Famous flyer: George Negus

Professional traveller ... do a bit of homework before you get there, George Negus says.
Professional traveller ... do a bit of homework before you get there, George Negus says. Photo: Channel Ten/Peter Brew-Bevan

George Negus can find a positive in (almost) any trip, but would rather not have to talk to strangers.

Which was your best holiday?

To be honest, I can't really say. I'm not that sort of absolutist. The last holiday the four of us [partner Kirsty Cockburn and two sons] had together in Oman was probably one of the most memorable - time in the desert and the mountains with the Bedouin, out on the Gulf and in a spectacularly located hotel on a cliff outside Muscat. Living with Omani Bedouin in their goat-hair tents and sharing their country and moderate Islamic culture was a real highlight. Living in Italy for 15 months, of course, gets close to best, but that wasn't really a holiday. It was more like taking a sabbatical in your favourite country.

Best hotel you've stayed in?

The American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem is a favourite. It existed before the Middle East entered the turmoil it's been in for the last 60 years. It's a little oasis in what can be a tricky part of the world. The [former] Alrae Hotel in upper Manhattan and the Athenaeum on Piccadilly overlooking Green Park in London are also favourites, mainly because of their locations.

What do you need for a perfect holiday?

Sounds sooky, but to have the family with me. I wouldn't go without at least one member of my family.

What do you always take with you on holidays?

Other than the family, you mean? A watch with two faces, so I always know what time it is where I am and what time it is back home. It's a habit I developed as your proverbial professional traveller.

Best piece of travel advice?

It helps if you know not just where but why you're going to a particular destination. Self-discovery's great, but whether it's Noosa or Morocco, do a bit of homework before you get there. My partner Kirsty and I holidayed in Morocco recently. We went there because we had friends living in the almost mediaeval medina in Fez. You appreciate what a place is about if you do a little homework, or are lucky enough to have local contacts.

Where do you want to go next?

We're taking a boat from Darwin to Broome along the Kimberley coast. Immediately after that I'm going to Nepal and Everest. I can't think of two more starkly different places in the world. That said, the handful of precious wilderness remote cultural areas left in the world - such as the Kimberley and the Himalayas - need to be looked after.

Which was your worst holiday?

I can't think of one that I got nothing out of. For decades of professional travel, I had to go where I had to go, when I had to go. I had to live with the likes of weather and climate, so I'm absolutely pragmatic about those sorts of "uncontrollables".

And your worst experience on holiday?

Having a travel satchel stolen in Milan that had money, a passport, air tickets and undeveloped film in it. I'd travelled by myself by train over the Alps from Switzerland to Italy. I put my bag down beside me to check an underground map and a guy took off with it. Even the professional traveller relaxes more on holiday! To lose travel documents, or something that really matters like a camera, can ruin a holiday pretty smartly.

Biggest packing mistake you've made?

Packing too quickly or too little. The line, of course, is that you're supposed to pack "light". Nonsense! Even when the professional traveller is holidaying, he can need or want something and it's not there. That said, any time I need whatever it was I hadn't packed, it provides me with a pathetic excuse to buy something.

Worst hotel you've stayed in?

It was in Belize, a very Third World Central American country with open sewers. The only place we could find to stay that looked liveable was a brothel. There were 10 working girls. I asked the madam how much a girl was for a night. Ten US dollars, she said, eager for business. I gave her $US200, telling her, "That's for them to take the night off." We spent $US1000 between four of us for five nights. Our hotel was right beside an open sewer. We went to a local supermarket, bought two-dozen bottles of Dettol, that old disinfectant, and poured it on the floor, the toilet and bathroom - such as it was - to try to get rid of the sewage stench. The girls joined us for breakfast - only!

What do you avoid on holiday?

It sounds so pretentious, but on holiday I try to avoid talking to strangers and talk to friends and family. I guess I'm trying to avoid questions like, "What are you doing here, George?"

What do you hate about holidays?

Not being connected. I don't subscribe to the popular theory that when you're on holidays you should turn off your phone, don't listen to radio, don't watch television and don't read newspapers. I relax more if I know what's going on in the world.

As told to Nina Karnikowski

George Negus will lead a special trip for Fairfax readers to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest. The 12-day trek with World Expeditions, culminating in a special anniversary dinner, departs from Kathmandu on May 22. For bookings, see smhshop.com.au/adventureholidays.

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