So many travel stories concentrate on exotic and extravagant destinations that have huge budgets for marketing and promotion. We all know they are off-limits to average people because of the excess and expense.
Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel columns, magazines and books are a longstanding exception. His guidebook “Europe on $5 a Day,” published in 1956, was the first title of almost 180 that bear his name. (“Europe on $95 a Day was published in 2007.)
The patriarch is 85 years old and still travels, although daughter Pauline Frommer takes the lead on much of the family’s business. We recently shared a meal in a noisy German restaurant, where I was delighted with her friendly, curious and candid approach to life.
She traverses the country as a keynote speaker for a series of travel/adventure shows during this time of year. Here is a sampling of the advice and observations that she shares.
“The U.S. traveler has a new best friend: the surging American dollar,” and the global strength of it through currency exchanges makes this the best time to travel abroad in 15 years.
“Four airlines control 85 percent of the routes, domestically,” so that is why a drop in fuel prices doesn’t result in a comparable, decisive drop in airfares.
Save an average of 19 percent when booking airfare on a Sunday (that’s an average savings of $300 on international flights and $110 for domestic).
The average hotel rate was $110 in 2013 and $137 in 2014. Watch out for added fees to guarantee a bed type or hold luggage. Contest the automatically posted “resort fee,” especially when it covers amenities not used.
Pauline considers the booking of a room through airbnb.com “a great way to meet locals” and says this rogue lodging option “has more beds than all hotel chains put together,” but she advises travelers to be mindful of Airbnb user reviews, especially with regard to safety and cleanliness.
Staying in a monastery or military hotel provides a “fascinating peek at culture,” and the womenwelcomewomen.org network offers “a very personal way to travel.” Participating in homeexchange.com might not be as risky as you think because “everybody seems to send over their friends, to make sure you’re not busting up the place,” and you can do this, too, when exchanging your home with strangers.
Pauline describes New York City lodging, at an average of $275 per night, as the most expensive in the hemisphere. Her exceptions include the simple but safe and clean House of the Redeemer (houseoftheredeemer.org, 212-289-0399) and Leo House (leohousenyc.com, 212-929-1010).
Book lodging through tingo.com, she notes, and you’ll get a refund if the hotel price drops.
“If you are going to Cancun, you are nuts to book the air and hotel separately,” the travel watchdog contends, because a travel package to this destination saves an average of $250. “The differences are amazing” for high-traffic tourist destinations.
She is not a fan of motor couch tours that “toodle you around” in groups of 40 because itineraries often are based upon where a bus can be parked.
“I’m a big fan of the free walking tours that you’ll find” at popular global destinations because they are more personal and quirkier, often led by people with a passion who work for just tips: professors, grad students, art restorers.
Use a travel agent before booking a cruise because “they know the brands and ship differences” within a fleet. Consider the cheaper inside cabins because they don’t rock as much. Don’t expect deep discounts on river cruises because of their steady popularity (35 new river cruise ships were introduced in 2014).
Last: Be wary of a cruiseline’s shore excursions – “nothing is as overpriced” – and opt to venture off on your own or with shipmates. “Take a taxi with your friends on the ship and have an adventure,” Pauline advises. “It’s not so hard to do.”
Every year, Budget Travel staffers choose their top 10 affordable destinations. Here is what makes the cut for 2015; more details are at budgettravel.com.
Northern Italy for “big-city culture and natural beauty.”
Bali for “dreamy beaches and romance.”
Nashville for “music and hip neighborhoods.”
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for “diving with beautiful coral and tropical fish.”
Istanbul for “high style and world-class shopping.”
Barcelona for “food and art.”
Cambodia for “exotic, spiritual sites like nowhere else.”
Denver for “kicking it ‘Amsterdam style.’ ”
Colombia for “adventure and colorful festivals.”
Egypt for “history and brag-worthy sights.”
What kind of traveler are you? Take the Budget Travel quiz here – budgettravel.com/poll/where-to-go-2015,51299/ – and get a chance to win an 11-day trip to Italy.