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Personal Best: Larry Fitzgerald

Photo by Bruce Yeung

The NFL superstar is turning his off-season passion into a roving venture.

Larry Fitzgerald has a flair for racking up big numbers. Throughout his 12-season NFL career, the nine-time Pro Bowl wide receiver has set more than a few records, including becoming the youngest player ever with 1,000 receptions (at 32 years old). But he is equally proud of a figure he has accomplished off the field: visiting nearly 100 countries. The athlete spends his off-season searching the globe for adventure, from tracking gorillas in Rwanda to ice climbing in Slovenia. Now he is spreading his wanderlust with the creation of a new travel outfitter, Nomad Hill. Robb Report spoke with Fitzgerald in Arizona to discuss his budding business, his favorite moments abroad, and what’s next on his list.

When did you first develop a taste for travel?

When I was a child, my family traveled a lot domestically, whether it was road trips to Yellowstone or California. But even at home, we would travel with cuisine. It was Vietnamese or sushi or Korean barbecue or Mongolian. It got me thinking a lot about different cultures, and it opened up a little window for me. Just that small glimpse opened my eyes and ultimately inspired my love for travel.

How would you describe your personal travel style?

I like to travel solo. Going by yourself gets you out of your comfort zone and forces you to meet and interact with the locals. And going alone challenges me because I’m forced to learn a few words so I can communicate with the locals.

I don’t really need anything grandiose or too fancy in terms of my accommodations. I’d rather spend the money on being able to do something that I’ll never forget, such as going on a gorilla trek in Rwanda. I’d much rather spend the money on something that’s really, really cool.

Tell us about Nomad Hill. How did your passion become a business?

I met David Jones many years ago when he was vice president of [the luxury outfitter] Ker & Downey. I started traveling with him and found that we have many similarities, especially in terms of our enthusiasm for travel and new experiences. We were traveling to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and we talked about working together. Two years later we started Nomad Hill, which launched last June.

The Nomad name resonated with us and also with my age group, Millennials. Those are the people we’re trying to attract, because they want to get out and experience the world before they settle down. Nomad Hill gives them more opportunities to explore their passion for travel.

You describe Nomad Hill as a “travel designer.” What does that mean?

We design a trip custom-made for you and your desires, similar to going to a great tailor and asking for a bespoke suit. For instance, if you have a passion for photography or outdoor activities, we design a trip around that interest. We’ll design skiing experiences in the Swiss Alps, safaris in Africa or India, swimming with the whale sharks in Perth, seeing the penguins up close in Antarctica, polar-bear experiences in Greenland—you name it. Every one of our experiences is custom-made.

Our trips are designed for a traveler who has an understanding and a vision of what they want to do and what they want to experience. We turn that into reality. I’m the type of person who does their research. In the past, when I wanted to go somewhere, I did a background study before I took my ideas to David. That’s the kind of traveler we’re looking for—someone who wants the best of the best.

You sound like a very hands-on partner.

I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not in the know. I want to see the spreadsheets, the budgets, and everything that is going to make the business go. I see this like an NFL team. If you’re in the marketing department or the sales department, you have to do your job to the best of your ability to make it all happen. That’s part of being a team. If everybody on the team has their head in the pile, then you’re going to have some success.

Do you encourage your NFL teammates to travel?

Yes, because if you buy a new car or watch, after a couple of days the newness and excitement wears off and you’re chasing your next high. When I travel, that experience will last me a lifetime. Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.

You’ve traveled to 96 countries so far. What’s been one of your favorite trips?

I was infatuated with World War II and the dynamics of Stalin and Lenin, and I always had a love for Russian culture. I finally got a chance to go 3 years ago with my buddy [Russian basketball player] Andrei Kirilenko. I was able to have a private meal with a former KGB agent and grilled him with questions about espionage. It was one of the most fascinating experiences I’ve ever had. It is a dream of mine to go back during the summertime for an in-depth tour of the Kremlin.

Your most memorable travel moment?

Seeing the Great Wall of China. It is an engineering feat and just a mind-blowing place. But I didn’t go to the typical tourist spots in Beijing. Instead, I drove about 2.5 hours out and saw it just as the sun was rising. We walked miles and miles on the wall—just my tour guide and myself. It was one of those moments where you marvel at human ingenuity. How were they able to do that with limited resources, especially compared with all the technology we have now? The pyramids of Giza are another one. Every time I see them I’m dumbfounded by how massive they are. How could people erect something like that 4,000 years ago?

Do your trips involve charities or charitable work?

When I travel, I always incorporate a portion of my trip to charity no matter what—whether I’m visiting an orphanage in Vietnam or planting crops in Ethiopia. That comes from my mother, who was huge in terms of philanthropic work, and it was ingrained in me at a very young age. No matter where I am, if I see kids who are hungry or people who don’t have clothes, I’m going to do what I can to make sure they are not suffering. That’s how I’m wired.

What’s next on your travel list?

Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela. I want to go to Saudi Arabia, and I want to see the Maldives before the ocean rises too high. I haven’t been to Greece or any of the Scandinavian countries or Greenland. I still have a lot of places on my bucket list.