Today we’re happy to welcome Pauline Frommer to our “Four Cheapo Questions” interview series.
Pauline is a one-stop shop for budget travel insight and advice, offering tips for “spending less and seeing more” on Frommers.com and in her “Pauline Frommer” guidebook series. In addition to her travel writing and editing, Pauline hosts a nationally syndicated radio show, makes frequent appearances on national TV, and is a regular speaker at travel events, sometimes alongside her father, Arthur Frommer.
1. Tell us about your travels. How often do you travel? Where are you heading to next?
Well, I just spent the last week going over my travel receipts for my taxes and discovered that in 2009, I was on the road for part or all of every month except September. I guess that’s pretty standard for me. My next trip is to Guatemala!
2. That’s a pretty busy schedule! Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your guidebook series, and your radio show?
Yes, I’m always busy, but in a good way. I think it was Justice Sandra Day O’Conner who said that the key to happiness is finding work worth doing. Though I would never claim to have had as much of an impact as she has (for better and for worse, I might add), I do have work that I love, and that I hope helps would-be travelers.
I’m the founder and managing editor of the Pauline Frommer guidebooks. We now have 14 in the series, from “Pauline Frommer’s Paris” to “Pauline Frommer’s Costa Rica” to “Pauline Frommer’s Italy“. (You can see the complete list at www.frommers.com/pauline.) Most are now in their second editions; I wrote four of the guides and edited the other 10.
The Pauline Frommer guides have the tagline: Spend Less, See More. And that’s what they’re all about: doing budget travel but in a smart way. They’re for travelers who want to save loads of money when they travel, but do so without sacrificing comfort. So while we do list hostels, we’re more likely to give people ideas about alternative accommodations such as farm stays, private B&B’s (where you stay in a local’s apartment and pay for a private room what you’d usually pay at a hostel), condo rentals, etc. We have the largest focus and have done the most research on alternative accommodations than any of the mainstream travel publications. Of course, we also talk extensively about affordable eating options, transportation, sightseeing, etc.
3. We dig the focus on alternative accommodations. What else sets your guidebooks apart from the others out there?
We also differ from the other series in a section we feature called “The Other.” This will be either a chapter or a section of a chapter on experiences one can have when traveling that allow the visitor to experience the country as the locals do.
So we’ll tell you about a great roving party that takes place in NYC (sometimes on the subways; people bring boom boxes onto a train after midnight and everyone dances). In Hawaii, we’ll alert you to opportunities to help scientists with the yearly whale count or with the sea turtles that nest there (this usually will take just a day from your vacation). In Las Vegas, we tell you how you can audit a class for dealers for an hour or two (it’s fascinating to watch them learn how to take gamblers) or attend a magicians “karaoke” night at a local bar, where they try out their tricks on one another. We’ll also tell you about chefs in Paris who hold small cooking classes in their homes; and the cafes in the City of Light, where you can attend a philosophical evening, as locals gather to discuss life’s great questions (in English), while quaffing wine.
These are just a few examples, but it’s a section of these guidebooks that have really struck a chord among our users.
4. What’s the best budget travel advice you’ve ever received?
I’m not sure if I “received” this, but I guess the advice I’d give from my long years of traveling is to never be shy about saving money. Often getting a discount simply means asking for one, or seeing if changing your travel plans slightly will garner you a discount.
Saving money is all about doing your research (so you know what the possibilities are for savings), being pushy (in a polite way!) and being flexible.
Bonus round! What are you most willing to splurge on when exploring a new city?
I guess my go-to splurge is on admission charges. I once had a writer I was editing tell me he hadn’t gone to a very well-known historic house because he was so disgusted by the entrance charge. I immediately replaced him (we needed that write up!). But I also didn’t like his attitude, which I thought was penny-wise and pound foolish. While I’d never splurge on a hotel, I think seeing great works of art or architecture are definitely worth paying a bit extra for.
Final question: What’s the best meal you’ve had for under €15 and where was it?
Can one count many, many scoops of gelato as a meal? If so, I’d recommend La Palma in Rome. If not, I’d have to say the wonderful liver and onion tacos I had recently in Mexico City, which cost about $2 total for the complete meal. Sorry that’s not in Europe, but that’s what’s on my mind right now.
Oh, and I also had an AMAZING pizza at DiMatteo in Naples. For the pie, we paid about $8, if I’m remembering correctly, but that fed my whole family (2 adults, 2 kids).
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Pauline! We’ll be taking a special look at “The Other” sections when we check out your upcoming editions. We wish we had known about the wine-and-philosophy chat during our last trip to Paris. Alas, there’s always next year… Happy travels!