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: Tim Neville
Occupation: Freelance writer, Outside magazine correspondent
Hometown: Salisbury, Maryland
Residence: Bend, Oregon
Short Bio: As a full-time writer, correspondent for Outside magazine and frequent contributor to the New York Times, I travel the world looking for beauty in unusual places and to tell the stories of people who refuse to give up. Each article—from a travel narrative to an intimate portrait—is meticulously reported and delivered with telling details, thoughtful reconstruction, and spirited, often humorous storytelling. My work has been anthologized in Best American Sports Writing and recently won a Lowell Thomas medal. I’ve been a guest on NPR, I speak four languages and love skiing, diving and all things Swiss. I’m also a pretty fun guy.
How often do you fly: Between 50,000 and 75,000 miles a year or once or twice a month.
How many countries have you been to: Fewer than 60?
How many continents have you been to: Six
Favorite American city: I love Portland, Oregon. The bridges, the great food and nature, it has a bit of everything but isn’t so big that it’s hard to make sense of it. I have a blast every time I go to New York, too, but I’m exhausted and anxious after three days. Washington, D.C.’s a favorite, too–I love American Renaissance architecture, the museums, parks and food you find around Adams Morgan–but the summer heat and the no-mountains thing keeps it off the podium.
Favorite international city: First the obvious: Paris for being, well, Paris, and Munich for sauerbraten and hefeweizen and quirky homosexual kings. You can’t beat Rome and I love Tokyo for its wackiness. I once spent an hour just walking back and forth across the busiest crosswalk with huge crush of humanity. I’m very partial to Bern, Switzerland, though (more on that later). But I’m finding myself drawn to more beat-down, obscure places these days. I’ve been to Tirana, Albania, twice now and each time I’m like, damn, this is rad–simple but super tasty food, lots of history, fun people, and everything is in such a state of change. I’m in Tirana right now and some random guy just bought me a beer for no other reason than I’m an American (they love us here) and looked thirsty, I guess. I also really like Podgorica, Montenegro. It’s kinda ugly and the people aren’t super friendly, but the mishmash of Orthodox and Muslim cultures, the cafes and sleepiness of the place really appeal to me. Walking around on a Friday night there with all the families and tacky teens in impractical garb offers some of the best people watching anywhere. It’s like an upscale Sarajevo (which I also really like). I have no idea why. Everyone else would call it boring, I bet.
Least favorite country: Venezuela. What a miserable place. And while I’m being an offensive generalist: I’m sure there’s a nice Venezuelan out there somewhere who doesn’t enjoy lying to your face but my guess is they’ve fled for a better life in Panama.
Favorite World Heritage Site: The Galapagos are otherworldly, for sure. Salt-sneezing iguanas! Turtles the size of washing machines! Sally lightfoot crabs! But the old town of Bern, Switzerland, is hands down my favorite. I lived in Bern for about 2.5 years and the view of the twisting streets wrapped by the glacial-green Aare River never got old. I see pictures of it now and my heart aches like I’ve lost my 11th grade love all over again.
Favorite airline: Understand this: I’m 6’7″ and live in a small Oregon town serviced by two major airlines. So I’m a United guy kinda by force. They get bashed all the time for, well, being United, and I get that. But those five extra inches of leg room in Economy Plus do make all the difference in the world. Once you fly a lot with them they really start to take care of you. I flew Turkish Airlines once on assignment to Kosovo and was blown away. Amazing service, great food, and they excel at something US carriers seem to have forgotten: customer service for the people who don’t fly a lot with them.
Favorite aircraft type: Puddle jumpers like Cessna Caravans. Anytime you have to stand on a scale with your carry-on luggage to get a seat assignment means you’re going someplace super cool.
Aisle or window: Aisle for “routine” hauls like transatlantic flights but if I’m flying into Mongolia I want the window.
Favorite airport lounge: The Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul is outstanding. I must have hit every little Turkish coffee stand in the place and eaten a dozen Turkish delights. I didn’t even get to play any pool or try the buffet. Next time.
Favorite U.S. airport: Mammoth Lakes, California. What a cool place. “Baggage claim” is outside in this little shack and you get coffee in one of those circus tent things they put up when they don’t have a real building. On the flip side, Chicago O’Hare is so slick and busy that you can help but feel a part of the global current that flows through that place.
Favorite international airport: Zurich, Switzerland. Again, I’m partial to Switzerland but I absolutely love riding the train from the gate to the main terminal and having a yodeler come over the speakers and watching the tunnel walls out the window for the stop-motion projection of Heidi who blows you a kiss. Every time I land there I bolt for the far side of the train so I can see that. I pretend she’s just doing it for me. Welcome back, handsome!
Favorite hotel: I once stayed in the royal penthouse at the Victoria-Jungfrau in Interlaken, which is this two-floor cavern set under a cupola with a private gazebo–on the roof! As much as I hate showy crap, I have to say I had a blast at the new Hard Rock Megapolis in Panama City. The music, the geode-inlaid floors, the cocktails. Wow. This isn’t a hotel but the Chalet Pelerin run by Eleven near Les Arcs, France, is outstanding. A slice of Colorado in the Alps. The Bighorn Lodge, another catered chalet, in Revelstoke, British Columbia is top notch too. I mean, you have a helipad out back for skiing!
Do you unpack into the dresser/closet? Or live out of your suitcase? Depends. If I’m there for four days or so I’ll unpack and move in. Otherwise I live out of a suitcase, sorta. I use Eagle Creek’s “Pack-It” system, which is just these “folders” and stuff sacks that allow you to break the laws of physics when it comes to getting so much stuff into a carry-on. This is particularly great when my wife and I are sharing a larger suitcase to avoid extra baggage fees. We get to a place and we each take out our own folder of clothes and away we go!
Favorite island: So the one redeeming thing about Venezuela are these islands off the coast called Los Roques, which must be the largest collection of the most beautiful beaches anywhere. Only one of them as a town on it, though “town” is a bit ambitious. It’s just sandy streets and posadas run by a bunch of Italians. The rest of the islands are cliches of their tropical selves: tiny specks of sand surrounded by water so clear and brilliant I wanted sunglasses in my snorkel mask. I proposed to my wife on one of them, Cayo Muerto, but because it was Venezuela and I didn’t want to risk it, I didn’t bring the ring, which was my grandmother’s. So I got down on one knee and handed my wife-to-be a picture of it. She still said yes.
Favorite fancy restaurant: I once did a story for Delta’s inflight magazine about The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington, and I can still dream about the carpaccio. After a bizillion-course meal, the sommelier busted out this bottle of Madeira wine from 1932. My wife had a terrible head cold at the time but the food was so packed with flavor that even she could taste it, mostly.
Favorite hole in the wall: I think the name of it would be something like “Orthodox Christian Center” or something. It’s in Podgorica, Montenegro. I’m not religious at all but I was wandering around and spotted this cozy pizzeria just off the main drag. It was packed, which is always a good sign. I couldn’t figure it out exactly what it was at first–I was just hungry–but it was some sort of charity or fund-raising venture for the Serbian Orthodox church in Montenegro. It was incredible. Stone walls. Big wood tables. All of these stern saints staring you down from these recessed arches. I ordered a pizza, coffee and cranberry juice and my bill came to less than $3. There was no proselytizing or anything like that but being curious I asked. I’m still not religious but I’d go back there in a heartbeat.
Favorite fruit: Are olives a fruit? I don’t care. They’re my favorite anyway. Santa once left me a pyramid of cans of black olives. Heaven! Then, about 15 years later, I got very sick gorging on Kalamata-like olives in Bolivia. I don’t know what I expected to happen after eating 2.2 pounds of them in one sitting but I did feel bad for the other folks in the hostel who heard some guy just hurling his briny brains out later that night.
Favorite food: Olives. And sauerkraut. (My wife makes a mean chocolate-sauerkraut cake). I also love this spicy pepper and cream dish I found in Kosovo called speca n’mazë. I could bathe in it.
Least favorite food: It used to be lentils but I’m thinking I need to give them another shot.
Drink of choice (In the air and on the ground): Bourbon. Or a good G&T with oysters on the half shell but I don’t usually have oysters on the half shell in an airplane.
Favorite travel movie(s): I love the Bourne series because one minute they’re in Zurich and the next in Goa. Kinda like me. But without the neck-snapping.
Favorite travel show(s): Honestly, I think they all kind of suck. I will watch some that come out of Germany every now and then because they’re so bad they’re funny again. I did really like Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole back in the day.
Favorite travel book(s): Being a writer, I really like the Best American Travel Writing series so I can see how people who are much better at this than I am bring places to life. I also loved Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts. He really gets into places and teases out their soul.
Right now I am reading: I’m a several-books-at-once kind of guy. Right now I’m down to two: The Tiger by John Vaillant, a terrible but true story of a Siberian tiger that hunts the residents of this remote area of Russia–just gripping–and L’Amazone by Pierre Ballester about his journey deep into the jungle to learn about his sister’s life with an isolated group of indians, which is just so-so.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: I don’t really read too many blogs or newsletters because I’m after more in-depth literary travel tales. I’m a correspondent for Outside, but even if I weren’t, I’d read it for Patrick Symmes stories. His feature about going into Khmer Rouge territory in Cambodia when it was first deemed “safe” in 2000 or so is one of my favorites. Tom Robbins at the Financial Times has this dry British humor that makes his stories sing. I also really like Joshua Hammer’s work in Smithsonian. He seems to be really good at finding amazing people and stories that are right under our noses. That’s why I like to travel, really–to get better at spotting beauty and wonder anywhere.
Favorite travel website(s) – besides JohnnyJet.com, of course!: I’m a big fan of Skyscanner. When I need to figure out who flies into Backalacadacka, they have it.
Five things you bring on a plane: Headphones, iPad, water bottle, something to read, and, hopefully, a passport. I used to always wear a bow tie but haven’t done that in a bit. I love that old-school habit that our flying forebears had of dressing up a bit for a journey.
What do you always seem to forget: To sleep. I’m like, hey! Free movies! Did they serve breakfast yet? Where are we? I’m one of those guys who flies a lot but still thinks flying is fun.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport duty free store? Nothing. That’s not true. I’m a sucker for Zacapa rum or a good bottle of slivovitz.
Favorite travel iPhone app(s): Google maps, Dict.cc (a translating app), and the United app for flight management.
Most embarrassing travel moment: Checking in for a flight home from Canada I thought I’d lost my passport. The pocket it’d been in, in my carry-on, was unzipped and empty. I freaked out hardcore until I realized my carry-on had two such pockets and it was simply in the other one.
Worst travel moment: Probably being on a hellish 30-hour bus ride from Lima, Peru, to Cusco during the rainy season with a driver who was on coke and whipping around these muddy mountain roads so violently that a poor kid in front of us puked and then shat his pants, both of which then got all over my brother who was sitting next to me. He later broke a tooth on an olive pit in a pizza.
What’s your dream destination: Anywhere an editor sends me. It’s such a gift. The day I take for granted the fact that people pay me to see the world is the day I should quit. I’d really like to see more of Africa, the South Pacific, Antarctica, Romania, Turkey, Russia, the Caucus mountains, and Andorra. Seriously. I’m on a quest to see all those nano states but so far I’ve only ticked off Liechtenstein.
Best travel tip: I have two. First, you are not home, so don’t act like it. Meaning: People will do stuff all the time that can make you angry or that you just don’t get. (Like the Montenegrin waiter who took his smoke break two feet in front of my table in the no-smoking area). Just chill and chalk it up to those wacky foreigners. Being nice goes a long way anywhere. No. 2: There are a million reasons why you shouldn’t take a pleasure trip (work, money, family, too much effort) and only one why you will–because you made it happen. So if you want to see the pyramids, make it happen. OK, one more: Learn a few words of the local language. I think the guy that bought me that beer so many questions ago did so because I said hi in my really bad Albanian.