Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.

Name: Pico Iyer
Title/bio: Award-winning author of many travel books, most recently The Man Within My Head
Born in: Oxford, England
Currently living in: Nara, Japan

1. Where would you rather be right now?
Nowhere. The first rule of travel is to find all your happiness and adventure wherever you happen to be -- even if (though this can be a challenge) that’s Atlanta, Georgia.

2. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
Thomas Pynchon, but only because he’d never consent to go (except, perhaps, disguised as Keith Richards, who used to be my top pick, until the world discovered his prose style).

3. Everyone asks what’s #1 on your list of places you want to go before you die. But what’s your #3?
Ethiopia -- and I’ll gladly mention it here because for all its otherworldly intensity, passion, beauty and history, no one I know ever seems to want to go there.

4. You’d be mortified if people knew you did what when you travelled?
Eat at McDonald’s wherever I touch down -- if only so I can savour the chai at the outlet in New Delhi, look at the Seiko watches in the display case along the Prado in La Paz or munch on “Moon-Viewing Burgers” during the commemoration of the harvest moon every September down the street from my home in Japan.

5. Best (or worst) person/people you’ve had to sit next to while travelling:
Might it be the kind stranger -- perhaps Thomas Pynchon -- who, hours after we landed, started bombarding me with emails about how to change my life through veganism?

6. Strangest meal abroad: 
I tried not to ask what it was.

7. If someone was visiting your town, what’s the one thing you’d show them?
Alas, my sushi-loving visitor from California wasn’t as dazzled by my local Kentucky Fried Chicken parlour in Nara, Japan as I -- even though the Colonel was dressed in a flowing blue yukata.

8. Travel-related invention you wish existed: 
A cure for jet lag

9. Your most embarrassing travel faux pas: 
It probably wasn’t my finest moment when, aged 18, fresh out of an all-boys school, I asked young Claudia in the Hotel Picasso in Bogota why all the other guests in the hotel seemed to be sweet, very pretty and female -- and so anxious to be my friend.

10. Best celebrity encounter while travelling: 
It was wonderful that Raquel Welch, fresh from filming One Million Years BC (and her animal-skin bikini therein), was standing just ahead of me in the check-in line at [Los Angeles International Airport]. The only problem was that I was nine years old and something of a midget, and she, somehow, seemed even smaller than I was.

11. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
Singapore Airlines

12. The place you don’t want anyone to know about but are willing to divulge here: 
The Ecce Homo convent on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem (I’ll happily divulge its particulars, because I have an even better secret home down the street).

13. Travel-related film or book that inspires you to pack your bags:
Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick’s transcendental film from 1978. Travel for me is mostly about transport, and this film so opens our horizons, teaches one to see, reminds one of the world all around and sometimes gives one the very taste of Heaven. When I was in Tibet in 1985, I almost began to feel I’d stepped into one of Malick’s frames.

14. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom: 
Never trust anything a travel writer tells you. I should know -- I began my professional life writing guidebooks!