This story has been created in partnership with Allianz Travel Insurance

I’m often asked about how I got started in travel blogging. I always joke that I was doing it long before the word ‘blogging’ even existed. In fact, I started distributing a travel newsletter in 1995 and launched my website in 2000.

However, my journey wasn’t like most. I have a unique story. For someone who travels for a living, can you believe that I used to be afraid to fly? Even harder to believe may be the fact that there was a point in time when I was afraid to leave my house.

Johnny Jet as a young boy at Disneyworld.

1969: The beginning

I was born and raised in South Norwalk, Connecticut and became fascinated with air travel at an early age. We didn’t travel very often, at least not by airplane, but when I discovered air travel at five years old, I was dazzled. Especially once I realized I could leave freezing cold, dreary Connecticut in January behind and two and a half hours later, be in hot, sunny Florida, like my first trip to Disney World.

1986: Fear of flying

Unfortunately, when I was 17, a doctor diagnosed me with asthma, gave me way too much medication and told me just before my first international trip (to Australia) that I might have trouble breathing on the plane because the cabin is pressurized.

A couple of days later, about to board my flight, I had a full-blown anxiety attack at JFK Airport. I turned around and went home. It was one of the worst days of my life. Fortunately, because my mom had travel insurance, we didn’t lose all the money she’d paid for that dream trip.

That experience taught me, at a young age, the value of travel insurance. So even before I started working as a paid brand ambassador for Allianz Travel Insurance, I always recommended that travelers purchase a travel insurance policy because it gives you peace of mind. You just never know what might happen and when you might need it.

Johnny Jet: The college years.
1990: The college years

For three and a half years, I was full of fear but at 21, with the help of my parents and a homeopathic doctor, I conquered my fears. I enrolled at Marymount College, a private two-year school in Palos Verdes, CA. I started flying often between Los Angeles and New York to visit my parents and I remember vividly how different those times were.

Johnny Jet in the early years.
First of all, back then, travel was a much easier and less stressful experience. I could arrive at the airport an hour before my flight (if I wasn’t checking a bag) because security was a breeze. Bags, food and drinks were all free, and friends and family could accompany you to the gate on both ends of the flight. There was also a lot more legroom in economy.
Johnny Jet's first overseas trip to Hong Kong.

1991: My first overseas trip

In college, I started dating a girl whose parents lived in Asia and she was accustomed to flying in the front of the plane. I had only flown coach — and had never been overseas. When she invited me to Hong Kong, I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by. Her parents bought her a business class ticket and I knew there was no way I could sit on a plane for 14.5 hours by myself. So, I (okay, my dad) bought the seat next to her from a consolidator. It cost $1,500, which was a great deal considering full fare was $5,000.

I picked the right time to have my first out-of-coach experience. WOW! What a difference! A nice roomy seat with a leg rest, some hot towels, a little sorbet to clean the palate, non-stop food, beverages and movies. It was so good, I didn’t want to get off the plane.

When I returned to the U.S. I felt like a new man. I had finally gotten the monkey off my back; I knew I could now travel overseas! I also got hooked on my frequent flier miles because that one trip to Hong Kong on United Airlines earned me a free round-trip ticket in the continental U.S.

Johnny Jet boarding an aircraft.
In those days, airlines were much more generous with miles and points and they gave customers one point for every mile flown. Now, it’s based on how much you spend, which is great for business travelers with deep pockets but terrible for most. I know people who would find $250 tickets to Asia and earn at least 15,000 miles. Today, that same ticket would only earn an occasional traveler 1,250 miles. Huge difference.

1995: Traveling for a living

When I graduated from college, I took on a career as a college recruiter, which had me traveling to 26 states. I learned a lot because we were on a tight budget but once you fly up front, it’s hard to go back.

Johnny Jet with flight crew.
I used to look at business travelers who showed up 40 minutes before their flight, cruise through their no-wait check-in counter, wait in a private club room if the flight was delayed, sit in comfortable seats, eat gourmet dinners, claim their bags first, all the while accruing mega-miles.

I was so frustrated, envious and determined that I decided to observe everything and pose questions to everyone: travel agents, flight attendants, captains, any frequent flier I could approach. And guess what? I learned that flying was a game. And suddenly the rules of the game emerged. You just have to know someone who knows how to win to learn for yourself.

I learned thousands of tricks of the trade. None, however, is more important than this one: Always be genuinely friendly to everyone. That means ticket agents on the phone, gate agents, supervisors, porters, security, even the guy driving the courtesy golf cart who almost runs you over every time.

Leading travel expert Johnny Jet.
I used to dread flying. Now, I can’t wait for my next trip. I started sharing my tips and personal stories in a newsletter. My list grew and I created JohnnyJet.com to show people how they too can get over their fears and master the game.

2000: JohnnyJet.com is born

In early 2000, I launched JohnnyJet.com and on March 17, 2000, USA Today wrote about my website. That jumpstarted everything. Once they wrote about it, dozens of other networks and publications wrote about it, too. Friends would call me up and say, “Turn on your TV!” And there I was. JohnnyJet.com was being featured on CNBC’s Power Lunch as the Website of the Day’. From there, things only continued to grow.

Johnny Jet on a press trip.

2003: Press trips

When I went on my first press trip, the other media invited all wrote for major newspapers or magazines and when they found out I worked for myself and posted my stories on something called a “blog” they would treat me like I was beneath them.

Johnny Jet

2006: A shift in the media landscape

A few years later, a PR person (someone who organized these types of media preview trips), asked me for some recommendations of other writers for a trip to Morocco. When I gave my recommendations of people and their publications, the PR person said, “No, my client doesn’t want anyone from newspapers or magazines. They only want writers from online publications.” That’s when I truly realized that blogging was more than just a hobby. It could become a serious business.

Johnny Jet gets married!

2012: Getting hitched

In 2006, I met the woman who would become my wife. She was a journalist who I met on a press trip and we traveled the world together for work, from Toronto to Thailand, Los Angeles to London, Ireland to India and everywhere in between. We had traveled to over 30 countries together before we got married in 2012 and have been to another 40 in the years that followed. In those days, we were fortunate to check out some of the most exclusive, luxurious and romantic hotels and destinations across the globe.

Johnny Jet becomes a father.

2016: Becoming a father

In 2016, our first child was born and that changed everything about the way we traveled and the way I created content. Not surprisingly, my focus quickly shifted to family travel.

Johnny Jet and his kids.

2019: Double trouble

In 2019, six months before the pandemic began, my wife and I welcomed our second child.

Johnny Jet and his kids.

2020: The pandemic and the travel industry

In 2020, a global pandemic rocked the world and like so many businesses, mine suffered. It was almost decimated. With no one traveling and under strict stay at home guidelines, all of our trips were canceled and one by one, sponsors were forced to cancel contracts. We lost 90% of our revenue. For travel bloggers, there was nowhere to travel to, no hotels or destinations to write about and no one was searching online for that kind of information, which meant advertising revenue plummeted.

We were forced to think differently about the kind of content we were writing. We started writing aspirational articles, for everyone stuck at home, dreaming of the day they’d be able to travel again. We wrote about travel products and even … food. Since everyone was stuck at home, we shared our favorite recipe from around the world, our favorite international finds at Trader Joe’s and I even started creating food videos, like how to roast peppers and the best way to cut a pineapple.

Those were challenging and lean days but so many people were suffering greater losses that we simply remained grateful for the safety and health of our family. We were also fortunate that our children were so young – being at home, just the four of us, with nowhere to go was an unexpected and precious gift and a period I look back on with much gratitude, despite the toll it took on my business.

Johnny Jet and the pandemic.

2022: A return to travel

Slowly things started to pick up around the summer of 2022 and the world started traveling again, with face masks and hand sanitizer close at hand. The pandemic taught us a lot about adaptability, changing with the times and pivoting to new, creative ways to make a living. But the return to travel represented a return to doing what I do best: Helping people travel better, smarter and safer.

Johnny Jet in Palm Desert.

2024: There’s room for everyone

The travel game changes often and almost every day, there’s a new rule or policy or process to learn, one reason travel bloggers are so popular. It’s difficult for one person or website to keep up with everything. When blogs began to emerge in 2004, I was considered the OG. In fact, in 2017, Forbes Magazine labeled me ‘the original travel influencer.’ Not bad for a guy who used to be afraid to fly.

There are so many travel writers these days that one might think the market is oversaturated but in fact, it’s a good thing. There are so many travelers, all of whom have many different needs, interests, questions and concerns. I believe there’s a niche for everyone.

Many writers have transitioned to social media and vlogging, which is where content creation is headed. Many people prefer to consume their media in a video format rather than reading. And of course, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a lot of writers worried – understandably, as AI has the potential to be the biggest technological disruptor we’ve seen. But in the short-term, I’m not too worried. What I hear from my readers is that most travel consumers still want solid travel advice and entertaining stories from someone they know and trust. That human connection is something AI just can’t offer … and I’ll raise a glass to that.

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