Staycation Tips From Expert Travel Planner Virgi Schiffino

Three years ago in the dim candlelight at The Garret above Five Guys in the Village, THE STAYCATIONERS was born with the intent to promote local travel and businesses through content designed to inspire readers to explore their own stomping grounds. What we quickly learned was that travel — even in a place we know like the back of our hands — is an art, and it’s one we hone to this day.

Meeting kindred spirits like Virgi Schiffino, co-founder of travel concierge Lux Voyage, is as insightful as she is inspiring; naturally, we had to tap her for pro tips and recommendations across the globe for your reading pleasure (and our own personal benefit). Read on for Virgi’s favorite hotels, planning hacks, and life advice.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Virgi Schiffino; I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic but have called the U.S. my home for the past 16 years. I had a successful career as an international corporate lawyer, most of which felt unfulfilling — after much self-exploration, trial and error, and fine-tuning, I slowly found myself planning luxury trips around the world and through that I discovered what I was really meant to be doing, which is how Lux Voyage came about. I now live in Philadelphia with my husband Nick and our two kids Luca and Giuliana. 

What is Lux Voyage? 

Lux Voyage is a private travel concierge. More than just planning tailor-made travel itineraries, we take a strategic approach with our clients in helping them execute their travel goals on a long-term basis. Lux Voyage transforms the way the world travels with custom-designed extraordinary journeys around the world, allowing travelers to discover and enjoy destinations just as the locals do. Thanks to our curated global network of travel gurus, partnerships with some of the world’s most distinguished properties an access to travel perks, including the Signature Travel Network. Lux Voyage focuses on carefully curated, custom designed, experiential vacations, offering effortless travel experiences on the traveler’s terms. Whether it’s honey harvesting at Villa Il Palagio in Tuscany, owned by Sting and his wife, Trudie, to getting after-hours access at the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice to a private five-course meal in the middle of the Sahara prepared by award-winning chef, Lux Voyage handles every request, so travelers focus on what matters most: an unforgettable trip.

So usually you specialize in planning the perfect vacation, but I’d imagine that you’d probably throw a pretty sick staycation too. What would be your dream staycay on your home turf?

I’m still pretty new to Philly and I’ve been in a persistent hustle since the day we moved, so I could really use a staycation on my new home turf. First off, I’d probably stay at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons Hotel — a stylish 4-room experiential hotel in Fishtown, Philadelphia. There is no other hotel like it in the city and the neighborhood is truly becoming a destination in its own right. After enjoying a slow morning in my robe and slippers, I’d head over to Amrita Yoga for a restoring yoga session;  then I’d head next door to enjoy the best brunch in the city at Root Restaurant (the Mrs. Root cocktail and Turkish eggs are some of my favorites). Back to the hotel for a quick change and some down time. Then head I’d over to the Barnes Foundation or the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Barnes Foundation houses one of the most expansive impressionist art collections in the city and there is something introspective and inspiring in the architecture of the place. If I have time, I’d probably take a stroll along Kelly Drive, which borders the Schuylkill River, or maybe even hop on a rented bike. I love watching the rowers race by. I’ve also been meaning to get on a sunset yacht cruise along the Schuylkill; it definitely sounds touristy but the views are amazing. 

There are some great restaurants in the city, but for a truly unique experience, I’d make sure to plan my staycation around one of the dinners hosted by Chef Shola at his Studio Kitchen or Chef Alex Garfinkel from Balboa Catering .  These incredibly talented chefs host very intimate BYOB gatherings in their respective kitchens where a small number of guests come together to watch them perform their craft and enjoy their creations. Their cooking styles are very different from one another. but either would be an amazing and memorable way to cap off day one of a staycation…enjoying stellar food in the company of other adventurers like me. 

Can you give us a few planning hacks for our faithful staycationers in putting together their own staycations?

  1. If you have kids, like me, make arrangements for a fun-filled staycation of their own with the grandparents or that trusted crazy aunt who gives them candy and Netflix.
  2. Splurge. Go ahead and give yourself that one experience you’ve been wanting but keep resisting for one reason or another. Whether it’s a full day at the spa, dinner at Per Se, or that one cheese class… indulge! You deserve it.
  3. Choose your company wisely. Not all friends are a good match for a staycation or a vacation. Make sure you have good “travel” chemistry with whoever you’re staycationing with.
  4. Unplug. Give yourself a little digital detox. This one is hard for me because my phone is pretty much another limb, but if you’re able to “power off” for all or most of your staycation you’ll be more present for the experience.
  5. Put an out of office email! 

Some travelers (like us and many who are inspired by THE STAYCATIONERS’ style) like to feel as if they’re living like a local when they’re on vacation. What are some tips for successfully incorporating this mentality when traveling in a new or unfamiliar city?

I began traveling solo when I was in my 20s and I came across this advice by Mexican Author Ricardo Garibay — it has always shaped my approach to traveling: “Smell the cities. Don’t take the classic photos in the places where everyone goes. Smell the markets, the streets, the squares, and the parks; smell the air that surrounds you so you never forget it. And take a book with you, so that that the writings of the great thinkers help you put your own thoughts in order. This will allow you to make scenes of your personal travel experience.”

That said, these are my tips: 

  1. Allow time for leisure and spontaneity. Resist the urge to plan every single minute of your vacation. Too often when we travel with a long checklist, we risk missing out on the true essence of a place because we’re too busy knocking things off a list.
  2. Skip the hotel breakfast and opt for a neighborhood spot.
  3. Venture off the beaten path. I’ve made the best discoveries when I get lost in an unknown destination.
  4. Sit at the bar. If you’re traveling solo or with just one other person, choose the bar seats over a table at restaurants. Bar seats are prime locations to strike up conversations with locals who are eager to share their inside scoop on their home turf.
  5. Remember, “simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication”.

If you could spend a weekend living like a staycationer in any hotel, which one would you choose?

Wow! This is a tough one. I love so many different hotels, but if I have to choose just one, it would be The London EDITION. I love all EDITION hotels (designed by Ian Schrager) because of their sleek, minimalistic, and sophisticated style. Their rooms feel very residential in an aspirational kind of way. But I particularly love the vibe in the London Edition with the Punch Room, and London is hands-down one of my favorite cities. The Loft Suites and Penthouse are my top room picks.

And for the heck of it, I’m going to throw in a few others: the Fornasetti Suite at the Mandarin Oriental Milan and any of the penthouses at the Greenwich Hotel in NYC.

Lastly, tell us your favorite staycay story!

My favorite staycay was in New York with my now-husband. We had opposite schedules when we were dating so we decided to take the first of many mid-week staycations in Manhattan. He’s a chef and I love to eat so our staycations always revolved around food and drink. We kicked off the day with mimosas, then we made our way to Central Park where we laid down a picnic blanket and munched on Epoisses cheese and baguette. The undercover Sofia Minis (as in Sophia Coppola’s mini blanc-de-blanc) were always a hit!  After lounging in Central Park for a few hours, we hit the food trail: late lunch at Jean-Georges (best deal in town!); walk down to the MOMA and pop in to see what’s new; then head further down to Bryant Park to take in the views of the trees, the beautiful public library and sit down for a nice cafecito. We were in a “Spanish” mood so we decided to graze our way downtown, stopping at Tia Pol, El Quinto Pino, and Casa Mono for quick bites and long sips. Later, we met friends at Angel’s Share for craft cocktails before crashing for the night at The Smyth. The next day we pretty much did nothing else until sunset when we hopped on one of the Schooner yacht sails for an epic sunset cruise along the Hudson. It was all about the company.

Keep up with THE STAYCATIONERS as they take over new hotels in new cities each month.

Written by Celine Bossart 

Featured image via Wm. Mulherin’s Sons

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