In other lands

Faraway Lands: Ally Betker, Away’s Editorial Director, On Sri Lanka, Lisbon, and Other Travel Favorites

As the Editorial Director at global lifestyle brand, Away, Ally Betker acts as Editor-in-Chief of Here Magazine, which celebrates destinations around the world and the voices of creative and influential people who live there. Since joining the brand, Ally has traveled quite a bit—trips to date include Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Nicaragua, India, Stockholm, Lisbon, Hawaii, and Cartagena—always in search of unique places, and their in-the-know locals who can share an authentic perspective that will resonate with the modern traveler. We sat down with the globetrotting editor to hear about her most memorable trips and travel favorites, including her cheat sheet to Sri Lanka and Lisbon (take notes!).

Favorite work trip and why.

I’m not sure if “favorite” is the right word here, but I went to Stockholm to shoot Rashida Jones for the cover of our first ever issue of Here. It was 48 hours before we were closing the issue, it was raining, and I had food poisoning, but it was such a great experience to be part of building something from scratch and seeing it come to life. After surviving that, I thought to myself, okay, I think I can make a magazine.

When it comes to vacation, do you prefer to plan everything in advance or improvise as you go?

I used to be very stringent about planning an itinerary in advance, but traveling as much as I do for work has forced me to let go a little bit. I have my list of highlights that I definitely want to hit, and I usually make a few restaurant reservations ahead of time, but then I plan each day as I go—leaving plenty of room to get distracted, change my mind, or make new friends along the way.

Hotel Santa Clara 1728

Name your three favorite design hotels.

Santa Clara 1728 in Lisbon, Portugal, which was designed by architect Manuel Aires Mateus and is an ode to minimalism; Raas Devigarh in Udaipur, India—a breathtaking former palace that’s been converted into castle of comfort; and Casa San Agustín in Cartagena, which has the most heavenly pool I’ve ever dipped my toes in.

City, mountains or beach?

Always the beach—there’s something about the energy of surf towns all over the world that puts me in my most relaxed state.

Carry-on or checked luggage?

Even if it’s a three-week trip to somewhere with sub-zero temperatures, I will never ever ever check a bag.

Favorite piece of luggage?

Away’s Bigger Carry-On because it fits in the overhead and still magically holds everything you need, plus the built-in removable battery that charges your phone is nothing short of life-changing. It’s like the Mary Poppins bag of luggage.

Sri Lanka is a small but powerful country that’s rebuilding itself after an almost 30-year civil war, and so it feels almost trapped in time.

Ceylon Sliders, Sri Lanka

What was the last great trip you took? What were some of the highlights?

My trip to Sri Lanka in December was really special. It’s a small but powerful country that’s rebuilding itself after an almost 30-year civil war, and so it feels almost trapped in time. I would not say it’s for everyone, but if you like being way off the beaten path, and you’re not looking for five-star anything, there is magic to be found there.

Stay: I stayed at the Ceylon Sliders hotel in Weligama—the design is inspired by the grandfather of tropical modernism, Geoffrey Bawa, whose house in Colombo is a must-visit on your way in or out of the country.

Eat: Fort Galle is full of great restaurants like The Fort Printers and Poonie’s Kitchen, but the authentic spots in Weligama have some of the best food I’ve ever eaten: Chef Akila’s Kitchen on the top of a cliff; a makeshift fish stall where you pick out your dinner at Fish Point; a storefront in Galle called Well Kade—meaning “the place by the sea”—which supposedly makes the best curry in the country; and home cooked vegan meals from Welle Gedara Homestay.

See/Do: Tour the Handunugoda Tea Estate to learn about one of Sri Lanka’s biggest exports (the country is the fourth largest tea exporter in the world!), and get a massage at Secret Root Spa. On my next trip—and I will definitely be going back—I’m planning to also go to the east side of the island, where you can safari and see elephants roam freely on the beach. Magic.

What three destinations are on top of your travel bucket list?

Kyoto, Japan; Cape Town, South Africa; and Vancouver, Canada.

What’s always in your carry-on?

Charcoal pills; Muji notebooks; library books; and Jurlique Rosewater Balancing Mist.

What’s your travel uniform?

Wide legged Reformation jeans, high-top Vans, a t-shirt from J.Crew or Rag&Bone, an Urban Outfitters military-style jacket that I’ve had since college, and The Everywhere Bag from Away in Nairobi Twill.

Have any books ever inspired you to travel somewhere?

All of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are the reason that India ended up on my travel wishlist!

As I arrived in Lisbon last year, I felt a connection; it felt so familiar like maybe I had lived there in a former life.


Give us a rundown of one your favorite destinations:

I’m not sure if it is allowed to be a favorite if I’ve only been once, but as soon as I arrived in Lisbon last year, I felt a connection; it felt so familiar like maybe I had lived there in a former life. It’s quite possibly the perfect city, with nearly of all my favorite things in one place: history, charm, energy, a creative scene, incredible food, and the ocean.

Eat at Cervejaria Ramiro, The Decadente, and Dear Breakfast, and grab drinks on Pink Street. Visit LXFactory and the amazing Ler Devagar Bookstore, wander around Alfama, and spend an afternoon at the Berardo Collection Museum.

What’s the best souvenir you ever brought home?

Maybe not the “best,” but the broken foot I brought back from Nicaragua made for a really great story.

Are there any design elements in your home that were inspired by travel or favorite items you’ve brought back from a trip?

My talented friend Vanessa Granda’s graphic photographs of Jaipur are hanging in my living room, and an elephant print duvet cover from that same trip is on my bed.

To you, travel is…

Mind-expanding, confidence-building, and humbling.

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