Mario Hardy is the CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). He has visited 99 countries and lived in seven different countries on three different continents at the time of this article.
What are three of your favourite countries and why?
Kingdom of Bhutan
I have visited the Kingdom numerous times, and I always dream of going back. There is something uniquely special about Bhutan, and it’s something I can’t really describe, though I feel at peace the moment I arrive. They say it’s the land of happiness, and it emanates from all the locals you meet, who are always calm and proud of their Kingdom.
The island of Tahiti
I had the privilege of visiting the island of Tahiti twice over the past few years, and each time, the moment I landed there, I felt at home. For a person born and raised in Canada, where the landscape and temperature is the complete opposite of Tahiti, I can’t explain why. Polynesians are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. Their smiles are infectious, and their culture is strong and vibrant. The landscape, the turquoise lagoons, language, music, dances, food and everything else on the island stimulate every single one of your senses.
The moment you land in Slovenia, you want to take a deep breath. You feel the purity of the air and pureness of the water; you feel healthy, just standing and watching nature. I can be happy walking, running or climbing for hours and just let the surroundings fill me with joy.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
Sharing an amazing meal with a Bedouin family, we met in Jordan. Even though we didn’t speak any Arabic, we managed to communicate and share stories, recipes and laughs. I am not sure who was the happiest that day, the Bedouin family or us. This was 3 years ago, and we are still in contact with them today via Facebook.
One of the most unexpected surprises was my visit to Azerbaijan, a country frankly that wasn’t on my bucket list of places to visit but ended up being one of my most memorable. The capital city of Baku was full of surprises with the mix of old and new architecture, the rich culture and heritage, and the food was just amazing. One of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I saw was the national museum which doesn’t have any straight lines; everything is curved, including the stairs leading to the main gallery.
For one moment, I forgot that I am a public figure and started to slide on the curvature of the stairs and realised a minute later that I was joined by the then Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). It was a memorable experience, and even today, when we meet, we still laugh about it, especially since we later found out that someone captured the moment and shared it on social media.
Many people will know that I have been supporting a school for underprivileged young men and women in Cambodia for many years. Salabai is a hospitality (hotel and restaurant) school in Siem Reap that provides education and job placement in the hospitality sector for those in need.
I have visited the school many times, but my most memorable experience was my first visit to the school when students talked about their life experiences over a shared meal with us. It was touching to hear that, despite their struggles, they were still smiling and that through the school, they had found hope for a better future.
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
Losing baggage, delays and cancelled flights
Frankly, I have been very fortunate in my travels and never really experienced any serious issues. Like most people, I have had the unfortunate situations of losing baggage and delayed or cancelled flights, but when you travel between 200-250 days a year, you expect those to happen from time to time and learn to cope with it.
Ear Infection in Japan
Once on a business trip in Japan, I ended up with an ear infection that threw me off balance and eventually led to me being placed on an IV drip in my hotel bed for 3 days. To make matters worst, during that time, Tokyo experienced quite a large earthquake which had me worried for a few minutes as I couldn’t get up from my bed.
Wife pickpocketed in Prague
Several years ago, my wife and I decided on the spur of the moment to fly from Singapore to Prague for a 3-day weekend trip for my birthday to meet up with some friends. We enjoyed the company and visiting the city. We must have walked several miles trying to see as much as we possibly could in the short time we were there. Sadly, one evening as we were walking back to our hotel, my wife got pickpocketed; her wallet, phone and ID were all stolen, and we ended up spending our last evening at the police station doing a report until 1:00 am.
However, the worst part of the situation was that the police station was located inside the train station and the police officer forgot to mention to us that the station was closed, and we couldn’t get out. It took us a while to find our way back to the police station and ask that they open the gate for us.
What are three of your best travel tips?
Follow businesspeople at lines
I got my best travel tip from George Clooney from the movie “Up in The Air”! I hate having to queue up for anything, especially slow-moving immigration lines or airport security. Avoid lines with families or the elderly, and follow businesspeople who appear to be frequent travellers, as they are more organised and get themselves ready before they reach the X-ray machine.
The right gear
Onboard I only need five items, my Sony WH-1000XM3 noise-cancelling headset, my AirFly Pro from Twelve South to wirelessly connect to the entertainment system, my iPad Pro, and, on long haul flights, my ActivBody Isometrics exercise device. I normally have one glass of single malt after take-off and, after that, only water for the rest of the flight.
The right app
Once at the destination, I would check if my RunninCity app has service in the city I’m visiting. The app offers different running paths with audio, giving you an actual tour of the city while you run. It’s a great way to discover a new city real fast; you can then go back later in the day to the places you would like to spend more time in.