Is Dhani Jones the most interesting man in the world?

We have all seen the commercial. “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” He’s called the most interesting man in the world. But, beyond the LCD panels in your television, and the din of late night TV, the man is just an actor in an especially resonant role, in a very successful advertising series, mythologized with strange deeds and characteristics. His blood smells of cologne, and he despises gyms. After all, running in place will never get you the same results as running from a lion.

It is all hilarious nonsense.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Dhani Jones may just be the most interesting man in the world. Like the Dos Equis demigod, Dhani spends much of his time defying conventions and curating his own personal mythology. He has conducted orchestras, played a decade at middle linebacker in the NFL, scrimmaged with baby elephants, swam with sharks in Australia, flown a Cessna through a thunderstorm, and even carried a suffering man on his shoulder through the Himalayas to safety at a mountain camp.

He has also played a washboard bass on a corner in New York city for tips, and was once arrested for literally dancing too much in the streets of Miami. For Dhani, life is a journey, an extremely interesting one.Dhani Jones also travels, a lot. Bring up the topic and he leans in a little closer, his eyes light up, and he spouts off philosophies culled from the epic lore of a vagabond sportsman. His eccentric convictions peel back the stereotypical jock persona, revealing that ballers can do more than make plays and cash. They also start philanthropic bow tie companies, write books about life, and travel.

Gadling Labs sat down with Dhani at ‘inoteca in New York to discuss his life, his travels, his partnership with Bing Travel, and his new book The Sportsman.

You recently partnered with Bing Travel. What was your reasoning behind this partnership? In what facets of this service do you truly believe?

There are too many decisions in life. Sometimes, someone has to be the decision maker for you. I wear all black because I don’t want to have to go into the closet and make decisions. At restaurants, 9 times out of 10, I will have the server or someone else at the table choose for me. It’s so much easier. At the same time, you are experiencing the perspective of someone else.

That is why I partnered with Bing: they make decisions for you. So many people think that it is difficult to travel because they can’t find a flight within their budget, or can’t find a hotel room in their budget, or they just can’t figure out where to go. Some people are not to the point of being adventurous enough on their own, so they need helpful coercion. Bing makes it easier to travel with advice and discounts as it pertains to travel. It helps you surf the world.

It also takes the thinking out of the situation. Tools like the Price Predictor pulls historical data with statistical modeling to assist in telling you the right time to buy a flight.

Speaking of flights, have you ever had an especially terrifying one?

I don’t get scared during flights. When there is turbulence, I get kind of happy. I like to look around and think, why do these people not have confidence in the pilots? They have family, friends, and they are in control.

I fly planes, and the worst flight I have ever had was one where I was the pilot. I was in Pennsylvania in a 4-seater Cessna 182, and we were flying, and I was checking out property in Pennsylvania. I was taking one of my practice flights, and all of a sudden I see this storm, but we just keep circling properties. The clouds started getting real dark, and my copilot decided it was time to head back. All of a sudden, we pull this turn, and I see him reach over and tighten his belt down. I ‘m like, oh hell no. The storm was on us. We started dropping 50 feet down and back up, sideways. We finally landed and golf ball sized hail started coming down. If that had happened in the sky, that would have been it. That was my worst flight, and I was at the sticks.

You have been all over the world, what were some of the most racially uncool places you have visited?

Australia. I always knew there was some dissension between the Aborigines and the Australians, but when I arrive in a country I wipe the slate clean. There was an incident where people acted like I didn’t know what sand and water were. People say these things to me, and if I respond negatively, it upholds the negative image. But if I respond in a positive way, then I can change people’s minds. Australia and Switzerland were both a little bit difficult. Everywhere else is pretty cool.

I quickly dismiss the sadness and ignorance of it all and leave it to the past.

Some of these experiences are why I travel. There is ignorance on both sides. In Switzerland, I didn’t feel like they liked me. In Cambodia, they thought I was Barack Obama. Different places have their own ways of things and it’s our responsibility as travelers to make our own introductions. I am like a diplomat of travel.

My favorite travel quote is “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” As someone who majored in “self-representation” at Michigan, what do you value more, your academic education, or what you have learned from traveling?

Michigan allowed me to understand the world from a diverse perspective, enhancing and encouraging my appetite for travel. I could never say one more than the other. I go to places like Thailand and China and always meet people from Michigan. Michigan is an international school, and they really encourage you to travel the world. You know what I mean. My parents introduced me to travel, Michigan shaped me, the Travel Channel and Bing allowed me the opportunity to really travel.

Aside from the clothes on your back, what are five things you always travel with?

1. a pen and a pad
2. a camera – Canon g11 or 5D, depending on the length of the trip
3. a bowtie – very versatile (Dhani runs a philanthropic bow tie cause)
4. bathing suit – always have to be ready to swim
5. mobile device/phone – for the apps (like Bing travel app) and pictures of family

In your book you mention an especially uncomfortable scene in a locker room in Switzerland. What are some of your other uncomfortable travel experiences?

With every country you travel to, the first day is always a little uncomfortable. You are adapting to speech, trying to get bearings, trying to figure out who to meet up with, and everything falls into place once you start walking. Walking is the key. And opening up to people.

In Russia, we (the film crew for Dhani Tackles the Globe) got caught in passport control for about 7 hours. We went from Cambodia to China to Russia, and after paying a baggage fee in China, Russia also tried to charge us some exorbitant baggage fee. Just stuck in customs, they didn’t want to let us in. It was like that Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal.

Do you ever miss home, or family?

When I’m gone, I’m gone. When I am overseas I am full on into it. I am the country. When I am in Croatia, I am Croatian. When I’m in South Africa, I am South African. When I’m in Brazil, I am Brazilian. I even change around my accent to talk like the locals, eat the food. I ask people how they talk to different types of people: parents, girls, friends. How do they go out, and how do they meet girls. How do they order food. I try to change everything, and just try to find my way through.

I am not thinking of home. I live here now. My hotel is home.

With an excellent career in the NFL, doing the show was very risky. One mix up and your NFL career could be compromised, costing you millions of dollars. And yet here you were competing in some of the most dangerous sports in the world. Did any of it make you extremely nervous?

When we got green-lit for the show, and they told me the first sport I would play was going to be rugby, I thought to myself, shit. I didn’t have a contract. I was in the middle of re-negotiations. I have the opportunity to travel, but I have to play rugby. And I was going to play rugby against professionals. What do I do?

There is no way I am going to back down. I am going to play rugby and I’m going to be all right. Something has to go well. Right?

Then, I get on this horse (in England, during the rugby episode).

I love horseback riding, and when I had to jump, I thought to myself, I don’t know what’s going to happen now. If anything, it’s going to be a telltale sign of why I should be doing what I’m doing.

Falling down off of the horse, I am thinking, I hope I survive this because I really want to keep doing this show.

And I land. I get stepped on by the horse. I look up. Take a moment. I’m okay. From that moment on, I knew that I was supposed to do the show.

Also, in Spain, getting hit in the face with a surfboard – not a fiber glass surfboard, but a Styrofoam one. If I got hit with a real surfboard, my whole jaw would have been broken.

Those situations gave me an indication that I was supposed to do the show. Also the last three years in football, I have played in every game and made every practice. Rather than hurting me, it has allowed me to keep my body fresh. When football started each season, I was not in a lulled state, I was in an excited state. A lot of people are always doing the same thing all the time. As you travel and play different sports and meet different people, your life becomes more fulfilling and fresh, because you never know what’s around the next corner. When you know what’s around the next corner, and you know what you are coming to do each day, there is a complacency factor. I hate to become complacent.

The equation is, do what your passionate about, find a way to incorporate what your passionate about into what you do every day, and you will be alright.

I wrote the Sportsman to allow others a little more insight into why I travel with so much on the line. I don’t have millions of dollars on the line; that is not my thought process. What I do have on the line is, if I am not out there doing it, who is?

Which sport was the most challenging on a technical level during your experiences filming Dhani Tackles the Globe? Also, what sports could you play professionally other than football?

Jai alai is the most difficult. The ball is this big (3/4 baseball size), it goes 200mph, and you have to catch it in a curved basket. If you blink, the ball has passed. If you blink twice, the ball has passed and hit you in the back. If that ball hits you in the back of the head, you are dead.

Other than football, the top three sports I would play professionally are sailing, cricket, and rugby, in that order.

Martin Johnson is the coach of the English rugby team. He would definitely give me a tryout. I would like to play cricket. Sailing is great because you make money, travel, and see the world with someone helping you out.

But, my life is from the middle linebacker position. Playing middle linebacker is equated to seeing the world. From my perspective of travel, you have to have a wide vision. Strong side or weak side has one responsibility. At the mike (middle), you are looking everywhere, seeing the entire field. Looking at multiple different places, interacting with multiple groups of people, it is just like travel. You can’t have a narrow mind and just focus on one thing or one responsibility. My life is from the middle linebacker position.

Now that Dhani Tackles the Globe is cancelled, do you have any television aspirations other than playing on Sunday?

I would love to do another travel show. If I could travel for the rest of my life and tell everybody how amazing it is, I would do that for the rest of my life.

Go on some crazy adventures like travel around the world in a sailboat. Sail the Amazon, or the Nile, or go horseback riding from Montana to Mexico, or drive down to Tierra del Fuego.

Another thing is a talk show. I would love to have a talk show where we give athletes a platform to discuss what they care about and what they are doing. Social media has afforded us the opportunity, and people want to know more about these guys than just the sport side. I think there is a definite spot.

I have dedicated my life to travel so that other people can have the opportunity to understand what it is to travel, where to go, and how to get there. And to just learn, that ultimately is the best type of education to ever be afforded.

After football, you mentioned maybe being a pediatric neurosurgeon in your book. What do you have planned?

I will be the first black James Bond. I am well on my way. I scuba dive. I have a Morgan Aero super sport. Next? I have a 63 mini cooper. I have all British cars. I can fight. I shoot guns and am a sharpshooter. Next? I wear a tuxedo rather well, and I rock the bow tie even better. What’s next?

So basically, a lot of the things you have done have built your resume up to be the next James Bond.

I am dead serious about being the first black James Bond. Once Daniel Craig is done, I want next. I know I can’t be 230 lbs, but I can get down to 215. I’m ready to go. I think the world is ready.

So, is Dhani Jones the most interesting man in the world? Maybe or maybe not. But at age 33, he is well on his way. Check out his blog over at Bing Travel. His book, The Sportsman, was released last month.

photography by Justin Delaney

Spring Break deals: Fares up overall, best deals can be found to Florida, Europe

The folks over at Bing Travel have been studying up on 2011 Spring Break airfare, and we hate to break it to you, but they’ve found that the average airfare cost is up more than 10 percent over last year, to $489. But the airfare increase doesn’t have to stop the beach party. If you choose wisely, there are still plenty of Spring Break deals to be had.

Bing’s Spring Break Travel Forecast says that lower fares on flights to Florida (particularly Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa) can still be found. The average fare for Boston to Jacksonville is $233, and you can fly from San Francisco to Tampa for $300.

And while many overseas airfares have risen since last year, average airfares from several U.S. cities to Paris, Amsterdam and Rome have dropped as much as 13 percent over Spring Break season fares in 2010.

If you are just settling into spring break planning mode, here are some tips from Bing on finding the best spring break deals:

  • Be Flexible. Now we would never suggest skipping a day of classes, but, ahem, you will do better on airfare if you’re not trying to travel on weekend days like your Spring Break brethren. Monday to Monday or Tuesday to Tuesday fares will almost always be better. And if a school schedule isn’t determining when you vacation this spring, you will likely save money by going at the beginning of March or April rather than the middle of either month.
  • Use Online Tools. You can monitor your airfares and get notices when they drop on a certain route from a number of different online services. Bing’s Price Predictor shows you whether airfares on your chosen route and dates are rising or falling, to help you decide when to buy.
  • Be Aware of Hidden Fees. Be sure you know what you will be charged for checked baggage, overweight luggage, aisle or exit row seats before you hit the airport.

Bing is giving away five $100 travel stipends for 2011 spring break travel on Twitter. To enter, tweet @fareologist with where you’d like to go for spring break. Check out the contest’s official rules before entering.

[Image credit: Flickr user Dawn Huczek]

Google acquires ITA: the search for bargain airline deals is about to get even easier

You’re an avid traveler, right? Sure, why else would you be reading this? Chances are that you’ve spent some quality time at either Kayak, Airfare Watchdog, Bing Travel or one of the many other niche ticketing sites in search of deals over the past few months. To that end, you’ve probably spent next to no time at Google searching for the same thing. But the obvious question is this: “why not?”

That’s a question that has obviously been bugging Google, which is a master of all things search in most every other category. For whatever reason, Google has allowed a number of other, typically smaller competing sites to grow their user base without any interference. But if Google’s so great at finding images via keyword, remedies to your strange medical conditions or more details on that vehicle you’ve been meaning to investigate, why can’t it do the same for travel?

Enter ITA Software, a Cambridge-based software firm that was born from an idea within the minds of a few bright computer scientists from MIT. Currently, the outfit is home to a highly advanced QPX software tool for organizing flight information, which is used by leading airlines and travel distributors worldwide including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Bing, Continental Airlines, Hotwire, Kayak, Orbitz, Southwest Airlines, TripAdvisor, United Airlines, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and others. Moreover, it’s now offering a completely new airline passenger reservation system to improve the customer experience. And as of today, the company is an integral part of Google…
Google has ponied up $700 million in order to acquire ITA and turn the tables in the online ticket search business, but what’s most interesting here is that there’s a good chance the resulting search engine will not only do its own thing, but also bring in results from your existing favorites (Kayak, for instance). In a way, it’ll be the ultimate airline ticket search engine, pulling information from every nook and cranny available and organizing it in a way that the Average Joe or Jane can fully understand and take action on.

Once the acquisition is complete, Google aims to “make it easier for you to search for flights, compare flight options and prices and get you quickly to a site where you can buy your ticket.” It’s important to note that much like Kayak, Google won’t actually be selling you an airline ticket directly; it’ll simply be providing the access to buy one. Still, this all sounds like a huge win for consumers who are tired of crawling three different airline search engines to get a somewhat comprehensive look at their options, and we personally can’t wait for this marriage to officially bear fruit.

[Source: Google]