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: Joe Baur
Occupation: Travel writer, photographer, filmmaker, and podcaster through Without A Path at joebaur.com; and Content Marketing & Communications at Trivago
Hometown: Cleveland, OH
Residence: Düsseldorf, Germany
College: Miami University
College major: Mass Communication and Film Studies
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Short bio: If you couldn’t tell from the eight previous references to my name, I’m Joe Baur. I’m a travel writer who also does some filmmaking, photography and podcasting. My niche is getting off the tourist trek to find stories people aren’t already talking about. I’m especially passionate about traveling to destinations that have a bad image in mass media so I can meet people and tell a different story.
Over the years I’ve worked with some of the familiar travel outlets, but I’m currently focusing on my own writing at joebaur.com and travel book writing. I’ve done a few guidebooks, but I’m really into that Bill Bryson style of narrative mixed with humor, history and culture. So with that in mind, I’m releasing “Talking Tico: (Mis)adventures of a Gringo in and around Costa Rica“ this autumn on my year(-ish) of living in Costa Rica. Details are up on my website. Then I’ll be looking ahead for my next project as I continue to more intimately explore Europe and (hopefully soon) North Africa.
How often do you fly? At least once every other month. Sometimes more as opportunities and time allow.
How many countries have you been to? About 22. Now that I’m based in Europe, I expect that number to jump considerably in the near future, much like it did when I lived in Central America. I’ve also traveled around 45 U.S. states.
How many continents have you been to? North America, South America, Europe, Asia.
Earliest travel memory: Fighting with my older brother in the backseat on the way to the corn fields of Iowa where they filmed Field Of Dreams. Once the dust settled of his fists pummeling me—most likely because I hit him first—we arrived to the famous diamond and home where Kevin Costner started hearing things. We posed for a picture in front of the house with our baseball bats and played in one of the never-ending pickup games before running into the corn stalks screaming, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”
Favorite American city: I’m a homer, especially when I’m away, so I have to say Cleveland. Hometown pride aside, Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood is easily one of my favorite neighborhoods in the country, I’m a big fan of Minneapolis for its cycling scene, and hippy enclaves like Boulder and Asheville are always a good time.
Favorite international city: Impossible to say definitively. Depends on my mood, time of year, what I’m actively interested in, what I feel like eating, and a whole mess of other factors. That said, Tokyo can generally always hit those parameters. Santiago, Chile and Bern, Switzerland also come to mind, but I need to spend more time in both.
Least favorite country: The United States, which I only say because it’s the only country I feel I know intimately enough to have a truly negative opinion of at times. Sure, I’ve had unpleasant experiences overseas, but the U.S. is my home country. I’ve seen it at its worst. The politics, the car culture, the gun culture, the xenophobia—you name it.
But because I know it so well, it’s also one of my favorite countries.
I have no desire to go to: There are places I’m not as jazzed about seeing, but I think the moment I inherently cross places off my list is the moment I need to stop calling myself a travel writer.
Friendliest people in the world: In general, U.S. Americans, Costa Ricans and Germans. I’ve lived in all of these places, so they come immediately to mind. Some places and/or nationalities that stick out with limited exposure are Salvadorans, Filipinos, Jordanians, and Japanese.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: The United States, but anecdotally, it seems to have gotten much better in recent years. At its worst I was crossing the border by car from Windsor, Canada to Detroit early in the morning for a half-marathon. Hundreds clearly stayed in Canada due to booked hotels in Detroit, yet the border officer was oddly suspicious of the car being licensed to my parents in Ohio, my Ohio ID, and the fact that I was coming from Chicago, where I lived at the time. He had me pop the trunk and explain the bags of clothes, which were bundled up for donation. Other times I’ve felt like I’m being quizzed in hopes of screwing up so the border agents could have something to do. But again, I’ve lately noticed nothing but pleasant smiles and war, greetings when returning to the States. Perhaps they got the memo that foreigners were putting the U.S. lower on their travel list thanks in part to grumpy border agents.
Favorite World Heritage Site: PETRA-PETRA-PETRA! I came into it thinking that, like the Taj Mahal or something, you just walk up, observe it for a bit, then go back to the hotel. I was prepared to see the main temple, hum the Indiana Jones theme song, and call it a day. But this was more accurately a UNESCO National Park. You can hike for days among the ruins. I did about 20 miles in two days. Can’t recommend it enough.
Favorite airline: SWISS. They greeted my wife and I, sweaty from sprinting through security after a late transfer, with wide smiles and chocolate. “We’ve been expecting you!” Then we got on the plane and got more chocolate.
Favorite aircraft type: Anything that isn’t one of those 60-minute jumpers in the States.
Aisle or window: Window. I know I can make myself go to the bathroom before the flight like a big boy and control my water intake so I’m not getting up every hour. Others, I’ve found, aren’t as trustworthy, so I prefer the window over getting trampled on in the middle of my flight so someone can pee.
Plus I still stare out the window during the landing.
Favorite airport lounge: Only one I’ve spent considerable time in is LATAM’s new-ish lounge in Santiago, Chile, because I was covering the opening. That did not suck. Otherwise, I’ve done the United at O’Hare once or twice and it did the job.
Favorite U.S. airport: Minneapolis, probably.
Favorite international airport: I’ll go with San José, Costa Rica only because they separate travelers with kids from travelers without kids.
Favorite hotel: Bosque del Cabo and the Lodge at Pico Bonito come to mind for natural destinations with hiking right outside the front door. For cities, as long as it’s a reasonably comfortable bed within walking distance to public transport and/or the main pedestrian plaza, I’m happy.
Favorite cruise line: UnCruise Adventures. I’m highly suspicious of any of the big brands that turn boats into unnatural floating cities full of God knows how much human feces and disease, not to mention the environmental destruction they cause.
Favorite travel credit card: United’s MileagePlus has been good to me.
Favorite island: Puerto Rico’s Culebra Island.
Favorite beach: The beaches of Culebra and El Tunco, El Salvador.
Favorite National Park: Boy, that’s tough. Loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and wish I could spend more time there. But Arenal in Costa Rica and Cerro Verde in El Salvador also come to mind. Plus I just got back from Eifel National Park in Germany, and good Lord, that was just a gorgeous experience right when I was craving the crisp fresh air of Autumn done right. And I was just talking about Pico Bonito in Honduras with someone. I guess it’s like “favorite city.” Depends on my mood and what I’m craving.
Favorite fancy restaurant: I feel very uncomfortable any place that’s overtly fancy, so nothing is ringing a bell.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Now we’re talking…I can’t remember the names, but I hopped in and out of so many little joints in Tokyo where the street was only as wide as a few people, and you had to squeeze into the joint to grab a seat. That’s the happiest I’ve ever been when it comes to enjoying a hole-in-the-wall.
Favorite bar: I went to Happy Dog and Platform on the west side of Cleveland a good amount back home. I met my wife at Happy Dog, so hard to top that.
Favorite fruit: I hated pineapple before I moved to Costa Rica. Then I moved to Costa Rica and had a proper pineapple. I now love pineapple.
Favorite food: It’s an ongoing battle between Indian, Thai and Mexican. For a specific food, chicken chorizo sausage from Cleveland’s West Side Market.
Least favorite food: Cucumbers.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): A good IPA if it’s chilly out or a cold hefeweizen if it’s hot.
Favorite travel movie(s): Movies like The Beach and Seven Years In Tibet first got me imagining places outside of the United States for the first time. Wild would be a more recent example.
Favorite travel show(s): I’m going to be super original and say Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. I’d love to find something else to add to that list, but nothing else quite hits my taste for challenging North American preconceived notions about certain destinations, like an Iran, by introducing viewers to the people of the country.
Favorite travel book(s): “A Walk in the Woods” cemented my interest of actually being a travel writer and was the first piece of travel literature I read. Since then I’ve quite enjoyed ‘It’s Not About The Tapas,” “Overbooked” (not travel, per say, but about the industry), “Swiss Watching,” and “The Wonder Trail.” In general, I try to read at least one travel book for every destination I’m about to visit.
Right now I am reading: “A Tramp Abroad” (Germany), “The White Island” (Ibiza) and “Venice” by Jan Morris. And that’s because I live in Germany, am heading to Ibiza later this week, and then Italy at the end of the month.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: Roads & Kingdoms; Skift; National Geographic.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! To be honest, I do a terrible job of monitoring my colleagues. I’m certainly up for it, though. Part of my hesitation and frustration is that so much of the material out there seems to be listicles and “I went on this free trip that 10 other travel bloggers you know went on. READ MY BLOG!” If there’s stuff out there that focuses on photography, video, podcasts and/or narratives of destinations that are a bit off the tourist trek, I really would be interested in reading it. Even if it’s a touristy destination, I love reading stories about this or that neighborhood that tourists don’t know about.
5 things you bring on a plane: Camera and my luggage bag. Not sure I can get to five, unless I can count my tooth brush and tooth paste as separate things. In general, I just pack whatever clothes and toiletries I’ll need and my camera.
What do you always seem to forget? I’ve forgotten my pen-shaped lens cleaner a few times.
What do you like least about travel? The carbon footprint I know I’m leaving behind.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Nothing. We have an agreed upon, “no things” arrangement. We’re those, “we spend our money on experiences!” people.
Favorite travel app(s): DuoLingo, SkyScanner, GoEuro.
Most embarrassing travel moment: We locked ourselves out of our apartment in Germany by leaving our other set of keys in the key hole inside. Had no idea that would lock us out.
I’m embarrassed I haven’t been to: New Orleans. It’s probably the only major U.S. city I’ve yet to visit.
Worst travel moment: To put it delicately, anytime some new water or new food isn’t agreeing with me and I have to do my best Usain Bolt impression to the bathroom.
What’s your dream destination? Iran.
Favorite travel charity: I’m not aware of any travel charities out there that I really like. I’m also not an expert. I’m suspicious of those that want you to fly across the world to spend a few days with kids so you can get some Facebook photos. Not that they’re all like that, but that’s the gist of what I’ve seen. Like good travel blogs, I’d love to learn more about great travel charities.
One of my many dreams is to be in a place where I can fund travel writing scholarships for writers from destinations that aren’t necessarily getting included in press trips. Travel writing is flooded with white folks (like me!) from the States or Europe. I’d like to see more diversity out there, so any opportunity to fund budding writers with the interest without necessarily the financial means or an audience with financial means would be a worthy cause.
Best travel tip: You can usually take the travel warnings with a grain of salt. Be smart. Be vigilant. Do your homework, but don’t dismiss entire regions of the globe because they look different or simply don’t have the greatest image floating around mass media. Those are the places where you’re going to have the most memorable experiences. Go there and tell those stories.
Oh, and as Charlie Chaplin said…Smile.