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: Elizabeth Hansen
Occupation: Travel Editor/Journalist
Hometown: La Jolla, CA
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Short bio: Travel has been the focus of my life for as long as I can remember. I went to Europe for the first time while I was in college and fell in love…with everything. Even the most ordinary sights, sounds and smells seemed “exotic.” I wandered around in out-of-the-way neighborhoods, struck up conversations with bus drivers and little kids, and returned home a different person than when I left.
After college I taught school in San Diego and Munich and took advantage of every opportunity to explore the world. I fell in love (again) with the islands of the South Pacific…hitched a ride on a copra boat in Fiji, lived with a family in Maupiti. I also worked on a sheep station in New Zealand and in a pub in Perth. Finally I took the plunge, quit teaching altogether and started writing. It was the single best decision I’ve made in my life.
The discovering, connecting, exploring, and dealing with the challenges of travel remains the constant focus of my life. My specialty is writing about authentic (vs touristy) travel experiences…finding the real joy—the aha moments—in every journey.
How many countries have you been to? Lots, but I have no idea how many. I’ve never understood why that number would matter. I try to stay in a place until I’ve gotten to know it. Some people like to have snatches of conversation with many people and I prefer meaningful exchange with just a few. I’m the same way with countries.
How many continents have you been to? All but Antarctica (I really don’t like being cold).
Earliest travel memory: I grew up in Riverside, IL. My family always went to Miami for spring break and stayed at a soul-less highrise hotel on a crowded beach—and now I write about authentic luxury travel. Go figure.
Favorite North American city: Places with cool waterfronts—San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Vancouver BC.
Favorite international city: That’s easy—Sydney.
Least favorite country: Japan because I had a hard time connecting with the culture in a genuine way. I think I’m better at doing that now and I’d like to go back and try again.
Favorite World Heritage Site: On land—L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Underwater—Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Both otherworldly in their own way.
Favorite airline: Southwest Airlines because they don’t pretend to be something they aren’t and they haven’t forgotten the meaning of “customer service.”
Aisle or window: Aisle (facilitates repeated trips to the…).
Favorite U. S. airport: SAN (palm trees, the Lindbergh connection, and San Diego flavors from Pannikin Coffee & Tea, Stone Brewing, and Tender Greens).
Favorite international airport: Hong Kong—visually stunning and efficient (like the city).
Favorite hotel: One that provides a sense of place. Metropole in Hanoi, The Pierre in New York, any authentic haveli in India, bush camp in Zambia, farm stay in New Zealand.
Favorite island: Nanuya Levu better known as “Turtle Island” in Fiji. Great place to enjoy the natural world and experience the Fijian lifestyle.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: This is a difficult choice because I specialize in finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but maybe The Cow in Queenstown, New Zealand or Ted’s Bakery, North Shore, Oahu.
Favorite fruit: U-Pick raspberries, anywhere in New Zealand from mid-December to late January.
Favorite BYO food: I never leave home without zip-lock bags of Kashi Go Lean cereal. I love trying new food – but not first thing in the morning.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Twinning’s Earl Grey tea or a locally-produced craft beer (depending on the time of day).
Favorite travel movie: Indochine (great prep for Vietnam). Gandhi (ditto India). Chasing Mavericks (not a great movie, but an authentic look at the California surf culture).
Favorite travel books: Frommer’s guides to anywhere—and not just because I wrote some of them. The authors live in their destinations and the books are chockablock with great information.
Right now I am (re)reading: “The Art of Racing in the Rain” (a guide to life written by a dog).
5 things you bring on a plane: Homemade road food, music/ear buds, good book, cozy socks, pashmina.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Something representative of the area that’s small enough to hang on our Christmas tree. Papier mache pandas, red phone boxes, woolly sheep. Basically we put up a curio shop every year.
Most embarrassing/worst travel moment: Being denied boarding at JFK for flight to Bermuda because I didn’t have my passport. I’d read that passports weren’t required, but failed to read the fine print: “a birth certificate is also an acceptable proof of citizenship.” I had neither. #SelfLoathing
What’s your dream destination? My favorite travel experiences are when local people are willing to share a slice of their life with me. In the past this has included an Imam in a mosque in Dubai, a bush guide in Zambia, and that family I stayed with on the island of Maupiti in French Polynesia. So my dream destination isn’t a certain place, but wherever I have the privilege of making an authentic connection.
Favorite travel website—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course: Frommers.com and *** self-promotion warning *** AuthenticLuxuryTravel.net.
Best travel tip: Prior to departure, start to develop a sense of place by reading historical novels set in your destination. “Up Country” is a great choice for Vietnam. “Under the Tuscan Sun” for Italy. “Baghdad Without a Map” for the Middle East.