safety holistically, not just during office hours.

We are looking for other employee-focused organisations who care about the welfare of their staff to take part in the pilot and demonstrate their commitment to staff safety. Ask me again in one year from now and I'll let you know else who is taking the issue of staff welfare seriously.

Q. What was your own most memorable/hairy business trip?

I have had so many! Whilst visiting Cairo to set up a children's library, I had a free afternoon so decided to go for a walk (which is always the best way to explore a city) and ended up walking through the 'City of the Dead'. It is an area of the city where people live amongst graves and tombstones of almost 1 million dead people. Some choose to live there to be near loved ones and others have no choice - Cairo is an overcrowded city and many of the poorest are forced to live in this area. It wasn't until after I told my Egyptian colleagues where I had been that I realised how dangerous it could have been, particularly for a foreign woman walking alone. Luckily I was ok and didn't feel unsafe but I realised that it is not always wise to wander and explore without taking local advice first.

Q. What has been your funniest moment whilst travelling?

During a business trip to Vietnam I was invited to the British Embassy as part of their celebration of St David's Day. Hanoi is a charming city but can be quite chaotic and the streets are filled with hundreds of people on bicycles and small stalls selling everything from silk scarves to coffins. To leave the hustle and bustle of the city and enter a beautiful Embassy was such a contrast. On arrival I was presented with a daffodil which was attached to my lapel and I was offered canapes of Welsh rarebit and leek vol-au-vents. Welsh music played throughout the evening and the climax of the celebration was a performance on the grand staircase of 'Under Milk Wood' which was performed by Vietnamese and British staff from the Embassy and British Council. It was delightful and surreal at the same time and still makes me smile when I think of it.

Q. What services do you offer to maiden-voyage.com individual members and their employers?

We would love to run safety workshops for individual members (which are also great opportunities for networking too) which would give participants tips and simple steps to reduce risks to their safety, plus some easy physical techniques. We are also keen to work with employers to pilot our workplace workshop for women and are offering a 50% discount to organisations taking part. 1 in 4 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetime and the impact on them and the people around them is significant including absenteeism, mental health problems, loss of confidence, and relationship breakdown. Employers who view their staff as people and not just employees will see the benefit of doing what they can to prevent issues like this arising.

If you would like to know more, visit the Freedom Personal Safety Web Site.

Jane Bussman

Jane Bussmann, Award Winning Comedy Writer and Author

Jane is an award winning comedy writer and author, her brilliant book “The Worst Date Ever” is what inspired us to want to meet this brave, even ballsy and very inspirational lady.  A non-fictional, hilarious account of Jane she quit her job as a Hollywood journalist and took a trip to Uganda to investigate the proclaimed “most evil man in the world”, Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, responsible for murder, rape and the kidnapping of tens of thousands of children; her motive? To impress and hopefully score a date with the god that is John Prendergast.

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Q: In a number of interviews you’ve stated that despite everything you did in Uganda, underneath it all you are a coward, so how did you have the courage to do what you did?

When you commit to meet somebody you have to turn up, that’s part of the thrill of it, the harmless part, but then when go and meet them you are thinking to yourself, “Oh crikey, what have I done”?

At the time I was initially really cross about Hollywood and how awful it was, and then I became even crosser about the apathy in Uganda, particularly the apathy of the reputable charities, I got really sick of being told everything is alright and then meeting some mum who was fighting tears because her daughter was still out there, living as a sex slave. So I was driven by the fury and that overpowered the idea of not doing anything but I’d still be terrified at the same time, it was a fine line between bravery and stupidity. In all honesty I don’t think I did anything brave at all.

In actual fact 99% of Ugandans are so unbelievably lovely, that was my initial feeling when I got to Uganda and especially compared to Hollywood, even the bad ones had better manners!

Q: During the course of your investigation you discovered and exposed questionable behaviour from all sides, not just the LRA. Has there been any backlash as a result?

A disappointing lack of it, particularly from the Ugandan government. Some charities felt that I was over-critical of them in the book, but I saw children in the care of World Vision being left in excruciating pain.

On another occasion I wanted to pay for the treatment of girl who needed an eye operation and I was quoted $1400 locally, but when I later called the British headquarters I was quoted $5000. It’s disgusting that they were trying to screw me whilst the girl was going blind.

On the other hand, I also met many great charity workers and got lots of messages from charity workers telling me that they were glad that I had said what I had.

Q: What’s your involvement now?

The most useful thing I can do to get more attention on this is to take my show around the world; I really want to do it in New York and LA. You are more likely to get people along to a comedy show. This is especially important now there’s the LRA Disarmament Act. I want people to know about the Ugandan army and the likelihood of them killing kids if they go in with another badly-supervised military exercise.

I also write about it for the Huffington Post and the American newspapers.

On a more personal level I’ve used some of money from the book to build a house and buy some land for one of the girls I wrote about and her kids.

Q: How’s your relationship now with John Prendergast.

He really is a god! I don’t think you meet that many people that do what he does and still have that much of a sense of humour. It’s obviously really embarrassing when you’ve had somebody write about how hot you are. He takes it on the chin because it raises the profile amongst a completely different audience about Uganda, the LRA and the West’s total inaction towards it; he’s taking one for the team.

Q: Do you still fancy him

Who wouldn’t?

Q: You’re currently working on the film, who would you like to play you?

Robert Downey Jr in a frock, you wouldn’t ever refer to the fact that he was a bloke, he’d really go out of his way to look like a woman, he’d be like Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot and it would be so funny to see him with a mad crush on John Prendergast.

At this stage, it’s more important that whoever it is understands the message and gets it out there.

Q: Since your travels to Africa what are your top travel tips?

I’m terribly disorganised so I travel with those plastic pocketed organisers that hang on the door, so it’s easy to see where everything is. Only use one surface to put your things on, I find its too much ‘eye ache’ to scan multiple surfaces in the morning you check out. Eat local food, its better, cheaper and less likely to make you ill if the local people are eating it. Oh, and don’t eat something if a chicken has just landed on it!

Q: And your one travel luxury?

A roll-on cabin suitcase from Globe-trotter. They've been around since 1897, Edmund Hillary took them up Everest, they are so beautiful, they cheer you up, they make you feel classy, stewardesses go nuts over them and more importantly if you are living out of a suitcase, at least it's the Ritz of suitcases. When mine broke, the manager of the whole company phoned me to apologise.

Q: Who would be your ideal female travel companions?

Graham Greene’s fictional Aunt Augusta from Travels with My Aunt, the Ugandan peacemaker Betty Bigombe, and Hilary Clinton - I’d like to study her up close, because she’s scary - and all the women who struck out in the 1920’s looking for lions and tigers, I would have loved to have met Karen Blixen.

Q: What has been your funniest trip ever?

The show in Sydney was on Cockatoo Island that used to be a jail. There’s an annual festival there called World’s Funniest Island; I had a date with a 66 year-old and hung out (got drunk) with a brilliant pair of women who were also lesbians, which had the 66-year-old gaga over them of course. I decided I wanted a tattoo of the Opera House but the tattooist (despite being in Sydney) didn’t know what it looked like, so the brilliant lesbians ran next door to a tourist shop and bought a fridge magnet of the Opera House, so now I have a fridge magnet tattooed on my arm! Let’s just say it’s not my most classiest tattoo, but I like it.

Want to know more about Jane? Click here

The Worst Date Ever by Jane Bussmann The Worst Date Ever - Delivery Free
Shammi Sandhu

Shammi Sandhu, Shammi's India - Expect the Unexpected! Boutique Tours

We'd love you to meet the delightful Shammi Sandhu from Queenstown in New Zealand and owner of the Mantra restaurant in Queenstown.  When Shammi isn't over-seeing the delicous cookery and warmly welcoming her guests, she creates amazingly personal boutique tours to India, which are perfect for the lone female explorer.

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Q: Shammi, you've got a really interesting and culturally rich mix of businesses where did this stem from?

I was born and brought up in India. I went to boarding school in the wonderful hills of Nainital. After High School, went to Art College in Mumbai. Soon after, I lived in London for 4 years in the early 70’s, experiencing a whole lot of travel, dance school, theatre, cinema and working at various jobs as any young person would want to do.

We moved to New Zealand in 1991 and have been residing in Queenstown (the jewel in the crown of NZ). I have 2 sons, one lives in Sydney doing theatre courses at NIDA and the other is working in Queenstown.

Q: Is this is where you launched your restaurant career?

Yes, by utter default I got into the restaurant business in 1991. Until recently I owned 3 restaurants. Now, I am focusing on my very special Mantra Restaurant, Arrowtown (a suburb of Queenstown). This has now allowed me to free up and pursue other interests (long pending)! We all know being in hospitality is 24/7!!

Q: Tell us about your other passion

I have organised and taken a number of boutique tours to India. I design the tours myself to incorporate the very best of the places we visit, often getting away from the typical.

Being a registered member of maiden-Voyage.com, I realised fellow members would have some commonality of kinship, and am extending this wonderful trip to fellow members along with an invitation to attend my niece’s wedding in Chandigarh (Punjab), a five day celebration!

Q: So this is a very personal tour, is it for ladies only?

I thrive on making my tours very personal. Yes this one has been designed for ladies, but if there are ladies who have partners they want to share the trip with, they would be very welcome too.

Q: India is still unexplored territory for many people, a bespoke tour with somebody who knows their way around would provide an extra level of comfort for the uninitiated. What would you say are the main differences a first-timer would experience in India?

India is perceived as being a country where many seem to be afraid of doing it on their own. Many people have said they want to travel to India, but will do it if someone would take them. I saw this niche in the market place, the greatest advantage is that having been brought up, educated and travelled so much in India and now living in the Western world, I am able to mix the best of both worlds with a good understanding of requirements from both sides, in empathy and tolerance. There is absolutely no doubt, that travel to India would be very hassle free, the points of irritants within a different culture and language, just to get by would be taken care of. Most importantly is how much time can we wasted in just coordinating basic things. I believe for the first-timer, the experience of India with me would be a highlight of their life. I say this from past experience, and people who have been on tours with me, where India has not been on the ‘to do list’ – actually one lady is coming on the trip with me for the 3rd time!

Q: What tips would you give to independent travellers to India?

Do your research well! Ask as many questions as you need to. Don’t get caught out with the unexpected. Be careful of the ‘cowboys’. Even the seasoned independent traveller has been put in the most unsavoury situations. Go with humility and an open heart, but keep your wits about you.

Q: What has been one of the funniest moments during your travel?

So many funny stories to share!

The first of my ‘Boutique Tours’ to India, I had confirmed a rather princely heritage accommodation in Jodhpur. It took us ages to find the property, when we finally did, getting through narrow lanes littered with trash, I started to feel a sense of despair. I asked our coach driver to stop short of about 50 metres from the property so I could go and inspect the property first. This is no Princely Accommodation I said to my self! It smelt of ‘phenol’ and was absolutely hopeless. No way was my group going to stay here. Oh my Gosh! What am I going to do? I thought. Anyhow I then did the ‘unexpected’. I got the whole group booked into one of the finest Palace Properties of Jodhpur, which, believe me cost me heaps! I went back to our bus and explained briefly there was going to be a change in the accommodation. I cried but I laughed and said to myself this is crazy but funny, all part of a journey!

At the start of our travels, I mentioned to everybody that if any one coined up a phrase for my tour company with an agreed consensus by every one else, the winner would be rewarded well!! Lots and lots of phrases came up, a game we all were enjoying!! That night during our B-B-Q dinner, suddenly in a flash, I knew my tours would be called Shammi’s India – expect the unexpected! Everybody gave the thumbs up, so the reward went to me instead, a wonderful bottle of Bubbles that we all shared and heaps more with plenty of laughter!!

In fact I think humour is an essential element when travelling. My ethos is

  • Sharing a ‘funny’ when we travel lightens up the journey, makes people friendly and the trip more enjoyable.
  • A positive attitude can make the whole travel experience easier to handle.
  • A good laugh can always end negative emotions.
  • Acknowledging that there is always a possibility that things might go wrong prepares the traveller for any eventuality.
  • If we develop a fun attitude towards travel, we will enjoy the trip.
  • People can actually laugh at themselves instead of despairing about the things that went wrong, this makes a whole load of difference.
  • Just relax and be your spontaneous self and ‘let go’ of self defence.
  • Feel free to express true feelings. The knowledge of the feelings of others will ensure a more sensitive travel relationship.
  • Those who have already experienced the fun side of travel should share their stories to inspire others. These just show that fun is present even in the most unexpected situations.
For more information on Shammi's India tour, please view the itinerary on the Mantra website, or for more information you can contact Shammi directly at shammi@xtra.co.nz
Sara Sanders

Sara sanders, Puri Mas, Boutique Resort and Spa Lomok, Indonesia

Originally from the United Kingdom, Sara feels more like a New Zealander having emigrated there more than 20 years ago.  After a successful career in health and fitness both in the UK and New Zealand,  fate found Sara managing a beautiful resort on the island of Lombok where she and her husband used to be guests.

Read Q's and A's>

Q: Sara, as a female hotel General Manager, what do you think you do differently to your male counterparts?

It is probably the little things that make the difference in gender management. Attention to small details, are there enough mixtures of pillows, i.e. soft, medium. Is the hairdryer working efficiently, do the towels smell fresh and are there enough. Using essential oil room freshener is a must for me; I just adore the lemon grass crisp clean aroma we use here in Puri Mas.

Q: What little extra's do you like to see when you are travelling to a hotel?

Coffee creamer and a good sized mug for my morning drink. A full length mirror, complimentary 15 minute massage

Q: You are based in lovely part of the world, what would you recommend for ladies travelling to your region?

Spas are fabulous in our area and natural treatments used by local village people are a wonderful experience. Go shopping for beautiful pearls as we have some of the best quality pearls in the world here in Lombok. Arts and crafts here are very minimalist in style and the basket work is second to none with fantastic natural colours actually an interior designers paradise. Fabrics here are very unusual and natural with traditional dyes and beautiful colours, perfect to make a special cushion cover or wall hanging as the motives are tasteful and not at all garish.

Q: What has been your most memorable business trip?

Just recently I visited Seoul in South Korea which was fascinating. To see this young country offering such incredible technology and amazing shopping centres, night life and interesting culture at the same time, tied in with amazing efficiency with warmth and welcome was refreshing.

Q: Do you have any travel tips you can share with other female travellers?

Do your best to get an aisle seat, you can get up as many times as you want to and walking and exercising on a long haul flight is a must, and don't forget to carry a very small energising mist with you to counteract the dry air on your flight and replenish lost moisture.

Q: Do you have any travel horror stories to share?

Yes! arriving at Ouarzazate airport in Morocco only to find my flight tickets back to Utrecht in Holland were back in my hotel room in Zagora, scary!!!

Q: Do you have any funny travel stories to share about your experiences at work?

I work in Lombok Indonesia where actually there are so many funny experiences and stories that you really have to visit here to appreciate the absolute hilarity of just trying to get through any given day, guests to this part of the world must have a sense of humour to really appreciate the warmth and hospitality of the Indonesian people.

Q: If it wasn't the Puri-Mas which would be your favourite hotel in the world?

A good question, but the reason I am in Puri Mas is because having stayed in so many hotels around the world as I guest when I found Puri Mas I not only stopped being a guest I made it my ambition to work here, for me there is no better place on earth.

To find out more about the Puri Mas Boutique resort and spa click here

Quote maiden-voyage.com when booking a three night minimum stay to receive a complimentary one hour spa treatment relaxing massage with essential oils and sweet almond oil.

Deborah D'Alessandro

Deborah D'Alessandro - Esprit Seminars,  Nice, France

Founder of Esprit Seminars and international inspirational lady Deborah entirely understands both the power of the sisterhood, women helping women and moreover how to empower women to reach their full potential and how to follow their dreams.

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Q: Deborah, you are a fellow founder of a female focused enterprise, what is it that inspires you about working with women?

Most women I meet are filled with creative ideas, knowledge and passions that are not being utilized in their present work and life situations. These talents, combined with their sense of compassion, are the key to their own success and making the world a better place. Working with women who are now questioning the status quo and are taking steps to explore their ideas is my source of inspiration. Helping them to earn the income they want is truly rewarding for me.

Q: You are based in lovely part of the world, what would you recommend for ladies travelling to your region?

The south of France is probably one of the most female-friendly places in the world. There is a relaxed atmosphere for women who are alone, whether checking into a hotel or eating "solo" in one of the numerous outdoor cafés and brasseries. Enough English is spoken everywhere to make one feel at home. My only suggestion is to pay attention to your personal belongings as you would do travelling anywhere. The French Riviera is basically quite safe compared to others parts of Europe but prudence is always recommended. Otherwise, unwind and breathe in the air that inspired such greats as Matisse and Picasso!

Q: What attracted you to maiden-voyage.com and what do you think you will get out of it?

Maiden Voyage is right on target with its mission to connect women at a global level and offer a needed service. I was most impressed when Carolyn put a human face to the site by calling me personally when I registered. It transformed the website from virtual to real. I look forward to seeing the Maiden Voyage network grow and connecting with like minded women business travellers. I am especially happy to be a reference point here for women who come to the south of France.

Q: What has been your most memorable business trip?

Over 20 years ago to Little Rock, Arkansas, in the deep south of the United States. As an Italian-American and native New Yorker, I didn’t know what awaited me. I was in the fashion industry then, and basic black was the “color” to be seen in. Once I arrived I was surrounded by pastel pinks and baby blues on blonds looking like beauty queens from another age. I stuck out like a sore thumb!

Luckily these “Southern Bells” were just as interested in me as I was in them and we quickly connected as women. Many told me how important being married and “staying pretty” was in Little Rock. In those years, being divorced in Arkansas seemed to be a death sentence. Some even told me that poorer women raised their daughters to win beauty pageants hoping to give them a better future. For many, New York City seemed like a frightening and exciting place at the same time. I remember having an attentive audience as I answered all their questions about “New York women”.

What started as a public relations trip to introduce the Liz Claiborne men’s line, turned into one of my most memorable connections with women very different from me. Now so many years later, I think about them and wonder if they ever wandered out of Little Rock…

Q: Do you have any travel tips you can share with other female travellers?

Yes, I have two for women traveling to Italy and France. When going to a restaurant, if you have any dietary needs, don’t hesitate to ask the waiter if they can modify the dish for you. Most will happily do it, especially in Italy. I have had many travellers tell me that it is difficult to find vegetarian or vegan dishes. Find a dish on the menu that you like, and ask them to substitute ingredients or parts of the dish. Most restaurants, especially the better ones are very gracious with such requests!

Q: Do you have any travel horror stories to share?

This will be a combination of horror and funny. I had gone to the Greek island of Corfu without reservations only to find every decent hotel booked. Arriving at night and not knowing the roads well, I decided to settle for a dingy, 2 star hotel in the middle of nowhere. Exhaustion had the best of me, so I handed over my passport, got the room keys and plopped down onto a bumpy mattress. Lights shut – then on again. There seemed to be something strange but I didn’t know what. I looked around the orderly room and then down on my pillow. There was movement! Countless bed bugs were in the midst of a maze of nocturnal activities!!! Horrified, I threw off my pajamas, got dressed and checked out. The hotel clerk was annoyed and just offered to change the sheets!!

Q: Do you have any funny travel stories to share?

This is actually part 2 of the same story. The hotel clerk insisted that he had a clean room. My traveling companion and I wanted to get out of there but the pickings were slim at that hour of night. Our choices – sleeping in a small rented car or looking at his suggested room. We both opted for trying another room. Away from the main building it was too dark too see where he was leading us. In the end, our fears were abated when we entered a lovely little cottage - clean and bug free. Pajamas back on and into bed we went. Sound asleep until 6am we awoke to a thunderous roar. The room was vibrating and thin glass panes of the window were shaking. Pulling aside the curtains, there in front of us was an Olympia jet that had just landed!!! Our little cottage was right next to the runway of the Corfu airport! Relieved that it wasn’t an earthquake, we both burst out laughing.

Q: Which is your favourite hotel in the world?

I don’t have a favourite hotel. There have been many that have added so much to my travels. In general, my favourite type of hotel is family run and smaller. I look for hotels that have charm with a unique personality. Travelling as a woman, it is important that the staff go out of their way to make me feel at home.

Deborah D’Alessandro is founder of Esprit Seminars in Nice France. The career enhancement vacations are for women looking to experience more personal fulfillment and self expression in their work. The seminars allow women to create new careers, or enhance existing ones, based on their Natural Abilities and Passions. Women, who never imagined they had a “business sense”, now find financial success more attainable. Deborah invites Maiden Voyage members to take the “Free Natural Abilities Analysis” on the website www.espritseminars.com.

Deborah looks forward to meeting Maiden Voyage travellers to Nice!

Peggy Hora

Peggy Hora

Judge Hora is a global leader in the problem-solving courts movement and has written comprehensively on justice issues.  The appellate court and over 100 journals and law reviews have cited her work.  She was a 2009-2010 Thinker in Residence appointed by the Premier of South Australia to study and make recommendations on the Australian justice system.  She is the first Thinker in the field of law.

Read Q's and A's>

Q: Peggy, you've had an amazing career and you are a true inspiration to other women. Who's the most inspirational person you have met whilst on your travels?

Every day people who overcome incredible odds and achieve amazing things given little to work with. I think of friends in San Felipe, Mexico, who have little materially but live a rich, full life.

Q: When people learn of your background, what is the most common thing you get asked?

People are not very knowledgeable about the legal system so they usually preface a query with, "I know this is a dumb question, but..." I tell them it's not and that we in the judicial branch of government have generally done a terrible job of making our world understandable. However if one more person says to me, "Here come da judge" (from the television program Laugh In in the 70's) I shall set my hair on fire.

Q: What has been your most memorable business trip?

Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto to lecture in 01. I fell in love with everything but still lust after the Toto toilet with a "washlette" (sortof a built in bidet with a blow dryer and a heated seat.)

Q: Do you have any travel tips you can share with other female travellers?

Do not be afraid to be traveling alone and talk to people. I've met lovely folks all over the world when traveling by myself. I recently heard from a young woman whom I met 20+ years ago. You never know how you will touch someone.

Q: Do you have any travel horror stories to share?

Just the usual cancelled flights, fat man in the middle seat, inability to eat what passes for a meal on the plane due to the person in front totally reclining. Recently a flight was cancelled and I wasn't notified that the route was no longer serviced on Sunday so I went from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Istanbul to Delhi to Kolktta all in one horribly long day.

Q: Do you have any funny travel stories to share?

Reading "I Hate my Neck" by Nora Ephron and laughing so loudly and often on an airplane that a women about 7 rows back shouted, "What on earth are you reading?"

Q: Which is your favourite hotel the world?

The George V in Paris but I've never been there. Ditto the Orinetal in Bankok and most Ritz Carltons.

Peggy is a retired Superior Court judge who has expertise in therapeutic jurisprudence with a particular emphasis on alcohol and other drug issues. She presided over a drug treatment court which emphasized treatment over incarnation for non-violent criminal defendants. There are other “problem-solving” courts such as mental health, domestic violence, and family recovery. There are more than 3,000 such courts in the US and in 20 other countries. She loves to travel and particularly loves to combine her two passions – globetrotting and justice issues. Peggy has spoken all over the world – England, Israel, Chile, Japan – and on a recent trip to Belgium and The Netherlands she contacted two Dutch friends to see if they could meet for coffee. It turned into their organizing a symposium attended by 45 people in the justice system where she spoke for an hour. Peggy’s Dutch lawyer friend then dashed her back to her ship before it sailed. Peggy is off to Australia in August-September, Morocco and Tunisia in October and back to Australia in March-May 2010 and she would love to visit courts, mental health and other treatment programs, and speak with prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, members of community corrections, police and others who are affected by alcoholism/addictions.

Peggy is particularly interested in networking on substance abuse, domestic violence, and restorative justice in both the family and criminal law contexts. Her complete CV and lists of entities for whom she has spoken can be accessed at www.judgehora.com She also loves taking about her eight grandchildren, fine dining, cooking, art, dance, and music.