By Kristin Baird Rattini
MANY TRAVELERS OWE a debt of gratitude to Arthur Frommer: His familiar travel guidebooks have made the streets of Barcelona, Boston, Beijing, and more than 360 other destinations far easier to enjoy without breaking the bank. Frommer has been widely regarded as the top authority on budget travel since he published his first guidebook, Europe on $5 a Day, in 1957.
Of course, times have changed tremendously in the 50 or so years since then. Traveling cheaply today can be far more challenging, in part because so many more people travel abroad now than did half a century ago. But Frommer -- who, at age 79, still travels considerably -- has expertly adapted his money-saving advice to fit the life of the modern traveler.
For example, Frommer notes that choosing alternative lodging can save money and simultaneously enhance the authenticity of any vacation. “So many people are renting apartments or … substituting alternative accommodations for hotels: convents and monasteries, rooms in private homes, farm stays,” he says. “Not only are they saving money, but they’re enjoying a closeness to the culture and life of the destination they’re visiting.”
This month, in an effort to share even more of his clever money-saving tips and years of accumulated travel wisdom, Frommer is releasing a new encyclopedic book titled Ask Arthur Frommer: And Travel Better, Cheaper, Smarter (Wiley, $20). The book -- written in Frommer’s trademark light and conversational tone -- covers more than 800 topics, from packing quandaries to the best airport-food options, all arranged alphabetically for easy reference. Each entry is brief, informative, and entertaining. “It’s my attempt to answer every question a traveler might have,” he says.
Not only has Frommer updated his message, he’s also modernized his medium. Now globe-trotters can also find his helpful advice online, thanks to the octogenarian’s blog on Frommers.com. Frommer says he loves the connectivity the site allows him to have with readers, even when people disagree with his opinions.
“When I touch a nerve, we’ve been getting as many as 40 to 50 responses from all over the world,” he says. “It’s exciting to have that interaction.”
>>> Arthur Frommer’s wanderlust bloomed in the 1950s, when he traveled Europe as a GI. He’s since traveled to every corner of the globe many times over. We asked him to share his favorite stops along his 50-year journey.
How many countries have you been to?
It’s close to 140.
What is your favorite destination?
I can’t get enough of Paris. I love the French culture. In Paris, you are on the frontier of virtually every subject, whether it’s food, political thought, fashion, music, or literature. I find it an incredibly exciting place to be.
Which trip has provided you with your most unexpected, pleasant surprise?
It was probably a trip to stay with the hill tribes of northeast Thailand. They live exactly as people lived in the Stone Age -- without running water or electricity -- and yet they live a happy life. My wife and I traveled by needle boat on the Mekong River, or we traveled by elephants. We had to walk up steep mountains. Then we lived with the tribe. It was a fascinating experience.
How much do you travel these days?
I take around 10 foreign trips a year. When I was younger, I used to go every week.
Which destinations are still on your to-do list?
I recently realized the one South American country I’ve never been to is Chile. So my wife and I are going to Santiago, Valparaîso, and Viña del Mar.