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Featured Traveler: Writer and Editor Matt Villano

Matt Villano may not like being called a “good dad,” but he’s the kind of dad we’d like to have a beer with (or peppermint ice cream, if the kids are around). The freelance writer, editor, self-proclaimed ‘whale-worshipper’ and father of two girls writes a monthly family travel column for The San Francisco Chronicle, is one of the inaugural bloggers for Expedia Viewfinder, runs his own family travel blog and contributes to a number of other publications too big to list, on a range of topics as diverse as the countries he travels (he admits he doesn’t sleep much). Matt’s shared a few of his experiences—kid-friendly and otherwise—on Afar.com. Here, he talks flying solo versus traveling with the family, connecting with locals on the playground, and baking cookies in England. After the Taylor Swift dance parties, it’s all in a day’s work.


See all of Matt’s Highlights.

Right now I’m in Healdsburg, California.

Though I would much prefer to be on a boat in Southeast Alaska, watching humpback whales get their grub on as they return from their winter in Hawaii (where the main activity is mating).

Occupation: Freelance writer and editor.

My next (big) trip is to Oahu, but after that (this fall), my wife and I are moving our family to London for four months.

My last trip took me to Vegas, to watch and wager on the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. This was the seventh year I’ve done it. I meet the same group of guys there every year. We get a VIP table in a smoky sports book and forget about the world. None of us showers for three days. It’s glorious.

First international trip: Oslo and Norway with my high school’s Tour Choir in 1992.

A fossilized baby right whale rib from a beach in Florianopolis, Brazil, is my most treasured travel souvenir.

Favorite hotel: Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, B.C. The rooms are tastefully exquisite. The restaurant has a great whiskey and Scotch menu. And the views on Chesterman Beach—especially during winter storms—are moody and violent in all the right ways.

Favorite restaurant: Delicass, Lima, Peru. Having grown up in the suburbs of New York City, I’m always a sucker for a good diner. And that’s exactly what this place, in Lima’s San Isidro neighborhood, is. Soups, salads, sandwiches are all fresher than fresh, and the baked goods are as good as they are at any bakery in town. When we lived in Lima back in 2005, we ate here at least two or three times a week. By the time we left, it felt like home.

Favorite shopping destination: Gamblers Book Shop, Las Vegas. I’m not really much of a shopper, but when I buy stuff, I’m usually buying books about the history of Vegas. This place—currently it resides in the downstairs floor of some guy’s house—is heaven for books on the subject.

Drinking beer (when solo)/chatting at playground (when with kids) is the best way/place to connect with locals.

Five things you can’t travel without: Ziploc bags (for dirty clothes), camping kitchen (for cleaning kids’ cups and my secret stash of chili pepper flakes), spare belt, running shorts, white noise app on the Smartphone.

Jet lag: Power through. Generally, I sleep very little.

What’s the one hometown place you miss most while traveling? My current one! We chose to live in Sonoma County for a reason. The vineyards! The vistas! The slooooooow pace of life. I could spend the rest of my life here and be perfectly content.

Where do you always take out-of-town friends? Provided we have enough notice to make a reservation, we take visitors to Scopa, a closet-sized country-Italian restaurant here in Healdsburg. For more impromptu visits, our “local” is the speakeasy in the back of the Medlock Ames tasting room near where Healdsburg meets the Alexander Valley.

Fly solo or travel with family/friends/tour group? Both! I prefer trips with my family, because my two girls (ages 4 and 1.5) are intrepid vagabonds who love new stuff.

Best memory of a trip with kids: It’d have to be our first visit to England as parents. We went for New Year’s in 2010, and were in a tiny cottage in the Cotswolds for three weeks. My older daughter (her sister wasn’t alive then) had a terrible time with jet lag and woke up every night at 2 am for the first week. Instead of getting frustrated with her schedule, I just rolled with it. We watched fires in the wood-burning fireplace, read books, did puzzles, baked cookies, stared at the moon. I can’t look back on those nights without smiling.

If I had a whole year to travel, I would circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat. I’ve always wanted to do it; I figure it’s the only way I’m going to get to see beaked whales in the wild.

Favorite foreign word or phrase: Saudade, which is a Portuguese word that connotes nostalgia for something that’s absent (or someone about whom you felt passionate). I came across this concept during a summer internship in Brazil (back in 1995). I think the sentiment is common when you live and love—and when you travel.

Favorite foreign tradition: I’m a huge fan of the double-kiss. We all need more kisses in our lives. This is a great way to accomplish that goal.

Travel has taught me that wonder is in the eye of the beholder, and life is lived better when your eyes are wide open.

Photo courtesy of Matt Villano