Nikolai Johnsen
Nikolai Johnsen

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: Nikolai Johnsen

Occupation: Tour guide for Tongil Tours, specialists in educational tourism to the DPRK (North Korea)

Hometown: Sandefjord, Norway

Residence: Seoul, South Korea

College: Korea University

College major: Korean Studies


Twitter: @TongilTours

Facebook: Tongil Tours

Instagram: nikolai.johnsen (personal), tongiltours (Tongil Tours)

Pinterest: Tongil Tours

Google+: Tongil Tours

YouTube: Tongil Tours

Short bio: Nikolai has lived about 10 years in East Asia, mostly in Japan and Korea. He lived in Japan for the first time during high school as an exchange student, and decided to return to Japan for university and later work, while also studying the Korean language and visiting the country frequently. He has worked with PR and investor relations for a major console game company in Japan, and also appeared weekly on TV and radio in South Korea, where he is known mainly for being a panel member on the TV show Abnormal Summit. He has lived four years in South Korea, and currently works full-time for the Australian traveling company Tongil Tours, in hopes that more people around the world will be able to see past politics and see also North Korea for its warm and welcoming people, rich culture and beautiful scenery.

How often do you fly? Depends, but about 15 times the last six months.

How many countries have you been to? Close to 30.

How many continents have you been to? Five.

Earliest travel memory: Apart from many drives to Sweden, I remember my mum taking me to Russia when I was eight-years old. I remember I was angry at my mum for not letting me go into Lenin’s mausoleum, as she thought I was too young to see a dead body.

Favorite American city: Los Angeles.

Favorite international city: Pyongyang.

Least favorite country: Perhaps I am a bit biased as I got completely robbed there, but if I must pick one it would be the Philippines.

I have no desire to go to: Anywhere colder than Norway (with the exception of Antarctica).

Friendliest people in the world: Although there are friendly and mean people everywhere I’ve been, I was happily surprised with the almost constant hospitality I experienced from the people of Iran. Also Soweto, South Africa.

Country with the meanest immigration officers: No doubt the US. I was once detained in the airport for many hours after midnight with my request to tell my travelling partner of my whereabouts denied. I was interrogated and fingerprinted, and was not let into the bathroom by myself, all because I have an Iranian tourist visa in my passport.

Favorite World Heritage Site: Angkor Wat.

Favorite airline: Japan Airlines. Service, food and drinks are great.

Favorite aircraft type: Never cared.

Aisle or window: Window only for first time destinations.

Favorite U.S. airport: Las Vegas. The only I have seen with slot machines.

Favorite international airport: Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. Newly renovated to give a great first impression, and the immigration is swift and easy.

Favorite hotel: Yanggakdo, Pyongyang. Got everything you want, and more, including a revolving restaurant on top, with a 360-degree view of Pyongyang city.

Favorite cruise line: Stenaline.

Favorite travel credit card: I always use MasterCard for everything.

Favorite island: Jamaica.

Favorite beach: Englishman’s Bay (Trinidad and Tobago).

Favorite National Park: Potatso National Park, Shangri-la, China.

Favorite fancy restaurant: Okryugwan, Pyongyang. Best cold noodles there is.

Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Any local bar in Cuba.

Favorite airport restaurant: Airport restaurants are a waste of money.

Favorite bar: Too many to list.

Favorite food: Roasted lamb leg.

Least favorite food: Anything too sweet.

Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Aquavit (traditional Norwegian liqueur).

Favorite travel movie(s): Sky Blue Symphony.

Right now I am reading: “Norwegian Wood.”

Favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: eTramping

5 things you bring on a plane: All I need is music.

What do you always seem to forget? The right shoes.

What do you like least about travel? Applying for visas and immigration.

What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? A liqueur not available where I live.

I’m embarrassed I haven’t been to: England. It’s right next to my home country so I have no excuse for never having been there.

Worst travel moment: Waking up in the gutter in Manilla, realizing my pineapple juice had been spiked and my travelling bank account emptied. Also, having the smartphone I use for photography pickpocketed less than an hour after exiting the airport in Hanoi, Vietnam.

What’s your dream destination? As I recently crossed off Himachal Pradesh in India from the list, I now dream of spending a month or two in the mountains of Peru.

Best travel tip: Always travel with an open mind, and interact with the locals no matter what. Prejudice never helped anyone enjoy anything!


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