If you're a travel junkie who also happens to love reality TV, then Bravo's new show Tour Group—which debuts March 1—has your name written all over it. The series follows a group of 11 strangers (including a pair of brothers who have never set foot outside of the U.S.) on a two-month journey to destinations around the world, from Rwanda to Thailand. They're led by three guides, including the trusted travel expert Brandon Presser, who's penned 40 guidebooks and visited almost 100 countries. (He was also the youngest person ever to become a writer for Lonely Planet.) Here, Presser shares tips for planning a trip of a lifetime, why he loves French Polynesia, and more.
Aisle or window?
I take a window for an early-morning flight or red eye when I want to get some uninterrupted sleep. Otherwise, I go for an aisle so it's easy to get up and stretch my legs (read: use the loo!).
Check or carry-on?
I'm not allergic to checking a bag, especially if I'm bringing home something new and cool like an interesting bottle of wine, but I usually opt for a carry-on for peace of mind and a swift airport exit.
What electronics or gadgets do you always pack and why?
I never get on a flight without my Bose noise-canceling headphones. I also have an old iPad that is fully loaded with some of my favorite movies. At this point I have the scripts to Coming To America and Bridesmaids practically memorized.
Favorite souvenir from your travels:
I took my travelers on Tour Group to Rwanda to trek through Volcanoes 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, one that bonded me to my travelers forever. It was such a pain to bring back home! But definitely worth the hassle.
What's an ideal destination for a bachelor or bachelorette party weekend?
Iceland would be my pick for the perfect friend getaway—you can roll partying, spa-ing, adventure, and culture all into one long weekend. In just four days, you can explore Reykjavik's fun-loving night scene, climb a glacier or a volcano in the Icelandic outback, and soak in the island's soothing geothermal waters. I recommend skipping the crowded Blue Lagoon and get a local to point you to one of the so-called "hot spots."
What is the most romantic destination you've visited?
I promise this isn't a cliche: French Polynesia is worth all the hype and then some. The islands feel wild and unexplored, and the water has this incredible turquoise tint that's impossible to capture even in a photo. Windstar Cruises' small yachts are a great (and more cost-efficient) way to explore several islands if you want to mix romance with an active vacation, or you can hunker down in a private overwater bungalow at the Four Seasons Bora Bora.
Most romantic hotel?
This is a tough one! I'm a sucker for a private hot tub, but that doesn't really narrow things down … There's something really magical about the barefoot elegance of Mnemba Island in Zanzibar, and I love the forest-y hideaway at Twin Farms in Vermont.
Most romantic meal?
Picnics are always a fun way to have a romantic meal while on the road. I love assembling a traveling meal from local markets and taking it somewhere secluded. I remember watching the sunset on a deserted beach in Mexico with roadside fish tacos and a bottle of tequila.
How do you prepare for a long flight?
As a pro scuba diver I'm all too familiar with the physics of changing atmospheres, so don't punish your body beforehand with a big meal. I think Derek Zoolander said it best: "Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty." Drink lots of mineral water!
What are your tips for planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip?
Whatever constitutes your definition of a dream vacation, make sure to go out with a bang: put that big-ticket item at the end of your trip, like your ultimate hotel splurge. And don't forget to leave some unplanned time in your itinerary to embrace some of your trip's serendipity!
What camera do you recommend?
I've been pretty impressed with the definition in the photos taken on my iPhone 6s, but you absolutely can't use the zoom because they'll come out too grainy. If you want something phone-sized, try the Sony RX100. If you're bringing in the big guns, go for a Canon EOS 70D.
What are your go-to travel apps?
I start to get serious FOMO when there's bad weather on a trip, like I'm missing out on something by being shuttered in my hotel. I use the Yahoo Weather app religiously because it comes with a handy satellite map—you can see the weather rolling through in real time. This gives me a tangible estimate so I can plan indoor activities accordingly when it's torrential.
What are your in-flight beauty tips?
I love Ursa Major face wipes while flying. They're individually wrapped for easy and convenient usage, and they get rid of that icky recycled air feeling during long hauls.
How do you look refreshed after a long flight?
I don't think I look very refreshed even after a short flight …
Best ways for killing time during a layover?
Some airports actually offer layover programming. At Changi Airport in Singapore you can actually sign up for a free city tour between flights.
Where are you going next?
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.
For more with Brandon, follow him on Instagram!