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: Kate Springer
Occupation: Travel Writer & Editor
Hometown: Lancaster, PA, USA
Residence: Hong Kong
College: Penn State
College major: English & International Politics
Grad School: Northwestern
College major: Journalism
Short bio: Originally from Lancaster, PA, Kate Springer is an American travel journalist based in Hong Kong. She usually covers food, heritage, luxury, and eco-oriented news with an emphasis on the greater Asia region. She regularly writes for CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, Playboy, Sotheby’s, Travel + Leisure, Fodor’s, Forbes Travel Guide, Tatler, and more.
How often do you fly? Usually twice a month—usually no more than four days at a time.
How many countries have you been to? I actually don’t keep a tally. But in honor of this Q&A, I counted it up: 53 as of May 2018.
How many continents have you been to? Five, soon to be six with a trip to Cape Town on the books for this fall.
Earliest travel memory: My parents started us early, first to Yakima, Washington, as infants every year to visit my mom’s side of the family. But in terms of international travel, my earliest memory was a trip to London in fourth grade. After each museum or landmark, my dad quizzed us in the rental car. He paid us a pound every time we got an answer right. Still today, I know way too much about Richard the Lionheart and the eradication of smallpox. After London, we drove to the Cotswolds and stayed in a thatched-roof cottage in the tiny, tiny town of Great Tew. I remember wandering around the old streets, visiting a church, and feeling swept away by the charm of the English countryside.
Favorite American city: Chicago in the summer; San Francisco in the spring; New York in the fall; Nashville in the winter.
Favorite international city: Tokyo…it’s an endless maze of surprises and you never need to worry about where to eat—everything’s amazing.
Least favorite country: I’m of the mind that every country has its charms. Though I’d never write off a whole country, I suppose one city I am lukewarm on is Manila…I will never feel nostalgia for the grinding traffic, sweltering heat, and hawkers selling Viagra outside bars. That said, I hear the evolving food scene is worth another visit.
I have no desire to go to: Given the current climate, Syria…
Friendliest people in the world: Guatemala! I lived in Antigua for about four months after college and felt at home immediately.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: The U.S. Even as a citizen, I have felt intimidated by their gruff demeanor and have heard horror stories from foreign friends.
Favorite World Heritage Site: In Asia, I’d say Angkor Wat. You can easily spend a day admiring the ornate carvings and wandering through the immense temple grounds. For a less crowded experience, I booked a sunrise biking tour with ABOUTAsia—a conscientious company that goes above and beyond when it comes to both insight and experiences. After the Angkor tour, our guide set up a French-style picnic next to abandoned temple grounds in the middle of the forest, serving us warm coffee and flaky croissants before we moved on to tackle Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple).
Favorite airline: I am in a love-hate relationship with Cathay Pacific at the moment because they completely upended their loyalty system two years ago. But every time I fly a terrible American airline—like United or American—I’m reminded that Cathay is actually pretty nice when it comes to economy class. In terms of one-off trips, I have flown business class on both Emirates and Qatar before—both were exceptional.
Favorite aircraft type: On a trip between Sydney and Christchurch on Air New Zealand, I flew on an A380 for the first time. Everything was oversized: the seats, the TVs, the bathrooms. Loved every second—even in economy!
Aisle or window: I’m an aisle person unless I know that the route could have some great scenery along the way. On a flight to Fiji or to Tokyo, for example, I’d definitely nab the window seat.
Favorite airport lounge: For everyday travel, Cathay Pacific’s The Deck lounge at Hong Kong International Airport. It’s gorgeous, great food, cocktail bar, and lots of comfortable corners for stretching out. And for a once-in-a-lifetime treat? I hung out at Etihad’s new first-class lounge in Abu Dhabi after it opened in 2017. It was amazing! Full-service restaurant, bespoke cocktails, cigar lounge, a complimentary spa, hair salon, theater, rest area, and like 10 types of dates on offer.
Favorite U.S. airport: I really dislike all of the U.S. international terminals that I’ve been to. Compared with Asian airports, they are painfully slow, and the food is pretty sad. If I have to choose, then I guess I’d say Newark. Security usually moves quickly and, once inside, there’s lots of seating, plugs, and bars to keep you occupied.
Favorite international airport: I love Singapore’s Changi Airport. It’s a wonderland of green features, restaurants, and comfy lounge areas—there’s even a pool!
Favorite hotel: Ever? Wow, this is hard. I’m an Aman fangirl and one of my best hotel experiences recently was at the Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. It sits on its own island off the central coast with stunning cliffside views of the Adriatic Sea from every restaurant. I loved the architecture, too—every room is actually a village house, built within the original structures.
To add in one more…I’d also highly recommend the Four Seasons Golden Triangle tented camp in Chiang Rai for an “adventure” holiday. They make everything so easy for you with so many activities on site, from cooking classes to trekking to elephant bathing. The spa is absolutely incredible: Just an elevated open-air platform in the middle of the jungle.
Favorite cruise line: I’ve only ever been on one…and it was a Disney cruise when I was 16.
Favorite travel credit card: Chase Sapphire Reserve! No international fees, good points on travel and food spending, and excellent customer service.
Favorite island: Kyushu Island in Japan. This southern island is heaving with natural attractions: Not only is it a marvelous place to see sakura (cherry blossoms) in the springtime, but there’s something to do all year round. I’d recommend flying into Fukuoka and sampling the local Hakata (tonkotsu) ramen, made with a hearty pork bone broth, before moving on to Oita and Beppu on the east coast.
In the shadow of Mt. Yufu, Oita is especially charming. Beppu is a small city, that’s famous for its hot springs and “sand bathing.” Look it up—you basically get buried in hot sand, thought to help your circulation, expunge impurities, and ease muscle fatigue. From there, you can circle around to Mt. Aso, a powerful caldera that’s the largest active volcano in Japan at 1,592 meters above sea level.
Favorite beach: Last year, I went to Turtle Island in Fiji and, while we found the communal activities a little bit overbearing, it’s hard to beat the hotel’s beach setup. The rustic property has at least 12 private beaches around the island—including Blue Lagoon, where the namesake blockbuster was filed. Every day, you can choose a different private beach and the staff will drop you off in a golf cart or a speedboat. At a set time, they’ll deliver your pre-ordered picnic lunch, as well G&Ts, bubbly, or beers anytime you like.
If yachting is more your thing, I’d recommend sailing for a week or two through St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Once you set off, it’s nothing but rum punch, beach barbecues, cobalt water, and powder-soft sand.
Favorite National Park: Sai Kung East Country Park, in northeastern Hong Kong, is definitely worth a side trip. It will dash all your preconceived notions about Hong Kong being a dense mass of urbanity. Nature lovers will find incredible volcanic geological features, clear water, empty beaches, remote waterfalls, and imposing mountains—check out the MacLehose Trail to explore on foot, or hire a sampan (local boat) guide in Sai Kung Village for more flexibility.
Favorite fancy restaurant: I’m obsessed with Frantzen’s Kitchen in the artsy Tai Ping Shan district in Hong Kong. Reserve a seat at the chef’s counter a few weeks in advance, then salivate over the Nordic-French-Japanese menu, Nordic gin and tonics, and boutique French wine list.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Club 71 is the best hole-in-the-wall bar in Hong Kong. Known to attract writers and musicians, the no-frills bar is hidden on a pedestrian alleyway just off Hollywood Road. There’s a public park right next to the bar (and no open-bottle restrictions), so you can buy a draft then relax in the park on a nice night.
In Osaka, there’s a tiny sushi restaurant that you must visit if you’re in the area. It’s called harukoma honten. There’s a line out the door every night, and they close when the chef runs out of rice. So get in line early!
Favorite airport restaurant: I love Cathay Pacific’s lounges at Hong Kong International Airport, so you’re most likely to find me holed up there. But if I’m traveling internationally, I usually just hit up a Starbucks and order something basic—coffee and a salad. Boring, I know!
Favorite bar: Winstons, an Aussie-style coffee shop by day, cocktail bar by night in Hong Kong’s western district. I usually go for a Negroni, some biltong (South African cured meat) and a cheese plate.
Favorite fruit: Oranges, or really any variation thereof.
Favorite food: Pizza, everything bagels, and xiao long bao. The first time I tasted a soup dumpling—on January 13, 2012, at Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong—it actually changed my life.
Least favorite food: I don’t get America’s obsession with donuts. I’ll take a bagel instead any day.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): In the air, I usually go with something simple like a pale ale or IPA. If I’m lucky and get upgraded, then I’d go for a Bloody Mary and all the wines. I also drink tomato juice and water throughout the flight. Water for hydration, tomato juice because it tastes better at altitude!
On the ground, I usually kick off an evening with a gin martini (extra dry, extra olives) or a Negroni. Then I’d move into wine, beer…or Scotch, depending on the context. In a nutshell: I drink everything.
Favorite travel movie(s): Lost in Translation. Every time I got to Tokyo, I enjoy a drink at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo (featured in the movie)—the views are phenomenal and there’s often live music.
Favorite travel show(s): I usually watch food-fueled travel TV…Parts Unknown, Chef’s Table, and, most recently, I have been obsessed with Ugly Delicious.
Favorite travel book(s): Anything by Bill Bryson or Elizabeth Gilbert.
Right now I am reading: Just finished “Anatomy of a Scandal” by former Guardian reporter Sarah Vaughan and “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. I have “Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck cued up next.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: Tiny Atlas Quarterly, Explore Parts Unknown, Adventurous Kate.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, Munchies, Eater, Skift.
5 things you bring on a plane: Kindle, lotion, laptop, protein bar, hoodie.
What do you always seem to forget? Sunglasses, converters, sneakers, sports bras…you name it, I’ve forgotten it. But the most recurring mental blip? I always forget to charge my Kindle before traveling. I tend to open it up on the plane with just 10% battery left. Luckily, more economy cabins these days have USB charging ports.
What do you like least about travel? Transit time. I’m currently following the new wave of supersonic technology—there’s still hope, right?
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Whisky or Scotch—ideally, a few bottles of recently discontinued Hibiki 17 if traveling through Japan.
Favorite travel app(s): Uber or Lyft, Betternet & Private Internet Access (for traveling in China), Priority Pass, Airbnb.
Most embarrassing travel moment: Most of my most embarrassing moments revolve around digestive issues on the road…so let’s not go there!
Worst travel moment: In my early 20s, I managed to get lost in a sketchy port town in Guatemala. I was traveling alone to meet friends in Livingston, a beach town on the east coast—along Río Dulce at the Gulf of Honduras. The bus broke down along the way, which put me several hours behind. I finally arrived at the port around 11pm, but the communal ferries had already ceased operating for the night. Luckily, I speak Spanish, so I ended up talking to some kids in the area. They helped me find the boat operator, who offered to take me on the 30-minute speedboat ride to my destination for the equivalent about US$100—which was a lot to me at the time. I don’t think I was in any real danger, but I was uncomfortable traveling at night, alone, in a foreign place, so I’m grateful to those kids for helping me out.
What’s your dream destination? A helicopter tour through Bhutan—or perhaps the four-day Milford Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland region. The latter is not only famous for the immense mountains and incredible scenery, but also for the high-quality lodges along the way. When I travel, I love to combine elements of adventure with great food, booze and accommodations.
Favorite travel charity: UNICEF! It’s an obvious one, but it’s so convenient to discharge spare change on the plane. Why wouldn’t you?
Best travel tip: I love to plan ahead—to a point where it annoys most of my travel companions. But even in a relatively structured itinerary, I always try to leave a few meals unplanned to leave room for spontaneity and discoveries. Those stumbled-upon experiences are often the most memorable.