An Interview with Johnny Jet: Writer John DiScala

John DiScala Johnny Jet original travel bloggerJohn DiScala, otherwise known as Johnny Jet, may be the only blogger left standing who has a travel blog that’s older than my first one. JohnnyJet.com started as a newsletter and then went online as a website as we started a new century and millennium, in 2000. Since then he has flown millions of miles, appeared on hundreds of media outlets, and built up a large audience that has stuck with him as he transitioned from Up in the Air road warrior to a married father with two kids. I originally interviewed him before any of that happened, back in 2010 when this travel writing blog started, so it was time to get the updated story. 

How did you break into travel writing and how did this become a full-time job for you?

It’s a long story but I started sending my travel newsletter via email in 1995 and then created a website in 1999. In high school I used to not only be afraid to fly but also to just leave the house at one point.

I went to college in California (I grew up in Connecticut) and I started dating a girl whose parents lived in Asia. She was accustomed to flying in the front of the plane but I had only flown coach — and had never been overseas. When she invited me to Hong Kong, I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by. Her parents bought her a business class ticket and I knew there was no way I could sit on a plane for 14.5 hours by myself.

So, I did a lot research to find a cheap business class seat next to her and talked my dad into buying it from a consolidator. It cost $1,500, which was a great deal considering full fare was $5,000.

I picked the right time to have my first out-of-coach experience. WOW! What a difference! A nice roomy seat with a leg rest, some hot towels, a little sorbet to clean the palate, non-stop food, beverages and movies. It was so good, I didn’t want to get off the plane.

When I returned to the U.S. I felt like a new man. I had finally gotten the monkey off my back; I knew I could now travel overseas! I also got hooked on my frequent flier miles because that one trip to Hong Kong on United Airlines earned me a free round-trip ticket in the continental U.S.

When I graduated from college, I took on a career as a college recruiter, which had me traveling to 26 states. I learned a lot because we were on a tight budget but once you fly up front, it’s hard to go back. A lot of my college friends ended up working in the admissions office with me and we all competed who would earn the most miles. I kicked their butts because I asked tons of questions and researched.

I didn’t want to see the miles go to waste so I started sharing my tips and tricks by email, which was brand new back then. Next thing I know, they started asking me to add their friends and family to the list. I then started speaking at college conferences on how to travel like a rock star but on a tight budget.

In early 2000, I had a student worker help me launch JohnnyJet.com and on March 17, 2000, USA Today wrote about my website. They had a massive readership then and that jumpstarted everything. Once they wrote about it, dozens of other networks and publications wrote about it, too.

Friends would call me up and say, “Turn on your TV!” And there I was. JohnnyJet.com was being featured on CNBC’s Power Lunch as the “Website of the Day.” From there, things only continued to grow. Here’s a longer version of that story.

Johnny and his wife flying business class on Korean Air

You were one of the original travel bloggers who started when there was very little competition but your site and newsletter are as popular as ever. How have you maintained that level of success through the years?

As your parents probably have told you… hard work. Though if you find something you love it doesn’t really feel like work. I really do love traveling and helping others who are either afraid to fly or want to learn how to travel better (cheaper, safer, and more comfortably).

I remember once in 2004 I was in Europe with two of my friends and I was working in the middle of the night. My childhood friend said, “I can’t believe how hard you work.” I would tour around the cities during the day but at night or any break I could find I would write my notes down and download my photos to stay organized. I still do the same routine today.

You’re no longer a single man jetting around the world with nobody to answer to though. How have the travels changed as a husband and father?

John DiScala and family

Getting married didn’t change a thing since I married a journalist who covered travel. We met on a press trip and after talking her into quitting her job and becoming JohnnyJet.com’s editor, we traveled even more. We’ve been to 70 countries together.

However, being a father did change me. Being a dad is seriously the best thing in the world and if I knew it was this good, I would’ve done it earlier and had 10 kids 😉. I didn’t think having kids would change me that much, but it did.

When my first child (Jack) was born my heart exploded with love. I instantly didn’t want to travel anywhere without him. I would get invited to go all over the world first class, but I would decline because I just wanted to be home to protect my family. Once Jack got old enough (8 months), my wife and I started taking him pretty much everywhere we went.

Same thing with our daughter (Olivia) who was born three years later. They’re now seven and four years old and have both been to more than a dozen countries and are great little travelers. We now write a lot about family-friendly trips.

Do you outsource any of your work to keep your hours in check? Any life balance tips?

I rarely outsource my work. Once in a while if I’m slammed, I will hire a writer, but for the most part my wife and I write all the travel tips.

We do have writers that cover credit cards and miles and points since it’s always changing and we have some freelance writers to cover some of the destination pieces. But I do need to hire more people to help shorten my pile of to-do stories.

Knowing what you do now, if you were starting from scratch today to become established as a travel writer, what steps would you take to ensure success?

I think it’s a lot easier now then it was back in the day to get started. Now anyone can get noticed rather quickly thanks to the internet and social media.

If I were starting today, I would provide more video tips and start sharing them on social. I would follow and interact with the major players and go to travel conferences to network.

As a Californian, you’ve been to Hawaii a lot and have in-laws in Canada, but if you could go anywhere with the family for a week or two, all expenses paid, where would it be and why?

travel blogger family in the Caribbean

Yes, we’re very fortunate to be able to go to Hawaii so many times. Here’s our latest trip which took place last month. If they were a little bit older I would say an African safari but for now I would do a 14-day cruise around Europe or the Caribbean (we’ve done both and loved it).

But there are so many places I want to take my kids. On the list is Bora Bora in an overwater bungalow, Fiji and Australia in a combined trip, a tour through Southeast Asia…

John E. DiScala (a.k.a. Johnny Jet) has been featured over thousands of times in major publications, including USA Today, Time, The New York Times, Outside, and Travel+ Leisure. He has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, Travel Channel, and PBS.  JohnnyJet.com is closing in on its 25th year. Sign up today for Johnny’s free weekly travel newsletter but hitting “Subscribe” at the top of JohnnyJet.com. You can also follow him on Facebook or YouTube.

Interview conducted in June, 2024 by Travel Writing 2.0 author Tim Leffel.

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