Being half Irish and half Egyptian, Dervla Louli’s family would regularly bring her to Egypt, Ireland, London and other cities growing up — travel has always been an integral part of her life. Little did she know it would eventually play an important role in her career as well. After being a top editor in Hong Kong for publications such as Sassy and Tatler, she combined her curating talent with her love of traveling — and Compare Retreats, the premier online booking portal and magazine for the best luxury wellness retreats in the world, was born. We recently caught up with Dervla to talk dream destinations, packing skills and challenges of being an entrepreneur.
Have you always been interested in traveling growing up?
Yes, I’m half Irish, half Egyptian, was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, and went to boarding school and college in Ireland from the age of 13 onwards. I realise now how lucky I was to have parents who introduced me to places, people and cultures I never would have otherwise known when I was young! The first time they brought me to Hong Kong was when I was just eleven months old, and they have great stories about that. We are very close, so I fly back to Ireland frequently to see them or we meet up in different places depending on our schedules.
What about traveling do you think attracts you to it?
50% of my travel itinerary revolves around seeing my close friends and family, so it’s the promise of endless chats, late nights and lots of laughs. The other 50% involves travelling for work to retreats in the Compare Retreats collection or discovering new places that I’ve never been before. I’m very attracted to cities and I create extensive Google maps with incredibly long hit lists of spots to stay, eat, shop, workout and discover. I thrive on having a lot of things to do and places to discover in a short space of time, and I have no problem doing things by myself, like going to a show I’ve been dying to see or checking out a restaurant solo. I also love animals, being outdoors, markets, art and the more earthy and the holistic side of travel, so I feel right at home hunting for the best healer in Bali, learning how to play Polo in Argentina, hunting for treasures in Khan Khalili or going scuba diving in the Philippines.
What inspired you to start Compare Retreats?
I started Compare Retreats because I believe that prevention is the best cure for many ailments. My mission is to inspire and motivate people to travel in a way that improves their mental and physical wellbeing.
What is the most difficult thing about entrepreneurship?
I tend to see obstacles as opportunities and I feel incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can build my dreams. That said, the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is trying to create something from nothing. It’s very easy to have a good idea, it’s very difficult to bring that vision to life, and the heady mix of wanting to drive revenue but stay true to your original idea can be toxic because the two targets don’t always align. The best thing about entrepreneurship is the support network of other entrepreneurs you discover when you start doing your own thing.
What is the most memorable place you have been to? (Elaborate on why?)
Malagan boutique golf resort and spa hotel Finca Cortesin has a snow cave that’s -12 degrees Celsius. I hate the cold with a passion, yet it’s my favourite place in the entire world. The de Gournay covered blue bar at the hotel comes in at a close second.
Where have you yet to go that’s on your to-go list?
Aro Hā wellness retreat in New Zealand, Taryn Toomey’s Retreatments, the Hoffman Institute in California and the Hippocrates Health Institute in California. Also some other usual bucket-list items like seeing the Northern Lights, going to Burning Man, doing a Safari in Africa, etc.
What is one of the most impressive/interesting retreats you have come across?
Every single retreat that I rate highly can be found on the Compare Retreats booking platform. We only have the best retreats in the world and only list the top 0.05% of retreats. I honestly can’t list my favourite out of all of them because they’re all incredible. I’m an editor at heart, and the bar to be listed on the platform is really high, so they’re all fantastic.
How do you pack for a trip? Any tips?
I vary between both sides of the spectrum. I’m either incredibly organised with a meticulous to-pack list and pack the perfect amount, or else I’m packing three hours before my flight and I overpack. It just depends on how busy I am in the lead-up to a trip. My husband, boarding school friends and family will all say that I’m a notorious last-minute overpacker. My only packing tip is this: once you have your passport, wallet, iPhone and laptop, don’t stress too much about the rest.
How do you plan outfits for a trip?
Usually quite in advance because I call in clothes and accessories for the trips I do for Compare Retreats as we often shoot on location. I love writing lists with pen and paper in a leatherbound notebook that goes with me everywhere. I write out the days, events, locations, outfits, etc. to make sure I don’t forget anything and then just add to the list as I remember things I want to bring. I have a bit of a formula now for different locations which helps.
Favorite season of the year to travel?
I travel all year round, but you can’t beat Europe in the summer or Ireland in June. I’m in Ireland at the moment (it’s June) and it doesn’t get dark until after 10pm so evenings are often spent walking on the beach before bed. I really hate the cold so anywhere warm during winter is also a winner in my books.
If you could have superpower what would it be?
Definitely travelling at the speed of light so that I never have to spend 15 hours on a flight again just to get to New York from Hong Kong.
If you could magically transport yourself to some place, where would that be?
I grew up visiting the pyramids every year and they are magnificent. I wish I could go back to Cairo as a teenager so I could stockpile on memories again from pre-revolution times.
Any destinations this summer?
I have trips to Ireland, England, Italy, Scotland, Phuket and Singapore planned. But I’m most excited about a private retreat I’m attending in Morocco with my yoga teachers in November.
What’s next for you?
The Compare Retreats magazine is in English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, so now we’re working on making the booking portal trilingual too. We’re also exploring new English and Chinese social media platforms. After the recent Facebook and YouTube fiascos, it’s time to diversify.
What is your go-to room service meal?
Caesar Salad, every time.
(Photo credits in order of appearance: Wandersnap, Nikolas K, Brandie Rasch)