Janine Thomas loves discovering the world one bite at a time, but her blog (GastroTravelogue) is not just about food. It's also about luxury living, culture, art and people. She likes to dig a little deeper and find the reasons behind what she sees and experience on her travels.
Janine was kind enough to answer a few of our travel questions below...
TA: How many years have you been traveling and what got you hooked?
Janine: My first flight was from Cape Town to London 45 years ago. South Africa had sanctions imposed on it at that time and could not fly over parts of Africa. A stop was scheduled in the early hours of the morning to refuel on Sal in the Cape Verde islands. I will never forget the hot winds and the sand swirling around as we alighted, It seems so exotic. I guess that's when I fell in love with wanderlust and I have been travelling ever since.
TA: Do you specialize in a particular type of travel?
Janine: Foodie destination travel and affordable luxury.
TA: What is the best vacation you've ever taken?
Janine: Steve and I had been together 10 years before we were married. Although we travelled quite a bit over that period he had never been able to join me in Europe on a trip. We spent Christmas in Paris and New Year in Rome a few years ago. He had never been to either of these cities so it was a very special experience to share some of my favourite places with him and enjoy his excitement at seeing them for the first time. I saw them in a totally different light and loved them even more than usual. Since then we have been able to go back a few times, but now were both have that same anticipation and excitement about our visit.
TA: What's one thing you ALWAYS pack when you travel?
Janine: A first aid kit, with some basic medication. I was caught short in Hong Kong once and ended up at Chinese doctor who spoke no English. It wasn't a great trip.
TA: If you could only give a traveler one piece of advice, what would it be?
Janine: Take time to plan your trip, especially if you are short of time. It makes such a difference when you arrive at an airport and don't have to dither around trying to get to your destination. I know so many people who have an argument at that point and it's not a great way to start a holiday.
TA: What are the top 3 websites you use for research/inspiration when planning a trip?
Janine: I always use The Culture Trip as a starting point. I search for the country to see what articles are related to it. That usually gives me a reasonable idea for some of the less touristy activities.
From there, having shortlisted a few things of interest, I go to Pinterest and search for the specific item I want to know more about. I skim through the pins quite quickly and choose a few and then go to the individual websites for more information.
The third resource I use to is the official tourist board site for the country, and then the city. There is often a wealth of information in one place that makes it easy to plan your trip.
TA: Do you have any good airport or flight hacks for people traveling by plane?
Janine: This is not really a hack but a great piece of advice for long haul flights. I sleep really badly on a plane and am not prepared to take a sleeping tablet. I go through the motions of doing all the usual things one does on a flight, but it makes no difference to me.
Then I discovered a foot or neck massage at the airport. You arrive either stressed trying to get to your flight on time or exhausted after packing in as much sightseeing as you can.
I had a foot massage in Hong Kong that was agony at the time. The therapist said "you might be in pain now but you will thank me later". How true that was. For the first time ever I slept really well. Now it's something I always try and find at the airport before I leave. It's amazing how much tension your body can store and how wonderfully relaxed you feel afterwards.
TA: Which country has surprisingly good food?
Janine: As a foodie that's a tough question to answer because wherever I go I always find things to like about the food. If I have to choose a country then it would be Vietnam. There are still French influences to be found like in the classics like Bánh mì which is a crispy baguette filled with delicious pate, roasted meat and crunchy fresh salad. Each bite is heavenly.
Another favourite is Vietnamese spring rolls, with a lattice like rice paper wrapper, deep fried to puff up, surrounding a taste explosion inside. Yum!
You couldn't go to Vietnam and not try pho, a clear broth, poured over thinly sliced meat and packed with flavour. It is topped with fresh herbs to finish it. It's a perfect snack at any time of the day.
The food in Vietnam is regional and seasonality is important so I have selected these items because they can be found throughout the country.
TA: What is the most beautiful and affordable city you've ever visited?
Janine: I fell in love with Prague. It is a fairytale town complete with a castle perched on the hill, overlooking the river. The architecture is beautiful and there are some quirky things in the city which I enjoyed seeing.
The Dancing House lies on the banks of the Vltava River. It was inspired by the iconic 30's-40's dance partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and is a totally wacky design.
Don't miss the narrowest street in town, Vinarna Certovka, that is just 50 cm wide. It's so small that it has a traffic light installed to stop people colliding in the middle.
TA: What's something that other tourists do when traveling that drives you crazy and why?
Janine: Speaking in a loud voice to try and be understood drives me crazy. It's not only rude and disrespectful, but if the person did not understand you when you asked the question in a normal voice, why do you think that they will understand you if you speak louder?
TA: Which underrated destination deserves to be more famous?
Janine: Turkey used to be such a popular destination, but political instability has taken its toll on the country. It's sad to see many of the shops closed in the Grand Bazaar that has been the centre of trade for centuries.
Istanbul sits on both the continents of Europe and Asia and both sides of the city are vastly different. There is so much to see that you could easily spend a wonderful week exploring the city.
With a fascinating history, scenery like nowhere else in the world in Cappadocia, ancient underground cities, friendly people and delicious food Turkey should be on your bucket list.