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: Mat Ward
Hometown: The sadly decrepit Oldham, England
Residence: The beautiful Sydney, Australia
College: De Montfort University, Leicester, England
College major: Media Studies, followed by a postgraduate in journalism
Website: The only website I run is realtalkthebook.com, which is the website for a book I wrote called “Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country.”
Twitter: The only Twitter handle I run is @realtalkthebook, the Twitter handle of the same book.
Facebook: I don’t get on Facebook much these days due to lack of time, but a great one if you want to learn about the “real” Australia is the one run by the Indigenous Hip Hop radio show. The music is world-class and the hosts are thought-provoking.
YouTube: The collection of videos I made documenting the journey in my book “Around The World In 80 AA’s.” The videos show how you’re bombarded with alcohol advertising in almost any non-Muslim country you go in the world—and even in some of those, too. They’re all set to local music.
Short bio: Mat Ward is a writer with dual British-New Zealand citizenship who now lives in Sydney with his wife, a Tamil who emigrated from India 35 years ago, and their young Sydney-born son. His book “Around The World in 80 AA’s” documents the time he was told in rehab that he would die if he relapsed, so he decided to try to see the world before he died. That was before he met his wife.
How often do you fly? You’re going to hate this but as little as possible these days, since reading the book “Heat” by George Monbiot, who is one of the few high-profile environmentalists who attends international climate conferences by video link, rather than flying there. The last time I flew was last year, back to England for the funeral of my old childhood friend and teenage drinking partner Ben, after he fell out of his window and broke his neck. It was worth it—his friends gave him a viking burial in Chelmsford, Essex, in a viking boat they’d built themselves—they set it on fire—all drunk—with cans of petrol. It looked like they were all going to go up in flames at one point. My book “Around The World in 80 AA’s” is dedicated to him. There’s a lot to be said for not flying and exploring your own backyard. Inequality is such in a lot of Western countries that it can be like traveling through several countries within your own city, if you explore it. My favourite, never-ending journey is exploring sweltering Sydney by bicycle at a slow 14 kilometres an hour. You could also try sailing for a more memorable experience. “Around The World in 80 AA’s” opens with me sailing for seven days from Fiji to Vanuatu in five-metre swells—horrifying. You might like this though: my old school mate Matt Benson hit the headlines in the 1990s as an anti-aircraft protester when he dug himself in under Manchester Airport’s expansion in a series of tunnels. He’s now one of the most frequent flyers I know—I last met him when he visited Sydney—Australia was his 86th country.
How many countries have you been to? 46
How many continents have you been to? All except Antarctica.
Earliest travel memory: Opening the car door to someone who tapped on the family car window in Czechoslovakia when my mum and dad had left us in the car. The person proceeded to help themselves to whatever was in the car.
Favorite American city: Wow, that’s a hard one because the US is so diverse and beautiful. Georgia, Atlanta, was a great experience because it was the first time I, as a white Westerner, was in the minority and surrounded by black people who were often far wealthier than me. If you’re reading this while black, you’re probably laughing.
Favorite international city: Delhi, India, because it was the first place I landed in there. India is like another planet.
Least favorite country: I’d like to answer this question like that wee-wee drinker Bear Grylls did and say “none.” In truth, Paraguay. I was at a friend’s birthday party the other day here in Sydney and chatting to her mate who was from Paraguay and she also thought it was a hell hole. When I said it’s just endless dirt and scrub, she laughed and said: “They’re very proud of that dirt!” Sorry to all the Paraguayan nationalists out there.
I have no desire to go to: Manus Island, which is where Australia exiles refugees. The refugees say it’s worse than the war-torn countries they fled.
Friendliest people in the world: Indians.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: Australia, which just announced that it’s now going to ban refugees housed on Manus even if they were originally from, say, the US. Australia routinely breaks international immigration law. As Naomi Klein pointed out while visiting here as a frequent-flying environmentalist, what’s happening in Australia is like Donald Trump’s wall, yet gets none of the attention.
That’s not to dismiss people who hold such views. One of the best parts of traveling is talking to people who hold views that are the complete opposite of yours. If you read Amnesty International’s State Of The World’s Human Rights report you’ll see that, sadly, racism exists in every country—there’s always one group persecuting another.
Favorite World Heritage Site: Uluru. Visit it and you’ll realise it’s far more than just a big rock.
Favorite airline: Azerbaijan Airlines. Just before boarding I read its safety record, which documented several incidences of its planes knocking down telegraph poles as they came in to land. On the flight, they served neat vodka in crystal glasses. I downed plenty of those just to calm my nerves. Least favourite airline would have to be Korean Airlines, who made us sit on the plane’s kitchen floor for nine hours because our baby was crying. If you’re annoyed by a baby crying on a plane consider these 4 points: 1) You’re not half as annoyed as the parents who can’t get it to stop crying, no matter what. 2) You were like that bawling kid, once. 3) Babies are hilarious for the half of the time that they’re not being annoying, so try interacting with it—it might even make you laugh (that’s how they get away with being annoying the other half of the time). 4) Don’t automatically blame the parents for enforcing their brat on you—nearly 40% of kids in the US are unplanned.
Favorite aircraft type: Any badly-flown Cessna.
Aisle or window: Aisle, so you’re net penned in and you don’t have to climb over people to go to the toilet. You can always look out the communal window on your way to the toilet.
Favorite airport lounge: The one for the biggest city in the world, Sao Paulo, the last airport on my “Around The World in 80 AA’s” trip. I managed to sleep the night on the hard lino floor there, with no pillow, I was that exhausted.
Favorite U.S. airport: Georgia, Atlanta, for the reasons above.
Favorite international airport: Hong Kong, because it’s like a surreal trip into the future, though the old version sounded more exciting, where planes flew through the skyscrapers.
Favorite hotel: The completely insane Mama Homestay in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. You can read about it in “Around The World In 80 AA’s”.
Favorite cruise line: Any of the ones that pass under Sydney Harbour Bridge as I cycle home. The passengers all look like they’re trapped in hell and remind me of Billy Connolly’s line: “It’s like prison, with the option of drowning if you try to escape.” The award-winning CEO of one of the world’s most successful cruise operators is a former prison officer. Say no more.
Favorite travel credit card: Any debit card. I don’t use credit cards because they were invented by the devil. True story.
Favorite island: Tanna Island, Vanuatu. Mind-blowing. You can read about it in “Around The World in 80 AA’s.”
Favorite beach: Shelley Beach here in Sydney, where the snorkeling is as good as the Great Barrier Reef.
Favorite National Park: The Royal National Park here in Sydney, which was the second National Park created in the world. One of my favourite images is the park’s green gum leaves and white bark against a deep blue sky.
Favorite fancy restaurant: I used to write restaurant reviews so have eaten in countless fancy, expensive restaurants. Here’s my tip—you’ll get far better food in a cheap food court.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Literally a hole in the wall—Vietnamese banh-mi rolls from Marrickville Pork Roll here in Sydney—or the same thing from any cheap outlet in Sydney’s little Vietnam, Cabramatta.
Favorite bar: The Mandorah Beach Hotel in Darwin at the top of Australia, where a local was rushed to hospital after drunkenly trying to catch a king brown snake to put in its cracked, dirty aquarium. You can read about it in “Around The World in 80 AA’s.”
Favorite fruit: Anything over-ripe or blemished that’s been thrown out by supermarkets. It’s usually perfect to eat as it is, but you can also freeze it then blend it into smoothies. Try bananas or mangoes. I found this out while living out of skips for eight months while researching a book I intended to write called “50 States On Zero Dollars.” That book will have to wait for another day.
Favorite food: Anything rescued from a skip.
Least favorite food: Anything sent to landfill that could have been eaten.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): In the air, either chilled soda water or the Australian mango and native Australian macadamia nut Weiss ice cream bars handed out by Qantas staff (hey, they’re a drink once they melt). On the ground, any blended ice drink consumed in at least 30ºC heat (apart from 7-Eleven Slurpees, since a recent TV expose revealed that they break the law by not paying their staff—often desperate Indians on temporary visas).
Favorite travel movie(s): The US frontier odyssey Dead Man, with coloniser Johnny Depp and native American Gary Farmer, soundtracked by Neil Young.
Favorite travel show(s): Outback Truckers. An amazing way to see Australia from the ground and and the way it’s run. The drivers constantly have to solve engineering problems. They have to use their brains far more inventively than white-collar workers like me, who usually just follow processes.
Favorite travel book(s): Mark Tully’s books on India, but the best on that country that I’ve read is escaped Australian convict Gregory David Roberts’ “Shantaram.” If you want to know about the “real” Australia, read what the Aboriginal artists have to say about it in “Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country.” You can read it online for free. A good place to start is my interview with Provocalz, which ends with us both being questioned by police.
Right now I am reading: The Pocket app. I used to read books constantly, until I downloaded the Pocket app that enables you to save web pages to read later. It has destroyed my ability to read books. The Pocket app programmers recently emailed me to tell me I am in their top 1% of readers. Don’t download it, you’ll be addicted.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: See below.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! We Are Explorers Sydney. Concrete Playground Sydney. Every random bloody travel page that I download onto the Pocket app.
5 things you bring on a plane: My whole luggage was just one carry-on backpack for “Around The World in 80 AA’s,” so the 5 things would be: 1) Two sets of clothes, one to wear while the other was drying after being hand-washed in the sink. 2) A weighty laptop at the time. These days it’d just be a smartphone. 3) Biscuits or dried fruit so you don’t have to eat the plane food. But really, trying to eat ALL the plane food, no matter how bad, can be more entertaining than not eating it at all. 4) Woolly hat, because planes seem to be freezing these days. 5) An inflatable pillow is essential.
What do you always seem to forget? The inflatable pillow.
What do you like least about travel? The carbon you emit that’s destroying the planet you’re trying to see.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Indigenous stuff—just make sure the money is really going to the Indigenous people.
Favorite travel app(s): Kindle. Who cares about being delayed when you can escape in a book? Though in reality, I haven’t touched Kindle since I download the Pocket app.
Most embarrassing travel moment: Probably immigration officers pulling used condoms out of my hastily-packed bag coming back from Vanuatu. But there are plenty of others in “Around The World In 80 AA’s.” It can be pretty awkward to refuse drinks when you’re travelling.
I’m embarrassed I haven’t been to: Manus Island, where Australia exiles refugees. I’ve been lucky.
Worst travel moment: Trying to refuse drinks in a snake-eating village in Hanoi, Vietnam. They handed me a live snake instead.
What’s your dream destination? Sydney, where I live.
Favorite travel charity: Amnesty International, despite their flaws, whose travels in the pursuit of their work bring illuminating stories from all over the world.
Best travel tip: You don’t need toilet paper—half the world uses water. It’s more hygenic—think about it—and better for the environment. You don’t need shaving cream either. Again, water is better. You don’t need to travel far to see huge contrasts. Try your own backyard.