3. There’s one sandwich that speaks volumes
When ordering room service, I always go for the club sandwich. It carries well from the kitchen up to the room, and practically every single hotel in the world has it on their menu – another good way to cross-compare between lodging options.
4. Never trust the New York subway – to get you to the airport
I was heading from my apartment in Manhattan to JFK Airport for a night flight to Europe, for work. With only a piece of rolling luggage and plenty of time to waste in the lounge, I decided to take the subway. But as we went through the tunnel under the East River, the subway got into some sort of terrible accident – a collision – and I was stuck in the subway car with no electricity or cell phone reception for over two hours until the Jaws of Life came to get the passengers off the train. We were escorted along the filthy tracks and had to climb up and onto the subway platform.
By some sort of magic, I was able to make it onto the flight just as they were closing the jet bridge door. The flight attendant looked at me with a puzzled, “Are you sure you’re supposed to be here?” look as I took my seat in business class. Later, I went to the lavatory and noticed tar slicks across my face and clothing from having to negotiate the underbelly of the New York subway system. I looked like Oliver Twist. I’ve never taken the subway to the airport again. (And I do always carry a little oshibori towel with me, the washcloths you get at Japanese onsens, in case of emergency.)
5. If you want a great hotel, skip anything with 10/10 reviews
Personally, when I’m booking a hotel based on reviews and intel, I’m looking for a bit of controversy. I want a property that’s garnered praise from nine out of 10 people, and I want that 10th person to absolutely hate it. That’s how I know that it’s not a staid, could-be-anywhere hotel, but is taking a risk and making a statement instead – memorable.
The best example I can think of is Jade Mountain in Saint Lucia: Most people swear by the open concept design, with built-in plunge pools and a missing fourth wall that looks out onto the island’s Piton Mountains (count me as a devotee). But there’s always someone who prefers air conditioning to island breezes, or doesn’t care for the dark teak furnishings.
6. The Great Barrier Reef isn’t Australia’s best place to scuba dive
I think oftentimes we get stuck in these travel paradigms, all flocking to the same specific destinations to fulfill certain fantasies when there are 20 different variations on the theme, and usually the lesser-known places are even better. Australia holds some really great examples. Most people spend a lot of their time in Queensland, but I’d encourage them to explore the west coast instead. It’s where the orange sands of the desert meet the country’s quintessentially turquoise beaches. The Unesco-protected Shark Bay area is particularly compelling, with reefs full of friendly sea turtles. I’ve been a PADI Divemaster for roughly 15 years. Some of the best scuba diving can be found on the Ningaloo Coast, a straight (but 1100-kilometre-long) shot north from Perth.
7. Your most memorable travel experiences will always be the ones you didn’t plan for.
At age 19, I took my first proper trip on my own and backpacked alone around southern Vietnam. My fourth-grade teacher, Madame Nguyen, had fled the country in the 1970s during the fall of Saigon and found her way to French-speaking Canada. Her story of her had stayed with me ever since. I enmeshed myself in the circuit of south-east Asia backpackers taking trips to hidden beaches and going on market tours in the bustling capitals.
One evening, alone, I saw a sign “Bill Clinton ate here” and took a seat at a half-collapsed plastic picnic table in an unassuming noodle house. A young Vietnamese couple – both in university, too – sat down beside me, and we soon struck up a conversation about our mutual studies. They quickly slapped my hands away from the bread-y appetisers on the table that had, they guessed, been sitting out for days. We slurped our pho, shared more stories, and they soon had to leave. When I motioned to the server to pay our bill, she told me the departed couple had already covered it. I was touched. It remains one of my most memorable meals, not because it was “local” or “authentic” – but because it was kind.