Want to know how to travel in style, just like the pros? We check in with frequent fliers to find out how often they fly, their favorite destinations and what they never leave home without.
Name: Susan Van Allen
Occupation: Writer/Speaker/Tour Leader
Hometown: West Long Branch, New Jersey – The Shore!
Residence: Hollywood, California
College: Hofstra University, New York
College major: Drama
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Short bio: Susan Van Allen’s love for Italy stems from her maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Southern Italy. She was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up on the Jersey shore amidst wonderful food and drama. When she first stepped off the train into Roma Termini in 1976, she got hooked on Italian travel. Since then she’s explored the country up and down the boot—visiting relatives, immersing herself in the country’s masterpieces and culture, taking language and cooking classes, and going on boating, biking, and hiking adventures. She is the author of 3 books about Italy: “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go,” “Letters from Italy” and “50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go.”
Her travel stories have been published in many media outlets, including National Public Radio, Town & Country, AFAR, Chicago Daily Herald, several Travelers Tales anthologies, and CNN.com. She leads presentations about Italian travel at such venues as The New York Times Travel Show and Museo Italo-Americano in San Francisco. She also collaborates with Perillo Tours to lead women-only tours to Italy. Van Allen also writes for television, and was on the staff of the Emmy-winning sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. When she’s not in Italy, she is based in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and makes scrumptious lasagnas.
How often do you fly? At least 10 times a year.
Earliest travel memory: A family vacation to Cape May, New Jersey—loved the wide, white-sand beach!
Favorite American city: New York City.
Favorite international city: Rome.
Friendliest people in the world: Italians, of course!
Favorite World Heritage Site: Italy has 50—more than any other country! A favorite is the Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto in Southeastern Sicily: Noto, Modica, Ragusa.
Aisle or window: Aisle for domestic, window for international.
Favorite U.S. airport: SFO.
Favorite international airport: CDG.
Favorite hotel: I stay mostly in apartments in Italy, but have a few special favorites: Imperial Hotel Tramontano in Sorrento, La Raya in Panarea (Aeolian Islands), Hotel de Russie in Rome, Bauer in Venice.
Favorite island: Capri.
Favorite beach: Many favorites in Italy—including Arienzo Beach in Positano, where lunch made by Ada (homemade gnocchi!) is fantastic!
Favorite fancy restaurant: Again, so many favorites in Italy. A real special place is Da Dora in Naples, where along with spaghetti ai frutti di mare you get soulfully serenaded by waiters.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Sostanza in Florence—not exactly a hole-in-the-wall, but v. casual small place for extraordinary bistecca, served at family-style tables.
Favorite bar: Hassler in Rome.
Favorite fruit: Persimmon (Kaki in Italy)—served so ripe they’re like the best sweet pudding on Earth.
Favorite food: Carciofi alla Giudia—Fried Roman artichokes.
Least favorite food: Airplane entrees.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Water in the air, Negroni on the ground.
Favorite travel movie(s): Roman Holiday, A Room With A View, La Dolce Vita.
Favorite travel show(s): Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Parts Unknown, Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour.
Favorite travel book(s): Sarah Dunant’s historical fiction: “The Birth of Venus,” “In the Company of the Courtesan,” “Sacred Hearts,” Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” Kerouac’s “On The Road.”
Right now I am reading: “Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay” by Benjamin Taylor.
Top 3 favorite travel newsletters/magazines/blogs: AFAR, Dream of Italy, Italian Notebook.
Favorite travel website(s)—besides JohnnyJet.com, of course! Booking.com, goitaly.about.com, venere.com.
5 things you bring on a plane: Water, Emergen-C, Ambien, compression socks, pashmina.
What do you always seem to forget? Mailing addresses for postcards. I always have the intention to send some off, the good old-fashioned way—next trip I’ll remember.
What do you like least about travel? Security lines.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? Chocolate.
Favorite travel app(s): WAZE for Los Angeles driving, TripAdvisor, Italy Travel Tips and Hints.
Most embarrassing travel moment: When dogs at JFK attacked my bags on a trip back from Genoa, where I had tried to bring in salami, carefully wrapped in pantyhose.
Worst travel moment: Losing my luggage during a SITA bus ride along Amalfi Coast. A couple had mistakenly grabbed it from the lower storage at one of the quick, chaotic stops, so when I reached my stop and got off, the storage space was empty! All’s well that ends well—the couple had dropped the bag at a hotel in Praiano, luckily I had my cell phone number written on the luggage tag, and got the blessed call to come and get it.
What’s your dream destination? Ponza, an island off the west coast of Italy—heading there soon!
Favorite travel charity: Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel.
Best travel tip: Pack light! Get out your itinerary before you go and have a dress rehearsal so you can figure out what to mix and match and what to leave home.