Travel tips from Coconut Cartel CEO Dani Zig to stay stress-free, safe, and supremely satisfied wherever you go next.
At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And when we can again, we want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all of our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end hacks, time-saving tips, and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.
Dani Zig and her brother started Coconut Cartel in an unlikely way: smuggling coconuts back from the coastline of El Salvador to Miami Beach, then selling them to hotels and restaurants as a quirky treat. Quickly their branded coconuts became a flashy must-have around town. The pair went legit as importers, focusing on Central American products, before adding a custom spirit to the company’s portfolio: a single-origin Guatemalan rum aged in oak for as long as 12 years before being cut down to 80 proof with fresh coconut water.
Before the pandemic, the 28-year-old co-founder and chief executive officer logged 120,000 to 150,000 miles in the air, usually on American Airlines. “It’s not a popular answer, but Miami is a major hub for American,” says Zig, who lives in Coconut Grove with her husband and two dogs. “I can get to anywhere in the world easily. It’s a convenience thing.”
Now she follows his example whenever she hops a plane. “He’s been working in the hospital through the pandemic and never got sick, thankfully, because he was always in an N95 mask. So I wear one from the moment I step foot into the airport to the moment I’m out, with a surgical mask on top.”
Below are Zig’s other tips for staying healthy, safe, and satisfied on the road.
Travel with this decoy to dodge street crime
I grew up in Central America, between El Salvador and Guatemala, my whole childhood. There was a time there when it was really common to be held up at a stoplight, and robbers wanted your iPhone. That was a big thing. So I kept an extra used one in my cup holder. If somebody came knocking on your door for your phone, you just tossed that over and that was your decoy. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. [Editor’s note: It also works with a Rolex.]
I still do it when I travel. I pack an old cellphone I no longer use, and that I’ve wiped, and put it in a case with a little cash. The idea is, if you ever get held up, you can just hand this one over instead. That should divert the situation and not leave you with your actual wallet gone, left in a foreign country without any resources.
The one travel mug worth packing
I’ve been bringing my Vinglacé mug with me everywhere lately—whatever is inside is always going to be an optimal temperature. I’ll have a waiter serve me wine in it, and it holds my water cold all night. It works great for planes, too, as it helps limit plastic. It doesn’t break easily, either. The Yeti is great, but it’s all metal, the inside and outside. The Vinglacé is metal on the outside but glass on the inside, so it feels much nicer when you put it to your lips.
I’m considering turning all glassware in my house to these, I’m not even kidding. I can’t drink out of normal glassware anymore because, at least here in Florida, it’s so hot that your cocktail or whatever you’re drinking—the ice is going to melt almost immediately.
Remember that Central America isn’t a cultural monolith
Central America to me is equally as culturally diverse and interesting as going all the way to Southeast Asia. And I say this to people all the time: If you’re traveling two days to get to Thailand, you can travel on a three-hour flight from Dallas to either San Salvador or Guatemala and have an equally diverse and interesting trip.
El Salvador I would recommend if you’re into surfing—big, big, really, really important surf spot worldwide.
Guatemala has so much to offer, from ancient ruins to hiking to active volcanoes to crazy lakes in volcanic craters. We have Mayan culture there, and most people are of Mayan descent. The food there is not your typical rice, beans, plantains, like you would have in Miami, with Cuban food. And the Spanish colonialism mixes in with the Mayan. Every day when you’re driving round Guatemala, you’ll have a WTF moment, where you see something that you’ve never seen before. I mean that in a good way.
Forget Global Entry—there’s a free alternative that might be even better
I feel like this service goes under the radar, but it’s amazing: Mobile Passport. It’s better than Global Entry sometimes. You literally download the app and do your customs clearance while you’re on the plane—like, when you’re taxiing at the airport—and just walk through. You don’t have to sign up for anything. I don’t understand why no one knows about it. And it’s free.
When it comes to booking travel, Grandma has it figured out
I’ve traveled with Abercrombie & Kent to Myanmar. Before that trip, I thought a travel agency like that was what my grandmother took to travel. But you know what I realized? My grandmother has been doing this right all along. Why wouldn’t I do this all the time?
We stayed in some of the best hotels there, and when I did the numbers comparing doing the trip with a travel agency and not, it wasn’t more expensive [to use a travel specialist]. If you want to stay in good hotels, the cost usually works out the same, and you have everything set up for you on a golden platter: air-conditioned vehicles waiting for you, little towelettes to wash your hands. We went with them to Cambodia, too, and at Angkor Wat, you go in through the back—you don’t have to wait in a huge line. All these programs have perks like that.
Just make sure you choose a trip that offers flexibility, as a younger traveler; you don’t want to get stuck on a trip where you have to do the itinerary or else.
Make a pilgrimage to Copenhagen to try these drinks
In Copenhagen there’s a distillery that’s really worth checking out, called Empirical Spirits. It’s run by two Noma alumni; one of them was head of the fermentation [division], I think. They left to create what they call a flavor company, not a distillery with spirits that are noncategorial—not a vodka, a gin, or a rum, or whatever. They created their own technology, too, to distill at low temperatures, and they claim the fact that they don’t heat anything up allows them to pull flavors from anything. They have a tasting room; it’s in the Refshaleoen neighborhood, near this great restaurant called La Banchina.
The surefire way to becoming a confident traveler—and an adult
For some reason, my mom allowed me to travel to Europe with my best friend when I was 16 years old, unsupervised. We were going to spend the summer learning French at a school in Antibes. We did not go to school. But you know what? I feel like I can go anywhere in the world by myself, and I’m going to figure it out and be OK, because of that trip.
I remember one night where we ended up getting stuck in a town, because we missed the last train. What do you do when you’re 16 and you have maybe $100 on you, and you have to figure out your way in a place that you don’t know? Those moments of feeling uncomfortable, and not having the entire thing planned out, have been so useful to me for the rest of my life.
Yes, it might be a little scary to let your young kid travel by themselves, but they’re going to learn huge life lessons. Maybe do it at 18, when you’re legal: Get out there, travel by yourself or with a friend, and you’ll learn so much.
The best thing to buy on the road is this practical souvenir
I’m a hat collector, and I typically buy one anywhere that matters. The first was when I was a teenager, in New York, on my first trip there. I was so fascinated by being able to walk around the streets and do whatever you want, having grown up in Central America [where you can’t do that]. I spent pretty much all the money I had on a hat, somewhere in SoHo, when I was 16 or 17 years old. If you’re going to a sunny destination, buy one when you get there—it’s healthy to cover your face.