Meet Nancy J. Friedman

Location: New York, NY
Age: 59
Marital Status: Married
Education: B.A. in Literature and B.S. in Environmental Science from Antioch College

In the 2009 blockbuster, Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a traveling businessman with the personal life goal of earning ten million frequent flier miles. Meet the real-life Ryan Bingham, FOF Nancy Friedman.

Nancy has collected more than a million American Airlines frequent flier miles (she’s lost track on other airlines) over the course of her thirty years in the travel industry.

Nancy got bit by the travel bug early. In her 20s, she worked for Travel + Leisure magazine and a few years later got on board with Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell just as the notorious Studio 54 founders were launching their next venture… the “boutique hotel”. Schrager and Rubell’s boutique hotels were a hit, and Nancy was instrumental in publicizing the concept. At the age of 30, she decided to launch her own travel, hospitality and lifestyle P.R. agency which has been in business ever since. With a roster of clients including the entire island of St. Lucia, Cooperstown N.Y., and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Nancy spends more time in hotels than her New York apartment. “But I have a bucket list of places I still want to go,” says Nancy. “I don’t know if you can call it a bucket list at 55 but, you never know.”

Did you always enjoy traveling?

I’ve always had wanderlust. Every summer as a teen, I did a lot of traveling. When I was 15 I went to Europe. By 18 I had lived in London and Paris.

Did your parents take you on vacations as a child?

We went to Williamsburg, Virgina, and visited family in Pittsburgh but nothing extravagant. When I was 8-years-old we had an au pair from Switzerland. I remember being fascinated with everything she’d teach me about her country. I sent my own daughter to the United Nations International School so she could develop more of a world view and make friends from all over.

What did your parents do?

My father was an engineer by training. My mother worked at the U.N., then had four kids. She had international friends from the U.N. that my family has stayed friends with.

Are you married?

Yes, my husband is an FBI agent.

Does he like to travel?

He’s not a big fan of traveling. He’s kind of a homebody. With certain things he’s not that flexible and I think travel requires a certain flexibility.

How did you meet?

We actually met in kindergarten. We were in second grade and fifth grade together too. But nothing happened until after college. While I worked at Travel + Leisure, he was at Columbia for law school. We went on a date—again nothing really happened. Then many years later I was in-between boyfriends and he gave me a call. We started dating and then decided to get married.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?

Greece and Paris. It was fabulous. I’ve wanted to go back to Greece ever since.

Do you have children?

My kids, Michael and Emily, are teenagers.

Do you travel with them?

I take them on a fair amount of trips when I can. At the end of the month, we’ll go to Cooperstown, N.Y., one of my clients.

The whole town is your client?

Yes. We’ll visit all the major attractions in Cooperstown—the Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum and The Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ll have a chance to be with my client and my family.

How did you turn traveling into a career?

When I graduated from college, I really wanted to marry my passions. I was interested in journalism and being a writer and loved traveling. Out of college I worked at Travel + Leisure. Then, on a business trip to the Dominican Republic, I absolutely fell in love with it. I heard they needed a public relations director, and it was really the first time I heard about P.R. I applied, took a writing test, got the job and the rest is history. I loved it. I stayed there for several years.

How did you end up working for hoteliers Ian Schrager and the late Steve Rubell?

I did the P.R. for the nightclub, Palladium. After they got out of jail from the Studio 54 tax evasion scandal, they hired me as their in-house public relations counsel.

Which of their hotels did you work on?

The Morgans Hotel, The Royalton Hotel, The Century Paramount Hotels to name a few… They started developing their company but at that point I left and opened my own firm. I had just turned 30 and wanted my own business.

What does your agency do?

We get our clients written about and talked about. We launch hotels and work on travel destinations. I have worked with Ian on and off for many years.

Are you still working on any of Ian Schrager’s hotels?

My agency is doing the publicity for the launch of his Ambassador East hotel in Chicago.

Do you have a secret place or somewhere you go to rejuvenate?

We go to Vermont every year, sometimes multiple times a year. We have a timeshare near Stowe. I find it’s a place where I absolutely let my breath out.

Do you ski there in the winter?

We definitely ski, but not really in Vermont. This year we skied in Park City, Utah.

Do you have a hobby?

I love to bike ride. Especially where it’s flat. Along the canal in Washington D.C. and Georgetown is really nice riding, or in Palm Desert, California, where my parents live.

Favorite book?

I don’t have a favorite but I just bought the Janny Scott book about Obama’s mother. I read a lot of very popular books such as The Help, Water for Elephants and the Twilight books. Those Twilight movies were terrible but the books were good.

Favorite restaurant?

In Washington D.C., The Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt has really phenomenal farm-to-table cuisine. One of our recent New York favorites is The Fat Radish down on the Lower East Side. It’s a very cool place, like a gastropub with such interesting dishes on the menu. I also eat a lot of business lunches at Primehouse. I like their salad with crab and they treat me so nicely there. The greatest Sunday brunch is at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale.

Favorite spa?

The spa treatments at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs are great.

Favorite hotel?

It’s so hard to pick! Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has the best views in the Tetons. In Prague, I love the Aria Hotel for its music theme. The Postcard Inn in St. Petersburg, Florda, is a fun and affordable beach destination. The Sofitel in Washington, D.C., is amazing for visitors who want to be near the White House.

You need one of those maps where you put the pins on with places you’ve been…

Yes, but then I’ll see all the places I haven’t been!

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