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: Jill Lena Ford
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa
Residence: Pittsburgh, Pa
College: Northern Arizona University
College major: Bachelor of Fine Art, Masters Art Education
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Short bio: Jill Lena Ford is a world-traveling artist best known for her self-developed style of abstract art called “Organic Mixed Media.” Collecting natural elements of the Earth—from volcanic sands of the Hawaiian islands to rose petals from a bush in Morocco—Ford incorporates these natural materials onto her canvases, which she also paints with acrylics and oils, turning a two-dimensional painting into a three-dimensional homage to the place from which the materials originated. The artist is a storyteller who uses her canvas to convey emotions about the cultures and landscapes she has experienced as a world traveler.
Recently returning to her hometown roots of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to make her home, she previously lived on Hawaii’s Kauai island and has traveled to the far ends of the Earth on her quest to find inspiration from various countries, and include their exotic landscapes into her artworks.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native earned a Bachelor of Fine Art in 2001 and a Masters degree in Art Education in 2006 from Northern Arizona University. Her works have been shown in galleries and exhibitions held throughout the country, and her murals have been featured internationally in places such as India, Morocco, Thailand, and Belize. Jill spends her time near her hometown of Pittsburgh, where she continues to create her artwork and embrace the beauty of nature. If you can’t find her there, she is probably out trekking the globe gathering new inspiration.
How often do you fly? It varies, but always at least a few big trips a year.
How many countries have you been to? 24
How many continents have you been to? 4
Earliest travel memory: Growing up, my father worked for the airlines and we traveled a lot so my whole childhood was a travel memory. I would say my earliest memory was a family trip to San Diego when I was about four. We went to Sea World and I got picked out of the crowd at a show to pet Shamu and I was so excited. And then we roller skated to the Mexican border and went to Tijuana!
Favorite American city: San Francisco, Honolulu, Pittsburgh.
Favorite international city: Bangkok.
Least favorite country: I don’t think that it exists!
I have no desire to go to: There really is nowhere that I would not want to go to—anywhere new intrigues me! I suppose any war-zone territory would be the only place I’d shy away from going to.
Friendliest people in the world: Laos. They are so welcoming in a shy and sweet kind of way with warm and gentle hearts.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: USA. Hands down. Philly in particular.
Favorite World Heritage Site: Angkor Wat. It’s just amazing to see the ancient architecture, the carvings and the way time and nature has embraced it. I love how the fig trees wrapped their roots around the temples and have become a part of it over time.
Favorite airline: Delta’s customer service is great, Virgin is fun and fresh, and Hawaiian has the friendliest air service.
Aisle or window: Window. I love cloud-watching and seeing the world pass by below. I’ve seen some pretty epic sunsets from the plane window. It also is a great place to rest your head for naps.
Favorite U.S. Airport: Honolulu. There is nothing like coming off of that jet way into the open air terminal with the tradewinds blowing, Hawaiian music on the speakers and the scent of plumeria in the air.
Favorite international airport: I don’t really have a favorite, they sort of all blend together. I do recall having a fun layover in Tokyo’s Narita Airport. They had great food and lots of interesting things to look at to keep me occupied.
Favorite island: I’m such an island girl…I love them all! For raw beauty: Long Island in the Indian Andaman Islands. For the people: Gili Meno in Indonesia. And for living on: Kauai, Hawaii.
Favorite beach: Another tough one! Top 3: Mahalapu’u on Kauai, Botramine in southern Morocco, and Lani Kai on Oahu.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: We stumbled across a local pub on the backstreets of Paris. Literally a hole in the wall, it was about as big as a large closet and I don’t even think it had a name. At closing time they locked up and let us all stay inside and drink until the wee hours of the night. It was full of locals and we made friends with everyone. I don’t think we bought ourselves a drink the entire night!
Favorite bar: I don’t really have a favorite bar. I like visiting different ones, especially the local spots.
Favorite fruit: Mango.
Favorite food: Coconut fish curry-extra spicy! And sushi…I love sushi.
Least favorite food: I don’t eat meat so anything with beef, chicken etc. I don’t touch.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Vodka tonic with a lime, red wine and I’m a big sangria lover too.
Favorite travel show(s): I don’t really watch TV. I guess any travel documentary. And I really do love Anthony Bourdain, he cracks me up!
Favorite travel book(s): “The Alchemist,” “Shantaram.”
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: I don’t really follow any regularly. I like National Geo Travel, Islands and any inflight magazines.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! It depends on where I am going and what type of trip, but I usually will refer to Lonely Planet and Bootsnall and then get lost for hours in Google searches on the destination I am going to. I like to book online tickets with OneWorldTravel.com or Cheaptickets.com and Airbnb is great for unique accommodations.
5 things you bring on a plane: Snacks, socks, sweater/sweatshirt, iPod, eye mask.
What do you always seem to forget? Time! The hour, the day, the week, the month…at times even the year. It’s one of the best parts of traveling…being so immersed in the moment that you lose track of all time.
What do you like least about travel? There’s nothing that I don’t like about traveling but I suppose a side effect of traveling that can be tough is being away from my loved ones at home, and not being able to share those amazing experiences with them first hand.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Chocolate and perfume. I’m a chocoholic—the darker the better! And I love perfumes and trying all of the different fragrances. I always come out with a new favorite. I once almost missed my flight while on a layover in Madrid because I lost track of time in the duty free perfume shop there.
Favorite travel app(s): I don’t really venture into the world of apps!
Most embarrassing travel moment: On my first trip to Thailand I walked around thinking I was saying the Thai word for “beautiful,” only to find out two months into my trip that I was pronouncing it wrong and was actually saying a local swear word. Looking back, it made sense why I was getting such shocked and perplexed looks from all of the locals when I spoke it to them.
I’m embarrassed but I haven’t been to: Italy. My grandfather was born there and we still have family in the countryside of Naples. I have no idea how I have not made it there yet. It’s high on the to-do list!
Worst travel moment: My bag was stolen in Laos which contained all of my money, ATM/credit cards and my passport. I was lucky enough to have a travel companion at the time who lent me money to hold me over for a few weeks while I waited in the capitol for the embassy to reissue a passport and for my new ATM/credit cards to be sent. It was early on in my traveling days and I learned a lot from that experience and how to travel smarter. It also worked out in a way because I spent a lot longer time in Laos than I had initially planned to, and because of that I was able to really absorb and fall in love with the country and its culture. Its still one of my favorite countries to this day.
What’s your dream destination? Tahiti. And I am scheduled to go there at the end of this year!
Best travel tip: Let your journey unfold naturally. Do some research before you leave and have loose plans, but once you get there just follow your intuition and be spontaneous and open to everything. Let the journey bring you unique experiences and introduce you to amazing people. If you can let go and allow the flow to take you, your trip will be nothing short of magic and you will have experiences that far exceed anything that you could have planned or expected. Also, venture into the local culture. Get off the beaten trail, meet and spend time with locals, try their foods and traditions, learn some words in their language, ask questions, share and learn with them. It will open up your mind and heart and take you deeper into your travels. You will cherish those memories forever.