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: Geoffrey Baer
Occupation: Public TV host and producer
Residence: Evanston, IL (first suburb north of Chicago, but we are in denial that it is a suburb, okay. It’s a REAL town!
College: Miami University, Ohio (undergrad), Northwestern University (grad school)
College major: Radio-TV-Film undergrad, Masters Degree in Theatre
Facebook: Geoffrey Baer’s Chicago (WTTW)
Short bio: I’m an accidental TV host. I broke into the business making local commercials at a TV station in Cincinnati, then moved on to TV stations in Michigan and Philly producing hours and hours of an early magazine program that virtually no one remembers now called PM Magazine (in Philly it was called Evening Magazine). Abruptly quit TV at age 27 to go back to school for theatre. Taught high school theatre at Chicago’s high school for the arts. After five years of that, I used my fancy-schmancy masters degree and earlier TV background to land a job at Chicago’s public television station, WTTW, producing big arts specials for PBS (symphony orchestra and opera broadcasts, dance, and a gospel special starring Patti LaBelle) as well as local documentaries and an arts magazine series. At the same time I was volunteering as a tour guide (docent) for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. One day, by complete coincidence the newly appointed chairman of the board of my own company, WTTW, Chicago, happened to take my tour. I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me. But after seeing my tour he proposed doing it as a TV show. The rest is history. I’ve now written and hosted more than 20 “TV tours” of Chicago for local broadcast as well as national PBS programs and series about architecture and the built environment. Current projects: Weekend in Havana (premiering July 18 at 8pm on PBS) and the second season of 10 That Changed America both for the PBS primetime schedule.
How often do you fly? When in production, almost every week.
How many countries have you been to? Almost every country in western Europe, Greece, former Yugoslavia, Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Russia, and China.
How many continents have you been to? Three.
Earliest travel memory: Sleeping on the shelf under the rear window of our family car (1960 Chevy Biscayne) speeding along the highway to a vacation in Wisconsin. My folks said if we were about to get into a crash they would yell for us to duck down behind the back seat. Those were the days.
Favorite American city: Chicago (my viewers would kill me if I didn’t say that). But I also love Boston, Philly, the Maine coast, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and actually Pittsburgh is pretty wonderful! And of course I both love and detest New York.
Favorite international city: Paris.
Least favorite country: Russia.
I have no desire to go to: Places where you can get sick from the water, street food and poor sanitation. I love visiting exotic places, but I’m constantly on edge there due to germ-o-phobia.
Friendliest people in the world: Cubans.
Country with the meanest immigration officers: Yugoslavia and East Germany which thankfully no longer exist. Crossing the border from Greece to Yugoslavia on the way back to Luxembourg where I was spending my college junior year in 1976, the border guards marched one of my classmates off the train at gunpoint (a perfectly naïve-looking Ohio girl) because she had gotten her stolen passport replaced during our trip and her new one was a color the guards had never seen. (This was just when the U.S. was changing their passports from gray to blue). They actually made us leave her behind. She apparently made such a stink that they put her on the next train back to Luxembourg.
Favorite World Heritage Site: Old Havana.
Favorite airline: Dragonair in China is pretty great. And I love Southwest. Why don’t the other airlines figure out their business model?
Favorite aircraft type: Cessna 152 (two seats), small regional jets and 787 Dreamliner.
Aisle or window: Window! It mystifies me how people can sit next to a window with the shade down or reading while this totally miraculous thing is happening…we are FLYING.
Favorite airport lounge: Are you kidding!? I travel for PBS. I’ve never seen the inside of an airport lounge.
Favorite U.S. airport: It’s a blur. But I kind of like how airports today are becoming shopping malls. Not that I shop there. But it makes for a fun atmosphere. Minneapolis and Pittsburgh are good examples. I love the tent roof and art in the people mover in Denver. And I love airports that have displays of early local airport history and planes and observation decks to watch planes take off and land.
Favorite international airport: Milan. It looked like a vast bus station but with the most glamorous ads you’ve ever seen.
Favorite hotel: See question above about traveling on a PBS budget. We generally stay at the Holiday Inn Express or similar, which offers what I call the “Styrofoam breakfast.” Architecturally I love the Hotel Sofitel in Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Favorite cruise line: Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (alas…defunct).
Favorite travel credit card: The ones that let you accumulate points on any airline.
Favorite island: British Virgin Islands. Paradise! Also Crete.
Favorite beach: I’m not a beach person.
Favorite National Park: Independence Mall in Philadelphia.
Favorite fancy restaurant: Bistro Campagne, Chicago.
Favorite hole-in-the-wall: Midori. A Korean-owned sushi restaurant with a Mexican sushi chef in Chicago.
Favorite airport restaurant: Rick Bayliss’s Tortas Frontera at O’Hare.
Favorite bar: I don’t much like bars.
Favorite fruit: Blueberries, peaches, coconut (which is a triple threat; it’s a fruit, a nut and a seed all in one).
Favorite food: Indian, Lebanese, Ethiopian, Hunan Chinese, Mexican. Okay I just love to eat.
Least favorite food: Anything with gushy texture like eggplant, roasted peppers, mushrooms and a lot of Cantonese cuisine.
Drink of choice (in the air and on the ground): Not a big drinker.
Favorite travel movie(s): Top Gun. They traveled very fast.
Favorite travel show(s): Anthony Bourdain.
Right now I am reading: Massive biography of Robert Moses who reshaped and by some accounts ruined modern-day New York.
5 things you bring on a plane: Crossword puzzles, sunglasses (for looking out the window), laptop (for working), shoes that are easy to slip off, a snack.
What do you always seem to forget? People’s names.
What do you like least about travel? Packing. Makes me incredibly nervous because I’m always getting distracted and then afraid I’m forgetting something critical to the trip.
What do you want your loved one to buy you from an airport Duty Free store? I hate the stuff in duty free shops.
Favorite travel app(s): Waze, SpotHero, airline apps (they’re all pretty good).
Most embarrassing travel moment: Had to divert our tour bus in China because I desperately needed a bathroom. Our guide and translator found a hotel and we went dashing off the bus frantically asking everyone where the bathroom was. We found a men’s room and our guide left me to return to the bus. I discovered ALL the stalls were locked and screamed for him to come back. We hustled the housekeeper out of the ladies and I locked myself in. She had left her bucket and mop in there and had to wait outside for a long time until I finally opened the door.
I’m embarrassed I haven’t been to: The Grand Canyon.
Worst travel moment: Did you read the part about needing a bathroom in China above???
What’s your dream destination? Iceland. Hudson’s Bay. Greek islands.
Best travel tip: As my high school drama teacher told us as we prepared for a six-week whirlwind tour of European theaters, “Things are not always going to go as we planned or expected. Go with the flow!”