Where the experts holiday: Nick Kontis, travel author and journalist

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Born in Greece on one of the most breathtakingly beautiful islands in the world, Santorini, Nicholas Kontis was brought up in the cultural capital of the Americas, San Francisco. From a very young age, he developed a passion for travel as he shuttled between California home and Athens during summer vacations. At age 12, he learned the meaning of travel immersion as he slept on couches in various relatives’ homes and learned to bake his own bread.
Fast forward a decade and Nick launched the first successful travel agency in the United States that specialised in discount around-the-world airfares. Before long, he had been featured on Arthur Frommer’s travel TV show and Peter Greenberg’s radio show while Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler hailed him as the “father of around-the-world airfares.”
Today Nick is an award-winning travel journalist and author who still calls San Francisco home, while also spending time in the Napa Valley, Greece and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

 

What do you like to do on holiday?
I seek people and a better understanding of my destination. At the forefront of any journey, travel begins with people. I try to tred lightly on our pristine planet. I want to volunteer more. Yes, I’m Greek, so I am a foodie. I like to seek out parts of a city with their own unique slice of culture, character and charm.  I’m a Greek-Californian living part of the year in Mexico, so surfing and diving and sea are dear to me. You know, when I was 24, I drove from Darwin to Sydney. Oh, to be a backpacker again and do more overland travel. One day, I’m psyching my mind to be 18-24 again.

 

Where did you last go?

Bridge over the Bosphorus

Istanbul in Turkey. The U.S. State Department said: “Do not travel to Turkey.” That was the clincher!
While in Istanbul, Peter Greenberg, the great  Emmy-winning investigative reporter, interviewed me by phone and asked me what’s going at midnight on a Saturday night in Istanbul. I told him the truth, that the Turkish people remain as nice as ever. They were as curious to learn and know more about me, as I was to learn about them. I always say one thing, as you travel the world you learn that people are much more the same than different.
 

Do you know where you’re going this year?

I tend to stay in Mexico during the summer. Did you know that low season in Mexico is right now until September and I’m loving it? I’ll probably end up back in Greece, but I have this plan to attempt to visit Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. I’m aiming to be in London in November and I really need to get to Australia. I want to go to Perth.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
You know, I’m asked this so often and the canned response from a travel guy is supposed to be, “I like all places” or something along these lines. I’m going to leave out Greece, Italy and Mexico for now. Back in the day I was mesmerised by Burma -it was as if time had stood still. Even in the worst of times, people are lovely in Burma. I guess I should be saying Myanmar, but the country was known as Burma when I was there. There are so many cool things to do there from drifting down the Irrawaddy River in an old river steamer to lazing on deserted beaches in the serene Bay of Bengal. Plus, the people are passionate and inquisitive.  I had a similar feeling in Nepal, where I once spent a month.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
Here’s the thing: you may think that you’ve  seen it all, there’s so many new and wonderful people and places to discover. So, getting back to your question, there’s too many to count. I think I have travelled to 85 countries and still have so much left to see. The Silk Road is calling me right now as is Easter Island in Chile. And, as a diver, I want to go to Palau. Then there’s West Africa – I’ve yet to visit – and both poles. Ethiopia and Bolivia are two more.
 

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?

My country of California or my country of America? Yes, I’m kidding, but America is a big place. I think just about every place is in a travel guide nowadays. In California, parts of Yosemite are still less visited. Two other recommendations are the Russian River in Sonoma, just north of San Francisco, and Santa Cruz – a lovely seaside surf town. All these places bring back fond childhood memories.
Other parts of America that are still a bit under the radar include The San Juan Islands in Washington, The Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and Big Bend National Park in Texas. Like Australia, America has great open spaces.

How do you plan your holiday?
Funny, you ask, I’ve spent my working life acting as a travel advisor and now influencer, but I can be my own worse travel agent. However, I ask around. I tend to trust people who have visited a destination where I would like to visit, for advice. As I wrote a book titled Going Local Experiences and Encounters on the Road, Airbnb is an excellent way to travel for a bargain and to meet people. Sometimes, I do not plan at all. Many times I travel on just a one-way ticket.

How often do you go away?
If you consider Mexico, my second home as “going away” I would say I’m away from my native San Francisco for around five months. I’m in Mexico as we speak, so technically I am overseas.

Who do you travel with?
Usually, it’s just my wife and I. That said, I do a couple of trips with friends as well.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
Well, that’s a good question. As much as I want the man in the big white dome to succeed, I cannot support someone who I feel is not pro-people. It’s really sad in America that this guy is dividing our nation for the worse. Did you know that only 38% of Americans have passports? It sickens me that Americans don’t travel much.
I was reminded, as a travel author, not to expect big things from my book as two thirds American’s will not care about immersion into local societies around the world, when they might never leave their state. I always believe that it is my duty to attempt to change as many Americans’ perceptions of people and places that I can.  I just hope that the world still visits America. We’re still a beautiful nation.

 

 Nick’s first book Going Local – Experiences and Encounters on the Road is out now and available via Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Going-Local-Experiences-Encounters-Road/dp/0997894709) or his website (www.nicholaskontis.com)

Follow Nick on Twitter & Instagram @nicholaskontis 

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