I Was Just Thinking…

. . . about how wealthy people travel compared to the rest of us. Read a copy of Vogue, Vanity Fair, or People magazine and you can see the private jets of movie stars, masters-of-the-universe business titans, and world leaders.

But there are those who can afford any jet in the world who don’t really give a damn. Consider the “Oracle of Omaha,” investor Warren Buffet. With a reported net worth of $72 billion, he flew commercial often before he bought NetJets and could fly on the planes his company leases. (Though he’s never minded flying on the Bombardier BD700-Global Express owned by his card-playing, fellow billionaire buddy, Bill Gates.)

I had a friend who, until his death in 1998, was the world’s largest arms merchant. Sam Cummings was an American billionaire who lived in Monaco and owned a huge ski chalet in Switzerland. His company was headquartered in Manchester, England, and Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington, DC.

He was a non-stop traveler, meeting with world leaders eager to buy weapons from his huge cache of surplus arms. (The author John le Carré followed Cummings to learn about the arms business before he wrote his best-selling novel The Night Manager, which is now a big hit as a six-episode drama on Amazon Prime.)

But unlike the arms merchant in le Carré’s novel, flaunting his wealth was not Cummings’ style. Postcards he sent me were neatly typed, and his words filled all the white space on the postcard.

“You seem to fill every square inch of a postcard,” I once remarked to him.

“I don’t want to waste space,” he said.

“But,” I answered, “what if you don’t have that much to say?”

“Then,” he said, “I will discuss at great length the weather.”

Once, at his cabana on Monte Carlo’s private beach, he wore a new pair of sandals that a friend of ours admired. He told us it was no big deal, that he’d only paid 10 francs for them.

“Ten francs?” said my friend. “Sam, you can afford any sandals—why would you only spend 10 francs?”

“Because,” said Cummings, “I could not buy them for nine francs.”

Not only did he always fly commercially, he always flew in coach with only a carry-on bag. And in the era of stand-by fares, he tried to snare them. He wasn’t a classic cheapskate; he was generous with friends and family but frugal when it came to himself.

I always try to remember Sam Cummings when I’m flying coach. I look around and wonder if maybe someone near me might be a parsimonious billionaire.

Footnote: More curious about Sam Cummings? I wrote several profiles of him—this one  appeared in People in 1985. For an earlier, much longer article—the one that got me interested in meeting him in Monaco—see this 1970 Sports Illustrated article by Edwin Shrake with the great title, “The Merchant of Menace.”


Short Takes

    • State Department passport offices are opening slowly across the county under a three-step plan. Phase One means employees are returning to work to deal with life-and-death travel matters. Phase Two means more employees are beginning to attack the backlog of passport renewal requests. Phase Three is a return to normalcy. Look here to see how the nearest passport office you is doing. (None of them are in Phase Three.
    • The company that supplied American Airlines with nuts, GNS Foods, opens a store at its factory in Arlington, TX, to sell 87,000 pounds of nuts that the airline can’t use right now. Among the choices: mixed nuts served to first-class passengers and their “Aloha blend” served on flights to Hawaii. You can buy ‘em here.
    • No more in-flight entertainment devices will be handed out on Alaska Airlines, though if you have your own entertainment device, streaming media will still be available. Alaska says keeping portable screens is too big a job to sterilize, but the airline will also save money by removing a lot of weight from a plane.
    • Southwest Airlines notices passengers increasingly bringing their own liquor on board flights. It’s always been against FAA regulations to consume you own booze on airplanes, but Southwest is putting a warning in its standard boarding announcements in case you don’t read this newsletter.


The Clorox Situation

Maybe, like I have, you’ve spent months searching store shelves for containers of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes. They’re not quite unicorns, because every once in a while, you’ll get lucky and find one or two. And for travelers, they’re highly coveted because those wipes are perfect for wiping down seatbelt buckles and horizontal surfaces on planes as well as TV remote controls, door handles, and other items in hotel rooms.

But despite the Clorox folks running their factories around the clock, the company can’t keep up with demand. And it pains me to report there’s no relief on the horizon. Clorox told analysts this week that it doesn’t think it’ll be able to catch up with demand until sometime in 2021.

“Given the fact that cold and flu season sits in the middle of the year, and then we expect the pandemic to be with us for the entirety of the year, it will take the full year to get up to the supply levels that we need to be at,” Clorox President and CEO-elect Linda Rendle said. The company controls about 45% of the market in disinfectant wipes, and its sales rose 22% in the second quarter of this year.

Footnote: Also, like I have, you’ve read a dozen or more articles on how to keep your surroundings clean while traveling. But I doubt you’ve thought of some of the things Mike Manninen has thought of. He’s the co-founder of Hälsa Foods that makes dairy-free yogurt, and so far this year he’s taken 33 flights (four of them overseas) and stayed in hotels for 160 nights. As an essential worker (the food industry), he is permitted to travel widely.

You can read about his extraordinary efforts to stay away from germs here in this interview he gave CNBC.


David Attenborough Quotes On Travel

“I like animals. I like natural history. The travel bit is not the important bit. The travel bit is what you have to do in order to go and look at animals.”

“I think a major element of jetlag is psychological. Nobody ever tells me what time it is at home.”

— Both by David Attenborough, English broadcaster & natural historian


Feel like you’ve been living in solitary confinement? English science writer, Michael Bond, a specialist in human behavior and author of a new book titled From Here to There, studied how important movement and travel is to our sanity and happiness. And how to use your mind to overcome ennui while staying at home.



And when can we go to Europe again? Edward Piegza, the charismatic founder of Classic Journeys, shares his global view of travel. And we’ll see how he answers that question.

Please register here to join me and both guests online at my free webinar Thursday at noon PACIFIC. You’ll get a reminder before the event.

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