Frequent Flyer: John A. Vlahides

The guidebook author flies smart.

Q What was your first international trip?

A When I was 12, my family travelled from New York to England for a summer vacation. My mother dragged us to 15 cathedrals in 14 days. I amused myself playing alone in graveyards and crypts, which I think helped inform my world view: I'm rarely interested in common tourist attractions. I want to see the weird stuff.

Q How important is travel to you?

A We get hypnotised by our day-to-day lives at home. Travel is like hitting the reset button and removes us from our insular lives.

Q What do you do when you land in a city?

A I take a short nap to ground myself, then I find the best local food I can. There's no better way to penetrate a new city than by eating your way across it.

Q You believe one thing to do before you die is to immerse yourself in another language — where was that for you?

A When I was 16, I spent three months living with a family in the north of France, where nobody spoke English. The first month was gruelling and I ended every day frustrated and exhausted. Then one day it clicked.

Q You've contributed to 18 Lonely Planet guidebooks. What's your favourite country and aren't you a little jaded?

A Travel is like knowledge. The more you learn, the less you realise you know. My favourite country is France because they deeply value the rights of the individual, honour the art of the table, run their trains on time and had the guts to stand up to the US about the Iraq war.

Q As a member of the elite Paris-based concierge group Clefs d'Or, what would be your best tip for a budding concierge?

A A good concierge doesn't know everything but can find the answer to anything. If you want to be a concierge, you must first be a good listener and be able to read people.

Q Do you have any tips for arriving fresh?

A I carry an inflatable neck pillow, water bottle, earplugs, eye mask and prescription sleeping pills. After dinner (with two glasses of wine), I brush and floss my teeth, wash my face, spray saline up my nose to combat the dryness, then pop a pill. Every time I wake up mid-flight, I chug a glass of water. If your urine isn't clear while flying, you will feel tired on arrival.

John A. Vlahides is a Lonely Planet author and co-host of the television series Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, on National Geographic in November.

Interview by Jane Reddy

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