Christine Negroni is an aviation and travel writer for The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and Executive Travel magazine. Her blog, GO HOW, focuses on travel and transport – everything that moves her on the journey.
Cheapflights: What is an absolute must on your packing list?
Christine Negroni: Well at the risk of sounding like an absolute bore or a techie (and I’m neither, really!) I always travel with three electronic devices: my laptop, my camera and my Kindle. There’s just too much I want to record about my travels, so the first two are my essentials. The Kindle is just a way for me to have guide books, pleasure reading, and my ticket and other itinerary information in one place. Now ask me what I pack in my noggin and I have a different answer. I take to every country I visit five phrases in the local language: hello, goodbye, please, thank you and have a nice day. I have found that being able to convey these expressions in the local language goes a long way to showing people you appreciate their hospitality.
CF: Any tips on researching a new destination before taking off?
CN: Well obviously it’s good to review the general history of your destination, but that’s obvious. I make it part of my pre-departure checklist to view as many movies and read as many of the country’s recognized writers as possible. So I’m leaving for Copenhagen having re-read Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Out of Africa by Danish writer Karen Blixen and Sharpe’s Prey by Bernard Cornwell. I also watched these movies: After the Wedding, Flame and Citron (Holy smokes! Mads Mikkelsen!) and now the video version of Hamlet.
CF: Of the airports you’ve passed through – Stateside and abroad – which is the most convenient?
CN: I have three favorite airports all overseas: Changi Airport in Singapore is just a show-stopper for me. What other airport has – at no charge to travelers – five gardens, a movie theater, lockable charging stations and reclining lounge chairs so passengers can catch a nap? Oh, and did I mention the swimming pool perched over a taxiway? It’s not free but for $14 it’s a bargain. I’m also fond of the new airport in Bangkok and I think it is brilliant to have a grocery store in the airport as Frankfurt does. I’m so there.
In the US, my little local airport, Westchester County Airport is easy to get around and adorable with large model planes hanging from the ceiling, an observation deck, and a restaurant and bar that overlook the airfield. Regional airports can be so charming – it’s too bad it’s usually more expensive to fly from them
CF: Who’s the most memorable seatmate (or what’s the most memorable conversation) you’ve had on a plane?
CN: On several flights I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to sit on the flight deck and this is always a memorable experience. We can’t talk while the plane is on the ground or below 10,000 feet, but I store up my questions and then I pepper the pilots with then when we are at cruise and things have settled down. I’ll tell you, little things that use to make me jittery, like turbulence, or the sound of the engines throttling down right after takeoff, no longer worry me. A long overseas flight can get boring for the cockpit crew so I think the times I have flown upfront have been as enjoyable a change of pace for the pilots as it has been for me.
CF: How has air travel changed since you started traveling?
CN: I did the most traveling of my life when I was working as a network correspondent. All of us at CBS News traveled so much that we had monthly subscriptions to the Official Airline Guide. These handy booklets listed (in microscopically small type) all the flights, on all the airlines, to all places in the world. I would consult it constantly because I was just routing and rerouting myself literally on the fly to get where I needed to go as fast as possible – and there were no rules to prevent that. Now of course, the rules are voluminous. I don’t think it’s even possible to take a ticket from one airline and use it on another, but that’s how we did it in the 1980s and 90s.
So restrictions on tickets is one big change. The other, and I’ve written about this quite a bit on my blog, is the openly hostile relationship airlines and air travelers have with each other. Neither side has done a very good job of understanding the issues of the other.
CF: How do you discover local or off-the-beaten-path places?
CN: Before I leave, I decide what one activity is going to be the focus of my visit. For example, I went to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates specifically to snorkel. Once that was decided, everything else, from where to stay to what else to do, fell into place. Deciding the main event puts me in a community and that guides me to my other activities.
I also make every effort to be out among the locals, which naturally puts me in the stream of information. I take public transportation and look for those little newspapers that are distributed in on the busses or the subway. These publications are full of activities.
As I walk around in the city I stop in at the places people normally congregate – libraries, plazas, coffee shops, universities – and check I out the bulletin boards and flyers. One of my best “finds” was an exhibition I learned about from a light post banner in Paris. It was called Living Jewels and it was an astonishing display of the most beautiful and colorful insects. I’d never seen anything like it.
CF: Is there a destination that without fail (barring floods and famine) you visit regularly?
CN: My father, who died in 1998, was from the southern side of Puerto Rico and I’ve been visiting there all my life. It’s not only beautiful with spectacular weather and a wide variety of outdoor activities, but the food and the music are great, too. Even the tourist spots are full of Puerto Ricans who enjoy their island as much as the visitors do. There are many places I’ve been and would like to return to including Iceland, Turkey, Portugal, Jordan and New Zealand.
CF: Do you recommend using guided tours at a new destination?
CN: I think it really depends on the traveler and what they want to see. For people seriously interested in a particular subject, specialty tours are probably a good idea. Also, travelers with limited time at a destination can get a good overview from one of those half-day city tours. Quirky tours can be fun too like tours of Hollywood celebrity homes or famous crime scenes.
CF: How do you recommend anxious travelers stretch their comfort zone?
CN: Alcohol works. My husband used to be afraid to fly so he would usually visit the airport bar for a shot of whiskey before boarding the plane. The problem is the timing. Too soon and the effect of the drink wears off; too late and he would spend takeoff terrified and then fall asleep before the meal arrived.
But seriously, the most important factor is attitude.
In my blog, I preach that a great trip begins in the head. You will have the trip you anticipate. Go expecting that you will encounter wonderful people and have wonderful experiences and you will.
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