Travel Reporter Peter Greenberg Shares Tips and Hidden Gem Destinations

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and producer / CBS News Travel editor Peter Greenberg chatted with us about what it means to be a “Travel Detective,” why you don’t need to be in every photo you take, hidden gem destinations for 2019, not sticking to a budget for vacations, his thoughts on no-frills airlines, travel insurance and more.

Peter regularly reports on a wide range of travel news for “CBS This Morning,” “CBS Sunday Morning” and the “CBS Evening News.” He’s the author of the New York Times best-selling “Travel Detective” series. His books include, “The Best Places for Everything,” “Don’t Go There!” and “The Complete Travel Detective Bible.” He also hosts the nationally syndicated Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio show.

Peter will be speaking at the 5th Annual Philadelphia Travel & Adventure Show at the Convention Center this weekend.

Xfinity customers can use the promo code SOCIAL to receive $5 off tickets.

What does it mean to you to be a “Travel Detective?”

Peter Greenberg: Travel is the largest industry in the world. It employs the most people. It’s singly responsible for about 11 percent of Global GDP, so we need to cover it as news. It’s not just about pretty pictures and people lounging on beaches around the world; that doesn’t help anybody. I’ve always believed that if you can understand the process, that’s when you can value the product. So when I get up there and speak in Philadelphia, what I write about in my columns, what I talk about on CBS, is really about how you navigate this business of travel; Which airline has the worst frequent flyer program, which hotel lies to you, which hotel gives you the truth, which has the best security system, which cruise ship really shouldn’t be allowed out, which cruise ship has the best design going. These are things people need to know before they ever leave home, and that’s really what I try to focus on.

What do you personally love most about traveling?

PG: What I personally love most is what most of us have lost, and that is the art of conversation. I don’t walk around with my head looking down in my smartphone, because I learned a long time ago that having a smartphone doesn’t make you smart. What makes you smart is when you engage somebody in conversation and you find common ground and you learn something. And, if you learn something, then you get a chance to share it with other people and then everybody wins.

That makes sense. I think I know how you will answer this next question: Are you more of a “take lots of photos” or “enjoy the moment” kind of person?

PG: Here’s the answer: We have an entire culture now that is more obsessed with documenting their experience than having it. For me, that’s a huge mistake. A great photo does not have to include you in it. One of the leading causes of death among travelers – you know what it is? Death by selfie. We don’t have to do that. Now, if there is a photo that I shoot that’s amazing, there’s a 98 percent chance that it’s not going to include me, because it’s not about me. It’s about capturing a moment that you want to be able to share later and I am all in favor of that. But, if all you are doing is taking photos, then you’re not balanced as a traveler because you haven’t stopped to actually engage someone and have a conversation.

I love the premise of your book, “Don’t Go There: The Travel Detective’s Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World.” What inspired you to write it, and since writing it, have you wanted to add more places to it?

PG: What inspired me to do it was that I was sick and tired of what I call the brochure mentality. Every word ending in the letters -st, the best, greatest, finest, loveliest – come on, really? With enough Photoshop activity, I can make the Love Canal look pretty. So, for me, when you realize that people love to travel but they also have limited time and resources, and they want to be able to have as many options as possible, I thought that the public desperately needed a book like this. Every other travel book is essentially promoting where to go. I don’t promote anything; I present. In this case, I decided to present where you might NOT want to go.

The answer to your second question is, we add to it all the time because there’s now a regular segment on my PBS show “The Travel Detective,” every week called “Don’t Go There.”

What do you say to people who think travel is only for rich people with lots of free time?

PG: If people think that, they didn’t see me in college, because I didn’t have a lot of money and I figured out a way to do it. I’m a big fan of figuring out a way to do it. There’s always going to be a way. It may be by beating them at their own game, by playing by their rules. It may be by figuring out the right time or the right moment or the right day. But, no, this is not about lifestyles of the rich and famous, this is not about luxury travel. This is about the ability to travel, and that in itself is the real luxury.

How do you stick to your budget for vacations?

PG: I don’t. I don’t stick to my budget, because I believe in spontaneity. I believe the best travel experiences happen when Plan A doesn’t work and you turn left instead of turning right. So what I do is, I adjust for that every time I travel by realizing that there is going to be a moment in this trip that is totally unanticipated, totally unexpected, when you got to step up to the plate or you’re going to miss the moment. So, I prepare for that, never knowing what that moment is going to be, but knowing that I will know it when I see it.

What do you think about these no-frills airlines? Are they worth it for travelers or is it better to just pay a little more and know what you’re getting?

PG: It all depends on who you are as a traveler. Look, if you’re a member of the witness relocation program or you are a fugitive of justice, then I’m going to suspect you’re not packing anything, so then you can fly an airline that charges you for breathing, because you’re not doing anything else but breathing. But, if you’re a hoarder, and you want to fly with everything short of the kitchen sink, then a budget airline is going to ratchet up your pocketbook really quickly when you realize it’s cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching on everything. So, you just have to be clear with yourself as to what kind of traveler you are.

I don’t hold anything against Spirit Airlines or Frontier or any of these other low-frills airlines, because I fly them all the time. I’ve also flown first class on Emirates. There’s a time and a place for everything. The problem is when we have unrealistic expectations, and then we’re always disappointed. Every time I go somewhere, people are always asking me the same question; did you have a nice flight? My answer is always the same, I had a great flight! We landed. I went from Point A to Point B and I didn’t die. This is a very good day. So, I’m not on the plane for the Caribbean weather, the Broadway show tunes the flight attendants will not be performing onboard, I’m not on the plane for the wine list.  I’m on the plane to go from Point A to Point B and not hit a mountain and so far, knock on wood, I’ve done it.

Travel insurance, do you really need it?

PG: The answer is a qualified yes. If you’re buying a $59 ticket on Southwest Airlines, the answer is no. If you have a $6,000 cruise, the answered is a qualified yes. The reason it’s a qualified yes is because you need to read the policy language carefully. If you’re buying trip cancellation and interruption insurance, make sure you don’t buy it from the travel provider itself, because nine out of 10 times, the policy language in those policies are not as beneficial to you as it would be if you bought it from a third party like a travel agent. It’s still hard to decipher all of those hieroglyphics in the policy language to understand what you’re covered for and what you’re not covered for, so there are a number of ways to do that. There are websites that will help you interpret that language. It goes down to the investment you have in your trip, and if it’s a huge investment, and you understand the policy language of what’s covered, then the answer is yes.

I often spend a lot of time and sometimes money on buying souvenirs for family and friends. How do you feel about souvenirs?

PG: If you asked me about 30 years ago, I would still be getting them. You spend half your life acquiring stuff and the rest of your life trying to give it away. Right now, the only souvenirs I am buying are refrigerator magnets for my assistant back in Los Angeles, because she’s obsessed by them. I don’t have any wall space left, I don’t have any counter space left and my favorite travel destination when I get home is usually Goodwill anyway because I’m so happy to be liberated of stuff I never should have bought in the first place.

What interview sticks with you the most from The Royal Tour series?

PG: That is a particularly interesting series that we’ve been doing now for 18 years. We go to individual heads of state, kings, presidents and prime ministers and I get them to give me six days of their schedule unencumbered, which is in itself an unusual feat. We hang for the next six days. Think Thelma and Louise, but a happier ending. They are my personal tour guide to the country for a one hour global special. It’s two people on a road trip. That’s it. I get to know these men and women on a much different level. In fact, many times closer than their own advisors because I’m spending more time with them, and I’m spending more time with them on neutral territory. We’re not in the houses of parliament, we’re not on a campaign stop, we’re not talking about positioning, we are talking about experience. You can learn a lot about someone when you travel with them and that holds true for heads of state as well.

My best moments on these trips is when I get to see the human side of these very powerful people and really understand what makes them tick. Just like any other conversation that I talked about earlier, you establish common ground when you talk to somebody, whether it’s the maid at the hotel or the head of state, and out of that, you learn so much more about everything. So, the best parts of my experiences with all of these leaders is the opportunities we’ve had to have unencumbered and freewheeling conversations with no restrictions.

By the way, I should tell you, the next Royal Tour is happening next month. It’s the Royal Tour of Poland with the Prime Minister and it premieres the week of April 22nd on PBS stations nationwide.

Have you been to Poland?

PG: I have. But for those people who, like me when I was growing up, look at Poland in black and white terms, because that’s how it was pictured as a Soviet black country, you’re going to be really surprised when you see what Poland looks like now.

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TIP: Rwanda: The Royal Tour is available to own with Xfinity. Rwandan President Paul Kagame takes Peter Greenberg on a Royal Tour that includes a gorilla trek through Volcanoes National Park, jet-skiing in Lake Kivu, exploring Nyungwe Forest National Park and a safari through Akagera National Park.

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What are your hidden gem travel picks for 2019?

PG: I’ve got a couple. They are all accessible. Some take a little more effort than others. I am a big fan of Namibia. I’m a big fan of the Faroe Islands. I’m a big fan of the island of St. Helena. I’m a big fan of Rwanda. And, I remain a big fan, in this country, of Wisconsin. A state that most people just fly over and never really experience. But for all of those countries, and the state that I just mentioned, there are compelling reasons.

Namibia is, of course, where you see this amazing Skeleton Coast. You can also do some amazing and pretty intense safaris there. Namibia is also the jumping off spot for the island of St. Helena, which nobody knows where it is. St. Helena is about 1200 miles from Angola and 1800 miles from Brazil. It’s right smack dab in the middle of nowhere in the South Atlantic Ocean. Its claim to fame, other than being the second-oldest British overseas territory, they even still have a Governor General there today and about 4,000 people who live there, is St. Helena is the island where they exiled Napoleon. Most people think that Napoleon was exiled in Elba. Well, guess what, he was, but he escaped and he fought the battle of Waterloo against the British and he lost and the British were so pissed at him, they said OK, we’re going to now send you in exile to the one island you could never escape from. Welcome to St. Helena. And they were right, he got there in 1815 and he died there in 1821, but I must tell you, it is one beautiful island and one of the great hidden gems.

In regards to the Philadelphia Travel & Adventure Show this weekend, what can people look forward to hearing from you? What are the topics you’re going to touch on?

PG: I’m specifically going to talk about how to beat the airlines, hotels and cruise lines at their own game, playing by their rules, so you’re not a victim when you travel. You don’t get abused by either bad price or service, and how, at the end of the day, you go from being a tourist to a real traveler. And, if you understand my definition of tourist, it’s victim waiting to happen. Traveler is a tourist who’s been victimized and knows better. So that’s the goal, to have everyone walk out of there after I speak on Saturday as much better travelers.

Lastly, because we’re a media company, I’m wondering what you are watching on TV these days? What are your favorite shows?

PG: Well, I was addicted to the Colombian version of “Narcos” and now I am addicted to the Mexican version of “Narcos.” It’s one of the best produced shows I’ve ever seen. I love Stephen Colbert. I love John Oliver. I love Bill Maher. Of course, I love CBS This Morning.”

Are you a “Game of Thrones” fan?

PG: I am not, but I’ve obviously been over to Dubrovnik and seen all of the nutty tours that they do there. People go crazy for it. It’s not for me, but I appreciate it.

It’s helping the travel industry, I’d say, though.

PG: Any time you have a cult favorite show that’s shot on location, it automatically by definition helps the travel industry because people want to go see where it was filmed. Listen, I was in Medellin checking out all of the places Pablo Escobar hung out. And, you know what? It was a great tour. It’s fun.

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Come out and hear Peter Greenberg at the Travel & Adventure Show this weekend. He is speaking at 10:30 a.m. ET. on Saturday.

Learn more about Peter Greenberg at https://petergreenberg.com/.  You can also connect with him on social media:

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The 5th Annual Philadelphia Travel & Adventure Show, the Philadelphia metro market’s only consumer travel show, will be creating a weekend travel adventure of its own as it is the first stop travelers need to make on their next trip.

Anyone looking to find, plan and book their next vacation will find thousands of options to explore, destination experts to help them get there and tens of thousands of dollars in savings at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on March 9-10, 2019.

Learn more about the Travel & Adventure Show: https://travelshows.com/shows/philadelphia/

Xfinity customers can use the promo code SOCIAL to receive $5 off tickets.