My life In Travel: Stephen Tompkinson, actor

'Hot-air ballooning over Africa was spectacular'

First holiday memory?

Going to Largs in Ayrshire with my family. It was a very good place to tour from – we'd go on boat trips to Oban and Rothesay and drive to places such as Stirling and Glasgow. We went for three years running around 1976 and stayed at the Castle Hotel, which is sadly no longer there. They seemed like endless summers.

Best holiday?

For the past two years I've done hot-air balloon trips across parts of Africa and Australia, which have been spectacular. The panoramic view you're afforded from up there is pretty special, especially over parts of Africa where there can be no sign of man for miles around. However, there was one landing at 40mph that was a bit hair-raising.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The Highlands of Scotland and the Lake District are two places that I love, for the landscapes.

What have you learnt from your travels?

To have a positive attitude and let things come to you. You shouldn't strive too much to achieve things and then the trip becomes yours.

Ideal travelling companion?

I'm a huge fan of Stephen Fry and I'd like to have travelled around the US with him; he could have done with another Stephen to spar with! That would have been lovely.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I can spend a couple of days on a beach then I get a bit bored. I like a city-by-the-sea where I can go off and explore. I like to walk rather than go on organised cultural trips. Saying that I will always take the city bus tour because you get to see all the highlights; I thought the free bus and tram tours in Melbourne were particularly impressive.

Greatest travel luxury?

Being 6ft 2in, I'm not very good in economy. If I can, I'll treat myself to a business-class seat because a flat bed can make the world of difference.

Holiday reading?

I love reading when I'm on holiday. At the moment it's a bit of a busman's holiday – we're going make a TV series of Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks this year so I'm reading those. There are 19 novels to be made and we've only done one so far.

Where has seduced you?

The place I like going back to is San Francisco, because it's such a story city. You start at the ocean and then a few blocks later you're in Little Italy at the church where Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio. Some of the cafés there have jukeboxes that only play opera. A couple of more blocks later, you're in the biggest Chinatown outside Asia, then a few more and you're in Haight-Ashbury with all its history – plus so many films have been shot there. I like the attitude of the people, too.

Better to travel or arrive?

I quite enjoy travelling, it can be a good chance to catch up on films you've missed or books that you haven't got round to reading. It's escapism and I still get a buzz out of flying – it's quite miraculous.

Worst travel experience?

A few places that we stayed in Africa during the balloon trip – one particular place in Tanzania had a room that looked like it was out of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof with stains on the floors, walls and ceiling that CSI would have had a field day with.

Worst holiday?

Everyone has met rude Parisians; people's attitude can spoil holidays. I've had a few experiences in the UK like that.

Worst hotel?

One in Brighton that was trying to run before it could walk, but was still charging running prices.

Best hotel?

The Ritz-Carlton in New York, which has direct views over Central Park. It is done to such a beautiful standard. They advertised the thread count of the bedlinen and I thought it didn't make much difference until I got into bed, at which point I would have quite happily stayed there for the duration of the holiday; it was phenomenal.

Favourite ride?

I would recommend hot-air ballooning over anywhere. The views and the serenity when the burner is off is unbeatable. You're being gently pushed by the wind rather than fighting against anything, so you barely feel yourself moving, even at 20 or 30 miles per hour. It was the closest thing imaginable to a magic carpet ride.

Best meal abroad?

I had a lovely sushi meal at Le Touessrok hotel in Mauritius that was presented on a miniature boat, which was pretty impressive. It felt very healthy, too.

Dream trip?

I try to go to a new place every year and one thing I've always fancied is going to see the aurora borealis, particularly having seen Joanna Lumley's documentary, which was really beautiful.

Favourite city?

San Francisco.

Where next?

Las Vegas. Perhaps because I grew up in Blackpool I can see beyond the tacky. I'm so impressed by the architecture – it's ridiculous. The Luxor hotel is a 400-foot-high black glass pyramid with a light beam that is claimed can be seen from Space. I don't gamble, so we're going to go on a helicopter ride over the Boulder Dam and the Grand Canyon and back over the Strip at sunset as the lights are going on.

Stephen Tompkinson stars in 'Wild at Heart', starting tomorrow at 8.30pm on ITV1

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