Today we’re beginning a new series of interviews called “4 Cheapo Questions For”. We’ll be talking travel with notable travel writers, bloggers, and other travel industry personalities. The format is nice and simple: 4 questions, 1 photo, and maybe – just maybe – a bonus question if we’re feeling snappy.
First up to bat is Sean O’Neill, a Cheapo favorite and the blog editor at BudgetTravel.com.
1. Can you please tell our fellow Cheapos a little about yourself and the Budget Travel blog, “This Just In?”
I’m on staff at BudgetTravel.com, the website of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine. Since April 2007, one of my duties has been to keep our blog, This Just In, lively, topical, and reader-focused. We work out of Times Square in New York City. I’m flattered to be asked to participate in this Q&A with the supersmart Cheapos.
2. What’s the best budget travel advice you’ve ever received?
Ask a local! My mother taught me that. In fact, when I was visiting my mother last weekend, she once again demonstrated the value of following this advice.
Here’s what happened: We went from her home in suburban New Jersey to downtown Philadelphia to catch a play. Afterward, we wanted to grab a bite to eat. I had done my research on neighborhood restaurants, but she dismissed all of the recommendations from newspapers and guidebooks.
My mother then marched right into a grocery store that was on the same block as the theater, walked up to a woman standing in a check-out line, and asked for a tip for a great local seafood restaurant. The woman immediately suggested Seafood Unlimited, and another stranger standing in line behind her chimed in with her own views. Gratefully, we went straight to Seafood Unlimited, and we were ultimately glad we did. It was a terrific restaurant because of its broad menu of seafood, attentive wait staff, and affordable prices.
So my advice to you is: Listen to my mother! Locals know where the best stuff is. If you ask a local for a recommendation, he or she will naturally tend to point you to the best part of their community. It’ll be a point of pride!
Obviously, I’m not specifically suggesting that you seek out grocery stores for travel tips. That’s a somewhat extreme example of the principle in practice. Feel free instead to stop a local on the street corner or to tap the shoulder of a fellow patron at a coffee shop. But the principle of asking a local — and not an official paid employee of a hotel or a visitor’s bureau — is a tactic that anybody will find rewarding.
To be sure, even I — as a full-time travel editor — was intimidated to follow my mother into a grocery store and start asking random strangers for travel tips. It’s easy for us feel shy when we’re in an unfamiliar setting. No one wants to risk being rejected. (My mother is charming and harmless-looking, which are two advantages that not all of the rest of us share.) Yet, having said all that, I still encourage you to take the risk and ask a local for help. You won’t regret it.
3. What is the best European winter destination for budget travelers and why?
Pardon me if the following response comes off as obnoxious but I’d say that Cuba is the best European winter destination. (Editor’s reaction: Oh no he didn’t!)
Now, obviously, Cuba is no where near Europe. But it’s where European vacationers have been flocking in droves as a warm weather destination. Go to a beach bar in Havana and almost everyone there will be from Europe, with a few Canadians tossed in for good measure. Walk through a train station in Paris or Amsterdam or Rome and you’re bound to see a travel poster advertising the wonders of Cuba. And the global recession hasn’t slowed things down. USA Today reports that hotel reservations in Cuba in December have remained at record levels.
The good news for Americans is that it appears that the Obama administration may loosen up the restrictions for American citizens on travel to Cuba. It appears that within the next year or so, American budget-conscious travelers will be able to go for educational trips as part of tour groups, according to the L.A. Times.
The even better news is that a well-respected poll of the Cuban American community by Florida International University has found, for the first time, that a majority of that community supports a lifting of travel restrictions. In other words, it seems likely that Cuba may soon be within reach for Cheapos. And that’s where you’ll find many interesting Europeans in the winter.
4. When and where is your next trip, and how are you doing it on the cheap?
Thailand. I plan to economize by booking all the travel myself, opting for cheaper public ground transportation whenever possible, and skipping the expensive Westernized resorts in favor of locally owned properties.
* Bonus round! Other than Budget Travel magazine, what do you read on the road?
I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer to that. When I’m on the road, I try to be focused on where I’m at rather than stay connected to the U.S. through the media.
One exception: While in Europe, I’ll sometimes pick up the local travel publications on the newsstands for quick reads. The average European travels so much more than the typical American does, which means that European travel publications are forced to be more sophisticated than U.S. travel publications to satisfy the demands of their readers. (Compare the British edition of Conde Nast Traveller [with two L’s] to the American edition [with one L] and you’ll see what I mean — as but one example.]
Thanks so much, Sean, and best of luck to you and the rest of the staff at BudgetTravel.com!