Geoffrey Kent of Abercrombie & Kent on the Trips that Changed his Life
As the founder and CEO of luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, Geoffrey Kent has seen more countries than most people hope to visit in three lifetimes.
Kent grew up in Africa and went on his first safari at age three—and thus began his passion for travel. In his new book, SAFARI: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer (on sale Aug. 11), he recounts the trips that impacted his life, using old diaries as the building blocks. “It’s been cathartic seeing it all,” says Kent, who returned to his first office in Nairobi, a four-story walk-up in a rundown neighborhood, while researching the memoir. Here, the man who has been called “Indiana Jones-meets-James Bond” shares his five most memorable trips.
On the Road at 16
After a fight with my father, I reacted by telling him I was going to motorbike to Cape Town, 3,000 miles away. He asked me if I had a plan, and I said, “No,” and stormed out of the dining room. My mother slipped me 200 Euros, and I went to Nairobi and bought a sleeping bag, biltong, and raisins, and off I went. On the first day, I hit a sandy spot and fell off, burning my arm with the exhaust. I didn’t dare go back to my parents, so I found a nearby farm and stayed and worked there for a few weeks. A series of other challenges—and a little guidance from a few of my parents’ friends along the route—led me to the Ambassador Hotel in Salisbury in South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where I spent my first-ever night in a hotel. There were marble bathrooms and soft sheets, and I thought, “This will be my life: adventure by day, and luxury by night.”
South America in 10 Days
I took a trip with [CEO of DreamWorks Animation] Jeffrey Katzenberg, and we crammed as much as possible into 10 days. We did the Galapagos, staying at a private home and taking daily boat trips to surrounding islands. Then we went to Iquitos in Peru and boarded a ship on the upper Amazon, where we saw an anaconda, and caught and released crocodiles. From there it was on to Machu Picchu, to hike the last part of the Inca trail. We ended in Torres del Paine in Patagonia. This trip inspired my idea for Intrepid Expeditions, new trips I will be planning. The idea is that no more than 20 people will go on journeys of 10 days or fewer by private jet, helicopter, etc. to the furthest corners of the earth. A few examples are seeing Emperor penguins in Antarctica and sleeping at the South Pole, and searching for the Northern Lights in Iceland, Greenland, and Lapland.
Finding Inspiration in Botswana
I went to Botswana in 1969, and there was nothing there but a little dirt airstrip. One day in 1997, I received a call from Prince Charles, who is a very close friend. He told me about Princess Diana being tragically killed, and he was very distressed and asked me to take Prince Harry on a trip. We leaked a story that we were going to Tanzania, and in the meantime, we went to Maun, Botswana. We had an amazing time, and this is when I started to wonder why I hadn’t brought travelers there. This is the trip that inspired me to launch Sanctuary Retreats. There are currently 15 lodges and camps in Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. These are luxury properties, but they’re built in a way that if we had to remove them, nobody would know they had ever been there.
The Beauty of Antarctica
I’d done a trip with a little ship that didn’t handle the 70-foot waves of the Drake Channel very smoothly. More recently, I took our new expedition ship, Le Boreal, which is big and fast, and you don’t feel the waves. Antarctica is just so pristine. Seeing the whales and penguins up close, visiting the ice stations, and swimming in the hot pools was incredible. It’s hard to describe the beauty. This trip was a life changer.
Around the World in a Private Jet
I was reading a book by Steve Jobs, and in it he talks about how you can’t build a brand by service alone. I realized then that I had to create a product that nobody else could offer. I got out a map and looked at destinations without any direct flights, homing in on unusual places. Then I started thinking of an itinerary and came up with Miami to the upper Amazon to Easter Island to Samoa to Papua New Guinea to Bali to Sri Lanka to Madagascar to Masai Mara to Monte Carlo to New York. My executive team didn’t think I was serious. Everyone said it would never work because there are no five-star hotels, and I said, “If I go on it, maybe it’ll sell.” And it sold out.