Annie Fitzsimmons’ goal is to be part of the conversation of where travel and media meet in 10 years, 10 years after that and beyond. Her current career trajectory has put her in the center of that conversation as a freelance travel writer and blogger contributing to nationally known travel brands and their digital outlets, including National Geographic, Forbes, CNN, Travel + Leisure, Gotham/Hamptons, The Huffington Post and jetsetter.com. Annie is based in Greenwich Village in Manhattan with her longtime beau and puppy.
Cheapflights: Where does your love of hotels come from?
Annie Fitzsimmons: I grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., a mecca for beautiful resorts like The Sanctuary and Four Seasons Troon North, and that’s often where groups of us would go and hang out. But really, I just love that checking into a hotel room for even a night allows you to become someone else. I write about hotels and the world around them, so I love what the story of a hotel means to a place. I love the way I feel when I’m there.
CF: How did your preference for luxury travel evolve?
AF: I did quite a few trips to Europe when I was younger, staying in hostels and having barely any money for food. But as my job has evolved and I’ve had the chance to explore some of the most spectacular hotels in the world, it became very obvious what I preferred. I just I love that I don’t have to think when I’m checking into a luxury hotel – if I forgot my adapter, they’ll have one. If I’m lonely, I’ll go sit in a gorgeous lobby and people watch. They know service – it’s not over-the-top but you know you’re taken care of. This isn’t to say that luxury resorts are the only way to go. I love the Petra House in Galway – for around 35 euros a person, it is the most wonderful experience meeting Frank and his wife Joan and watching them take care of their guests. Frank served breakfast every morning, with freshly baked scones, oatmeal, fruit and anything else you might want. That is also a luxurious experience. Same goes for the Star Castle Hotel on the Isles of Scilly; the owner, Robert Francis, is one of the most charming, interesting people you could ever hope to meet on your travels – and that makes the hotel feel like the most magical place.
CF: How much of a role does food play in your travels?
AF: I’m a bit of a Type A, obsessive researcher when it comes to restaurants around the world. We’re talking Excel spreadsheets for various cities and notes about how I found out about a particular place (friend, magazine article, interview, etc.). It plays a huge role. There is something to be said for both sides of the spectrum – finding local produce in a market and cooking it in your kitchen and then discovering the most wonderful restaurants. Restaurants tell a city’s story in the chef, general manager and servers. I discover a lot about a place by simply observing the people in a restaurant. I love learning the story of a particular dish and then I might see it at a restaurant at home in New York and connect the dots. For example, when I was in China with the most incredible Abercrombie & Kent guide, Gerald Hatherly, we had comfort food in a tiny town near the Yangtze River – stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, a comfort food dish like spaghetti and meatballs for Americans. I’ve seen it on Chinese food menus in America now but never understood the significance before that.
CF: What is an absolute must on your packing list?
AF: Besides the electronics (iPhone, iPad, noise-canceling headphones, etc.), a notebook/pen, and way too many books and magazines, I always have photos of New York, my dog, my family, etc. It’s a great conversation-starter if needed and better than whipping out the iPhone.
CF: Any tips on researching a new destination before taking off?
AF: Again on the Type A: I have files divided by country and city of articles I’ve torn out over the years. So I would suggest starting with that and reading all the great travel magazines and tearing out what inspires you. I also love following people on Twitter that are in the industry, travel often, and whose opinions I trust 100 percent like Stacy Small (@elitetravelgal), Elizabeth Thorp (@poshbrood) and Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown and Adam Richman (@samanthabrown, @adamrichman). I love following hotel groups for information too – @FourSeasons has done an incredible job on the social media landscape.
CF: Who’s the most memorable seatmate (or what’s the most memorable conversation) you’ve had on a plane?
AF: I’m one of those that doesn’t like chatting on planes – I’m very aware if I have a chatty person next to me and try to immediately put on headphones or open a book. It’s my time to read, sleep, or whatever I want to do and I’m not usually interested in talking. That said, I have met some incredible people on planes and the one that sticks out the most is a man on my flight to Jordan that was in a very secretive military branch of the U.S. Army. He told me things he shouldn’t have told me. One of the missions he had been on had been turned into a movie: Black Hawk Down.
CF: Do you have a routine for staying healthy when you travel?
AF: At home, I work out one hour a day, five to six days a week. On the road, it’s more like a half hour, but I always try to get to the hotel gym, which is another reason luxury hotels are usually better – the gyms are better. It is incredibly hard sometimes when I have to be up late working and up early for planned activities. I need my sleep too: I’m not one who brags about “only needing five hours.” I try to only have three bites of dessert, pack my own food (Greens+ Chocolate Energy Bar, Luna bars and packets of peanut and almond butter), limit alcohol (I’m not a big drinker anyway), and always order a green champagne juice from my local health food market before I get on a plane and right when I get home. I feel like it keeps me from getting sick!
CF: How do you discover local or off-the-beaten-path places?
AF: I always have a list of places that I want to find, so it’s usually when I’m going from place to place on my list that I find the local and off-the-beaten-path spots. It’s part of the reason why I always do have a list. Some people say “throw away the map” and just wander. I like having some sort of structure, which ends up leading me to places I never would have found.
CF: Is there a destination that without fail (barring floods and famine) you visit regularly?
AF: Locally: The Hamptons & Connecticut. Also home to Scottsdale and I crave Los Angeles a few times a year (I’m going next week actually). And I never, ever get tired of London, Paris and Rome. I wish I went more often to New Orleans, like once a year. I really love New Orleans.
CF: Do you recommend using guided tours at a new destination?
AF: Absolutely. Especially in a completely foreign city. When I traveled to Moscow last year with my boyfriend, we ended up booking a private guide for the whole day. Turns out he was also a professional photographer and took incredible pictures of us to document our time. He had his own car and gave us a great overview of the city, something that is difficult to do in Russia because of the language barrier. Every penny was worth it. There are also wonderful group walking tours, like Context Travel, to give you an overview before you start exploring on your own.
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