Travel Lessons From Philippe de Vienne


Based in Montreal, Philippe de Vienne and his wife, Ethné, travel at least four months of the year. "We really explore the world for spices," he says.

Philippe de Vienne

How has your job changed the way you travel?
We've made friends with people [from?] all over the place, so now very often we stay with them. If we're going to a place where we don't know anyone, we usually reserve a hotel for the first two nights and then play it by ear. Through spices, people have a way of introducing themselves to you—you're at the market, and the next thing you know you're visiting the farm.

How much do you plan your trips in advance?
If we're heading to multiple countries in one trip, we plan the rough outline, such as we'll be reaching southern India at such a date and leaving at such a date, and book the airfare. That part gets very expensive if you go at the spur of the moment. But local plans are never set. You get a better price when you're on the ground.

What are some packing tips you've picked up?
I always take a first-aid kit and duct tape. It's amazing what you can do with duct tape—it's the stuff that holds the universe together. I've made a clothesline, fixed bathing suits, and even patched a ripped suitcase. But don't put it in your carry-on luggage, or else they'll likely take it away from you. And I pack a pocketknife—in my checked baggage. I bring a bottle of good Scotch for when I find myself in a lousy hotel.

What do you wear on the plane?
I wear clothing that's as loose as possible, especially when I'm on a 36-hour flight to Indonesia. I bring a toothbrush, and I bring an extra shirt and pair of socks to change into midway. After 24 hours, to change your underwear feels like a real luxury.

How do you deal with jet lag?
Sleep on the plane. The key is to get on the local schedule right away. Tough it up and drink a lot of coffee or tea and hang in there. Then, when it's nighttime there, pull out the Scotch, have a triple, and go to bed.

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at a destination?
Get to your hotel, adjust to the time zone, and then hit the market. The real news in the country is really the market. In North America, it's the mall.

How do you approach local cuisine?
If people can make a living on a street corner selling food for 20 cents for a day, it's got to be good. They've got to have hundreds of customers a day.

How do you take notes on your trip?
I carry a notepad in my pocket and a digital camera. My wife often carries a diary.

What are some of the travel tips you've learned?
Buy something that you may or may not need. When you buy from people, they're always more talkative. That three dollars you spend is your ticket to a 15-minute conversation about what there is to do. People just want to tell you about themselves and their country. Listen to them, and never ask a leading question. Take a taxi driver's name and number in case you need him the next day.

What sorts of tourist etiquette tips have you picked up?
Learn 30 basic words of any language. Hello, goodbye, thank you, please. You should know those words. All travel books have a do's and don'ts page. Read it! And learn how to say sorry. You're a foreigner. They'll forgive you.

Read on to see Rick Steves's top tips >

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