When to Splurge and When to Scrimp on Travel: A Chat with Pauline Frommer

photo credit: krapow

Last weekend, the Washington, D.C. Travel and Adventure Show celebrated its seventh year in the city with an impressive lineup of speakers. The first featured presenter to grace the stage was Pauline Frommer, Pauline is a prolific travel writer, the creator of the Pauline Frommer guidebooks and host of the weekly radio program The Travel Show with her father, Arthur Frommer.

Pauline led the show with a conversation on budget travel and offered tips on when to splurge on certain aspects of a trip, but also knowing when to scrimp.

Hotels – Pauline recommends that travelers scrimp on hotels, making sure of course that the lodgings are clean and quiet. In addition to traditional hotels, there are a multitude of other options for the budget conscious traveler including: home/apartment rentals, couch surfing, monasteries, and home exchanges. Pauline also recommends two sites in particular to help save money: Hipmunk and Hotels Combined.

Airfare – Unfortunately, no one can really scrimp to any great degree when booking airfare. Expedia and Orbitz no longer carry all of the major airlines, and aren’t as useful as they once were. Pauline told the packed audience that flash sales were the best way to travel for less. A flash sale is an unannounced sale, only found on airline web sites. The best resource to learn about these rare, but incredible, sales is Airfare Watchdog. There are also websites that consolidate, but don’t directly sell, the cheapest fares on almost every airline, DoHop and Momondo.

White Water Rafting Ourika Valley

Experiences – Pauline was clear though that travel experiences and activities are one area not to scrimp. Most travelers only visit a new destination once, and it is important to have the best experience possible while visiting. Pauline told the crowd to identify first what interests them, then find the cheapest way to do it. She also cautioned travelers to look carefully at city tourist passes before using them. Some cities, like Paris, offer a pass that truly is a bargain. But in other destinations, like London, the passes are just a waste of money. Finally, Pauline said that rather than join a large group tour, find independent or small group tours instead. Most major cities offer free, or low cost, walking tours led by people who have a passion for the city and its history. Check with the local visitor’s bureau for a list of these tours.

Following her presentation, I sat down with Pauline for a few minutes to ask about budget travel today.

LandLopers: In your travel guide series about budget travel, you write about “The Other” side of each city, getting underneath the skin of a place. How can the average traveler quickly find The Other side of a city on their own?

Pauline Frommer: Get lost at least once. Wandering without a plan is the best way to quickly learn more about the real city and to see sides of it you would never have noticed before. Also stay in neighborhoods where people live. Many major hotels tend to be in downtown, tourist zones which aren’t neighborhoods where people live. In the evenings, everyone goes home and the area is a ghost town. Instead, look for hotels or alternative lodgings in real neighborhoods that will be active throughout the day.

LL: There always seems to be a hidden travel jewel that is under-visited, budget friendly and a lot of fun, like Prague was a few years ago. What is the new hidden travel jewel, at least for now?

PF: Guatemala. Because it suffered from civil war for so long, many of the prices are quite low and its culture is still intact. Unlike some other countries, you can easily find examples of real Guatemalan culture throughout the country. Guatemala isn’t alone though, there are many countries in Central and South America that are great for the budget traveler and still haven’t been found by the masses.

LL: Travel can be stressful for many people, but it should also be a fun experience. What are some ways you have fun while traveling?

PF: I think it’s personality driven. If you take a trip with the sole idea that it is for relaxation, you’ll never actually be able to relax. Instead, you will stress the entire time about whether or not you’re relaxing enough. Instead, in ADDITION to relaxation, travel is about education and exploration; learning more about the world about us. I also think that budget travelers don’t stress nearly as much as high end travelers because our expectations are much lower. If I am in a very expensive hotel, then I expect everything to be perfect and when it’s not, it can be stressful. But if you’re in a mid-range hotel, you don’t expect perfection and can more easily tolerate minor issues.

LL: Culinary travel memories are usually amongst the strongest for anyone who travels. What is your favorite travel food experience?

PF: Once again, I have to say Guatemala. My daughter and I trekked up to a volcano and actually toasted marshmallows over lava. It was one of those amazing, unique travel moments. Of course, since then, the volcano has erupted so I’m not sure if I should be advising people to do what we did.

Pauline Frommer can be be found on her weekly radio show, Twitter, or the Frommer’s website, where you can find out more about her line of guidebooks.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

10 thoughts on “When to Splurge and When to Scrimp on Travel: A Chat with Pauline Frommer”

  1. Fun interview, left me wanting more.
    And now I want to go to Guatemala.

    Oh, and also wanted to point out the Dohop uses HotelsCombined for its hotel search, so they are very much a one-stop shop.

    (I work at Dohop, just to be perfectly clear)

  2. Very interesting and informative interview. I have to say I agree with her suggestion to scrimp on hotels but not on experiences and activities.

    I also enjoy getting off the beaten path in cities. Explore those sights that are not on the main tourist agenda. Wander a new neighborhood.

    Very nice, thanks for sharing this!

  3. Nice interview! It is great to find the ‘other’ side of cities. I reckon a great way to do this is by bike. Recently in Hoi An, Vietnam, my friend and I were able to ride around quiet streets at dusk, just taking in the community atmosphere without anyone trying to sell us stuff! It was magical.

    For airfares, I like bestflights.com.au, but they’re Australian-based. I’ll be sure to check out some of those other suggestions through. Love a good bargain!

  4. Love this advice: “Get lost at least once.”

    While Dan and I tend to get lost a bit more than once, we do always end up in some sort of adventure or learning experience because of being flexible and looking at the journey as the main event.

    Also, completely agree with Guatemala as a great travel destination. We spent two months there and could have stayed much longer. Would like to return.

  5. Shirlene from Idelish

    Thanks for sharing what you learnt from Pauline’s talk and the contents of your interview! All that she said resonates with me and is a great reminder to what travel is all about – the experiences!

  6. Pauline sure loves Guatemala! Great interview, Matt. I agree with her advice that you should get lost in a new city. I enjoy walking around with only a loose idea of where I want to go. You never know what cool local attractions you will stumble into!

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