You can barely get a cup of coffee for less than $5 these days, but in 1957, it was possible to explore Europe for about that per day — and Arthur Frommer told us how.
Since Frommer published "Europe on $5 a Day," he's been sharing his insider's tips from around the globe through his guidebooks, which at one point included more than 350 books across 14 different series. He was joined in the business 17 years ago by his daughter, Pauline, who started her own line under the trusted name, focusing on budget travel.
And then we almost lost their guidance forever. In 2012, Google bought the series, and for a while it looked as though they wouldn't be published anymore.
But in April, after some legal wrangling he can't discuss, Arthur and Pauline reacquired the trademark, and they have since launched a new series of travel books under the Frommer's banner. Called "EasyGuides," the volumes are slimmer than most on the shelves and to start focus on 30 U.S. cities — but international destinations are expected by the fall.
They chatted about their travel habits and what they have learned over the years on the phone from rainy New Orleans, partway through a multicity tour to promote the new guides.
Q: There's no such thing as $5 a day, but is it possible to travel truly cheaply anymore?
Arthur: Well, in 1965, we had to change the title of the book to $10 a day, and I thought the book would lose all its magic. We continued that "dollar" format for close to 30 years, and that last one was the $85 a day (the final updated edition for Europe was printed in 2004), but we finally had to drop it and simply made them about traveling in all income ranges. Obviously, Europe is expensive, but you can find deals.
Pauline: The cost of airfares has gone up so much, it's vital that you offset the cost by finding lower lodging rates. That's why we have started recommended going with villas, apartments, airbnb ( airbnb.com), options where you pay less and you have the opportunity to bring local foods home and have some of your meals there, and you can interact more with the locals. It represents a substantial savings.
Arthur: Yes, after years of writing about airbnb, I have to say it works out beautifully.
Q: Do Americans expect too much when they travel to other countries?
Pauline: I once read a survey about Americans, that their main concern, it's not cost, it's not terrorism — it's cleanliness. Their number one concern is that they're going to find a hair on their sheets or a dirty glass. Again, that's a reason we have come to really appreciate staying in locally owned homes.
Arthur: We have been amazed by the care and the love by our renters and our owners at the places we have been staying — the linens were freshly laundered, the nice touches. So clean.
Q: In 2007, you recommended that travelers avoid Myanmar. Are there places you don't visit?
Arthur: I don't recommend that other people boycott places, but there are some places where I won't go. I myself don't feel good about Dubai. Recently a young man was released from prison there ( an American held for nine months over a parody video posted online), and I'm probably going to get myself into trouble here, but I just can't enjoy myself in a country where that type of excess is permitted. People just blindly go to Dubai, a tourist paradise, and I won't. I think people should research where they are headed and be informed about the destination.
Q: What is one of the smartest travel tips you have learned over the years?
Pauline: Well, I got this from the Airlines Reporting Corporation: They did a study on the thousands of airline interactions, and it turns out that you should never book on a weekend, because you will always pay too much, and statistically, you pay the lowest amount when you book exactly six weeks in advance. That's for domestic travel, though, not international.
Q: What about cruising; that's a hot topic right now. How can you keep from getting sick, and keep your money?
Arthur: First of all, all of those people catching norovirus, that's really not the cruise ships' fault. It's become obvious that people are getting on the ship with the virus, and whenever you gather together 500 or more people, that's going to be a problem.
The only way you can avoid getting sick is to wash your hands at every conceivable opportunity.
Pauline: Use your knuckles and your elbows to touch public spaces, like elevator buttons. In terms of not spending too much, there was a study done on the casinos and the spas, people who frequent those spend 75 percent more on their cruises.
Arthur: The casinos are notorious for not paying off. Also, I've heard that the first night of the cruise, everybody wins, but after that, no. They all go and tell their friends the next day after that first night, and then everybody goes back, and everybody loses.
Pauline: The big thing is shore excursions. They're outrageously overpriced. Go with something off the ship, on the shore. There's a British one that's wonderful, cruisingexcursions.com, it's identical activities for a third less and with fewer people, or find a tour on land. Or even better, just get off the cruise and explore on your own.
Arthur: In the world of cruising, that's the single area of travel where I recommend people book up to more expensive types. Don't book the basic cheap ones, where they are attempting to turn themselves into amusement parks. I saw one recently where they were advertising bumper cars, for the amusement of the passengers, there would be bumper cars next door to a basketball court with a roller skating rink as well as a wind machine. I don't think I want to cruise with people who are attracted by bumper cars.
Pauline: This is where we so differ, because I have kids, and I know they would love to do bumper cars. And then I can sit with a book at the pool and relax.
Arthur: No, I want to go on a cruise and enjoy the quiet from a chaise lounge.
Q: Arthur, what would you tell your younger self about how to travel better?
Arthur: Live like a local. Deliberately try to avoid areas where tourists congregate. Avoid the chain hotels and stay in places that are operating like a family. Participate in an authentic experience. And prepare for the trip in advance — spend a few nights in the library, read about the lifestyles and the history. Or you can read a historical novel, to get context.
We so often arrive in a particular destination as a completely uninformed ignoramus, and we want someone to tell us what we are looking at. Travel should be about putting ourselves in a situation where we are challenged and shaken up, and we learn something.
Kyle Wagner: 303-954-1599, email@example.com or twitter.com/kylewagnerworld
FROMMER'S GUIDEBOOK RELAUNCH
Arthur Frommer and Pauline Frommer will discuss travel topics, including trends, top destinations for 2014 and budget vacations, at the Oriental Theater (4335 W. 44th Ave.) on Feb. 18 from 7-9 p.m. Admission is free. bookbardenver.com