Elaine Glusac is a travel writer who has written for everyone, from the New York Times to AFAR to National Geographic Traveler. She has made travel her career for years and recently won Travel Journalist of the Year from the Society of American Travel Writers.
We had a chat with Glusac about her favorite travel memories, her top travel tips and where she sees the industry going in the future.
Airport Insider Scoop
What is your favorite airport and why?
Glusac: My favorite airport, or the one I use all the time, is Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I know people tend to hate it, but I love it because I live there and I can go to so many places direct and nonstop. I think it’s totally underrated and a really good airport.
Globally I like different airports for different reasons. I love Amsterdam Schipol airport for people watching. You’ve got people coming in from Africa and Asia and America. It’s just a fascinating place to sit down, have a coffee, and watch the world go by.
I was also recently at Singapore Changi airport, which is highly rated for a good reason. I haven’t been to the new extension, but just the original airport has a butterfly house, which is so lovely and calming after going through security, and there are free movies. I popped in and watched a film. What a great way to kill an hour before the plane.
And finally, I have to mention any airport in Japan, they just have the best shopping and the best food. I was recently in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido. Their airport is connected to a mall so there are these great brands and they have an amazing food court with rice balls and sushi and string cheese you can’t identify! You can sit there and eat it on the plane. It’s super portable. I have many favorite airports!
Tell us about your favorite airline.
Glusac: I hop around a lot, I like to experience different airlines. I like the variety… Time and time again, if I get the chance, I really like flying Swiss. Even on their domestic flights which are really short, they always give you a really nice coffee and always give you chocolate. I’ll take the airline that gives me chocolate any time.
What is your favorite airport activity?
Glusac: I use it as an opportunity to go walking, I try to be fairly mobile and not have too much stuff with me. I use the time to get some exercise. I try to use those long concords for walking around.
Sweetest thing you’ve ever seen at an airport?
Glusac: I’ve seen so many wonderful reunions; I think that’s probably the nicest thing. Or you see people seeing people off at the airport, parents seeing their kids off at the airport. Or you see someone waiting with a bouquet of flowers.
What are your top carry-on essentials?
Glusac: Water and snacks. I don’t like to rely on anyone else but myself for the essentials, food and water. You never know what you’re going to get. I personally love the Biscoff cookies on American Airlines, but sometimes they’re not there. I also received the Bose noise-canceling headphones, and I now know what everyone’s talking about. They’re really nice and they can plug into the entertainment system so you can watch a movie through them and they still cancel out a lot of noise. I always take some kind of a wrap because I get really cold in the air, so a scarf or a sweater. I kind of have to travel light, so I have everything on my cellphone. Reading, movies, work. I don’t feel like I can carry the extra “heft” of an iPad. I have to keep it small.
Do you have any airport hacks?
Glusac: If you like to travel and want peace of mind, you really need to get TSA Pre-Check. It’s an $85 investment with complete peace of mind. You breeze through security, you don’t have to take off your shoes, you don’t have to take out your laptop or toiletries. You’re through in minutes, and it’s sort of how security used to be. I also think that you can’t rely on the airport for electric power so I always bring my own battery. I’ve just been in too many airports where the in-seat charging doesn’t work.
The Dish on Traveling
What are some travel trends you’ve noticed becoming more prevalent in society?
Glusac: People are talking more about having experiences rather than buying things, like “Instead of buying that Louis Vitton bag, I think I’m gonna climb Machu Picchu.” I think that’s good for everybody. Good for the planet. I think also attention to sustainability is a lot more important in travel these days, people are doing a really good job and places like airports are encouraging people to bring their own water bottles. I think that’s really responsible and great. Hotels are doing away with those mini plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner. You could argue that hotels are saving money by doing this, but it’s also better for the environment. I think we all need to chip in and modify our environmental impact where we can while continuing to travel.
I’ve heard about flight shaming, particularly in Europe, but it’s not something I hear people talking about. When I hear people talking about travel, it’s more about needing a break. Can I do things to minimize my environmental impact? Yes, will I stop traveling? No. The benefits of travel in terms of understanding our world, our planet, our neighbors who may not look anything like us, certainly outweigh the carbon emissions from an airline, and if we can offset those, that’s even better.
How do you choose your destinations?
Glusac: It’s news-driven many times, but also personal interest. Or something strikes me as just strange, and I’ll go do that. I heard about a $129 cruise to the Bahamas. That just sounded too good to be true, so I had to go and try it out. It’s actually pretty good. I did a story on the new Indiana Dunes National Park. It’s the nation’s newest national park. That definitely warranted a trip. I’m also driven by personal interest, I like wild places. I like to go anywhere that’s undeveloped, wilderness and critters. I also have a background in museum studies so I usually go to New York once or twice a year.
What role do you think social media should play in the travel experience?
Glusac: Social media is conflicting. Peer to peer review sites are not the best. If I’m looking for restaurants I need to try, and I go to yelp, I’m kind of disappointed by those lists. You have to consider who’s writing these things, and I’m just not totally sold on that. Travel sells itself by its pictures, and people love seeing great pictures and maybe some people are boasting about their vacations but I don’t really care about that. The best accounts I follow are inspirational and inspiring. I think Instagram is a great driver, I think the downside is overtourism driven by some of these signature shots, like the Wanaka tree in New Zealand being overrun by people looking to get that one great shot and it endangers the tree itself. Or people toppling off of cliffs trying to get a great picture. Again, I think Instagram does a good job inspiring travel, and getting people to travel is ultimately a good and educational thing.
What Instagram accounts would you recommend people following?
Glusac: @nationalparkservice @natgeo and a couple of professional photographers. Jimmy Chin, who everyone now knows from “Free Solo.” His account is really great and fun to follow. Those are more non-commercial and more about teaching and inspiring.
Advice from Glusac
What advice would you give to someone looking to go deeper into the culture they’re visiting?
Glusac: If you get a chance, slow down. I’m guilty of speeding, especially when I’m on a work assignment I’m trying to cram. When I slow down and I hang out in the town square or the library or a coffee shop or a bar, I tend to meet people. Ok, maybe not the library, but the other places I mentioned! I think solo travel is also really good for this because you’re kind of forced to put yourself out there and talk to people. It’s not easy and you’re going to be rebuffed every now and again, but the next person will be willing to talk to you.
How can our readers balance their travel experiences with their budget?
Glusac: I have always looked at my daily life as a travel experience. I live in Chicago, and there’s so much great stuff here. There are amazing neighborhoods with fantastic Indian food or Vietnamese food or a Mexican museum. If you don’t have a lot of time or a lot of budgets, there’s a lot around you that you can seek out. Also, I live in the Midwest, and our drive to’s are Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Iowa! There are some pretty amazing things there, and the Midwest is cheap. Never look down on the overlooked, there’s likely something there that you didn’t realize.
Interview edited for grammar, length, and clarity.
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