For Peter J. Frank, Editor-in-Chief of Concierge.com, the on-line magazine spin off of Condé Nast Traveler, every day life and travel blend together. Vacations and work look a lot alike. Not that he’s complaining, but as he told Christopher Eliott earlier this year (see article), even trips meant just for fun and dinners out with friends often involve note-taking. Business trips might take him to those places most of us would drool over, but the pace would leave even the most seasoned of us breathless and wondering, now where am I again?
Seriously–as he explained his job, 11 days in the Florida Keys means 10 different hotels. Lucky for us though, Peter translates his notes into travel advice, making sure that Concierge.com’s readers have enough insider information to make the best choices when deciding what’s perfect for them. The August issue took on cruises, for example. A cruise ship by any other name would not smell as sweet.
Since Peter’s been sorting the dazzling from the dud experiences for 14 years now–he also was also an editor at Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast and the travel section of Men’s Journal,—we at Gadling decided he’d be perfect for a Talking Travel sit down. Happily, we were able to snag Peter for an e-mail interview so he could pass on more of his travel tidbits and tales. Enjoy.
You’ve been a travel-writing type guy for awhile. Has travel always been your passion or did you just fall into it?
I’ve always loved traveling, but it wasn’t in my life plan to become a travel editor. I’d studied English in college and wanted to move to New York, so it made sense to get into magazines – and my first job happened to be at a great travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler. I worked my way up from there.
What was the trip you took that first hooked you into travel? What made it so special? How old were you?
I was about 19 when backpacked around Italy for a week. I had traveled in Europe before, but this was my first solo trip and a great lesson in self-sufficiency: I had to decipher train schedules, talk my way into packed pensiones, order off exotic menus, and so forth. I saw some great cities off the main tourist track: Perugia, Ravello, Verona. I ended up in Venice, where I met my father and stepmother, who had just gotten off a cruise and were staying at the Danieli. My clothes were all filthy from a week’s worth of traveling, so I sent my laundry in–$200 worth. He’s still after me for the money!
Where do you think cutting corners on the cost of a trip is a bad idea? What experiences do you think are worth paying for?
You can definitely save on laundry! I don’t mind splurging on a fabulous hotel or a great restaurant — actually, part of my job is to review places that are expensive, so I can tell our users whether it’s worth their hard-earned dough. But I try to balance out big-money places with less-expensive options, since our readers are also looking for ways to save. Regardless, I think it’s always worth spending money for the opportunity to experience the best of a foreign culture, whether that means eating the best sushi in Tokyo or paying a hefty admission fee to see the treasures of the Louvre, or hiring a guide to explain the intricacies of, say, the temples at Angkor. If you’ve come all that way, it would be a shame to miss out on the highlights for the sake of saving a few bucks.
Photo: Peter, the guy in the middle, has his notebook and pen in hand, not only paying attention to the sumptuous food in front of him, but his dining companions’ as well. (Photo credit: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)
The latest Conceirge.com has a mega section on cruise ships. That’s quite a menu. What do you think are the most important questions a person should ask before making a cruise ship choice?
We did that story, “Cruise 101“, because so many people ask us the difference between one cruise line and another. They don’t really understand what makes, say, Royal Caribbean distinct from Princess, or Sea Dream from Silversea. Unlike a hotel, once you board a cruise ship, you’re pretty much stuck there, so it’s critical to know that the ship you’re choosing is the right one for you. Will you be comfortable in the cabin? Will the other passengers be people like you? Is the emphasis on cultural discovery, or luxurious indulgence, or partying and socializing? Those more “philosophical” questions are just as important as those about price or logistics.
If all a person can afford is that budget cruise to the Bahamas, what can they do to make their experience a stand out?
Temper your expectations. If you’re only paying $500 for a weeklong cruise, and you’re expecting gourmet cuisine and a spacious cabin, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Understand what’s included and what’s not: A lot of cruise lines pile up the extra charges. And focus on why you’re there — to relax, to spend time with your family, to work on your tan — not on all the little things that might go wrong.
From your editorial background, I take it you have an interest in adventure travel. Are there any adventures you think a person should not take? What is an adventure travel experience you’ve had that you talk up to your friends.
It’s crucial to understand what you’re getting into before you go – are you physically up for this? Do you have the right shoes, the right clothes? Finishing a strenuous hike or rafting a whitewater river can be exhilarating, but if you’re blistered or freezing, your misery will outweigh the rewards. And while facing down your fears is important – don’t do something if you’re going to be so terrified that you won’t be able to enjoy it. I went whitewater rafting down in Argentina a few years back, on rapids that were about Class IV — stronger than I’d ever done before. A few people on the trip were scared, but I wasn’t. In fact, the boat flipped and I got flung into the water, and had to float a while before I could get back into the boat. It was scary for a minute, but it was also pretty thrilling – and hilarious.
You’ve a background in fashion editing, as well as, travel. What are your favorite clothes that you like to take on a trip and the must-have items?
I’m a terrible packer, actually. I either bring a ton of stuff and end up wearing only half of it, or I pack too little and end up having to shop for clean socks. Fortunately, most places have gotten casual enough that you can get away with packing nice jeans and a few button-down shirts, rather than having to worry about suits and ties. One thing I always wear is slip-on shoes for the flight. I don’t understand why people insist on wearing sneakers or lace-ups or even boots to the airport, when they know they’re going to have to take them off. I just slip ’em off, slip ’em back on, and I’m outta there.
I saw a YouTube video of you on E News last year talking up the hot, sexy clubs around the world where stars go. Fun piece to watch. It has a breezy feel to it. How did you get involved?
That was based on a story we’d done in our “World’s Sexiest” series – I think it was the “World’s Sexiest Parties,” and it was about clubs and bars that the jet-setters go to. The people at E! saw the story and wanted me to talk about it on camera. The celebrity culture in this country has gotten pretty out of hand, but we do cover that a bit as well. Let’s face it, celebrities are pretty good role models when it comes to travel: They can afford to go wherever they want, so if they like a certain club or restaurant or hotel, odds are it’s a pretty special place.
How much do you get to hang out with hot sexy stars? Is this a perk of your job? Being that I’ve never been in a club with a hot, sexy star, I’m just wondering.
Yeah, right! Actually, the reporter who wrote that story works for Style.com and she actually does hang out with the hot, sexy people — not me. The closest I came to hanging out with a star was when I was staying at the same hotel in Miami as Madonna.
Here’s the YouTube video we’re talking about. There’s great footage of Peter. Personally, I think he’s a TV natural. Check out the stars he mentions and see what a difference a year makes.
What do you enjoying most about editing Concierge.com?
Learning about all phenomenal experiences people can have the world over. I have the fortune of working with some pretty terrific writers, who are able to describe the great adventures and experiences they’ve had in language that’s evocative and inspiring. It’s torture sometimes – since I’ll never be able to do all these things myself – but I enjoy reading about them, and sharing them with our users.
It seems that a big part of your job is to enhance people’s life experiences by enticing them to travel. What’s the best travel advice Concierge.com has ever passed onto people?
I think what we do best is collect amazing places and experiences and make them easy for people to learn about. The site is like a catalog of the best things to do and see in the world. That said, we never take a place at face value: We’re not afraid to be critical, and we take pains to explain why a specific hotel is better suited to one type of traveler over another. Just because a place is expensive and luxurious and ranks high on some magazine’s list doesn’t mean it’s the best place for you.
What would be your trip of a lifetime?
I have so many! There are plenty of places I haven’t seen that I feel are critical: Vietnam is at top of that list right now. And there are the destinations that I love returning to again and again, like Rome, Istanbul, Tokyo, [Paris]. It’s a long list that keeps on getting longer!
Here’s the video ” 24 Hours in. . . Paris” from Concierge.com’s video library. It has all of Peter’s favorite places and is a chance to see the City of Love through Peter’s eyes, and probably at his speed.
When Peter does make it to Vietnam, I’m sure his notebook will be overflowing with details. I’ve been to Vietnam five times now, and certainly wouldn’t mind finding another Hanoi hotspot or hidden treasure as the result of Peter’s travels. 24 Hours in. . . Hanoi would be a fine video to see.