SCOUTING REPORT 2008

Travel Lessons From Armenia Nercessian de Oliviera

As cofounder and president of Novica.com, Armenia Nercessian de Oliviera has spent time in Ghana, Indonesia, and Thailand—and little at her home in Rio de Janeiro.

By Summar Ghias, Tuesday, Aug 19, 2008, 1:48 PM

Armenia Nercessian de Oliviera

How has your job changed the way you travel?
Usually, people who travel for business travel somewhere and then come back "home." But since I began opening new international offices for Novica and regularly revisiting those regional offices to help search for new artists and artisans, I've spent most of my time going directly from one country to another, not seeing my home for six months at a time. This year, however, I have slowed my travels down a bit, and plan to spend a little more time at home in Brazil, working closely with the Novica office here.

How much do you plan your trips in advance?
I generally plan my trips two to three weeks in advance, providing time to buy tickets, make reservations, or get a visa for a particular country if needed. Sometimes, though, I have to travel on just a few days' notice or adjust my schedule and itinerary in the course of a journey.

What are some packing tips you've picked up?
It's essential to carry a complete change of clothes in your carry-on. And always remember to bring an appropriate adaptor that will accommodate your cell phone and computer chargers. I pack at least half a dozen attractive shawls that are suitable for different occasions. Wearing them can replace the need for five entire outfits.

What do you wear on the plane?
I wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and I always bring with me a pair of slippers, a cozy alpaca-wool blanket, a scarf to add or remove as the temperature changes, and a good book. I sleep very well in planes at night, but if I'm taking a daytime flight I generally read a book, or, better yet, begin a conversation with the passenger next to me—a very Brazilian thing to do!

How do you find non-touristy spots?
For Novica, wandering to remote places in search of fantastic artisans and unique handcrafts is part of what I do. This naturally takes me to many non-touristy spots. I also enjoy renting a car in a new place, and then driving around with the intention of getting lost, discovering tiny villages, wandering through local markets, and so forth.

How do you approach local cuisine?
It's one of the most attractive aspects of travel! Sometimes, however, it is not easy to find truly authentic local cuisine in restaurants, because they often set their menus to cater to foreigners. The most exquisite dishes I have ever tried have been home-cooked meals served when I have been a guest in the homes of our various artisans. I ask local friends for recommendations. I also enjoy dining on street food. In Bali, for example, a street vendor made the best satay I have ever experienced. I'm not saying that all street food is good or safe to eat. But when the foods are prepared fresh right in front of you, and when you can see that any perishable ingredients are indeed stored, handled, and cooked well, and if many locals are also eating right there, then I say, "Go ahead, enjoy!"

How do you record and take notes on your trip while traveling?
I don't keep travel journals, but my observations and comments are recorded in e-mails I send to friends and family and in company reports that I write for Novica.

What sorts of tourist etiquette tips have you picked up?
It is important to always remain open-minded about other cultures and customs, and respectful of locals and their beliefs. You should learn about a region or country before you visit, to know whether you should shake hands or bow, to learn which of our common gestures may be inappropriate in another culture, and to learn at least a few essential phrases in the local language. Above all, remember to use the most powerful tool for communicating in any country in the world: the smile.

Read on to see Nat and Rachael Lopes's top tips >