Want to know how to travel in style, just like the pros? We check in with frequent fliers to find out how often they fly, their favorite destinations and what they never leave home without.
Name: Dan Saltzstein
Occupation: Assistant Editor, New York Times Travel section
Hometown: Scarsdale, NY
Residence: Queens, NY
College: Amherst College
College major: English
Short bio: I’m an editor at the Travel section of the New York Times. I’ve written for a variety of sections of the paper, including Travel, Dining, Arts & Leisure, Metropolitan and the Book Review. I’ve been at the Times since 1999, and live in Woodside, Queens with my wife and daughter.
Languages spoken: Just English, sad to say. Enough French to order a meal, but that’s about it.
How often do you fly? Nowadays, almost never, sadly. I’m one of those editors stuck behind a computer editing everyone else’s fun travels. In the old days (that is, my 20’s and early 30’s), I probably took 2-3 trips a year.
How many countries have you been to? 22, which sounds reasonably impressive to me, but I’m sure pales in comparison to others who’ve taken this questionnaire.
How many continents have you been to? 5, but only if you count Israel as part of Asia. My great shame as a travel editor is I’ve never been to Asia proper—or, for that matter, sub-Saharan Africa or South America outside of Argentina [goes to sulk under desk].
Earliest travel memory: I traveled a lot with my parents as a kid, so it’s probably either a tiny village in Provence called Le Barroux, where a friend of theirs lived, or perhaps Puerto Rico, where we used to go during my spring break.
Favorite American city: New York. No question.
Favorite international city: Tough one. Let’s narrow it down to three: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris. Ok, one more: Marrakesh.
Least favorite country: Nothing really comes to mind. I didn’t much like Athens, but it has its appeals and can’t argue with the Cyclades.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: Morocco. But that was back in ’98 and it wasn’t really meanness, just sad bribe attempts.
Favorite World Heritage Site: Probably the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Morocco. A stunningly preserved ancient hillside city. And from the top, you have an insane view of verdant fields, arid deserts and the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, all in a row.
Favorite airline: Meh. Virgin I guess, though that’s mainly cause you can order (decent) food at any time.
Favorite aircraft type: Anything but a prop plane, thanks.
Aisle or window: I used to say window for the views (and headrest), but nowadays I prefer aisle. More room to stretch and I’d prefer to get up for others than ask them to get up for me.
Favorite airport lounge: Never been in one.
Favorite U.S. airport: Seattle. Good wi-fi and coffee (duh). Not quite as accessible to the city as I’d like, but that’s an almost universal problem.
Favorite international airport: No question: Schiphol in Amsterdam. Clean, efficient, so easy to get in and out from the city.
Favorite hotel: Not big on hotels; I mostly just need a decent place to rest my head. The nicest places I’ve probably stayed (thanks to the Times) are the newish Shangri-La in Toronto and the Amrath in Amsterdam, which is housed in the gorgeous former maritime building, right on the water.
Favorite cruise line: Never been on the cruise, don’t plan to.
Favorite travel credit card: None, really. I have American Advantage, which I like because they are forever miles. But I don’t travel enough to really care about them.
Favorite island: A curveball here, picking something non-tropical: Texel, a lovely island off the northern coast of Holland. No cars, dead-flat (perfect for biking), gorgeous views of the North Sea, and home to Texel sheep, which are both adorable and delicious.
Favorite beach: Porto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico. The key here is that the two towns on either side are surfing spots. Surfing spots make for bad swimming spots. Porto Angel, on the other hand, lies on a gorgeous bay – you can walk out over 100 yards – with restaurants right on the beach serving shrimp and margaritas, and dolphins and whales no far. Amazing. (I should add the town itself is pretty ugly and dusty, but who cares.)
Favorite fancy restaurant: A tough one. Four Chimneys on the Isle of Skye in Scotland is pretty spectacular (and in an insanely remote location). L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris never fails to please. But if I had to choose one spot, it’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, up in Westchester, north of New York City. Amazing food, amazing setting.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Not exactly sure it’s a hole-in-the-wall, but Donovan’s Pub in my native Woodside, Queens, serves the best pub burger in NYC.
Favorite bar: I will admit to being a bit of a cocktail snob, so mostly high-end mixology-type places. Here in NYC, PDT is a personal favorite (I actually love the reservations-only policy, since it means a guaranteed seat and no one hovering over your shoulder). Another favorite spot is Le Lab in Montreal, which lacks any semblance of visual style, but serves amazing, inventive and very seasonal cocktails.
Favorite fruit: There is nothing better than a really good, fresh strawberry. We get them for about a week here in NYC and I eat about a million of them.
Favorite food: Impossible! Ok, fine: the famed pork belly buns at Momofuku. I could eat them forever and then explode.
Least favorite food: There are very few foods I really don’t like, but one of them is actually very common: green bell pepper. I just don’t see any appeal. They have an unpleasant bitterness that doesn’t mellow with cooking and if you want crunch, go for a red/yellow/orange one. (I will add that my distaste for them was vindicated years ago when the Times did a roundup of the ingredients most often banned in restaurant kitchens and green peppers were the runaway leader.)
Craziest thing you’ve eaten: I think I’ve eaten most forms of offal: brains, sweetbreads, intestines, etc. The only thing I won’t eat is something that is still alive. (Just barely dead? No problem.) There’s a dish at Sripraphai, an amazing Thai spot near where I live in Queens, that features beef tendons in a blood sauce. I really like it.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): If I had to choose one, a well-made Manhattan (that means rye, not bourbon, and a 2-1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth). I generally don’t drink while flying since you already get so dehydrated. But an occasional scotch-on-the-rocks happens.
Favorite travel movie(s): I’ll choose two very odd road trip movies: Children of Men (think about it – it’s a road trip) and Y Tu Mama Tambien.
Favorite travel show(s): Can I be honest? Since Bourdain’s show went off the air, nothing. Sorry.
Favorite travel book(s): “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon, “A Moveable Feast” by Hemingway, “In Patagonia” by Bruce Chatwin, “The Places In Between” by Rory Stewart, “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer.
Right now I am reading: Lots of Dashiell Hammett.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: Afar, Legalnomads… can I include Lucky Peach?
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! NYTimes.com/travel, of course. J
5 things you bring on a plane: Headphones, comfortable socks and shoes, nice jacket (mainly so I don’t have to pack it), a good book (though I don’t always end up reading it), a movie if the flight’s long enough.
What do you always seem to forget? Advil.
What do you like least about travel? Easy: all the logistics. Packing, getting to the airport, getting out of the airport, etc. Hate it.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Nothing. Maybe some booze.
Favorite travel app(s): Honestly? I don’t really use any. Google maps and Instagram, I guess. If I travelled more, I’d use TripIt.
Most embarrassing travel moment: I almost got myself and another couple killed in Greece. (Ok, that’s probably an exaggeration.) It’s all recounted here.
Worst travel moment: Food poisoning in Morocco. I thought I was going to die. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)
What’s your dream destination? A food tour of Vietnam. A scotch tour of the Scottish Highlands. Myanmar. Yemen. Basically everywhere all my writers get to go.
Favorite travel charity: I don’t think I have one. I’m a big fan of Doctors Without Borders.
Best travel tip: Here’s a good one for parents of young kids. If you are going to a resort (or even just a hotel), go somewhere cheap, but splurge for a suite. That way, your kid has his or her own room and you don’t have to sit in a dark room for 3 hours after he or she goes to bed. And make sure you have a bottle of something good to sip.
Please explain how this gentleman is a “travel pro”? Other than being an editor of a great Travel Section in the Times, he never fllys and even in the “old days” only 2-3 times a year. He has been to 22 countries – my younger child had been to double that before he was a teenager. C’mon Johnny, there are a lot of real travelers out there!