There are any number of blue-check personalities or stylish friends whose enviable continent-skipping lives you have to mute on the ‘gram from time to time. And then there is Sofia Sanchez de Betak, aka Chufy, whose improbable pace and next-level adventures with her one-year-old daughter Sakura fall so far outside of FOMO’s earthly boundaries that you can only applaud her in between “likes.” The Argentinian-born multilingual polymath — art director, model, travel writer and now fashion designer — calls Paris, Mallorca, Buenos Aires, and, until recently, New York City home.
That’s in part to her own line of work as the creative director and designer of her travel-inspired eponymous fashion label Chufy and that of her husband, Alex de Betak, who produces and choreographs some of the fashion world’s highest profile shows. But in some ways she was born to live a peripatetic lifestyle: As the daughter of daughter of South America’’s most celebrated “travel fixer” Maita Barrenechea, Chufy spent her childhood traveling around the world with her mother as she scouted emerging destinations and off-the-beaten path experiences throughout Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile for her discerning clientele. She has carried on the tradition with what she calls, her “gypsy, hippie” lifestyle into adulthood, and now as a mother of one.
We recently caught up with Sofia in New York and asked her about her philosophy–and hacks–around traveling with her (and without her) child.
We know you grew up traveling with your parents so taking a one-year-old around the world is less daunting to you than most. What’s your philosophy around traveling with babies and children?
If we haven’t traveled to a place, or when we have ideas about things from afar or from an unknown cultural point of view that seems scary or different, it’s easy to have that vertigo feeling when thinking about traveling with a baby. I try to always remind myself and other people that mothers are mothers all over the world, raising their kids with all the same sets of fears and hopes around keeping them safe and fed, giving them good values, loving them. Cultural differences become less pronounced through the lens of motherhood.
How important is it to you to expose your child to other cultures or even experiences closer to home that are outside of your/their comfort zone.
I think it’s good to have a little bit of fear of the unknown and then come out on the other side of that, as we always do. No matter what ideas you might have about a place or a culture, you will almost always be surprised. If you never go anywhere out of fear of disrupting (and anywhere can mean going to different neighborhoods where your kids see people with different backgrounds, eat different foods), you will have a hermetically raised “Tupperware child” who doesn’t know how to deal with different situations and scenarios. And as far as the parent is concerned, I believe children shouldn’t be an impediment to exploration, adventures of any kind, they should be brought along for the ride. It’s important to remind yourself that kids grow up everywhere under all sorts of conditions, which should give you some sense of comfort that as long as you love and protect your kid, they will be okay. And I would argue, they’ll be better off for having been exposed to as many different circumstances and styles of child-rearing as possible.
If your kids never see people of different backgrounds, you will have a hermetically raised “Tupperware child.”
Your mom is an award-winning travel agent who specializes in one-of-a-kind trips through South America. What was it like growing up traveling all the time and how did it shape you?
My parents both worked a lot, so I was thrown into the travel industry — it was a huge part of their lives and therefore of mine. Many times we went on scouting trips and many times we were brought along to a travel fair or hotel. Their travel lifestyle, which was a mix of work and pleasure but led with work, became our lifestyle. We are close and my parents chose to have us along with them, next to their life and their routines. If you have a life that takes you away from home, you have to make a choice as a parent. You either bring kids along for the adventure or you leave them at home. If you leave them at home, you lead parallel lives with your parents, which I think isn’t fair to them or to you. But there are trade-offs of course. Routines are great for kids and so we try to maintain certain rituals even when we are in different places. I am very lucky that I have a wonderful nanny who speaks many languages and who helps me maintain these routines when I’m working and when we are traveling.
If you grow up seeing lots of things and being okay with change and uncertainty, you get to see the world through your parents’ eyes. Part of the learning as you get older is make your own decisions and opinions about things you first see with your parents. If you haven’t experienced as a fully formed adult what they’ve experienced it becomes just a concept. An unfounded concept. If you watch them and walk beside them and are empowered to have and express your own opinions then and when you are older, then you can make your own way. I’d like my child to see my lifestyle which is more hippie and let her make her own opinions in the world when she is older.
Tell us about your recent trip to Everest, which we saw in your Instagram.
I went to Everest for work. It was amazing to be able to have an opinion about it after reading and seeing so much about it over the years. I left Sakura for four days, which was hard but good for me and for her. Four days with her father is good for her. I think all couples should trade off parenting kids as much as possible. If you put the power of daily responsibility to only one parent, then they take over, no matter how hard you try to balance things. I went to Everest base camp as an ambassador for Bally, which has deep roots in Alpine and expedition. Bally sponsored a major recycling and cleanup campaign expedition last spring after avalanches buried full camps under snow as well supplying oxygen tanks for sherpas. I was there to help promote that effort.
I realized pretty much anyone can go to basecamp. It’s not expensive and you don’t need to get permits. Obviously it’s a different challenge if you want to summit. You really need two weeks. It’s quite intense. We did one day of hiking. While there were no earthquakes it was queuing that was the challenge.
My impression having spent only a few days is that people underestimate the earth’s challenges. We were going by helicopter to basecamp. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of a weather opening to go further. If I’m being honest, we all kind of underestimated the importance of the mountain. People go there to conquer it, but what I realized is that you have to respect the mountain. Like the ocean. Same with Antarctica. People who try to summit take off two months. You acclimate. Go up and down and get used to it. Acclimate yourself to the speed of weather movement–there is a storm in one moment and bright sun in the next. You realize everyone is like “hurry up and get a picture.” This particular season there was bad weather for long stretches. When the weather finally opened up this year , everyone went all at the same time. Normally the groups are staggered a bit, but because there was a backlog and because everyone had paid their $50,000, the guides felt obligated to let all 200 to 300 people up at once to compensate for the short opening. After waiting for so long, people felt they shouldn’t have to wait for another week, which is, of course, wrong.
We all need to accept that we chose to take this risk and can’t rush nature. Also the government, not just the guides, should be really clear about the limitations.
Where have you been with Sakura?
We’ve been to Mallorca, Paris, New York, London, Marrakesh, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Lima, Cusco, Costa Rica, St. Barths, Madrid, Emirates and Antigua. I went to India, Saudi and Qatar without her, then UAE with her. Crazy, I know!
Wow! How do you stay organized with all of your travels?
Who said I’m organized! I have a spreadsheet. I also have a nanny who is with me and she goes home for 10 days every other month, or every month or when it fits both our schedules. She lives in Madrid. She comes with me everywhere. She goes from Paris to Madrid, came to Peru, Costa Rica. I recognize what a privilege that is every single day of my life. She is truly amazing.
What do you pack?
I used to travel with everything. Now I go pretty minimal when it comes to Sakura. I actually check a lot for myself and carry very little on the plane. I also try to leave a little in Paris and a little in New York. I travel with a big reusable bottle of water, which we fill up after security and share. I used to bring a blanket, not anymore. I used to travel with pants and socks for her, but now I only travel with onesies so I don’t lose things. Socks and shoes are the worst! One toy. At first I traveled with a bunch of toys, but then I realized that she’s more interested in or distracted by a seatbelt than anything I ever brought, so I learned to be a minimalist with her.
What do you wear on the flight?
I try to bring as little as I can and I wear only what’s comfortable. A zipper boot or open loafer, or a slipper kind of shoe. Sometimes I wear a maxi dress and pajama pants underneath. I used to wear high-waisted jeans, but with the baby stepping on my stomach, I decided no jeans or anything with a tight waist. In the beginning I used to travel with a hundred things, now I pack almost nothing. If she gets dirty she gets dirty.
Sakura loves being outdoors. Everytime she sees the carrier she gets excited. Having been exposed to so many climates and cultures, traveling is just part of her character. I have a strong, sporty, cultured nanny who is super curious, which makes it super joyful and, frankly, possible especially when I have to work. One day we wanted to do an intense hike along the Inca Trail on the last day. My mom, who was with us, warned me that it wasn’t a good idea to do it with Sakura on my back, even though we had hiked part of it with her. I’m glad we didn’t do it. It was a very intense hot day. Instead our nanny took her by train and we met her when we got to the top. We all got to enjoy it a lot more.
What about the food?
She loved the food in Peru. It was a good way to get her into fish. We were there for six days.
What’s your schedule like on these trips?
We don’t really keep a consistent schedule or classes. It’s tricky because we move around so much. In Paris I found a Japanese calligrapher who mostly speaks Japanese to her. We do an art class. That’s my only thing that I’ve found stable in Paris. We tend to invite lots of kids over to our house to do group activities that we organize. We go to puppet theater. We take her to museum of natural history museum. We also recognize how portable she is at this age and that things will change as she gets older.
Do you have any secrets to dining out?
While not everyone loves babies, lots of people do and are so sweet with Sakura. We go to places where we know the hostess and other staff, and especially if you go early when things are quiet, we find that so many people are willing to hold her or walk her around for a few minutes–just enough time for us to take a few bites. This has made her much more adaptable to different people, which we love.