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: Daniel Levine
Occupation: Trends Expert and Keynote Speaker. I am the director of The Avant-Guide Institute, a trends consultancy for travel and consumer marketing.
Hometown: New York City
Residence: I’m back in New York after a long stint living in Prague
College major: History
Website: DanielLevine.com (check it out!)
Facebook: The Avant-Guide Institute
Short bio: My first job out of college was writing for Frommer’s, and I ended up writing 10 of their biggest books, including California, Florida, and large sections of their iconic Europe guide. It was a great early career in my 20s, until people stopped reading and bookstores closed, which put an end to all that. But I realized that I had a deep knowledge of current events in retail, food, lodging, and all the other parts of the travel and living experience that I could put to use in other ways. I found that businesses were interested in understanding what people are buying, and where they are going, and why. And that was the beginning of the Avant-Guide Institute, a trends consultancy that helps businesses and destinations understand what’s motivating customers and travelers to act. I also discovered that I had an aptitude for explaining complex concepts in easy-to-understand ways, and that helped propel my speaking career. Today I travel to almost every continent every year—often multiple times—to speak and consult with businesses and destinations about the future of business, technology, consumerism and more.
How often do you fly? I’m on an airplane every couple of weeks, sometimes more. Often it’s just a short jaunt and other times it’s halfway around the world. I love to travel and I’m just as excited to go to Omaha as I am to Kathmandu. Really.
How many countries have you been to? I never believed in counting because it seems shallow to me to have landed in Beijing or Moscow and then check all of China or Russia off your “been there, done that” list. And most of the countries I’ve been to, I’ve visited dozens of times. True story: When I went to get my passport renewed in New York last year the woman behind the counter took a look at my bulging, over-stamped passport, filled with two of the largest-size inserts, and told me that she hadn’t seen such a big passport since she renewed those of Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger! That’s a bragging right that I’ve never shared with anyone before, but somehow I think your readers will get it.
How many continents have you been to? All except Antarctica. Multiple times every year.
Earliest travel memory: I was lucky enough to be taken to Spain by my parents when I was seven-years old. I have three sisters and the thing I remember most about that trip was that Iberia overbooked us and the four kids were upgraded to First Class on the upper deck of a 747. My parents sat in coach! I still can’t believe that the airline upgraded four kids without their parents. We were running wild all over the cabin having so much fun the other passengers probably asked for their money back.
Favorite American city: I love New York. And New Orleans. And San Francisco. I travel a lot around the US and always marvel how different it is from place to place. America is one country and many nations.
Favorite international city: Prague, Tokyo, Barcelona, Bangkok, Mexico City. It’s hard to name just one.
Least favorite country: That’s a tough one. I find everywhere to be educational, at the very least. I wouldn’t want to live in Transnistria (look it up!) but traveling there was as fascinating as Europe gets. Even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.
I have no desire to go to: Skydiving. I know, it’s not a place but an experience, so maybe you’ll count it. I’m a glutton for experience but I have enough anxiety in my life; I don’t need to willfully add to it.
Friendliest people in the world: Friendliness is often superficial, which is perfectly nice for the casual traveler but shouldn’t be mistaken for anything more than cultural habit. The American south is famous for hospitality, as is Turkey and any number of Arab countries. But I wouldn’t automatically call those residents the world’s friendliest. By contrast, New Yorkers are often thought of by foreigners as being unfriendly, yet there are few other cities in the world where it’s as usual to have a conversation with a stranger while standing in line at the grocery store.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: Sorry to say the USA wins in this category. By contrast, I was once admitted into Kenya with only $1 in my pocket, no credit cards, and no onward plane ticket. Long story…I’ll tell you another time.
Favorite World Heritage Site: Ankor in Cambodia. It’s one of the few famous places that is actually bigger and better than I imagined it to be.
Favorite airline: Everyone knows Asian airlines are best. I’ll fly Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines or ANA anytime.
Favorite aircraft type: I love the A380 (check out that wingspan!), but what I think is more important than the aircraft is how the interior is outfitted. A flatbed on a 777 beats one without full recline on a 747 any day.
Aisle or window: I’m one of those people who never tire of looking out the window. It’s the best show in the sky.
Favorite airport lounge: I don’t have that much experience, but loved the Emirates lounge in Dubai, the Turkish Airways lounge in Istanbul, and that ANA lounge in Tokyo that’s outfitted with a sushi bar.
Favorite U.S. airport: I don’t really have a favorite US airport because I don’t often have to change planes in the US. That’s a great benefit of living in New York. That said, I suppose I particularly enjoy flying into San Francisco, Phoenix Sky Harbor, and Salt Lake City.
Favorite international airport: I always try to fly though Schiphol if I can. It’s a great airport (complete with a mini-museum of Dutch masters!) and it has a fish bar selling real Dutch herring. Singapore’s Changi is great too.
Favorite hotel: Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Jumeirah have never let me down. I love great hotels, but I’m not a hotel snob. When I’m paying myself, I look for a the cheapest high-star hotel that is right in the heart of the action.
Favorite cruise line: Haven’t been on enough cruises to say.
Favorite travel credit card: These days it’s the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Three points per dollar: Need I say more?
Favorite island: I love the Caribbean because I can get there from New York in about three hours. I feel quite lucky to have those islands in my backyard. The best islands in the Caribbean are the secondary islands of almost any country or territory—the ones that follow the “and” like Caicos, Barbuda and Tobago.
Favorite beach: I’ll tell you, but you can’t tell anybody: It’s the beaches on the barrier island of Magdalena Bay on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. You can spend weeks there without seeing anyone else on pristine beaches, while hundreds of whales cavort with their calves in the bay.
Favorite National Park: The United States has the best National Parks, hands down. I know this is counterintuitive, but my favorite is Everglades National Park. Unlike Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park, the specialness of the Everglades doesn’t hit you over the head. It is far more subtle. You have to spend time there to fall into its slow rhythm and be transported, both figuratively and literally, down its meandering river of grass.
Favorite fancy restaurant: 11 Madison Park in New York City. You’ll find me at the bar.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Practically any hole-in-the-wall in Spain.
Favorite airport restaurant: If I’m early for a flight at JFK Terminal 4, I like to go to Palm Bar & Grille for one of the best chef salads anywhere, airport or not. In other cities I always look for the local restaurant, as opposed to the national chains. One trend I am not behind is the iPad ordering devices that are popping up at American airport restaurants all over.
Favorite bar: The one with lots of local craft beers on tap. And the one with the good happy hour.
Favorite fruit: A great peach, but they are so hard to find.
Favorite food: I could eat sushi every day, and often do. I could also eat pizza and hot dogs every day, but rarely do.
Least favorite food: Celery.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Water, water everywhere.
Favorite travel movie(s): Easy Rider. A classic that holds up today.
Favorite travel show(s): I can’t watch Anthony Bourdain because I’m too jealous of him.
Favorite travel book(s): Anything by Pico Iyer.
Right now I am reading: A new novel by a long-lost Italian friend named Francesca Melandri.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! I read Travel Market Report, which is a voice for travel agents, Skift which has quickly become the best industry site around, and I have been a fan of Johnny Jet since the dawn of the Internet :)
5 things you bring on a plane: Ear plugs, eye shades, my laptop, The Economist magazine. That’s it. I only need four things.
What do you always seem to forget? Nothing. It’s all pre-packed and waiting for the next trip. I have a packing checklist that I always consult before zipping up my bag (carry-on only, of course).
What do you like least about travel? People who recline in coach, FAs who close the overhead bins before they close the cabin door, the fact that the safety announcement starts with telling passengers how to fasten their seatbelts because they lose everyone’s attention right there.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Nothing. They are terrific rip-offs. You can often buy it cheaper online and don’t have the hassle of having to carry it. And I really don’t like this new trend of routing all departing passengers through the middle of these stores in order to get to the gates.
Favorite travel app(s): The best app these days is Google Trips. It automatically puts your reservations in one place, lets you plan your entire trip (sightseeing, restaurants, etc.), and plot it all on a map that is accessible on Google Maps. Plus, it makes all the information available to you offline.
Most embarrassing travel moment: When I was young and dumb I was having lunch with my editors at Frommer’s and I ordered a Caesar salad…with blue cheese dressing. I thought I was going to be fired right then and there.
Worst travel moment: Getting shaken down by a police officer in Mexico. He threatened to take me to jail for the weekend unless I withdrew cash for him from an ATM. Realizing that he wanted money more then he wanted to take me to jail, I negotiated hard and got away with giving him just $50. As bad travel moments go, that’s not too bad, I guess.
What’s your dream destination? The next “virgin runway,” which in my case means anyplace I have not been to before.
Favorite travel charity: Travel + Social Good, a nonprofit and community aimed at propelling the travel industry to meet its potential for global positive impact.
Best travel tip: Just before boarding, ask the gate agent if there is an open seat that doesn’t have another passenger sitting next to it. I’m not anti-social, I just like my space!