Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Frommers offer budget-travel tips

Writing team finds opportunities in tough time for travelers, travel industry


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Arthur and Pauline Frommer sign books following a presentation at The Community Library last week that drew a large crowd of budget travelers and the traveling hopeful. Photo by Roland Lane

Booking hotel rooms before departing on a trip is practically a given for many people. But what if the cost of a room makes a trip prohibitively expensive? Finding hotel rooms for less or securing alternate accommodations is becoming an increasingly popular option as higher transportation costs are taking bigger bites out of travelers' budgets.

Father-daughter travel writers Arthur and Pauline Frommer spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 200 people at The Community Library in Ketchum on Thursday, June 14, sharing ways to keep trips affordable as fees and planning hassles put the squeeze on leisure travel.

The Frommers' visit was the result of an effort by Community Library fans who signed on to Facebook to vote by the hundreds in the Wiley Library Team's third annual Library Display contest last fall. The winning library earned a visit by the Frommers and 50 new guidebooks.

"You are certainly the smallest town to ever win this award," Arthur Frommer said. "You won it hands down."

Frommer, who was an early advocate of budget travel, wrote "Europe on $5 a Day" in the 1950s. Since then, he has been searching out corners of the world—and uncovering affordable ways to get there.

Frommer said airline prices can ground travel plans, especially with what he called "pesky and onerous fees." But curtailing expenses elsewhere in one's itinerary can balance a travel budget and make the trip feasible.

Accommodations can devour a large chunk of a trip's budget before sights are even seen.

The Internet has given rise to a myriad of options that only a few years ago did not exist or were not available to a wide audience.

Couchsurfing used to be the realm of families, friends, the thriftiest or the riskiest. Staying in someone's home, occupied or not, is gaining converts, including Pauline Frommer, who uses sites like www.airbnb.com, www.homeaway.com, www.zonder.com and www.flipkey.com to find places to bunk down.

She said home stays take the traveler to neighborhoods that offer a street view and slice of life not experienced by visitors who stay in commercial zones.

"Is it a safe activity? Yes," she said.

That's because most sites charge a signup fee, which tends to weed out the shifty and the shady.

If hotels still are a preferred part of a trip, travel aggregators, which search multiple sites at once, can dig up rates that other online booking sites may not.

Pauline highlighted www.trivago.com, www.hipmunk.com, www.hotelscombined.com and www.tingo.com.

She also recommended checking into fees before checking in.

Resort fees, mini-bar restocking fees, luggage-holding fees and other unanticipated charges can sap money that otherwise might be spent on an extra cappuccino.

Better airfares, too, can be found with a little extra sleuthing.

"Everybody has weak dates and weak flights," Arthur Frommer said.

Being able to find those weak, and therefore potentially cheaper, spots used to be laborious, even impossible.

The Frommers pointed to www.hipmunk.com, www.skyscanner.com and www.vayama.com as sites to try.

The Frommers also use larger online booking tools like www.expedia.com and www.travelocity.com to search out fares and packaged deals.

While admitting a superlative love for Paris, Arthur Frommer said every destination holds something of interest. Finding that unique aspect means abiding by his single most important rule of travel.

"I find that virtually every country is fascinating if you prepare for it," he said.

Start at a library, he said, and learn about a destination before leaving.

"A tremendous difference results in the enjoyment of your trip," he said.

Ketchum resident Julia Sullivan attended the presentation to get ideas for booking cheaper travel and finding alternate places to stay. She said she'll use the websites she learned of to plan travel, and also came away inspired to make plans.

"I want to pack my bags and go," she said.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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