Johnny Jet, aka John DiScala, was an unlikely candidate for the job of global travel expert. At 17, he had a panic attack before a long, expensive trip from New York to Australia and never got on the plane. That anxiety persisted for a few years until he managed to overcome his fear of flying (you can learn how on his website, JohnnyJet.com) — and then, well, you couldn’t keep him on the ground.
Since 1995, he’s logged more than 3 million miles, all while offering advice on everything from maximizing your credit card rewards to finding Instagram-worthy destinations. He sends his followers a daily travel tip and a weekly e-newsletter full of travel deals, news, tips and stories.
On March 23-24, he’ll share that advice at the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show at the Santa Clara Convention Center, with talks scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Saturday and 1:45 p.m. Sunday. Joining him as keynote speakers will be fellow travel experts Rick Steves, Patricia Schultz, Peter Greenberg, Cheryl Strayed and a dozen others. (If you use promo code JOHNNY19 at the Eventbrite ticket link, you’ll get $5 off admission. Otherwise, tickets are $11 advance, $15 at the door; kids 17 and under get in free; www.travelshows.com/shows/san-francisco-bay-area.)
Naturally, we had our own questions for Johnny. Here’s an edited version of our chat:
Q: What are your readers most interested in these days, value travel or experiential travel?
A: They’re interested in a mixture of both. They want experiential travel but want to stretch their dollars. Then again, who doesn’t?
Q: You travel to 20 or more countries a year. Which destinations are you recommending for 2019, and why?
A: Well, I used to do 20-plus countries before my son was born. Now that I have a 2-year-old, we do about five countries a year. It’s difficult to recommend a destination for someone without knowing what they like: hot or cold, luxury or budget, active or relaxing. But in general I recommend going to one new country a year because — as corny as it sounds — I truly believe the more people travel internationally the less prejudices there will be in the world.
Q: What destination is a good deal this year?
A: Canada! It’s a great place for Americans since it’s nearby, safe, friendly and everything is 25 percent off because their dollar is so weak.
Q: What about under-appreciated destinations, both in the U.S. and abroad?
A: Where do I begin? In the U.S. I love Erie, Pennsylvania, in the summer and Delray Beach, Florida, in the winter. Abroad: Bermuda (since it’s close, safe and friendly).
Q: Erie, Pennsylvania? What is there to do there?
A: It’s great for families in the summertime. It’s inexpensive. There’s the Waldameer Park amusement park and a big indoor water park called Splash Lagoon. You’ll see some of the most amazing sunsets you’ve ever seen in your life on Lake Erie.
Q: And what do you like about Delray Beach?
A: A lot of people don’t know about it. It’s turning into a mini-South Beach. Atlantic Avenue is the main avenue. They have a lot of great restaurants there and a lot of hotels. It’s a great destination in the winter. You don’t want to go during summer.
Q: Back to the kid. What advice would you give parents who will be traveling with a toddler?
A: Buy them a seat even if they’re under 2 to give you more space. We almost always book the bulkhead and bring the Fly-Tot, an inflatable cushion that turns a coach seat into a first-class seat for toddlers.
Q: You must get asked this all the time, but here it comes again: How can a traveler find cheap flights?
A: Of course! You just have to be flexible and do your homework. For example, it might be less expensive to break up a trip to Europe into two separate flights — one on one airline to London, and the second leg to Sardinia on another airline. My cheat sheet on how to find cheap flights contains 16 other tips (www.johnnyjet.com/17-ways-to-find-cheap-flights).
Q: How can travelers maximize their rewards travel or find a credit card that offers tremendous opportunities for travel?
A: If you can pay off your bills in full each month then you definitely want to get a credit card that has flexible points like Ultimate Rewards. The most popular among frequent fliers is Chase Sapphire Preferred since you can quickly earn points and easily use them for luxury flying experiences.
Q: Weatherwise, it’s been a brutal year for flying. Any tips to keep travelers sane with all the delays?
A: Yes! Do your research in advance. I don’t leave home without knowing the weather where I am and where I’m going — including at layover airports. Have a plan B and follow my tips and tricks on what to do in weather delays and cancellations.
Q: You often post your airport arrivals on Twitter with the question, “Landed! Can you guess the airport?” Are there really travelers who fly so many miles that they can recognize the runway, gate or lounge by one little photo?
A: Surprisingly, there are a ton. However, the ones that usually get it right are locals.
Q: OK, last question. You get to go on one final flight. What’s the destination?
A: It would be home.
Position: Founder and editor-in-chief, JohnnyJet.com
Hometown: South Norwalk, Connecticut
Residence: Los Angeles
Education: Marymount College Palos Verdes, Loyola Marymount University
FIVE FACTS ABOUT JOHNNY JET
Loves to visit farmers markets to get a sense of place and fresh food.
When he’s in town, plays beach volleyball twice a week in Manhattan Beach.
He’s a chocoholic.
Was the MVP of Loyola Marymount’s lacrosse team and the league’s high scorer.
Named the original travel influencer by Forbes.
Q&A: Johnny Jet shares his mile-tested travel advice – The Mercury News