Want to know how to travel in style, just like the pros? We check in with frequent fliers to find out how often they fly, their favorite destinations and what they never leave home without.
Name: Valerie Joy Wilson
Occupation: Travel Writer & Host
Hometown: Saratoga Springs, NY
Residence: Los Angeles, California
College: Clemson University (Go Tigers!)
College major: Business Management
Short bio: Valerie is a solo travel expert and travel host. Valerie prefers to travel like a local and not a tourist, going off the beaten path and discovering hidden gems that only local’s tend to know about. She looks up to travel experts Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern and Samantha Brown. Valerie is an adventure and experience junkie with no comfort zone, and she prefers to travel solo. After a long battle with Lyme Disease, Valerie’s perspective on the world around her changed for the better. She has decided to make each day count and experience everything that she can in this life through travel. Valerie shares her adventures, experiences and travel tips with her audience on her social media channels and website.
How often do you fly? Anywhere between once every two weeks, to sometimes 7 or 8 flights a week, depending!
How many countries have you been to? I actually do not count countries, and I wrote an article explaining why. Basically, it’s hard to define what counts as a visit, and not all visits are created equal.
How many continents have you been to? 6… Still haven’t made it to Antartica.
Earliest travel memory: I’ve been an American Airlines frequent flier member since I was two because my mom and I would often fly to meet my dad while he was working in different parts of the country. I remember sitting in airports looking at the planes while waiting for take-off. I have great memories of flying in the pre-9/11 era, going into the cockpit to visit the pilots and getting a pair of wings from the flight attendants. I’ve always been fascinated with travel.
Favorite American city: Portland, OR.
Favorite international city: So hard to pick just one, I love Rome, I always have said I could live there. But, for a visit, maybe Istanbul. There is so much rich history and culture.
Least favorite country: Brazil. I have never felt so unsafe as a solo female traveler. The people from Brazil that I meet around the word are great people, but there are a lot of bad things happening there as well. It’s definitely a place that you don’t want to let your guard down, and you don’t want to flaunt anything of value.
I have no desire to go to: Cancun. Or the party islands in Thailand. Basically anywhere that is designed for westerners to party, I will be avoiding.
Friendliest people in the world: It’s a toss up! The people from the Philippines and the people from Myanmar are so unbelievably kind, but if I had to pick one of the two, probably the Burmese!
Country with the meanest immigration officers: I did not have a good experience in Mexico City, but I doubt they are the worst. I have been lucky to have not had any problems yet.
Favorite World Heritage Site: This is another tough one, Johnny! It’s so hard to choose. I would say my favorite is the pyramids of Giza and Dashur in Egypt. It’s one of those places that almost everyone dreams of visiting from the time they are a child and to finally see it is a special feeling. A lot of people tell me they were disappointed with the size or the location, but I really enjoyed learning more about the history of the country and being able to explore the inside of those ancient tombs!
Favorite airline: Emirates is pretty much the gold standard, isn’t it? In the US I am loyal to American, but I also always leave a Delta plane with a smile on my face, as their flight attendants are usually so nice. ANA has some dream liners that I enjoyed flying.
Favorite aircraft type: Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Hands down. The air quality is better, it’s pumped from a separate source away from the engines and is supposed to help alleviate jet lag. I think it does make a small difference in how I feel when I step off the plane.
Aisle or window: Middle isn’t an option? I thought everyone loves that middle seat! Haha. Window on anything more than three hours so that I can get some rest. It’s terrible to be woken up by someone that needs to use the toilet when you are on a long haul. Plus, I get to see some beautiful views, sunrises, sunsets and I have something to lean up against to conk out!
Favorite airport lounge: Amex Centurion Lounges.
Favorite U.S. airport: Portland OR has a pretty peaceful airport with live musicians (and they have some pretty interesting carpeting). As far as a major hub, I have come to love and not loathe LAX thanks to the lounges and healthy food options in most of the terminals.
Favorite international airport: Schiphol Amsterdam. For two reasons: It’s easy to leave on a long layover, and the chocolate that you can get inside the airport is superior all other airport chocolate. :)
Favorite ho The Four Seasons Whistler or Shangri-La at The Fort in Manila.
Favorite cruise line: I am not a cruiser, but if I had to pick one that interests me, Viking seems to have some good routes. I can not be vouch for any cruise lines, however!
Favorite travel credit card: Amex Platinum.
Favorite island: Palawan in the Philippines!
Favorite beach: I’m based in Los Angeles, so I feel as though it would be wrong to not say Venice Beach. I’m not the sit-in-the-sun type of girl. In Venice, there is some incredible people watching, you can rent bikes, roller blading is still socially acceptable and it’s a decent place to learn to surf. The beaches are huge, so even if it’s a crowded day, there is always a place to plop down with a towel and a magazine and catch some rays.
Favorite National Park: Yosemite.
Favorite fancy restaurant: I love Nobu in Malibu, but I would say one of my favorite fancy dinners was at Carnevino in Las Vegas many years ago. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some incredible fancy dinners cooked by celebrity chefs all over the world, but the one that always seems to stay in my memory is the steak and wine at Carnevino.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: The Smoking Pig in Pendleton South Carolina. It’s the best BBQ joint, and the food comes with all the fixins. (Loaded potato casserole…yum!)
Favorite bar: Please Don’t Tell in NYC. It has some incredibly crafted cocktails and they serve some killer hotdogs from Criff Dogs next door. Additionally, you enter through a telephone booth in the hotdog joint next door. What isn’t to love?
Siro’s in Saratoga Springs, NY. Only open for the six weeks of the horse racing season, it is the place to go after a day at the track, win or lose. They have live bands, and it’s always filled with horse racing elite and celebrities. More importantly the place is packed with people that are there to have a good time, and they still know how to make all the old cocktails, including my favorite, a sidecar.
Favorite fruit: Mango from Cebu, Philippines! Oh my goodness, it’s so good! I must have eaten dozens on my last visit.
Favorite food: Margarita pizza from Da Michele in Napoli. Even if I’m in Rome, I will take a day trip to Napoli to eat their pizza!
Least favorite food: This is a tough one, I eat just about everything. I don’t even mind durian or balut! I would have to say eggplant! Haha.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Bloody Maria (Bloody Mary with tequila) I’m really into those right now if they are done well.
Favorite travel movie(s): Not to sound too cliche, Eat, Pray, Love. I think that movie (and book) has inspired many women to go on some incredible solo adventures and just take the plunge!
Favorite travel show(s): Anything Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern.
Favorite travel book(s): “The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 8: True Stories from Around the World.”
Right now I am reading: “The Nasty Bits” by Anthony Bourdain.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: Afar, Wanderlust.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides , of course! , of course! Also, I love TripAdvisor (who doesn’t?!), LonelyPlanet and ThePointsGuy if you are into maximizing your credit card points.
5 things you bring on a plane: Bose noise-cancelling headphones are always the one thing I couldn’t live without. The other four; hand sanitizer, compression socks, granola bars, and an eye mask!
What do you always seem to forget? Usually nothing, but if I do, it’s some type of charger or battery for my camera equipment!
What do you like least about travel? Jet lag!
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Kinder Eggs, always!!
Favorite travel app(s): Jet Lag Genie will tell you when to go to bed, when to seek light and when to nap for changing timezones. Also, Maps.Me will allow you to download maps anywhere in the world that can be used from your phone without using up your data!
Most embarrassing travel moment: I may have gotten myself in a sticky situation in a back alley of Havana where I was basically forced to buy fake cigars. Basically, I thought I could trust someone because they said they worked at my hotel (they knew where I was staying, but must have seen me checking in because he didn’t work there). That mixed with some bad info that I received from another traveler caused me to go with this guy who “knew a guy” for cigars.
Moral of the story, don’t adventure out on no rest and a lot of jet lag, you might make some very poor decisions that you wouldn’t make if you were in a better state of mind. Also, don’t go down back alleys with strangers while it’s dark out. It’s embarrassing because I made a stupid decision while overtired. I don’t think I have ever run so fast in my life. I threw down some money and ran away, fast. I was unharmed, but just a few days later I heard of an American in the same area being robbed at knifepoint. Crime involving tourists in Cuba is rare, but it can happen! I should have never let my guard down.
I’m embarrassed I haven’t been to: Hawaii.
Worst travel moment: When I traveled with an ex-boyfriend and we arrived to Paris very late from Italy. He had one job for the entire trip, book the Paris hotel. Well, apparently he didn’t book it properly and our reservation was cancelled. My phone had been stolen in Rome and he didn’t have a cell phone plan and his phone was dead, so we were stuck at Gare Du Nord (the Paris train station) late at night with no hotel and no way to book one on the fly. Gare Du Nord is not a good place to be at night, there are gangs outside and taxi cabs don’t want to pick anyone up. We were refused by four taxis before someone finally drove us to the hotel that cancelled our reservation. They were full but let me use their Wi-Fi to book another hotel. Needless to say, this guy didn’t know how to travel so I broke up with him right after the trip.
What’s your dream destination? A safari! But a really glamorous one. Might save that one for a honeymoon someday. That’s one trip I’m not interested in doing solo.
Best travel tip: Be flexible! It’s good to have a plan, but if your travel plans are too structured, you miss out on the authentic moments that make travel exciting. Try to step off the beaten path to find where the locals hang out. It’s always good to sit at the bar if you travel alone, you will meet more people and the bartenders always have some great suggestions of local hangouts!
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