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alex trebekI recently had the opportunity to meet “Jeopardy!” game show host and pop culture icon Alex Trebek at an event hosted by Lindblad Expeditions. A long-time fan of the show, I was encouraged not only by the fact that we both love trivia, but also by our shared passion for travel and, unexpectedly, movies.

In our interview, I asked whether someone so worldly (Trebek has traveled to both Antarctica and the Galapagos with Lindblad) could have anything left on his bucket list. His reply was strangely specific: “Iguazu Falls — that’s inland. The Amazon has always interested me because I’ve had this long desire to get to Manaus, for some reason, and Manaus is a fascinating city. It had the first opera house in South America, 200 years ago, and that’s on my bucket list. Lhasa, in Tibet, is also very much on my list, and I almost did it this past year with National Geographic. They had an around-the-world flight that was supposed to take us to Lhasa, but the Chinese government had closed Tibet, so they rerouted everybody to another place in China, which was fine.”

However, Trebek still has an interest in Asia: “I missed out two years ago — we sent our Clue Crew to Cambodia and Vietnam and Laos, and I didn’t get to Angkor Wat, which is on my bucket list also. Oddly enough, in South China — not far from Canton, I think — there are some beautiful places, accessible; you’ve seen them in travel magazines a lot — with the rocks coming out of the water — that’s someplace I would like to visit also.”

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What’s Alex Trebek’s favorite place to visit? “Yorkshire, England. Emily Bronte country. The moors, yes, my wife and I have walked the moors; we picked heather on the moors. Top Withens supposedly might have been the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. My wife and I have a picture of ourselves in front of that building.”

Having read that Trebek and his family are expert packers (and that he actually enjoys flying), I had to ask if he could offer any advice for the everyday traveler. The answer was surprising: “If you can’t do a two-week vacation with one roll-on and a shoulder bag, you’re not a good traveler at all. I have a friend who went to Prague with his partner, and his partner overpacked (had six or seven sweaters and never wore four or five of them). I’m on a three-day trip, here in New York then on to Washington and back to Los Angeles, and I overpacked but [my bag is] still light.”

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As a routine overpacker, I felt the bite of “not a good traveler” and had to raise my spirits with a lighter question. Knowing that Trebek is a fan of both travel and movies, I figured he might have a favorite travel movie on file. “I’m thinking a film called ‘Hurricane’ with Dorothy Lamour. There are others in more recent days, of course. ‘Indiana Jones’ films feature a lot of geography, and they show you the maps and where the plane is going on the map so you can keep track — and they all wind up fighting bad Germans.”

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

bill brysonTravel writer Bill Bryson has made a career out of examining the follies and foibles of different countries and regions, including Australia, the Appalachian Trail, his home state of Iowa and his adopted country of Britain. Few authors have as much insight into how tourists behave as he does.

Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor at our sister site Cruise Critic, caught up with Bryson last month on a cruise aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. During their one-hour interview (read part 1 here), Bryson discussed his travel pet peeves — including the phrase “bucket list” — and how you can get the most out of a trip to even the most well-documented cities.

IT: After a fairly normal 1950s childhood in the Midwest, did you ever expect that you’d spend much of your life traveling?

Bill Bryson: Not at all. But I grew up with a really powerful urge to see the world, and the thing I remember very clearly is looking at National Geographic when I was a kid. My dad always had a subscription.

Now, the classic thing for little boys to do is look at the bare-breasted ladies in Africa or Tahiti, but what I was looking at was France and Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Everywhere in the world looked so attractive and exotic. I just wanted to go off and see the world.

IT: Are certain places still on your bucket list?

BB: I don’t like using that term “bucket list” as I get closer and closer to being in bucket territory. But no, there are a lot of places that I’ve never been where I’d like to go, and there are a lot of places that I’ve never been with my wife where I’d like to take her, and then there are a lot of places that I would like to go and possibly write about. But they aren’t all the same places.

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IT: What is your biggest pet peeve when you look at other travelers?

BB: There are so many people who are so obsessed with their job and their career that — no matter where you send them — they seem unable to enjoy the experience of travel. I think that’s a great shame, not only because travel makes you a better person but because it also makes you better at whatever business you do.

I know a man whose business took him all over the world but especially Sydney. And every time he’d go to Sydney from America, he’d stay at an airport hotel and meet his Australian colleagues at the airport hotel, and as soon as he possibly could he’d fly out again. He’d never seen Sydney Harbour! I don’t care how ambitious I was or how tied to my job I was, if you sent me to Sydney, at the minimum, I’m going to have a day to enjoy the experience.

IT: How do you think the Internet and smartphones have changed the way that we travel?

BB: People are so busy reporting their experiences that they aren’t actually having the experiences. I don’t travel with a cell phone in America because my cell phone from England doesn’t work in America. It drives my publishers crazy that they can’t phone me! I tell them, pretend it’s 1995 again and you don’t have a cell phone. They want instant access. So many people email you and expect an answer within minutes. You don’t have that entitlement to expect me to respond immediately.

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IT: What else have you noticed about how travel has changed?

BB: There is so much more of it happening now. Just a year or so ago, I went to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. It was out of season, but [the bridge] was so full of human beings you couldn’t walk across it. It was physically impossible without fighting crowds. It’s a shame that there are so many people who are trying to have the same few experiences.

IT: So how can a traveler who wants to have a unique experience do so?
A: Well, if you just go another 200 yards, you can have it all to yourself. [My wife and I] walk away from Trafalgar Square or Place d’Concorde. We usually end up going to some residential area or some park or follow the river. Then you very quickly shed all the tourists.

If you want to experience Paris or Rome or London in an authentic way, it’s still really easy to do. Go where people live, not where the tourists hang out. Walking is the way to get a full three-dimensional experience where all your senses kick in. You’ve got the smells and the sights and the wind in your face.

– interview conducted by Chris Gray Faust

ami vitale portraitWe all take them — the posed pics in front of iconic structures and vistas. But how do we transform our travel photos into a narrative of our journey? To help us, we turned to Nikon professional photographer Ami Vitale, who tells intimate stories through her camera lens. We learned not only how she creates a connection with her subject, but also how we can forge our own bonds.

Vitale’s work has appeared in such publications as National Geographic, Time and Newsweek. She has won numerous awards, exhibited in museums and contributed to a collaborative book project. Based in Montana, Vitale is working on her first solo book of stories behind the images she’s taken.

IT: Many of your photographs are close-ups of people. Do you ask permission to take someone’s photograph before you do it? Many travelers feel shy doing this; how do you approach the conversation?

Ami Vitale: Always. I usually sit down and talk with people for a few minutes, hours or even days to make sure that they are comfortable with my being there. If I don’t speak the same language, I will make gestures first asking if it’s okay or I will ask if someone nearby can translate. I always invest time in the people I’m photographing. It’s more respectful, I learn more and it elevates the image from being just a snapshot to an image with a real story.

Recently I was in India during the Pushkar Camel Fair and I was photographing a girl named Subita. I was not the only one taking her pictures. Around us, there were hundreds of digital cameras, some cheap, many expensive, firing away.

I spent a couple of days with Subita and her family. At no time were we alone, and even when before dawn broke, we huddled around a fire, at least a half dozen people were looking at her only through their lenses. The only time any of them acknowledged me was to ask me a technical question, like what ISO would work best in the stingy light.

Later, Subita would tell me how de-humanizing the impact of eager tourists and their cameras were on her. Made her feel like an animal is how she put it to me. No one even said “namaste” or “hello” to her. Those who surrounded her were after only one thing — what they considered a great shot. It was a hunt; she was simply the prize.

The era of film had a lot to teach us photographers; about approaching people slowly, the importance of building trust, and crafting a story even as you fire the shutter. Limited by the number of shots, we waited to get deeper into the story before blowing our film. And we were not defined as much by one amazing, accidental image, but rather the tapestry of a great and complex story we could illuminate.

If some of the people who surrounded Subita had taken the time to spend even a few hours with her, learning a bit more about her life, they would have had a story and not just an image. There are of course huge advantages to using a digital camera. It can help you tell a story better, but the important thing to remember is that anyone can take a picture. It takes a good storyteller to be a great photographer.

And that always takes time.

ami vitale african women


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IT: What’s a shot or a moment that most people miss with their travel photography?

AV: Instead of getting only posed photos with people looking directly into the camera, it is more revealing to get images that show something deeper about their culture and lives. It’s pretty simple. It only takes time and the willingness to speak with the people you want to photograph.

IT: If we could all just do one thing to make our travel photographs better, what would it be?

AV: Take more time in one place. Instead of zipping around to dozens of locations in one day, slow down, get to know the people and culture more deeply and the images will show that knowledge and trust.

ami vitale boy


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IT: How does being a photographer change the way you travel?

AV: I don’t consider myself a traveler even though I’ve traveled to almost 85 countries. Instead, it’s about telling stories and learning about the people and places I visit. The experience is not about me but rather about the people who open their lives to me.

It’s a tough job if you are serious about it, and you have to be serious about it if you want to make a living at it. The truth is, very little “clicking” happens. That is about 10 percent of the job. The rest is sheer hard work: planning, researching, editing, negotiating and finding unique ways to tell stories. The trick is to get access to places that no one else can get to, and the secret to this is to know your subject better than anyone else.

So my advice to those who dream about this is to find a story close to you – maybe even in your backyard — and make it yours. You don’t need to travel abroad. What you do need to do, however, is tell a story better than anyone else can, using your own unique perspective. If you find your own story and show complete and utter dedication, then you will find a way to carve out a career.

ami vitale boat


Read more about Ami Vitale and see her galleries at Nikonusa.com

– written by Jodi Thompson

christoph niemann red eye Award-winning artist, author and New York Times blogger Christoph Niemann recently turned his talents to the subject of travel, chronicling an uncomfortable transatlantic flight in his hilarious graphic blog, Abstract City. I asked Niemann, a veteran globetrotter who frequently flies between Berlin and New York, to tell us more about his thoughts on air travel.

IndependentTraveler.com: Your illustrations shine a humorous light on the petty annoyances of air travel. Do you think flying has gotten more irritating than it used to be?

Christoph Niemann: I hope that despite all the grievances I list in my blog, it is obvious that my main observation is how flying somehow turns us into self-pitying neurotics. As much as I dislike the boredom, the discomfort and the food, I still think it is amazing that I can hop on a plane and cross an ocean in a few hours for a few hundred dollars.

I am not sure that travel has gotten worse, but I am rather shocked and amazed that it hasn’t gotten any better. When you think of all the advancement in other areas (trains, cars, hotels), it is amazing that flying (at least in coach) hasn’t changed AT ALL. I don’t want to keep picking on Delta (the people who work for them are very nice), but they don’t even have seat-back monitors. How can I keep track of where we are if I am forced to watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” with the whole plane?

IT: On that note, do you ever fly first class?

CN: I think I have a secret sign on my forehead that says “DO NOT UPGRADE THIS MAN. EVER.”

I fly a lot and have a good number of miles on various cards. But they all seem conveniently expired or invalid on that particular day.

IT: What other elements of air travel do you find absurd?

CN: I could easily write a Russian-novel-length thesis about the Delta terminal at J.F.K. — from the ridiculous walk from the air-train to the terminal to the absurd check-in lines to the depressing disrepair of the whole facility. Then there’s of course the insanely terrifying flushing sound of an airplane toilet — though I wasn’t able to come up with a good metaphor for that.

IT: What inspired you to turn your talents to the subject of air travel?

CN: I am writing this on seat 12E on flight 97 from Berlin to EWR. My kneecaps are crumbling away, I have crumbs and stains all over my shirt and I can barely open my laptop at a 45-degree angle, which forces me to type vertically. This is all the inspiration I need.

IT: Does turning life into art help pass the time on a horrible flight, or does creativity flow best after you’ve made it home?

CN: I always try to get some work done on flights, and taking notes for the blog is certainly more enjoyable than studying the terrible ads for steakhouses and celebrity dentists in the in-flight magazine. But the real work happens back at the desk.

IT: Are there any destinations in particular that have inspired your work?

CN: The Berlin-New York flight is where I travel most often.

Just to end on a positive note: Berlin Tegel is my favorite airport! On a trip back from Switzerland last year it took me six (!) minutes from the wheels of the plane touching the tarmac to opening the door of the taxi.

Read more about Christoph Niemann’s work at ChristophNiemann.com.

–written by Caroline Costello