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: John A. Vlahides
Occupation: Writer, Presenter, Producer
Hometown: New York, USA
Residence: San Francisco, California
Short Bio: John A. Vlahides is co-host of the TV series Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening worldwide on National Geographic Channels, and in the US on Travel Channel. He has written 19 books for Lonely Planet, and is also published by BBC Magazines, Condé Nast, King Features, and multiple international publications. He’s a former luxury-hotel concierge and member of Les Clefs d’Or, and he studied classic French cooking at La Varenne, in Paris. John speaks fluent French and sings tenor with the Grammy®-winning San Francisco Symphony Chorus.
How often do you fly: 50,000 mi per year
How many countries have you been to: Over 10. I lose track and don’t count. It strikes me as pretentious to do so, like measuring the length of one’s penis. If you have to ask, you haven’t traveled (present company excluded, of course).
How many continents have you been to: That’s an easier question to answer: Five
Favorite American city: San Francisco, the western edge of Western civilization.
Favorite international city: Paris—because I speak the language and, really, it’s hard to beat the beauty of Paris, n’est-ce pas?
Least favorite city: Dubai
Favorite World Heritage Site: Yosemite National Park—it’s close enough to my home that I can visit regularly. I feel a deep connection with the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Favorite aircraft type: I’ve loved the 747 since childhood, and I remember when the upper deck was the first-class lounge and dining room, which I once had the pleasure of experiencing, sometime in the 1970s—I still remember the shag-rug wall sculpture. Now I can’t wait to fly the Dreamliner, once they sort out the initial kinks.
Aisle or window: Window, always: the opportunity to view the earth from above must never be taken for granted.
Favorite airport lounge: Air New Zealand lounge at Sydney International.
Favorite U.S. airport: SFO—until recently, SFO had no advertisements on the walls, only art installations, and though light-board ads have regrettably begun to appear, it remains a joy to walk the art- and sunlight-filled corridors.
Favorite international airport: Frankfurt, for its incredible ballet of jet airliners.
Favorite cruise line: Cunard’s Ocean Liners, the Queens.
Favorite fancy restaurant: Meadwood, Napa
Favorite hole in the wall: Chow on Church St., San Francisco
Favorite food: Roast lamb
Least favorite food: Packaged truffle oil—unless it’s homemade by a proper chef, it tastes like smelly sweat socks.
Drink of choice (In the air and on the ground): Brut Champagne
Right now I am reading: I’m re-reading Where I Was From, by Joan Didion, a collection of essays on California.
Five things you bring on a plane: Small down pillow in high-thread-count case, moisturizer, saline nasal spray, eye drops, and sleeping pills.
What do you always seem to forget: Nothing. I always overpack.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport duty free store? La Grande Dame, Veuve Cliquot Champagne
Most embarrassing/worst travel moment: I was seated on the window, beside a cranky man, who told me upon boarding that he didn’t want to be disturbed. Fidgety flier, I kept getting up from my seat, which bothered him immensely. After he fell asleep, I suddenly had to pee and decided to climb over him by standing on my chair, stepping on the arm rest, and hopping into the aisle. But just as I put my foot onto the arm rest, I slipped and stepped with all my weight onto the skin of his forearm, pinching it between my shoe and the hard-plastic arm rest. He screamed and jumped at me. I ran down the aisle, hid in the bathroom, then took a vacant seat at the back of the plane, where I remained until we landed.
What’s your dream destination: The island of Réunion, to experience the French-speaking antipode of California; and Western Australia, to swim with whale sharks. Also, I’d love to return to Sakalava Bay, in northern Madagascar, to spend a week learning to kite surf. I didn’t quite nail it in the half day I had there; here’s a video showing the experience.
Favorite travel charity: Planet Wheeler
Favorite travel website(s) – besides JohnnyJet.com, of course!: Actually, my favorite feed for current travel info is in fact JohnnyJet.com, but I equally love LonelyPlanet.com.
Best travel tip: Don’t take Ambien on an airplane and stay awake, lest you go into a blackout and do something embarrassing. I have photos of myself with an airplane blanket tied around my head like a turban, wrestling with a child over a paper airplane on the galley floor of a United 777 bound from London to SFO. I had totally forgotten the entire experience until I got home and downloaded my photos.