Today’s travel blogger interview features someone a lot like myself. He is a frequent flyer, claiming over 2 million miles flown and doesn’t show his face online. Please meet Jeffrey Roehr of PaxView.
What is your name?
Jeffrey Roehr, but everybody calls me “J.R.”
Which country do you come from/call home?
Houston, Texas. (For those of you not from the USA, Texas was an independent country before it joined the USA).
Are you a backpacker/long term traveller/business traveller/live and work abroad?
I am primarily a business traveler, but travel for business opens up a door to places that my wife and I may go to on vacation. I/we have lived in a variety of locations within the USA (Maine, Florida, Mass, Michigan, California, Texas), also the UK, Singapore, and Taiwan.
How do you fund your travel (savings/work whilst travelling/other)?
My job sends me to a lot of places around the world. That builds up a healthy balance of frequent flier (‘marriage maintenance’) miles that my wife and I use for a lot of our own travel.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
I don’t remember my first trip, as I was literally just a few months old, but at that young age family lore already has me in a plane being flown by my father. Growing up, our father flew our family everywhere, including cross country. He was a licensed pilot, and flew a variety of fighter jets in his time at USAF. There is a family photo of me around 5 yrs old, in the air in the family plane, with my hands on the yoke. But I doubt I was actually doing anything useful… Around the time I was 11 we moved to the UK, and I certainly remember that flight, in a Boeing 707. Not long after that, I went with my Dad on a trip to Japan (from USA) with a refueling stop in Anchorage. That first trip to Japan as a teenager was incredible. It opened my eyes and my mind to Asian culture and life (which I still admire) and the single most memorable experience of that whole trip was visiting Hiroshima. Even now, +40 years later, I still vividly recall that experience.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
I can interpret this question in two ways; either it was totally different (better) or totally different (worse) than I imagined. On the better side, I’m going to have to say New Zealand. I certainly had high expectations of New Zealand, and honestly I was completely blown away. Friendly people, incredible food, no crowds, and the absolute beauty of the land. I also can’t forget those miles and miles and miles of empty highways, just like driving in Wyoming. The only problem is… My wife prefers North Island, and I like South. So, we’ve been 3 times, and have split each trip between the islands.
On the flip side, worse than I imagined or expected, was probably when my wife (then she was my girlfriend) and I went off the beaten track in a rental car and explored non-tourist Mexico. I had seen poverty before, real poverty, but I wasn’t prepared for what we saw that trip. My wife certainly was not ready, as her only foreign travel before then had been to Canada and to some Caribbean resorts. To watch young children with barely any clothes playing in dirt yards, packs of emaciated dogs with their ribs showing, donkeys and mules with open sores hauling trailers… The list goes on. My take-away from that was the bitter lesson that tourism and resorts are a false veneer in many places, and can be used by governments to hide some ugly truths.
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
Wow, that’s a long list… I guess the level of ‘bad’ probably changes as you travel more. For someone who doesn’t travel much, lost luggage or a flight that gets delayed or canceled could be a ‘bad’ trip. But for me, those are just minor annoyances. Bad is when you end up in a hospital getting diagnosed with a tumor (Philippines), have 3 loaded firearms pointed at you (Korea), get poked in the ribs by a pistol (Indonesia), or get food poisoning (twice in New York City). Bad would also include getting hit by 3 typhoons in one trip, or being unreachable in Asia when a family member suddenly passed away. If the landing gear will not come up, and then might not be down, that could be bad…
The other side of bad has to include people. There are a lot of people who can generate bad experiences. On Twitter, you can just #block them, but it isn’t so easy in real life. It may be a fellow traveler, a worker at an airline, or a pickpocket on a subway. You have to learn how to let those people pass thru you, without affecting you. You can’t change an arrogant all-knowing domineering a#@hole or thug into a decent human, so don’t try. Let it be, and get on with your own life. I believe in karma; those types of people will eventually get bit on the ass by their own bad karma.
Do you have any funny travel stories?
Fortunately YES! At least as many funny things have happened as bad, otherwise I would dread travel! Actually, I think this might be an impossibly long list but a few that pop into mind would include an earthquake on the big island of Hawaii during our honeymoon, when my wife was on the toilet. I’ll let your mind imagine what happened… (No, she doesn’t remember it as being funny). My brother in law and his wife, their first trip to Germany, convince themselves that they are lost and call me for help. They can’t find where they are on the map because every highway sign they see points to a city named “Ausfahrt” that they can’t locate.
(Ausfahrt = Exit in German). A flight crew on a SwissAir flight who had to guess about my nationality (they all got it wrong) because I spoke to them in French, German, and English for an entire 12 hour flight out of Shanghai. Oh, and food fun! Lots of food fun! Bug-eating at a set of vendor stalls in Shanghai, Hot-Pot in Taiwan, formal dining at Simpsons on the Strand in London. The world is full of tasty pleasures and fun experiences. Oh, and does having a flight attendant plop herself on my lap just to give me a hug count as fun? I think so…
I’m also a big fan of accidental translation errors, very common in China and in Japan. I don’t have a photo of this, but the Jamaican specialty “Jerk Chicken” was translated on a menu in China as “Chicken rude and aggressive”. However, I do have the following photo from Taiwan, which my wife took in an elevator at a very fancy hotel…
Which is the worst place you’ve been to and why?
For a while I considered interior Mexico to be the worst. But that was before I travelled to India or had explored Java in Indonesia. So if ‘worst’ means the most abject and humiliating poverty and virtually inhumane living conditions, then I see it as a virtual tie between those two. If ‘worst’ means having to deal with the most corrupt, evil, polluting, and back-stabbing government and industrial sector on the planet, then the worst is the PRC of mainland China. If worst means bigotry, race hatred and bias, then I am really sorry, but it is probably the otherwise wonderful land of Japan. Although… I hear Russia might win in this category. But I have not yet been there.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Don’t you ever ask any easy questions? Favorite?? (USA spelling sorry) Favorite for what??? Beaches and water; it is BoraBora, simply incredible. Overall people and scenery; New Zealand. For food food food wonderful food and variety; Singapore. For culture, history, sense of a place in time; England. If I want peace and quiet, tranquility, serenity; Alaska. But if I have to pick one place, just one, no second choices, no runners-up… My favorite place on the planet is our vacation home on the seacoast in the State of Maine. Have a look at some of our favorite travel photos at https://paxview.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/photos-from-around-the-world/
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Of course I do! Who doesn’t? But perhaps it could be longer… I’ll work on that. But for now it is limited to taking a balloon ride in Cappadocia Turkey, going on a big game camera safari in Kenya, flying in a WWII era Spitfire (there are some 2-seaters you can have a flight in), and breaking the speed of sound (I didn’t take advantage of my one real opportunity to fly in the SST).
Can you imagine life without travel?
Sure, just as easily as I can imagine a life without oxygen or water. (chuckle) I was fortunate to grow up in an era at the dawn of jet travel, when the B747 opened up the world, and while fuel prices and costs were low enough to allow easy travel. That world is changing, that world is going away. Children growing up now, or not yet born, will not have access to the same low cost travel that I have enjoyed. It is an inescapable fact that the cost of fuel is going to increase rapidly as the world population expands and demands for the use of oil in agriculture and for life sustaining tasks will take priority. Unavoidable. There will always be travel, but in the last 10 years I have eliminated about half of my travel by the use of WebEx, PowerPoint, electronic meetings, Skype, and inexpensive electronic communications. Virtual meetings, virtual travel, travel without leaving home… I see that being much more common in the future.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
Heresy! I should burn you at the stake!! Not traveling??? OK, but I only travel now about 1 week every other month or every third month. So travel today is only 5%-10% of my life. 90% of my life has nothing to do with travel. I have my life, my wife, family, and then there is fishing… Oh, and there is cognac too. I can’t forget that. And the universal gin & tonic (Tanqueray) on ice, with lime.
What is the name of your travel blog and the url?
I call my blog Paxview, which is a play on airline terminology for a passenger, a “pax”. I seem to get a lot of visitors who expect it to be some sort of religious site. Nope. Sorry!! Unless praying for either an upgrade or a smooth landing counts? http://www.paxview.wordpress.com
When did you begin your website?
I started Paxview in August 2013 with a story about how to be a “Perfect Passenger”. That first post catches everything that is important to me about how pax should behave. But the real reason I started Paxview was a flight attendant friend who threatened to dump ice cubes down my back the next time she saw me if I didn’t start writing about my travel advice and experiences. Best advice: Always obey FA instructions! Sure, I have a good number of FA and pilot friends from my travel time, and Paxview is really aimed at helping them, by trying to educate passengers on how things really work ‘up there’ and to peel back some of the misconceptions, falsehoods, and lies that are a bit too common about flying. As with a few of my other posts, the end of Perfect Pax has some links to real FA blogs, and their pax stories. Passenger Shaming is a particular favorite site.
Why do you write (for money/connecting with people/therapeutic/fun)?
There’s no money associated with my website. I have no product sponsor links, I generate no revenue, I don’t have any credit card or bogus site ads. Just plain and simple, it is me, 26 blog stories posted so far, always speaking from the heart. It is a website on travel, books about travel, and the crazy stuff that just happens. Even the website host itself (WordPress) is free and open to anyone to start a blog.
What makes your site so unique and why should people read it?
Hmmm… Why is it unique… Well, it is all first-person, and you are not going to find any of those silly “My Business Class experience from NRT to ORD” type of travel stories. Those sites are a dime a dozen, and are usually plugged full of sponsors and ads. I am just a regular guy (55 yrs old, married 28 years) who gets to travel a lot, who knows how to smile, and enjoys sharing some thoughts and views. If you want to know how comfortable a Singapore Airlines lie-flat bed is, you have to go somewhere else. If you want to know how my very ill Father-in-law acted and responded during his first (and only) first class flight, then see https://paxview.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/flying-with-frank/ Or what happened when my wife had a stalker at 39000ft, go read https://paxview.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/the-stalker/ Maybe this is why my site is unique. Everyone can relate to these kinds of stories.
Do you have any products or services to offer?
No, not really. There are book reviews on my site, four of them, about books written by pilots, but I received no $ for those reviews. My reviews are not even linked to Amazon, where you can buy the books. I wrote the reviews just because I liked the books and I wanted to share them. Right now I am editing a final draft of another book by an aviation author, which is due to be published at the end of July. So, I guess I do offer a service; book reviews and editing. But I don’t charge for it!
What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
Wow, I had to go back and check the statistics. And it isn’t/wasn’t what I expected! I thought it was going to be Perfect Passenger. My most popular blog was a write-up I did on seat pitch, and how tighter pitch (spacing) is not only a health hazard, but also a significant concern for evacuating a plane in an emergency. Doing the story, I found out that in today’s new configurations, there is no longer a need to have actual people test a plane for safe evacuation. It is all computer simulation! What a farce! Simulated people don’t stop to get a wallet out of an overhead, or trip when a shoelace gets caught.
What has been your favourite article to write either for your blog or another publication?
Finally! A really easy question! Hands down my favorite post was the one I wrote about “Does your FA like you?” It was a joint effort involving myself, some FAs, and a last minute contribution from a pilot (she gets credit for the “do you fly this route often” comment, which happened to her when she was on vacation, flying as a pax). There was also a bottle of wine and a dinner involved at the conception of the idea for this post. At the end of the post are some links to some good blogs from 5 real FA’s, people a lot more widely known than I am, with real stories about the airlines and FA vs. pax issues.
What is your favourite mode of transport? (plane/train/boat/car)
Actually, it isn’t going to be what you expect. I love flying, but I’m crazy about sailing. Yes. Sailing. Not a cruise ship. I mean sailing, real sailing. Sails, a keel, and a rudder. “And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” (John Masefield) When I was younger (and I do mean a lot younger!) I sailed competitively, including some not so successful competitions at the US-nationals. When you sail, you are at eye level with the ocean. You see, hear, taste, and feel everything. The ocean is truly alive only when seen up close.
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
(Pauses, takes a deep breath) That is step one. Stop and take a breath. Don’t panic, don’t freak out, don’t get upset, don’t start screaming, crying, wailing. Patience, politeness, and a smile will get you a lot further than screaming and yelling. Especially when you are overseas in a place where they may not understand English. Be flexible. Learn to adapt, to go with the flow. If a typhoon has just flooded your city, don’t get upset that you can’t go to the museum on your last day. You are alive, unhurt. That’s what matters. That, and as I said BE POLITE! Learn the big-5 in every country you go to visit. “Hello, Thank-You, Goodbye, Yes, No” in the local language. You will be surprised how much your travel experience improves. And also join and stick with just one airline frequent flier program. I made a big mistake when I first started flying a lot; at first I didn’t join, then I was overseas and I joined overseas programs (SQ and LH), before finally figuring out that I needed to join United’s mileage program.
How did 9/11 change you, or travel?
Apart from the obvious changes we have all experienced, like tighter screening and ID checks, 9/11 had a much deeper impact than that. I lost some friends that day. Many of us did. People who can never be replaced, and there are flying friends of mine who still carry mental scars and damage from that day. Some wounds will never heal, and every time I fly in or out of Boston and I see those two American flags flying from the UA and AA gates, I think about lost friends, and I want to cry. Sometimes, I even do… https://paxview.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/147/
If you could meet one historical travel related person. Who?
One person combines my love of travel, my love of sailing, a sense of adventure, exploring the new. Sir Francis Drake, and his crew on the Golden Hind. To meet him, to talk about sailing off the edge of the known world, into uncharted waters where he had no maps, only eyeballs for solar and sextant navigation and no way to even measure longitude. A 3 year round-the-world voyage on a 100 ft long wooden sailing ship. That is a man. That is adventure. That is travel.
Name a place you have not been to, that you want to go to?
It’s not a bucket list thing, but I’ve never been to Scotland. My brother in law is from there, I have 2 nephews in London that are half Scottish, I certainly can admire the taste of a good scotch whiskey, and some of the best prose and books in our language trace their heritage to Scotland. But I’ve never been to Scotland. There’s plenty to do and see there, but I’d settle for just 1 day in Edinburgh.
What has travel taught you?
Well, travel has taught me a lot. Maybe the most important is that ‘travel’ is not about getting from A to B. Travel is about experiences, cultures, and people. It’s about opening your mind, listening with new ears, and leaving your comfort zone. It’s about trying (or eating) something new, hearing new music, smelling a new scent. Travel is about learning, growing and expanding. I’m going to lean on a much better writer (Mark Twain) for his thoughts:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I tried to hit on some of that in the post I wrote about finishing my million-miles on United. It’s not the event of travel, it’s about the experiences you collect.
This is my Million-mile souvenir, signed by the FAs on the flight, and the UA certificate.
Quick fire questions:-
Favourite airline? Singapore Airlines
Favourite country? Ohhh that’s hard!… UK
Favourite city? Tie… Singapore and London
Favourite beach? Anywhere on BoraBora
Favourite food? Seafood, and it varies, but mahi-mahi and calamari/squid for sure
Favourite language? Other than English? French.
Please provide the following:-
Website url? http://www.paxview.wordpress.com
Twitter handle? @JR_justJR