When a Frommer Talks About Travel, We Listen

Pauline Frommer was born to travel. It’s literally in her blood. Her father Arthur Frommer started writing travel guidebooks as a young corporal in the U.S. Army in 1957. As Executive Editor of Frommer’s Travel Guides, Publisher of Frommers.com and as a syndicated radio personality and columnist, Pauline has demonstrated that she shares the family affinity and passion for sharing the world of travel with others.

Pauline will be speaking at the 4th Annual Philadelphia Travel & Adventure Show at the Convention Center this weekend.

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

She sat down with us to talk about what she learned from her father, her passion for travel, top destinations for 2018, sticking to a budget for vacations, traveling with kids or as a solo woman, the value of souvenirs, her thoughts on no-frills airlines, cruises and more.

You started traveling at a young age. What did you learn from your father about travel?

Pauline Frommer: I learned to keep my eyes open and ask a lot of questions and really savor the experiences. I think my father was not only a brilliant writer, but he’s really someone who takes great enjoyment and intellectual enjoyment in travel. When you read his work, you feel that. You feel like you are traveling with a friend. That comes from both his innate understanding of how incredibly lucky he was to get to travel, because he was the son of not wealthy immigrants. His father worked in a factory for many years. His sister was the first in their family to go to college. When he was drafted into the army during the Korean war and then as luck would have it, was sent to Europe instead, he thought he was the luckiest guy in the world and he got to see all of these great places and he never took that for granted.

I think he passed that along to me, that you have to savor these experiences and you also have to, if you’re going to write about them, really understand what you are seeing in a rich way. That means, before a trip, I take his habit. I read a lot of books on the place I’m going. I’ll read novels set in the destination. I’ll read books of history and art. I’ll read about the cuisine. I’ll watch movies set in the destination and then when I get there, it’s this much richer experience.

What do you love most about traveling?

PF: I love that I learn something every time I travel. I learn about the world. I learn about myself. There have been times when I have been very nervous to go to certain destinations. I remember I was in China during the Olympics pretty much on my own and I was very nervous about the deep language gap that would exist. It took me 45 minutes to get out of the hotel room, but when I finally did, there was a feeling of great accomplishment and learning, and that’s what I love about travel.

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

PF: It’s true that in this country, Americans don’t travel as much as our compatriots in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan and other first world countries. I think it’s because we are so scared of taking time off from work, that our jobs may not be there when we get back, and unfortunately, every once in awhile that does happen. There’s really a cultural taboo against taking the vacation time, even though there’s been all kinds of scientific studies showing that people who take time off and actually recharge do better at work and are more efficient.

In terms of having to be wealthy to travel, it’s a golden age for cheapskates who want to travel. If you really, really want to do it for very little money, you can do what my daughter is doing right now. She’s on a gap year and she’s doing something called workaway.com. She’s in Japan and for six hours a day, six days a week, she works in return for room and board. She had to get herself there. She has a small stipend and she’s going to have three different jobs in Japan. So you can do things like that. You can do Globalfreeloaders.com or couchsurfing.com which are websites that allow you to stay in people’s homes for free. You can take free tours in every major city in the world either through greeter organizations which you’ll find at globalgreeter.info or through tours4tips.com.

Because of the internet and the sharing economy, there may not have been a cheaper time to travel. Even international airfares are way, way down. If you want to travel, you can do it on a dime. You can do it on very little money. You just have to have the desire. Even if you want to have more mainstream travel, there’s all kinds of ways to save money when you travel; going in the offseason or looking at the right websites to find deals. My whole presentation at the Philadelphia Travel & Adventure Show is about this.

How do you stick to a budget for vacations?

PF: You set the budget and you stick to it. You look at how much you can spend. Figure out what the big costs are going to be and then cut out other costs. If you are flying somewhere, often that will be the biggest cost. So you figure out what that price is going to be and then you tailor the rest of the vacation around it. Nowadays, you can do an Airbnb and stay in a person’s house and spend much less than you would for a hotel room. You can take free walking tours which are usually pretty darn good because the guides only get paid if people like them and tip them. So only the strong survive, only the really good guides survive giving these types of tours. There are so many ways to save money on travel. There are also websites that let you look at your destination and put in how much money you want to spend on airfare and they will shoot up the destinations that you can afford. There are so many tools out there to allow people to afford vacations.

What are your top tips for traveling with kids? Biggest lessons learned?

PF: With kids over the age of seven or eight, you need to make sure that they have a real stake in the vacation, otherwise they are going to be real pains. Let them help you with the planning a bit. Maybe give them a full day to plan and that way they have skin in the game. They have a reason to be patient when it’s your day and you’re doing what you want to do because they know their day is coming up. I also give my kids a set set amount of money to spend on the course of the vacation and inevitably, they get so miserly that it’s left to the last day because they don’t want to spend it all in advance. I think it’s a great way to teach them how to budget. Figure out what you want to give them, and give it to them on the first day of the trip or right before the trip. You will be amazed to see how they become decision makers. It’s a great thing to do.

Are you more of a “take-lots-of-photos” or “enjoy-the-moment” kind of person?

PF: Well, because I travel for work so much, I think I’d rather be an enjoy-the-moment person, but I often have to illustrate my columns and articles with photos so I am constantly snapping photos nowadays. But, I think it’s sometimes better just to enjoy.

I read that you are big fan of the less-is-more philosophy when it comes to packing. In the past two years, I’ve adopted the carry-on only for trips lasting a week or less and it’s really been a game changer. What are some things people pack that they really don’t need?

PF: I don’t know if it’s items that they pack. I think it’s just that they overpack clothing. I think they assume that they will wear a different outfit every day or they see something in their closets and think “Oh, I really should bring that!” The best way to avoid that type of problem is to make a list and stick to it. In my family, we only own carry-on bags. That’s all we have. So for every vacation, whether it’s one, two or three weeks, that’s all we bring, so we have to be really strategic about what we carry with us. But, it’s great. Last year, I went to New Zealand with my daughters for spring break and we were on the go for two weeks, but it really wasn’t too much of a pain in the butt because we only had three carry-on bags with us. So even though we were moving every couple of days, it didn’t feel that terrible. You can become a slave to your luggage if you have too much of it.

You can also save money by only bringing carry-ons because of the baggage fees. 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?

PF: I think a lot of them are a shell game. The average savings for going on these no-frills airlines, and this is more for domestic than international, is $25 and on some of them, you can’t even bring a carry-on bag into the cabin. So what does it cost to check a bag? On the major carriers, it’s $25. Nowadays, it’s gotten so darn tricky because of these extra fees, you really have to sit down and look at what the extra fees are going to be before you buy the ticket because they may end up being more than a competitor would have been with those fees included. Not always. Not usually internationally, or to the Caribbean, but certainly domestically.

There are a couple of websites now that are listing the fees on the first page. I just got a notice that Hipmunk is adding this, so they apparently will have a feature that will tell you how many miles you will accrue which is a first-time thing. I don’t quite know how they do that because I know how many miles you accrue in many programs depends on what level of loyalty you have, so I have a call in to figure out how they are doing this. Cheap Flights shows you the fees.  So it’s a good thing to know what the fees are before you book.

Also as a parent, you can’t pick your seat, which is a really bad thing. That’s often a big uptick in fees, too. I actually think that should be against the law, because think about it, if that plane were to crash, how could a parent leave the cabin without knowing if their kid was getting out, too. I think it’s actually a safety issue.

Travel insurance, do you really need it?

PF: You need it on the big ticket items. You need it for a cruise, you need it on an expensive tour, you definitely need it if you are renting a house because you have to put down a hefty deposit and those are usually really hard to get back. You need it for safari and you need it if you’re going anywhere really exotic where you may need to be airlifted out. That can cost tens of thousands of dollars. You don’t need it for a simple airfare and hotel stay.

Cruise, yay or nay?

PF: Personally, no. They’re not my thing. I’m not really into pre-fab environments and crowds. I don’t like theme parks either to be honest. My kids love cruises and they love theme parks, too. I think that’s the tragedy of being a parent.

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

PF: I don’t think anyone actually wants reminders of your trip. So I never, ever buy souvenirs for friends and family. I just figure they don’t want it. The exception would be if there was something really cool in a destination, like I was in Taiwan and there were some pretty crazy cool things there like dolls that turn into umbrellas. I got a bunch of those for birthday gifts for my kids’ friends and also for my kids.  

I have souvenirs all over my house, but I tend to invest in things that I think are really beautiful. We have a fireplace that looks incredibly regal because I bought these two gorgeous sculptures of Garuda, who’s a winged Hindu God, in Bali. The sculptures each cost maybe 45 dollars apiece in Bali, but they transformed my fireplace. Makes it looks like a whole different thing. I have some gorgeous things that were painted on tin in Mexico. Those probably cost me 20 dollars apiece and I have them on my walls and they remind me of my travels and bring me to another place.

I think they’re very happy-making for me, but I truly believe that nobody else is going to feel that way about them because they weren’t in the place. It doesn’t remind them of anything. It’s just a gift that you randomly gave them. I hope that wasn’t insulting, but I just think souvenirs should be for the person who is traveling.

What are your top travel picks for 2018?

PF: We have a list of 18 Best Places to Go at Frommers.com. On the list is New Orleans, because it’s turning 300 this year so it’s going to be an especially party-rich time to go there.

We also have the country of Colombia because Colombia for so many years was too dangerous to go to and that has changed. The peace agreement has been signed with the revolutionaries or the rebels. We think Colombia will probably become changed by tourism in a couple of years. But right now, when you go there, you feel like like you’re in a destination that’s really untouched and really authentic. It has everything that you want to get from South America all in one country. It has the Amazon jungle. It has the Andes mountains. And these gorgeous colonial cities. It has ten percent of the flora and fauna that are on the planet. It has these wonderful coffee plantations where you go and you have a luxurious stay up in the mountains. Because it’s at the northern tip of South America, it’s the closest country in South America to us, so it’s also the cheapest to get there. You can get there from Miami for $400 and change, and it’s pretty inexpensive on the ground. So, we are saying go to Columbia now before it gets spoiled.

We are also recommending Jordan for this year because Jordan last year put together—they’ve been working on it for years—but they debuted this walking trail that goes 400 kilometers across Jordan and it hits on all of the top sites; Petra from the “Indiana Jones” movies, Wadi Rum which is this incredible desert that you saw on “The Martian” pretending to be Mars, the Dead Sea, a lot of ancient ruins. You don’t have to walk the whole thing, but the nice thing about it is that if you do it, the government and hand-selected tour operators will help you make your stay doable because some of the places along this trail, there are no hotels, so you will be staying in Bedouin Camps, you’ll be staying in people’s homes and in hotels. It’s this incredible adventure that you can have that didn’t really exist until last year. I think it’d be a great thing to do with families as well.

Since it’s Women’s History Month, what advice do you have for women who love to travel, either with other women friends, as a single parent or alone?

PF: I host a radio show, so I spend a lot of time interviewing travel writers and it’s so interesting. I think there’s such a difference between the men and the women. The men tend to say I went out there, I saw, I conquered, I made friends everywhere I went, and just go out and do it. And the women tell me stories. I talked to this one woman who walked the length of the globe. She walked from Mongolia to the tip of Australia. In Mongolia, she had to hide in drainage ditches at night because people felt a woman traveling alone was a prostitute.

So I want to say, go out there, you can see it and do it, but take some precautions. There’s a wonderful website called Journeywoman.com run by a woman named Evelyn Hannon and her piece of advice that I think is so smart, is that if you are going somewhere and you want to feel safer, go into a local store, a place where tourists aren’t going to go like a grocery store or a drug store, and buy something small. You buy that small thing so you can get the bag with the logo of that store on it. Then, carry that bag everywhere and people will assume that you are local, not a visitor. Even if you look totally different, they will assume you’re local and people tend to be more protective of locals, and they don’t target them as much for pickpocketing or worse. That’s my advice stolen from Evelyn.

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?

PF: I’ll talk about the top places to go, some of the ones we’ve discussed and others. I’ll talk about how the trends in travel will shape your travel. For example, with what’s going on politically and the fact that the dollar is weakening, we’ve seen a real significant drop in tourists coming to the United States. That’s opening up opportunities for us. It’s one of the reasons that international airfares are so low because we have fewer people coming in from elsewhere and those seats need to be filled. We are also seeing significant drops in hotel pricing in cities that got a lot of foreign travelers, like New York City and the national parks, the American West and places like that. So I will talk about trends and then I go through a lot of sneaky ways to save money in all price ranges, whether you’re a backpacker or a luxury-seeking traveler.

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

PF: I watch “Rachel Maddow” most nights. I’ve watched “Survivor” since the first season. I really love “Survivor.” What else do I watch regularly? I watch Bill Maher and the CBS Evening News most nights. I like “Jeopardy” when I happen to catch it. I like “The Crown” on Netflix. That was very good.

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Come out and hear Pauline Frommer at the Travel & Adventure show this weekend.

You can also connect with her on social media:

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The 4th 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 10–11, 2018.

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

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