Brandon Presser is an award-winning journalist who has written more than 50 travel books. He is most recently teaming with Bravo for their new travel show, Tour Group, where he leads a group of adventure-seekers on a journey of a lifetime. The show makes its debut on March 1 at 10 pm EST.
Name: Brandon Presser
Travel Expert, writer and head tour guide on Bravo TV’s Tour Group
There’s a lot of packing advice out there, and most of it is quite good: Fill your suitcase then remove half of your belongings, or invest in one pair of versatile black shoes. But my extra pro tip is to tackle any trip with a playlist of carefully selected songs. For me, songs are closely linked to memories, and when a favorite song randomly plays on the radio it transports me to a different time and place.
Favorite travel memory?
When I was 19, I backpacked around Vietnam on my own. I had heard the best pho could be found in Ho Chi Minh City at a small restaurant made famous by a recent visit from Bill Clinton. I sat down alone and was quickly called over by a young Vietnamese couple encouraging me to join then. Happily obliging, I grabbed a seat and was immediately schooled in the intricacies of what to eat and what to avoid. We had a great time — sharing our passions for travel and architecture, and laughing as I fumbled over my soup slurping. When I went to pay for our bill, they explained they had already secretly grabbed the check — it really touched me.
Bucket List Destination?
At the end of every year I make a travel wish list for the following one — my bucket list for 2016 includes the Azores, Namibia, Uruguay, Palau and the Philippines.
Favorite off-the-beaten-path spot?
Iceland’s become hugely popular over the last few years, with lots of travelers taking advantage of free extended layovers as they cross the pond. I love getting away from Reykjavik and the Golden Circle to find the quieter, less-visited spots on the island, like the village of Stykkisholmur and wild coves along the Strandir Coast in Iceland’s Westfjords.
What kind of traveler are you?
I think it’s important to make a separation between ‘traveler’ and ‘tourist.’ A tourist is someone jetting off on a getaway; a break from the routine at, say, an all-inclusive compound on a placid beach. A traveler is someone targeting a particular destination with cultural immersion and exploration in mind — marinating in the destination and getting a real feel for how the place ticks is key. There’s nothing wrong with either one, but it’s important to know who you are before you set off. After years on the road, and rolling with the punches while authoring dozens of guidebooks, I’d say I’m up for any stripe of adventure.
Funniest travel story?
When I lived in Paris my friends and I spent a week away at a house on the coast in Brittany. Getting into the local spirit, we donned our best boating whites (with much irony) and boated over to the quaint town of Pont Aven for an obligatory day of pretending to be snoots. Our plans were quickly foiled when we got out of the boat and my best friend promptly fell in a pit of mud. This was no ordinary mud pit either. When she emerged, she looked like some kind of swamp creature. We spent the rest of the afternoon scaring uptight French grannies and being shooed away from galleries and cafes.
Best meal you’ve had on your travels?
Oh gosh, this is practically impossible to answer! Food is such a crucial way for me to uncover a destination, and there have been thousands of memorable meals. One cool meal from recent memory was making poisson cru on the Polynesian island of Huahine, then savoring the fruits of my labor with my feet dipped in the warm ocean water. The dish is French for ‘raw fish’ — it’s like a Tahitian ceviche made with coconut milk. Delicious.
Craziest thing you’ve done while traveling?
Hitchhiking through the jungles of Borneo. I was in my early 20s and had that “I’m invincible” mindset — it probably wasn’t the smartest thing in hindsight, but it was such an amazing experience, seeing vast tracts of tribal land unreachable to most travelers, and meeting some truly incredible characters.
Favorite item collected from your travels?
I look my travelers on Tour Group to Rwanda to trek through Volcanos National Park and see the elusive silverback mountain gorillas. It was one of the most incredible travel experiences of my life. We were lent beautifully carved walking sticks to trek through the impenetrable jungle, and at the end of the adventure all of us bought our respective sticks from the rangers. It’s such a special souvenir — both a beautiful local craft and a reminder of a truly poignant experience. It was such a pain to bring back home! But it was definitely worth the hassle.
Before I hit the road again I’m first going to relive the most outrageous adventure ever while watching Tour Group on Bravo every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. Last year I led a group of diverse American travelers around the globe, and everyone at home can follow along starting March 1 at 10 pm EST.
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Wake up feeling like a local at Lokal Hotel, located in the heart of Old City, Philadelphia, on 3rd Street. Take in the sounds of the busy, yet still fairly quiet street below and head next door to Café Ole for coffee and breakfast. This Moroccan café has arguably the best coffee in the area with an abundance of styles and rich, bold flavors. Best known for the homemade shakshuka dishes for two at $16, Café Ole also offers omelets, sandwiches, bagels and French toast.