Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.

Name: Wendy Perrin
Title/bio: Director of Consumer News and Digital Community, Condé Nast Traveler
Twitter/website: @wendyperrin, @perrinpost |
Born in: Manhattan
Currently living in: the New York City area

1. Where would you rather be right now?
Some place I’ve never been and, since it’s scorching in NYC right now, someplace cool.  I just bought airline tickets to a place that meets both criteria: Newfoundland and, off its coast, the French islands Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

2. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
Charles Darwin

3. Tourist must-see you think is actually a “must skip”:
Anything advertised as “dinner and a cultural show”.

Also, a Three Gorges cruise on the Yangtze River. The stops were all tourist traps and, thanks to the thick gray haze created by the pollution and fog, I could not make out the outline of even one gorge, let alone three. There are far better ways to spend your time in China.

4. Everyone asks what’s #1 on your list of places you want to go before you die. But what’s your #3?
Uzbekistan.  (For my #1, see question 10).

5. You’d be mortified if people knew you did what when you travelled?
I spend so many nights in my hotel room, chained to my laptop, answering office email and eating Clif Bars and mini-bar pretzels for dinner. 

6. Your most stranded, “oh-my-[deity]” travel moment:
Standing at the top of Mount Sinai [in Egypt] after sunset, no light anywhere in the desert, realising I had to somehow get all the way back down that mountain in the pitch dark.  

7. Best or worst people you’ve had to sit next to while travelling:
Best and worst: my children.  

8. Strangest meal abroad:
Yak meat with yak cheese and yak butter tea in Zhongdian (Shangri-La), China.

9. If someone was visiting your town, what’s the one thing you’d show them?
My children’s school – because when I travel I always try to visit a school. Schools tell you a lot about a place and its people, and it’s always in schools (or churches) that I meet the friendliest and most outgoing locals.

10. Travel-related invention you wish existed:
A machine that takes you back in time. The closest I’ve ever come to time travel was Aleppo, Syria. It was like being transported back several centuries to a land of mystical enchantment. For many years it’s been the number one place I want to return to someday; sadly, it’s now a war zone, so it may be impossible to ever go back.

11. Your most embarrassing travel faux pas:
At the end of a rugged trip through China, I found myself having to dress for an opulent dinner in Hong Kong and having no clean, chic eveningwear.  So I threw on a pair of silk pyjamas – the shimmery Mandarin-style kind – that I’d bought at a street market in Yangshuo for $18. As it turned out, my dinner companions assumed it was one of the latest fashions from Shanghai Tang [a Hong Kong clothing chain].

12. Material thing you miss the most when away from home:
My washing machine

13. Most unique souvenir:
In Byblos, Lebanon, I met an ancient Lebanese explorer and adventurer named Pépé Abed during dinner at the Byblos Fishing Club (which he owned). He told fascinating stories of Lebanon’s golden age back in the 1960s – when celebrities from around the world would flock to Byblos and his restaurant – and showed me his on-site museum of Phoenician antiquities. At the end of the evening he gave me a necklace that he said he had made himself. Pépé apparently passed away in 2006, but I still have that necklace and it reminds me of a Lebanon that most people do not realise exists.

14. Best celebrity encounter while travelling:
Richard Branson, with whom I chatted for a very entertaining 45 minutes on a Virgin America flight from San Francisco to Toronto.

15. Most unusual item you have travelled with:
Postcards from home.  When I’m headed to primitive parts of the world where the people have never ventured far from their village, much less crossed an ocean, I carry postcards from my home town. These are a great conversation starter, especially with parents of children. Sharing a taste of my home encourages people to open the doors of their homes, and of course I leave a postcard behind as a memento and a thank you for their hospitality.

16. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
Flying in the cockpit of a jet from Johannesburg to Cape Town in 1999.  If you’ve ever flown into Cape Town, you know how exciting that descent is. Now imagine viewing it through the glass at the front of the plane.

17. The place you don’t want anyone to know about but are willing to divulge here:
Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands

18. Travel-related film or book that inspires you to pack your bags:
The Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. It’s about how evolution is happening on a daily basis in the Galapagos Islands, and it inspired me to travel to the Galapagos (and explains my answer to question 2).

19. The travel story you’ll never stop bragging about:
Last year, when he was 10, my older son figured out how to navigate the Paris Métro. By the end of our week in Paris he was leading the family from our rental apartment to the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe and back again.

20. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:
Every day of a trip, no matter how many things have gone wrong that day or how many hours you’ve been stranded at an airport, say to yourself, “Today I am grateful because ________.” Fill in the blank with the good stuff that happened or something that you overcame or learned or managed to accomplish.  The more skilled you are at turning lemons into lemonade, the better your travels will be.