Becca Powelson
Photography by Daphne Vermeulen

Grand-Prize Winner

Becca Powelson
OCCUPATION: Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Atlas Imports
HOME BASE: Chicago

AMERICAN WAY: You have what many would consider a dream job — wine importer — which allows you to travel to some of the world’s best wineries. How did you end up in this career?
BECCA POWELSON: Naturally, I earned my degree in early-childhood education, then decided to attend law school to study school-funding reform, which relocated me to Chicago. Upon arrival, I took a job as a nanny for a family who owned a wine importer. They offered me an amazing opportunity to work for them. I worked there for two years and have now been with Atlas Imports for more than six years.
AW: What are your go-to wines?
BP: I absolutely love anything sparkling — grower Champagne from Nomine-Renard is a favorite. I love Northern Italian reds like Dosio Vigneti Barbera d’Alba, New Zealand pinot noir from Urlar, and there is a fantastic dry rose produced by Piedra Negra in Argentina that is surprising and amazing.

BEST MEAL I'VE HAD ON THE ROAD: Chicken Pad Thai for $1.50 on the beach in Phuket, Thailand
FAVORITE HOTEL: Grand Villa Argentina in Dubrovnik, Croatia
LAST BOOK I READ: Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, Daughter of Destiny
CHECK OR CARRY ON? Carry on. I don’t own luggage that is checkable.
BEST AIRPORT: The shopping at London Heathrow is pretty hard to beat, but for ease, Wellington, New Zealand.
AISLE OR WINDOW? Aisle. Always aisle.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: An apple, a scarf and lipstick
FAVORITE PASTIME: Going to Hilton Head with my family and all our cousins

"I am a Road Warrior because in 21 days, I flew from Chicago to London to Düsseldorf; back to London; to Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi; to Tokyo; through Chicago to JFK en route to Milan; to Istanbul, back to Milan and home to Chicago."

AW: You’ve been to Croatia, China, Vietnam, Turkey … . In fact, you’ve been to more than 30 countries. What have been some of your favorites and why?
BP: I loved the East-meets-West charm of Istanbul and the contrast between the modern and the ancient, as well as the food — it was amazing! I also loved my experience in Sri Lanka — we spent days in the old Dutch fort town of Galle, hiked the mountains near Kandy and spent hours on Mirissa Beach watching the Indian Ocean spit out surfers. A recent favorite is Budapest, Hungary. It’s still a bit raw and edgy, but the charm is overwhelming, and I wasn’t ready to leave.
AW: Do you have any top-notch, must-do recommendations for fellow travelers in any of the countries you’ve been to?
BP: There is a restaurant named Azafrán in Mendoza, Argentina, that is a must every time I am in town. I love eating at Sansho in Prague. And I’d recommend whitewater rafting near Lake Taupo in New Zealand, a Junk Boat in Vietnam and whale watching in Hermanus, South Africa.
AW: If you could go anywhere, where would it be?
BP: I have always wanted to explore more of the Middle East. I have a trip planned to Israel and Jordan this month with my mom, and I’m so excited to explore the Holy Land and see Petra. I’m also itching to hike Mount Kilimanjaro and go on a safari.
AW: Road Warrior training began early for you, given that your family was prone to what sounds like Griswold-style road trips. Any fun family anecdotes you can share?
BP: Millions. I remember one trip when my dad took us fishing in Missouri while visiting our 106-year-old great-grandmother. My sister was little and scooped up a fish in her net. A state trooper saw her place it in the bucket and arrested our dad for wildlife violations because the fish was on an endangered list. We also hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon as a family. Dad decided we could handle the “difficult” route down, and on the way back out of the canyon, we simply ran out of steam. We didn’t make it to our campsite and ended up camping (illegally) on the trail, only to find that when it was daylight and we started hiking again (at 4 a.m.), the real campsite was only 500 feet up the trail.
AW: What do you plan to do with the 500,000 AAdvantage miles you’ve won? 
BP: So many ideas. I plan to make the most of them by traveling to less-traveled places. My current list is Iceland, Nepal, Peru and Cambodia.
AW: Tell us about the prank (all in good fun, of course) that was pulled on you when you were notified that you were our grand-prize winner.
BP: I was at Starbucks with my boss when I received the call from American. After explaining to [Editor] Adam Pitluk and [Senior Marketing Manager] Gwen Baldwin that I was in a crowded public place, they requested that I ask my boss to film what was about to happen next. I had to restrain myself and control my excitement (for obvious coffee-shop reasons), but it was hard to contain my elation at the good news.