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Epic Explorations: Talking to Tom Marchant, Owner of Black Tomato

Tom Marchant is the founding director of our partner Black Tomato, the travel company—with offices in New York and London—that specializes in putting together tailor-made, exclusive travel experiences around the world.

Tom has lived in Moscow, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires, and has traveled extensively: he’s hitched rides on fishing boats in the South China Sea and been chased by alligators in the Brazilian jungle. We asked him a few questions about how he gets to really know a destination, how he unplugs, and what trends he is seeing in the travel world.

What are some of your favorite destinations? Where are you dying to go this year?

That’s a hard one. I have a very long list of favorite destinations. I went to Ethiopia last year. It’s unlike anywhere I have ever experienced, an amazing fusion of African and Arabian cultures. Baía dos Golfinhos, in Brazil, has incredible beaches—and it’s where my wife and I got the idea to start Beach Tomato [a beach themed travel, fashion, and beauty website]. At the moment, this is the trip I’d love to take next.

When you travel, how do you get to know a place once you’re there? How do you get beneath the tourist surface?

I think everyone has their own way of exploring but I like to combine using key recommendations from people I meet on the trip with getting completely lost. The best experiences I have ever had have been the result of being shamelessly inquisitive—asking a cab driver where he goes for peace and quiet in the city, asking the owner of a vintage record store where he goes to see live music—and so on. At Black Tomato we have a network of ‘informers’ all over the world from whom we get tips so our clients can experience the little and less publicized insights of a destination.

Big Sur

Tell us about Black Tomato’s new Epic Weekends. How did it come together?

We launched Epic Tomato about 18 months ago and found that many clients wanted to take real pioneering style adventures—going where no one had gone before (our World First series), or really taking time to immerse themselves in the terrain of their choice mountains, rivers, jungles. Epic Tomato is for people who really want to see the raw world. Epic Weekends spun out of this because in our busy world people don’t always have the opportunity to take weeks off.

Do you ever unplug from everything while traveling? Where’s the best place for that?
I always try to unplug. The worst is when you see people traveling and they are attached to their i-berries. It’s amazing to me how people travel half way across the world to sit looking at the same screen they carry around with them at home. Taking out your headphones, keeping your eyes peeled, and immersing yourself in another culture is the only way to really see it. You can do that anywhere, in a city, on a beach—it’s an attitude rather than a location.

Tell us a little about more about your new magazine, Pinch.

PINCH is the online cultural lifestyle magazine that we created to explore the connection between travel and peoples’ passions and lifestyle choices. At the heart of it is the recognition that very often it is our other loves that move us to get on the road, be it heading to a city to visit an exhibition celebrating local creativity, seeking out a hotel that captures a perfect design aesthetic, or journeying to far-flung corners of the world in search of wondrous, soul uplifting cuisine. Travel is so often the manifestation of other passions. On PINCH you’ll find editorial on global design, culturefoodstyle and the arts—all aimed at giving you that PINCH of inspiration to head out and explore this curious and captivating world of ours.

Reunion

What Black Tomato destination are you most excited about?

Tough question. I’m a bit of a foodie so our new trips to Vietnam and Cambodia are really exciting for me. They itineraries take you around local markets with incredible chefs before you learn to prepare recipes or they might take you on a scooter ride around Ho Chi Minh so you can truly discover where the locals eat. Also Reunion [above] is relatively untouched by tourists so I would love to see that before it becomes popular. I’ve never been to Costa Rica so I’m eyeing up this trip at the moment.

What travel trends do you seeing coming around the corner?

There are some interesting trends on the horizon, like the un-hotel—people lending out their apartments when they are traveling. Airbnb led the way but One Fine Stay have taken it to a new level. Traveling to acquire a new skill is certainly on the rise, and people also taking real time out to go on proper trips, be they epic adventures or year long honeymoons. Also retro travel, meaning retracing the steps of a great explorer. This emerging travel trend is not just about experiencing a different destination, but a different era. Nostalgic re-interpretations of classic journeys have inspired a new wave of discovery, influenced by classic literature as an antidote to the decades of over-processed package travel of former generations.

What mementos have you brought home from your travels?

I have a real interest in cultural identities so I tend to bring back mementos that are related to what is worn in a place. Like the lip ring or metal bands a tribe in Ethiopia gave me, or the incredibly intricate and beautifully crafted bracelets I bought from a back street in Delhi, or the Russian shepka hat I bought when I moved back from living in Moscow.

Photos courtesy of Black Tomato.