Happy New Year and Namaste from India! 2008 was another incredible travel year for me. This week, I’ll include some of the year’s highlights along with my story about getting to New Delhi. Every year, I look back at my online photo gallery and it blows me away that I have stepped foot on the soil of so many lands. It’s even more special for me because there was once a time when I was not only afraid to fly, but to leave the house! Imagine that?! Obviously, I couldn’t do any of this without your continued support so thank you for logging on and telling your family, friends and colleagues to sign up to our free weekly newsletter. I hope you have a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2009.

Before we get started with this week’s story, I thought I would share some interesting numbers from 2008. I was away from home 188 days. I flew 66 times on 21 different airlines, totaling 135,303 miles. That’s a significant drop from last year (I’m cutting down my carbon footprint). I visited 10 different U.S. states, 16 countries and literally went around the world twice!

Here are 16 of the most popular stories on JohnnyJet.com in 2008 in no particular order:

16. Around The World With Jet Airways (my new favorite airline)
15. Hong Kong (Luxurious hotels)
14. Super Bowl XLII (That’s what hanging with a bunch of celebrities in a luxury box will do)
13. Foxwoods, Connecticut (Brand new MGM Casino)
12. Macau, China (The new gambling Mecca of the world)
11. Berlin, Germany
10. The jungle in Belize
9. Abu Dhabi, UAE (Who can forget the desert safari?)
8. Chiang Mai, Thailand (Riding an elephant)
7. Open Skies Flight: London to L.A. on Air France
6. Four Seasons Bora Bora (Feeding the stingrays)
5. Celebrity Solstice Cruise (The ocean’s newest and nicest cruise ship)
4. Mumbai, India (Two days after the terror attacks)
3. Emirates A380 (My first ride on the largest passenger plane)
2. Qantas A380 (A VIP flight with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John)
1. South Africa Safari (I did this in late 2007 but published the story in 2008)

In keeping with the 2008 theme, our friend Brett Snyder from CrankyFlier.com did another great job documenting the airlines we lost in 2008. Hopefully, the economy will turn around and we won’t lose so many in 2009.

We can’t end on a bad note so here’s a two-minute video clip from Terry Trippler (another travel expert) who I couldn’t agree with more … on this subject.

There are only a few popular tourist destinations left on my list of countries I’ve yet to visit and that people ask me about all the time. When that happens, I feel like a total idiot since I say, “I don’t know, I’ve never been there.” India was at the top of that list for a long time and now I’m so happy to have an opinion. India has long been a dream destination — just the name alone conjures up so many exotic images in my mind. However, one of my biggest concerns about going was getting sick. And it wasn’t a question of would I get sick. It was more a concern with whenand for how long? It always seems that everyone gets sick from food poisoning in India. My other main concern was how to emotionally deal with the street beggars and seeing so much poverty. I’m happy to report that I didn’t get sick, nor did Natalie. But seeing the poverty and the begging children was indeed mind-blowing. It makes you realize just how lucky we are to be in America. And speaking of the poverty in India, I highly recommend the movie Slumdog Millionaire. It takes place in India (mostly Mumbai) and provides an up close look at life in the slums. The film itself, the acting and the soundtrack are all incredible. It’s sure to make you laugh and cry and should on all travelers’ must-see list.

Almost every friend and colleague of mine who has been to India has said it’s one of their favorite countries. They all agree that India is not a typical vacation but an experience of a lifetime. I now completely agree and India’s tourism slogan could not be any more appropriate: Incredible India! It’s a land of extremes and I hope I’m able to give you a real taste of it as I feature a different Indian city all month.

I left off last week from the airport in Brussels, Belgium (BRU) after spending a night in the capital. Brussels was the first international destination on my Jet Airways trip around the world. BRU is a major hub for Jet Airways, India’s second largest carrier. It took seven minutes to check-in and going throughsecurity was even quicker. Natalie and I spent an hour in one of Jet Airways’ lounges where I drank plenty of bottled water and had some Belgian and Indian treats while planespotting out the window. Natalie and I sat next to an Indian couple who own a watch company in Phoenix. They were so friendly and they relieved some of our concerns about their native land.

They said everyone they know says India has changed them for the better. They said that the locals are so nice and that we don’t have to worry about crime except in Delhi. They told us not to drink any tap water and to be sure that any bottled water we drink is sealed properly. They also advised us not to eat anything cold — no salads and no fruit unless you peel it yourself. The husband said we couldn’t go wrong with hot vegetarian food but his wife said we could eat meat — just no street food. They went on to tell us that their son, American born and raised, got married in India last year and he brought 50 of his American friends. Only one of them got sick and it was the only person who had taken all the shots and meds. BTW: I went to my doctor and got more vaccinations than a stray alley cat. He gave me shots for flu, typhoid, Hepatitis B and a polio booster. I also got a prescription for Malarone (malaria medication). I walked out of there like a junkie.

Back to the lounge: I asked the friendly couple if I should take my malaria pills and the man said a resounding YES but his wife said we didn’t need them at this time of year (November). I went through this debate last year when I went to South Africa. About half the people I asked there said I should take the anti-malarial drugs and the other half said don’t. It was about the same in India. My verdict is that those who say “yes” are just covering their *sses because they don’t want to be held responsible (especially the doctors) if you get sick. But keep in mind: both times I was in malaria-infested countries, it was during the dry season with very few mosquitoes. I fear taking malaria pills because I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories and the one time I took Malarone it upset my stomach. I don’t know if my reaction was merely psychosomatic but let me tell you, I was feeling queasy. And trust me — that’s not how you want to feel when you’re in a foreign country. So just like the South Africa trip, I took the advice of more than half of the locals I interviewed and went with my gut and didn’t take them.

People I spoke to said that since I was traveling to a low-risk area and traveling during a low-risk time (i.e. before the rainy season), the pills were not worth the side effects. But they did stress that I visit a doctor immediately at the first sign of flu symptoms and request a test for malaria. Malaria is only dangerous if you wait — even a few days. The good news is that if doctors catch it early, malaria can be treated. But it can stay in your blood for up to one year so if you get sick a lot, you have to keep going for tests.TIP: If you get sick in South Africa or India, go to a private hospital even though it costs more. Better healthcare is worth the extra money.

One of the reasons I was convinced to stop taking the meds was this: I learned that even when you are taking malaria medication, you’re still not 100% protected. And as the old saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So my goal was to focus on prevention. Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites so you need to wear bug repellant, long pants, socks, long-sleeved shirts and a hat. I even bought a shirt that’s made withinsect repellent (good for 70 washings).

Enough with the malaria talk but we’ll bounce to it from time to time. For now, let’s travel halfway around the world and go to India. It was time to board Jet Airways flight 229. It departs Brussels at 10:05am and arrives in Delhi at 10:30pm local time. I won’t go into full detail about the flight since I just reviewed Jet Airways’ amazing Premiere class (business) product, service and food. However, when I boarded the plane, I was stoked to see my friend board Sarika Chawla, who is the managing editor ofPeterGreenberg.com. She was sitting one row behind us with herfamily. What are the odds of that? Not only that; I had the sameflight crew as my flight over to Brussels. They had a 24-hour break as well and they all remembered me. I guess it’s tough to forget someone who is constantly sticking a camera in your face.

I was sitting in 8K (window seat), Natalie in 8G and Sarika in 9G. The seats are so comfortable especially when they turn into aflat bed. We pushed back from the gate at 10:20am and took offat 10:31am. Flight time to Delhi was just seven hours and 22 minutes. I thought it would have been longer. The seatbelt sign went off quickly. It always seems that seatbelt signs go off much quicker on foreign carriers; I wonder it there is any truth to that. I love looking at the live map and seeing countries and cities that I’ve only read about. Our route took us over Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, The Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and into Delhi. People must have thought I was a freak since I was constantly opening the shade to see the places below.

For dinner, I had an incredible chestnut soup, the vegan Indiandish (here’s a scan of the full menu). It was just okay but thedessert and second meal before landing was a tasty toasted turkey and eggplant wrap filled with corn and smothered with cheese. It also came with toasted focaccia and fruit salad with cranberries. To pass time I slept a bit like most of the other travelers. All the window shades were shut to block out the bright sun, which didn’t help me to keep my eyes open. I was so tired from not sleeping much the night before and 11am Brussels time was 5am New York time and 2am Los Angeles time. Therefore, most of the passengers who originated from the States werezonked. I didn’t want to sleep much for fear of not being able to sleep when I got to the hotel so I forced myself up and watchedthe end of The Jungle Book (since in a few weeks, I was headed to the area that inspired the story) and worked. I also read myFrommer’s India book and the India section of Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands. It’s great for learning customs. We landed four minutes early at 10:26pm.

I was excited as can be when we landed — I just wanted to shout I MADE IT TO INDIA! But for fear of being restrained, I controlled myself. Once on the ground and taxiing to the parking spot, I could smell smoke — I was later told it was from construction of new runways (Delhi’s airport is going from a modest two runways to six) but I think it was from landfills being burned. Before the doors were opened, the flight attendants came cruising down the aisles with defogger canisters, which must kill any bugs. They used to do it when you arrived in Australia and a few other places. Obviously, it must be an India law but the flight attendants should make an announcement so we can cover our mouths — who knows if it’s harmful. Another bummer was that we had to park the plane away from the gate so all passengers had to walk downstairs and get on a bus. There were three buses; the first one was for business and first class passengers. The ride took seven minutes and it was a mad dash to immigration.

There was no line at passport control. It literally took under a minute and the agent was friendly. Bags came out 10 minutes later and ours were number two and three! How great is that? We were then greeted by a Jet Airways rep who arranged a porter (for free). Before she could walk away, I asked her if we should be taking malaria pills and she said there was no need to this time of year. Phew! Because you’re supposed to take it 24 hours before arriving to a malaria prone destination.

We walked through the welcome area, which was packed with drivers, and I spotted ours, which had been pre-arranged with our hotel. He took our bags and informed me that the airport ATM was only giving out a minimum of 5,000 rupees ($100) so I decided to wait instead of being charged twice by my bank. I gave the porter and driver U.S. dollars for a tip (I always carry a bunch of U.S. singles for this reason). The drive took 35 minutes and it was chilly out, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Traffic was bad getting out of the airport but then the lanes opened up and we could just tell how crazy this place was going to be. Horns were constantly beeping, people weren’t following any real road rules … heck I even saw an elephant on the highway and a guy on horseback. We knew that this was going to be the start of a real adventure!

Here’s a Johnny Jet video of my Jet Airways trip around the world. Next week, we’ll have a video of New Delhi. We also have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on YouTube.

Next week we explore New Delhi.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Jet Airways

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