JoAnn Greco is a Philadelphia-based writer whose articles on travel, hospitality and architecture have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Hospitality Design, forbestraveler.com, fodors.com and Interiors. She is also a founding editor of The City Traveler, an online magazine that explores urban destinations.
Cheapflights: What is an absolute must on your packing list?
JoAnn Greco: Shoes! They’re the heaviest item, I know, but I walk a lot and switching pairs really helps from day to day. Plus, I always like to bring an extra nighttime pair.
CF: What’s your routine before you fly?
JG: I start thinking about packing a week or so before I leave, make sure everything’s in good repair, etc. But I don’t pack until the night before. On the morning of the flight, I absolutely need to have my morning espresso before leaving the house, no matter how early it is.
CF: Any tips on researching a new destination before taking off?
JG: As a journalist, I tend to prefer to read what magazine writers have written about the destination, rather than either personal blogs or guidebooks. The better magazines and website (like The City Traveler!) run expert stories by writers who work hard at finding what it is that makes a place special. City magazines in the US for example, routinely run stories on the top restaurants that have opened in the previous year.
CF: How do you recommend anxious travelers stretch their comfort zone?
JG: Anxious, in terms of flying? It definitely helps to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. And if you’re nervous about flying, I suppose a glass of wine and a good eye pillow could do the trick.
CF: Who’s the most memorable seatmate (or what’s the most memorable conversation) you’ve had on a plane?
JG: I once spoke with a physician who had moved into training technicians on new and improved mammography techniques and equipment. I was intrigued to learn about his personal connection with breast cancer — it ran in his family — and his passionate dedication to making sure more women get properly diagnosed. On a more recent flight, I sat next to a 25-year-veteran flight attendant, who was making a routine hop to go to her twice-weekly assignment. It was fascinating to hear both about the mundaneness of this kind of travel — she was just a commuter who happened to fly to work — and, of course, the excitement of all of the exotic destinations she had been to.
CF: How do you discover local or off-the-beaten-path places?
JG: For that, I like to check out local newspapers and magazines to see what’s the hottest, newest, and latest! Websites and blogs are perfect for that, too. There’s a wealth of information out there, not all of it is in the expected places.
CF: What countries or regions do you believe offer the best bang for your buck?
JG: I’ve become a big fan of Portugal, even though I’ve only visited it for the first time last year. It’s the quickest flight to Europe from the East Coast, and it’s reasonably priced. It’s a Mediterranean-type vacation for half the price. The food, scenery, and architecture are amazing!
CF: Is there a destination that without fail (barring floods and famine) you visit regularly?
JG: I will never turn down the opportunity to visit France, Italy or Japan!
CF: How do you get around a new country if you don’t speak the language?
JG: Well, many people really do speak English, especially in hotels. Other than that, hand signals and a few basic polite expressions go a long way! There are tons of apps now, too, and I often download a few to help me with the language of the country I’m going to.
CF: Do you recommend using guided tours at a new destination?
JG: There are plusses and minuses. They can be limiting, and too quickly (or slowly) paced. On the other hand, they’re certainly good for a brief overview. I tend to prefer more specific walking tours that are geared to my interests – namely, architecture, social history, that kind of thing.
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