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 Mangan
Occupation: HH-60G Pavehawk pilot. Author of “Into a Dark Frontier.”
Hometown: Torrance, CA
College: US Air Force Academy
College major: Aeronautical Engineering
Facebook: John ManganBooks
Short bio: I grew up in southern California, went to the Air Force Academy and then became a Combat Search and Rescue pilot flying the HH-60G Pavehawk. I deployed eight times, primarily to Iraq and Afghanistan flying medevac and casualty evacuation missions. During my time in the Air Force I had the opportunity to travel extensively in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The high points of my career were spent living overseas in Japan and Iceland. I recently retired from the military and have embarked on a career as a novelist. My debut novel “Into a Dark Frontier” was recently released to favorable reviews.
How often do you fly? I flew 2-3 times per week for the last 20 years, so quite a bit.
How many countries have you been to? 30
How many continents have you been to? 4
Earliest travel memory: When I was very young my family lived in Nakhon Phanon, a small city in eastern Thailand. Our nanny would sneak my brother and I out of the house and show us off around town because blonde-haired western children were something of a rarity back then. I remember being surrounded by a clamoring mob of strange faces all reaching towards me so they could tap me on the head. My mom wasn’t too jazzed when she found out about it.
Favorite American city: New York City. I like places that are rich in history and have thousands of stories, big and small, waiting to be discovered. New York is the closest thing that America has to an ancient city so it will have to do. I was in NYC this summer and was disappointed to see that McSorley;s Ale House cleaned the dust off their chandeliers for the first time in 150 years. The beer was still good though.
Favorite international city: Florence, Italy. Florence was the Silicon Valley of the Renaissance and was the birthplace of so many ideas that have shaped the world. Funny story: Some years ago I took a visiting friend on an open air bus tour of the Hollywood Hills in California. The tour guide stopped the bus, pointed and said, “Over there you can see Tom Cruise’s chimney.” Everybody started taking pictures. One year later I was taking an open-air bus tour through the hills above Florence, Italy. The tour guide stopped the bus, pointed and said “Over there you can see the balcony from which Galileo discovered the moons orbiting Jupiter, thus proving that the earth was not the center of the Universe. Thus proving the fallibility of the Church. Thus setting the stage for the Reformation. Thus laying the cornerstone of secular western democracy and the modern world.”
Wow, that was way better than Tom Cruise’s chimney.
Least favorite country: Iraq.
I have no desire to go to: Saudi Arabia.
Friendliest people in the world: Cambodia and Japan.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: I’ve never had any trouble, but a US officer once tried to confiscate a homemade kielbasa from my Polish mother in-law. What kind of human does that? Luckily, the incident was resolved with minimal injury to the officer.
Favorite World Heritage Site: Angkor Wat, Cambodia. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Angkor Wat is only one of a series of temples that are spread out over almost 50 square miles. You can spend weeks there exploring the temples and never walk the same ground twice. In the main temple there are almost 1,800 carvings of female devatas, all close-mouthed except for a hidden one that wears a big toothy grin. It makes you wonder about the story behind that one unique carving…
Favorite airline: Whichever has the lowest fare on Kayak, that’s my favorite.
Favorite aircraft type: HH-60M with 701Ds and wide-chord blades.
Aisle or window: Window. On the H-60 you can take the entire door off which gives you a first rate view. It also allows you to extend your leg out into the slipstream and get a 140 mph blast of air up your pantleg. Very refreshing. Rain and snow can become a problem though.
Favorite airport lounge: The alert facility at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, is pretty good as you are never sitting around for very long.
Favorite U.S. airport: Sedona, AZ, has a nice little airfield with a great open-air restaurant and sweeping views of the surrounding rock formations. You can sit down, have a good burger and watch all the celebrities fly in for a weekend of yoga, meditation and fleeting moments of total consciousness.
Favorite international airport: Clark Field, Philippines. The air traffic controllers there took a rather dim view of rules and regulations, and given that other air traffic was rare they gave us free reign to do whatever we wanted. We flew around inside Mount Pinatubo volcano for a while, then toured over Corregidor where General MacArthur was trapped during WW2, then followed the trail of the Bataan Death March up to the camp where the survivors where kept. That was an incredible day. Thank you, Clark Control.
Favorite hotel: I’ve had to use the H-60 as a hotel a few times. It’s a bit spartan but the fact that you are sleeping in the helicopter means that something interesting is going on. It wasn’t the accommodations that I liked, it was the setting.
Favorite cruise line: I’m not a fan of large boats with thousands of people crammed into them.
Favorite travel credit card: Government travel card.
Favorite island: Okinawa, Japan.
Favorite beach: I’ve got a secret beach in the Kerama Islands, Japan. It’s completely isolated, relatively remote and home to the most incredible SCUBA diving I’ve ever experienced. Just walk into the water and it’s like you’re in Ariel’s grotto. At night the crabs come out and you can hear them rustling around in your gear, dragging away whatever they find interesting.
Favorite National Park: Yosemite, Kings Canyon and the Giant Sequoias. Once you get away from the roads the crowds disappear and you can be completely alone in one of the most incredible places on Earth. That it’s only a few hours away from Los Angeles is hard to believe.
Favorite fancy restaurant: I’ve always maintained that it’s the clientele that define a restaurant. That’s why I prefer Waffle House, at 2am, on Halloween night. Now that’s a fancy crowd.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: There’s a little place in Albuquerque called The Burrito Lady. It’s literally like you’ve walked into this woman’s kitchen and you’re served whatever she’s cooked up that day. She doesn’t use recipes and just freestyles these incredible Mexican dishes that’ll knock you out of your boots.
Favorite airport restaurant: Coco’s Curry in Japan.
Favorite bar: Beach 69 in Yomitan, Okinawa. Beach 69 was this little backpacker hostel/reggae bar tucked away in a sleepy fishing village. It was the kind of place where you could spend hours or days lounging, drinking, eating, socializing, and laughing with all the Japanese backpackers coming through. When you needed some alone time you could walk down a rickety old staircase that was hanging from the side of a cliff, hidden behind by a veil of hanging vines. When you got to the bottom you could lounge on a white sugar sand beach or go swimming in an ocean that was more like a tropical fish tank than anything else.
Favorite fruit: Philippine mangoes pulled straight from the tree, blended up with coconut rum and a little ice. Yes, that’s still fruit.
Favorite food: Garlic naan with potato and pea Samosas and Makhani Chicken.
Least favorite food: Ham Slice MRE.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): 12-year Glenlivet on ice with a pinch of pepper.
Favorite travel movie(s): Anchorman. Wait, that makes no sense…
Favorite travel show(s): I haven’t watched many, but Anthony Bourdain’s show has had a few interesting episodes.
Favorite travel book(s): “Endurance,” about Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica. That book puts your travel troubles in perspective like nothing else can. For adventure travel I read “My War Gone By, I Miss it So.”
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: What’s that website that ISIS puts up and tries to get people to come join them? They make the Caliphate look like such a good time, no wonder all those people go visit. Raqqa is just like Prague was in the early 90s, you should go now before the tourists commercialize and ruin it.
5 things you bring on a plane: Camel back full of ice, an M-4, 210 rounds of 5.56, five-hour energy shots, and an extra armor plate to place in the chin bubble.
What do you always seem to forget? The ROZ control frequencies.
What do you like least about travel? Malaria and Leishmaniasis.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? A unique local alcohol. There is a drink in Africa where the old women of the tribe chew on a local root then spit into a vat, which they then ferment and make beer out of. I haven’t seen that in the duty free shops yet, perhaps an enterprising young entrepreneur could exploit that niche.
Most embarrassing travel moment: Back in 2009 I was leading a flight with a pretty tight schedule so I took a shortcut over a bad neighborhood in Helmand Valley. There was no moon that night so I thought that by crossing over at high altitude we would slip past the locals unnoticed. Unfortunately, they noticed, ran outside and sent up a good fireworks display to celebrate our passing. I was the one that had made the wrong call so that was pretty embarrassing.
I’m embarrassed I haven’t been to: Africa. I just published my first novel, “Into a Dark Frontier,” which is set almost exclusively in Africa. With all the places I’ve been to I’m not sure why I set the story in the place I’ve never visited.
Right now I am reading: I’m not doing much reading at the moment as I’m writing the sequel to “Into a Dark Frontier.”
Worst travel moment: We were flying in a narrow canyon near Bamyan, Afghanistan, the place where the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddha back in 2000. The weather came down suddenly and we were trapped in the clouds, unable to land and unable to climb over the surrounding mountains. It got pretty ugly.
What’s your dream destination? I’d like to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Best travel tip: Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and deviate from your travel plan, but don’t go into a country without developing a solid plan first. There were a few trips where my only plan was to live completely spur of the moment, but I only ended up missing opportunities and wasting valuable time. Also, studying the history of a country before you arrive will make the adventure that much more interesting and fulfilling. It’s kind of like going to visit a civil war battlefield; if you have taken the time to learn the history before you arrive then common things such as a stone fence or an open field take on meaning and significance. It’s a much deeper experience.