I've been to 85 countries and therefore consider myself to be a fairly seasoned traveler. Today I offer you advice on a few travel-related matters, answering those questions I am most frequently asked.
My favorite place?
This is an impossible question everyone always asks me, and here's my answer: I love everywhere I go. I literally fall in love immediately with every place I go, and want to move there immediately, until it's time to go to the next place, and then I fall in love with that place instead. Wherever I am, I love it unconditionally, and never want to leave. But within mere seconds of leaving, I'm over it. It's someplace I will always remember with love, but I cannot wait to get to the next place! I am an ardent, ephemeral lover of all lands.
Okay, this is also an impossible question. Islands are just places surrounded by water, and I love all places surround by water too. I love all islands for different reasons, including Manhattan. Let's see... Los Roques, Tobago Cays, Mustique, Kauai, really all of the Hawaiian Islands, Palawan. I could truly go on and on... but that's a start.
Where is the best place you've ever snorkeled?
Hands down, the Philippines. Around Palawan, but also Busuanga. Grenadines, also not bad. Oh, Blue Hole or whatever it's called in Belize. And I remember really enjoying snorkeling in Sinai. Great Barrier Reef of course. But Philippines for sure.
Which websites do you use to book flights?
I usually start on Kayak, and then cross-reference the airline's own websites and Hipmunk, but 99% of the time, I book on the airline's site. Unless you're willing to put in the time and effort required to take advantage of airline pricing practices, which I'm not, then the fare is the fare is the fare. I have worked with many travel consultants over the years, and have a lot of friends in the travel industry, and no one ever finds lower fares than the ones I'm able to find myself.
Best place for a girls' weekend?
Anywhere is the right place for a girls' weekend, except perhaps Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, Niger, Afghanistan, or Iraq.
What is the most challenging trip you've ever been on?
Challenging mentally, North Korea. Challenging physically, Chad, Republic of Congo, and the High Arctic in Norway. Chad and ROC are two of my favorite and best trips ever. I LOVED, loved, loved both, but objectively speaking, conditions were something you have to be ready for and excited about because they aren't typical, and the Arctic Circle in December... is the coldest I have ever been, but it is as otherworldly as it is gorgeous. North Korea was grim, but fascinating and important, and it has literally changed my life. Travel anywhere is always important and valuable, regardless of the circumstances while there.
I'm sure Emirates First Class doesn't suck. But since you'll find me in economy, I don't really care. Whichever flight gets me there with no stops, or the fewest stops, and costs the least, and flies at the most convenient times, is my favorite. I've been loyal to American some years and United others, but I've flown every airline out there. Okay, maybe not all -- I haven't flown Whizzair, for example -- but almost all, and in economy, they are all more or less the same. Some economy overnight flights to Paris and Milan on American Airlines lack individual entertainment screens, so avoid those if you care about watching movies, and Norwegian's Upper Class is, in my opinion, not worth the extra money. I flew it home from London once and aside from a larger seat, the additional $700 earned me a boxed, cold meal, and one -- ONE -- complimentary glass of wine. On international flights, every other airline on the planet lets the wine flow freely... even in economy. Although to be fair, the plane was brand spankin' new, and their Economy Class looked lovely.
What five things must you always have on a plane?
I'd panic without socks, an e-reader, a coat and/or many warm layers, my inflatable neck pillow, earbuds, and because this is my column so I can go over the allotted number if I want to, Aquaphor for my lips, iPhone for music, and a bottle of water.
Five essential items you always pack?
Per above, earbuds, iPhone, and my e-reader, but also chargers/adapters, medical bag, and a pen. (More than five, but again... my column.)
I once went on a cruise to nowhere. That's what it was called: The Cruise to Nowhere. And it literally went nowhere. The boat just rode around in a giant circle for three days while everyone on board partied. It was for my friend's sister's 50th birthday, and I was totally out of my league party- wise. I'm like a two-drink-and-done girl. Don't go on that cruise if you want to see anything. But if you want to drink copious amounts of alcohol on a vessel that rocks, then top marks. For incredible views, the famous journey on the Hurtigruten from Tromsø to Kirkenes in the High Arctic was out of this world. I went in December so it was also freaking cold. Opening the door to go out onto the deck was like opening the gates to hell, only cold. But the light illuminating the icebergs was like nothing I've ever seen.
I have kids. Where should I go?
First, good for you bringing your children! My mom brought us with her when she traveled and not only did it change the entire dynamic of our family - bringing us closer and making us better friends - those years traveling together contributed to both my love of travel, and who I am today. The "where" to go isn't nearly as important as the "going" itself. But in my opinion, skip Disneyland in favor of real lands. Exposing children to different cultures, religions, and ways of life from a young age teaches openness, tolerance, acceptance, and an approach to thinking that really can change the world.
What type of camera do you use?
A Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with the same Canon 24-105mm lens I've had for at least 15 years. And my iPhone's camera. I never switch lenses. I shoot in P (automatic for raw). And I never use a flash. I'm more of a "composition" kind of photographer than a "skill" photographer.
Where do you want to go next?
I am loath to answer this question for fear others will go there first. I know this is not very nice or generous of me, but I'm not able to travel right now, so if I tell you and you go there first, I will feel sad, envious, and anxious -- three emotions I like feeling the least - that the place will be overrun with tourists and change before I have the chance to get there. But... I truly believe travel changes lives in ways too positive to keep places for myself, so here goes: Sudan, Algeria, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Bolivia, Chile, Guyana, and then everywhere else in the world I haven't been yet. Eventually I also really want to go to the Seychelles and Maldives, but they just seem too honeymooney to me right now.
What do you like least about travel?
When a great trip comes to an end.