Justin Roberts doesn't think it's all that unusual that he went from being a Montessori preschool teacher to a Grammy-nominated musician. The Chicago-based singer-songwriter wrote intelligent, catchy songs to sing to his young students. Roberts has consistently made Amazon.com's Top 10 Children's CDs of the Year list, and performed his music on the "Today" show and Nick Jr. His single "Get Me Some Glasses" also was featured on a World Series broadcast. He's currently touring with his band, The Not Ready for Naptime Players, to promote his latest album, "Recess." For updated concert dates, check out Roberts' website at http://www.justinrobertsmusic.com/, or follow @MusicianJustin.
Q. What is your best travel memory?
A. While stuck in Denver with some flight delays, the Not Ready for Naptime Players and I were killing time in American Airlines' Admirals Club Lounge. The bartender told us that "some one really famous just came in." We were thinking it was Brad Pitt or something, but when I went out to investigate, I was shocked to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We asked the bartender if we might meet him and it turns out that one of the waitresses was a former nun and had met him on a missionary project. So she spoke with his assistant and he agreed to introduce us. We asked if we could take a photo with him and he said, "Only if you sing a song." So in the middle of the Admirals Club, we sang "Taking Off My Training Wheels" for Desmond Tutu. He laughed through the whole song with that contagious high cackle of his and had a beaming smile the whole time. He was so gracious and just radiated joy. He also had the most wicked sense of humor. It was by far the best airport experience ever.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. New York City is the perfect city for wandering. I find making a few plans is good, but I like to leave plenty of time to make it up as I go along. During a recent visit, I had a day to myself prior to a weekend concert that we were playing. I went walking in the Chelsea Gallery District and saw some incredible art. I had no idea where I was going, which made it all the more surprising. I walked by Jerry Seinfeld in front of the Porsche dealer and then after a walk along the beautiful High Line — a fantastic oasis created out of an old elevated railroad — I went into some random shops in SoHo and then wandered into Osteria Morini and had a fantastic meal at the bar. A Broadway show is always a beautiful spectacle, but don't miss out on some of the smaller theaters in town. During one visit, I saw "Uncle Vanya" at the SoHo Rep. They had covered the floor with shag carpeting and the audience was basically sitting amongst the actors. It was a very visceral experience having the actors within inches of my feet.
Q. What untapped destination should people know about?
A. I had an amazing experience in southwestern France — the Lot and Dordogne — doing a walking tour. All of France is covered by these beautiful walking paths called the Grandes Randonnees (GRs). You can get maps, but the paths are pretty clearly marked with occasional painted lines. Just when you think you might be lost, you see another one. During my visit, we stayed for a few nights at Le Pont de L'Ouysse, a beautiful inn with a starred Michelin restaurant located in the tiny village of Lacave. Using the GR, we walked about 10 kilometers to the neighboring village of Rocamadour, which is filled with gorgeous medieval castles and tiny shops. I had some incredibly dense and delicious cassoulet with a hearty glass of Malbec from neighboring Cahors and afterward took a much-needed walk.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?
A. My family used to visit Sister Bay in Door County, Wis., every summer. I have pretty magic memories of jumping off the docks, the musty smell of the cabins and the sand that stuck to everything and followed you back home.
Q. What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?
A. Don't make too many plans or try to visit too many different places. Leave time for the unexpected. The most memorable things happen when you are not looking for them.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. I recently revisited Door County and found that almost nothing has changed. I visited an old lighthouse that I hadn't seen since I was probably 8 years old and as I approached it, beautiful memories of standing with my father many years ago came flooding back.
Q. Where is the most romantic destination?
A. I'm more than a bit of a Francophile, so I'd have to say Paris.
Q. What are your five favorite cities?
A. Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Paris and Pittsburgh
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. I've been slowly exploring various parts of France over the years and I'd love to go to Brittany.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. Because I travel mostly for work, I'd have to say a very large whale puppet that takes up half of my giant suitcase.
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. I love to eat, so I usually spend the most time researching restaurants and planning the rest of my trip around that.
Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. When traveling for work, we are always looking for locally owned or local specialty restaurants wherever we go. A few favorites include Steve's Piccolo Bussola (http://stevespiccolabussola.com/) in Syosset, N.Y.; Loteria Grill (http://loteriagrill.com/) in Los Angeles; Lers Ros Thai (http://www.lersros.com/) in San Francisco; Gray's Papaya (http://grayspapayanyc.com/) in New York; Sadie's (http://sadiesofnewmexico.com/) in Albuquerque, N.M.; Emily's Lebanese Deli (http://www.emilyslebanesedeli.com/) in Minneapolis; Bil-Mar Restaurant (http://www.bil-margrandhaven.com/) in Grand Haven, Mich.; Jerusalem Garden (http://www.jerusalemgarden.net/) in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Skip's (http://www.skipsdesmoines.com/) in Des Moines, Iowa; Little Moir's (http://littlemoirs.com/) in Jupiter, Fla.; Jim's Steaks (http://www.jimssteaks.com/) in Philadelphia; and Cafe des Amis (http://www.cafedesamis.com/) in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at http://www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)