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.
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.