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So What Do You Do, Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor, CBS News?

With 151 countries down and another 45 to go, the media authority on travel talks about his career highlights and where he's headed next

- January 13, 2010
You may recognize Peter Greenberg as the travel editor for CBS News and The Early Show, as a guest on Oprah or Larry King Live, or as the author for several New York Times bestsellers, like Don't Go There! The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World. Although dispensing tips on the most effective way to pack a carry-on or how to get through TSA airport screening quickly is part of Greenberg's day job, his ultimate goal is to educate people about the world around them with investigative pieces, like his Emmy-winning ABC 20/20 special on the last orphan flight out of Vietnam, "What Happened to the Children?" And, with a resume that includes stints as a TV development exec and an active volunteer fireman, there's clearly more to this New York native than planes, trains, and automobiles.


Name: Peter Greenberg
Position: Travel editor for CBS News; host of Peter Greenberg Worldwide radio show on SIRIUS/XM and the one-hour television special The Royal Tour, which can be seen on The Travel Channel and The Discovery Channel; contributing editor for AARP, Men's Health, Parade, and MSN.com.
Resume: Started as West Coast correspondent for Newsweek and was later appointed vice president of television development for Paramount. Served as the travel correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Today show, CNBC, and MSNBC. Chief correspondent for the Travel Channel from 1998 to 2005. Author of five New York Times bestsellers, including Don't Go There! The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must Miss Places of the World.
Birthday: January 20
Hometown: Manhattan
Education: University of Wisconsin
Marital status: Single
First section of the Sunday Times: The front page
Favorite TV show: Real Time With Bill Maher and Deal or No Deal
Guilty pleasure: Boating
Last book read:"Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, by Barton Gellman
Twitter handle: @PeterSGreenberg

You started your journalism career on the news desk -- how did you make the move into the travel industry?
Travel is news. I am an investigative reporter -- I was the guy with the suitcase in the car. One day it dawned on me that no one was covering travel as news. So, I trained as [a] captain and was trained to fly at an early age, passed my boating exams. If you can't understand the process, how can you tell the story? It's real life, real world training. All I did was apply my investigative techniques to travel. I worked the [O.J. Simpson] case while I was covering travel, I covered the war -- there's always been a hard news angle. Yes, people know me as travel person, but I wouldn't have been able to do it without knowing how to do what I do as an investigative journalist.

In your TV series, The Royal Tour, you feature personal, one-on-one journeys through various countries with their heads of state. Was there one visit in particular that stands out?
His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan. That was the most amazing one of all. He's an amazing visionary who understands the power of travel to break down stereotypes.

One of the most tragic events in American history, and the airline industry, occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. How did you cope with the events as a reporter, fireman, and travel expert?
I was in the green room of the Today show four minutes before going on air when the first plane hit the building. I ran down to the control room and told them, 'That was no small plane,' and just then, the second plane hit the second tower. The decision was made for me to stay in the studio and report. I was there for 20 hours. I was writing hand-written notes to Katie Couric, and she said at one point, 'Our travel editor Peter Greenberg just handed me this note..." That's how all my friends and family knew I was alive. I stayed reporting for them and MSNBC until 2 a.m. -- that was the moment it hit me. I left the studio around 2 a.m. and hadn't been outside all day. Manhattan had been evacuated, and that's when I realized what was happening: There were no people, no cabs, no rushing around. At that precise moment, the wind shifted and I could smell burning electric conduit and flesh and kerosene.

As a fireman, I felt so badly. I don't fight high-rise fires -- more house-fires -- but any time you're fighting a fire above the eighth floor, it's a tremendous challenge due to the 85 pounds of equipment you're carrying.

As an aside, that's also a good travel tip: While the penthouse [in a hotel] might have the best views, the fireman will have a harder time reaching you if there's a fire.

"We live in a world of specialization. Saying you want to be a travel writer means nothing to me -- travel as it relates to what?"

How do you find TV since you've moved from behind the scenes for shows like MacGyver and Thirtysomething, to in front of the camera as a correspondent for CBS?
I've always done both -- writing and producing. I ran the teams who developed the series with MGM and Paramount, and I wrote for Law & Order, but I've always believed you go with your strength. I'm as confident behind the camera as I am in front of the camera. I also produce The Royal Tours, which is a lot of time in the editing room.

You run the gamut of all media -- print, online, radio, TV . Is there one medium you enjoy more than the others?
The one I love most is radio. For three hours every Saturday, I can say what I want. You can't be wrong, and you have to be fair, but you have the time to ask the questions you want answers to. You learn the importance of the fast sound bites in TV, but on the other hand, you have the freedom to expand the story in radio.

How do you continue to encourage travel, especially in this economy?
I don't define what I do as promoting or encouraging; my job is to educate people and give them options. I think I'm the only radio show on travel that doesn't sound like an infomercial. I don't read live ad copy on air, I'm not a spokesperson or endorser for any product. The audience needs to take me seriously without me pushing product on them. That's why I did a book like Don't Go There.... It talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of destinations and allows the traveler to make up their mind.

Is there anywhere you haven't been?
Newark. I'm kidding, of course. There are 196 countries in the world -- I've been to 151, so there are another 45 countries I need to get to.

What destination would you go back to over and over again?
I can't think of one that I wouldn't. I learn something new every time I travel -- I take nothing for granted.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into travel writing?
The most important thing to remember is that we live in a world of specialization. Saying you want to be a travel writer means nothing to me -- travel as it relates to what? What are you bringing to the party? For example, 52 percent of travelers are business women -- who's talking to them? Don't say you want to do travel. Go beyond that and tell me what you've got to share. That's when you'll find your niche. Think about something or someone that you know of that you have access to that no one else does. Think about everything you take for granted there, and then tell me why it's a good story. If it's in the [tourism] brochure, I do not want to know about it.


Melanie Nayer is a travel writer for various publications including the New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, The Washington Times, and online sites including Cheapflights.com and Gadling.com.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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