By Laura Itzkowitz
December 21, 2015
© WENN Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Best known for her role as the fierce and fearless Sargent Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU, Mariska Hargitay splits her time between New York City and Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, actor Peter Hermann and their three children. In addition to her starring role on the hit TV show—one of the longest running shows on television—she runs the Joyful Heart Foundation, which seeks to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, many of whom came forward with their stories after watching her on the show.

This week, she made a surprise appearance at the Centurion Lounge at Laguardia Airport in New York to help spread holiday cheer to American Express cardholders. Between visiting Laguardia and filming at a location outside of Manhattan, she took some time to answer T+L’s questions about her favorite New York restaurant, the benefits of travel, and the destination at the top of her bucket list.

What’s your favorite travel destination?

Italy, Italy, Italy. I just can’t get enough. It somehow feels like a second home to me.

What do you always pack in your carry-on?

Much too much. It always weighs a thousand pounds. I have books at home that I’ve been intending to read, and I’ll put three of them in my carry-on. And then I carry them home again, unread. I also always have way too many chargers and voltage converters and such.

Do you have a favorite bar or restaurant in New York City?

My favorite restaurant is Babbo. I have a lot of really good memories there. I used to live next door when I first moved to New York, and Mario [Batali] used to welcome me home from work with prosciutto and wine. I remember thinking, “Wow, this really is the greatest city in the world!”

On SVU, Olivia doesn’t take much time off to travel and recharge. How do you balance your busy schedule with travel?

Yeah, Olivia definitely isn’t jetting off to any fancy places for the weekend. The nice thing about the SVU schedule is that when we’ve completed another season of chasing perps, we have a good bit of time off in the summer. So I don’t get to do a whole lot of traveling throughout the year, but I definitely make up for it in a big way during the hiatus. Then I’m fried from traveling, and I head back to work.

As part of the Joyful Heart Foundation’s programs, it offers retreats for survivors. Do you think there’s something about travel that can help people dealing with trauma to heal?

Our retreats at Joyful Heart offer a guided, specifically designed time away. With the Joyful Heart retreats, we’ve found that it isn’t so much the distance traveled that makes a difference, it’s more the experience of an environment where healing and the survivor are prioritized. That experience happens even in our urban retreats, where travel is minimal. It’s also important to remember that travel and the notion of “getting away and getting some distance” can be a complex thing for a survivor, certainly for those who are still in a violent relationship, where the idea of leaving for a period of time can take on another dimension entirely, but also for those who are dealing with traumas that are in the past. I certainly agree that the change of surroundings that travel offers is a luxury that can be very good for the soul, but perhaps what it can offer most is a brief respite from the intensities involved in the pursuit of healing—which in itself is a journey, its own kind of travel, if you will.

Was there a trip that changed your life?

My trip to Hawaii, where the idea to start Joyful Heart first came to me.

What is your ultimate bucket list destination?

Bali. It’s a long list, but that’s currently on top.