We chat to celebrity Sami Lukis about her exciting new travel business, her top travel tips and get an update a year on from the LifeStyle YOU documentary, Sami's Baby.
1) Why did you decide to start your fantastic ‘New York with Sami’ travel business?
I first started thinking about the business while I was in New York on holiday. I realised there must be so many other women out there like me who love to travel, but don’t always have someone to travel with. It can be frustrating when you really want to take a holiday, but all your married friends are committed to holidays with the kids and family, and your single friends might not have the time or cash to join you.
I’ve spent a lot of time in New York, and I believe it is THE perfect travel destination for women. It’s got the best of everything we love … shopping, sightseeing, shows … and the social side of the city is incredible, with so many great bars & restaurants. It’s impossible to get bored here. Plus, no other city has a department store with it’s own entire shoe floor - complete with express elevators and it’s own “post code”.
There are other women-only tours – but they seem to be mostly either for seniors, or yoga-style retreats where you go away to detox or chill out. My New York tours are for modern, independent, energetic women who want to squeeze the absolute most out of their holiday and fill every minute with fabulous experiences.
One of the things I really love about this city is the New York State of Mind. It really does exist. Every time you visit, you just feel fabulous.
2) What kind of women go on your gorgeous getaways and who is it recommended for?
This trip is for female travellers who have the time, money and desire to take a holiday – but don’t want to travel alone.
The concept was initially going to for single women, but my married girlfriends quickly convinced me to expand my target market. They convinced me that there are plenty of married women and busy mums, desperately craving some much needed “me-time”. After years of taking care of the kids and the husband and the household … they need a break!
My tours are for women aged 30+. My first group included ladies aged 30-50 years of age - single, married, divorced – some with kids. The tours are designed for groups of around 10, so it feels more like we’re on a fabulous holiday with a fun group of girlfriends, rather than a boring big generic bus tour.
I organise at least one sightseeing activity each day for the group (eg Outdoor Yoga in Central Park, Harlem Gospel Brunch, Brooklyn Bridge walk, Bloomingdales Beauty Master Class), but there’s also a great deal of flexibility with the itinerary so you can go off and do your own thing in the afternoon … or shop … or pair up with one of the other ladies and go check out a museum together. Check out photos in the gallery below!
There’s a really wonderful dynamic and energy when women come together in a group like this. It’s an “instant connection” that comes from the excitement of being in a new city together. And that dynamic often leads to the creation of many new, life-long friendships. One of the women wrote me an email after the first trip saying : “I didn’t expect to make so many new and wonderful friends. What a fantastic group of women! I enjoyed spending time with the group and I will forever hold these women close to my heart because they were a part of something so special for me”.
One of the ladies from our first tour in August even organised a reunion lunch a few months later. Ladies from Melbourne and the Gold Coast were so keen to catch up with the group that they even flew to Sydney just to come to that lunch!
3) I heard a rumour that shopping is actually not your favourite thing to do in New York ? How can that be true ?
It’s true. Shopping is my SECOND favourite thing to do in Manhattan. Number one on the list is … eating! The food in this city is orgasmic. Seriously. Every time I visit, there’s a bunch of new restaurants to try. I love it. And you don’t need to spend a fortune to eat well.
So I’ve made sure the nightly dining experience is an important feature of my tours. Each night I have reservations for the group at New York’s coolest bars & restaurants. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for the women to get together and share the experiences of their day. So often when you have an amazing “travel moment”, you just want to share it with someone … or brag about the designer handbag you just scored at 75% off (and trust me, that kind of thing really DOES happen in NY). The social / dining aspect of my tour is just as important as the sightseeing and the shopping. I mean, who wants to be sitting alone in their hotel room eating room service, in a city like New York!
Asking me to list my favourite places to eat in New York is like asking a mother to choose her favourite child … it’s impossible! But here’s a list to get started:
Torrisi Italian Specialities is one of the best food experiences I’ve had in NY in the last 12 months. Every mouthful was simply incredible.
Café Habana in Soho is home style latin food. It’s small, super casual, uber-cool (Lenny Kravitz shot a music video here) and it’s always packed. The Grilled corn Mexican style with chili powder, lime & cheese is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G!
BABBO is one of Mario Batali’s restaurants in the West Village. It’s unbelievably good Italian food.
La Esquina in Soho is great for late night drinks and dining. It’s great Mexican food and the Jalepeno Margaritas are dangerously moor-ish! This place is so cool it has a secret entrance. I hear Madonna is a regular.
Beauty & Essex has a secret entrance through the back of a Pawn Shop. Very cool. And the ladies bathrooms has it’s own Champagne bar. Yep, they actually serve you bubbles while you’re waiting to pee. Genius!
Buddakan in the Meatpacking District is a tourist favourite because the main dining room featured in the first Sex & The City movie (Carrie & Big’s rehearsal dinner was shot here). But the food is consistently good - I dream about the Edamame & Truffle Oil Dumplings.
Fred’s at Barneys is great for the chopped salads AND the people watching. This is where the REAL housewives of New York “do lunch”.
Sylvia’s in Harlem is an unforgettable experience. Go for Sunday morning brunch and you get live gospel music with your Grits, Collared greens & Southern Fried Chicken.
As far as drinking goes … I like to escape the concrete jungle and enjoy the view from one of the cities many rooftop bars during the summer. Some of the most popular are Press Lounge, 230 Fifth, The Roof Garden at The Met and La Birreria.
3) Where are your favourite places to shop in New York?
There isn’t enough space on this website for me to list my favourite places to shop – so here are just a few :
Soho– all the big name chain stores are there (Zara, H&M, Topshop ) together with a mix of smaller designer boutiques. Wander the cobblestone streets of Soho, pop in to Dean & Deluca to grab a coffee … and you’ll feel like a local.
Century 21 – Ridiculous bargains. RIDICULOUS. If you don’t mind battling the crowds, you’ll literally be laughing out loud at the cheap as chips prices.
Woodbury Common – the biggest & best premium outlet mall I’ve ever been to – all my favourite brands have outlet stores here. You can pick up a DVF wrap dress for under $200 … Jimmy Choos at 50% off … Coach bags for $100 … you get the idea.
Anthropologie – some call this place New York’s favourite store for women. A great selection of clothes, accessories, homewares. The stuff you won’t find anywhere else.
ABC carpet & home – 7 levels of homeware heaven. Stroll through and be amazed (there’s a fab restaurant downstairs to stop for lunch as well – it’s always packed with locals).
Bloomingdales / Saks – I love browsing the women’s wear floors in these iconic department stores – there is so much stock, and plenty of labels we don’t get at home.
4) Any plans to expand the business and visit other destinations?
Fingers crossed for a tour of Europe in the summer of 2013. Although the Itinerary would probably revolve around my unhealthy obsession with stalking George Clooney in Lake Como. Would that be inappropriate ? Any takers ?
5) What’s the most rewarding part of conducting the tours?
The most rewarding thing about the business so far has been the feedback I’ve received from my customers. Their comments about the tour really showed me that my “vision” for the business was absolutely realised.
One of the women on my first tour said it was the best money she had ever spent on herself! I couldn’t ask for better feedback than that!
Another one of the ladies (married mother of three) actually burst into tears on the last night at dinner, telling me it had been a life-changing experience for her. It was the first time she had put herself first in about 20 years.
Another recently divorced lady told me she was so grateful to have the opportunity to enjoy a holiday like this with other wonderful women, because all of her friends are still married and she has no single friends to travel with.
Knowing that I provided these fabulous ladies with such an enjoyable, memorable experience was the best reward.
6) Being such a well-season traveller, do you have any NY travel tips for LifeStyle YOU fans?
Cram the absolute most into every day. This city has an incredible energy and it’s so easy to be sucked in. I remember one of the ladies on my first tour asked before we left if the hotel had a pool. And I thought … who goes to NY to sit beside a pool ?? Go to a health retreat in Thailand if you want that kind of holiday.
My tour is for ladies who can’t sit still. Sure there’s downtime, but my itinerary is designed to give you a really amazing guided tour of this incredible city in just 7 days. Any traveller who’s ever been to New York will tell you that no matter how much time you spend there, it’s never enough. I’ve been NYC’s # 1 tourist for the good part of a decade and I still discover amazing new experiences every single time I go.
PS. The hotel we stayed in did not have a pool. And the aforementioned lady didn’t miss it for a second.
7) We’ve received so much positive feedback since Sami’s baby went to air last year and had so many requests for a part 2! Is there any update or message for all our viewers?
Despite giving it a “red hot go” (as they say) I’m not pregnant … yet. I’m not surprised that it hasn’t happened – the IVF doctor did tell me that my fertility was already in “rapid decline” when I turned 40. And now I’m about to turn 42. And single … again. But I’m not giving up. I still hear stories about a lucky few women who manage to fall pregnant in their 40s. I hope I’m one of the lucky ones. Maybe I just haven’t found the right “donor” yet.
In the meantime I’ve got my fur-baby (Lolli) and my new baby (my new travel business) to take care of. And that takes a huge amount of time & energy. And whilst I would love nothing more than to be a mum (my body literally aches for a baby every single day) in the meantime I’m trying to focus on the upside of being single and childless. Like being able to take spontaneous holidays to NY.
I would like to say a massive thank you for the continued messages of support and all of the incredibly kind emails / letters / tweets I have been receiving on a daily basis since the show went to air. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the reaction to the show. I think it really identified a pretty intense emotional issue for a lot of women – an issue many women don’t always feel comfortable talking about. The recurring message I get is one of thanks for my “bravery” in making the show. I don’t consider it brave at all. I’m just telling it like it is. And hopefully getting the message out there to younger women that fertility is something you really need to start thinking seriously about in your 20s. Don’t wait til it’s too late.
Find out more at www.samilukis.com