Travel Lessons From Alisa Grifo

Former set designer Alisa Grifo had such a talent for collecting mementos while abroad that she opened Kiosk, a New York City store featuring souvenirs focused on one location at a time. Grifo now hunts for products nearly half the year.

Alisa Grifo

How has your job changed the way you travel?
I mostly travel for work now. My husband accompanies me on these business trips that range from three to six weeks at a time.

How much do you plan your trips in advance?
It can be two weeks or two months in advance, no more or less. I leave about 50 percent to chance. I used to plan things a lot more, but my husband convinced me to do otherwise!

What are some packing tips you've picked up?
I take one large backpack. Whatever can fit in it is what I can take.

What do you bring with you on the plane?
A blow-up pillow, a shawl or wrap, and Hyland's Calms pills [homeopathic pills for sleeplessness].

How do you deal with jet lag?

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at a destination to get your bearings?
We take a walk with nothing in mind. We usually spend the first half of the first day doing this.

How do you find non-touristy spots?
Blogs, walking a lot! We also ask our customers and friends of friends for advice.

How do you approach local cuisine?
I research it before going on a trip. In many places, most street food is great, in others, it largely stinks. It depends on the place and its traditions. We look for a crowd. If someone has no business, I generally won't buy from that person.

How do you record and take notes on your trip while traveling?
I try to write the day's events at dinner in whatever small notebook I am using at the moment. Since we found the Ideal notebooks in Mexico, they're all I use. We also take as many photos as we can.

How do you keep in touch with others while traveling?
I use e-mail, but I try not to keep up while I'm away since I find it distracting to think about home while in a foreign place.

What sorts of tourist etiquette tips have you picked up?
I never talk people down on a price. If I feel someone is taking advantage of me, I just don't buy from him or her. In certain places, I always factor in a minor markup; after all, we are not locals, and it's O.K. to pay more since, in these cases, we have more. I can't stand travelers who feel it is a necessity to get the lowest possible price from people.

Read on to see John Chatterton and Richie Kohler's top tips >

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