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Savvy Traveler: Pauline Frommer


I chatted with Pauline Frommer at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla recently and did my best to jot down the names of the Web sites and apps she recommends, but it wasn’t easy. The woman is a whiz — plus I was distracted by my own thoughts.

For a significant part of my travel writing career I wrote guidebooks in the series founded by her famous father, specifically Frommer’s Australia, Frommer’s San Diego, and Frommer’s New Zealand on $50 a Day. It wasn’t an easy job. Arthur’s standards required exhaustive research and very careful fact-checking, with the end result delivered to travelers in a fun-to-read format.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” I kept thinking. Like her father, Pauline is quick, bright, and sharp. Today she shares the leadership of the Frommer brand (guidebooks, a nationally syndicated travel column, weekly radio show, and Frommers.com) with the 84-year-old icon.

The family business began in 1957, when Arthur wrote the first Frommer guide — Europe on 5 Dollars a Day. Over the next 20 years, the series grew until it covered the globe, and in 1977 it was licensed to publisher Simon & Schuster. It changed hands several times, until last year when father and daughter acquired the content of all the titles.

“The patriarch is back at the helm,” Pauline assured me, “and proudly hiring the very best travel journalists.” She went on to say that user-generated sites, like Yelp and TripAdvisor, are losing favor with travelers because they are riddled with “disguised marketing” from hotels and others travel businesses. “We’re publishing guidebooks written by real journalists.”

The firm also embraces electronic media. Pauline is the editor of Frommers.com, which gets 17 million visitors a month, and she rattled off a list of the apps and Web sites that she uses and recommends to followers.

These include:
Hoteltonight.com — an app that enabled her to get a good room in San Diego for $65.
Tingo.com — a hotel booking site that’s straightforward and easy to navigate.
ContextTravel.com — scholar-led walking tours of the world’s cultural capitals
ThroughEternity.com — tours offered by English-speaking archaeologists, historians, and art historians in Italian cities.
PatientsBeyondBorders.com — a guide to international facilities for medical procedures.
Momondo.com, Hipmunk.com, and DoHop.com — good sites for researching airfares.
Wimdu.com, Roomorama.com — accommodation booking sites, including apartments and holiday homes.
AirBnB.com — a large and reliable source for places to stay in 34,000 cities in 192 countries.
CruisingExcursions.com — a private company offering cruise ship excursion. “Excursions sold by cruise ships are a rip off. Passengers in Alaska pay $40 to be taken to the Mendenhall Glacier, when then could easily get there on a public bus for $4.50.”

Other tips from this pro? Consider skipping the most popular places and, instead, travel to emerging destinations that offer better value and a more authentic experience. Pauline especially likes Taiwan, which she calls a “kinder, gentler China…a country laced with 3,000 miles of bike paths.”

Additional regions to consider include Central America, especially Belize, Panama, and Guatemala, which are growing in popularity as airfares to Europe continue to rise. Having said that, Poland is “very affordable” and “picking up steam, developing luxury hotels.”

Pauline was in La Jolla to speak at Warwick’s Books. After our interview, I took a quick dinner break at La Valencia’s Café La Rue and then attended her talk.

The standing-room-only audience hung on her every word and — at her suggestion — used smart phone cameras to capture pages from her PowerPoint presentation.

I’m sure the bookstore staff was glad to hear Pauline suggest that travelers read historical novels set in the places they plan to visit. I’ve long advocated this strategy and always consult with the knowledgeable Warwick’s staff before making my picks. (Nelson’s DeMille’s Up Country enhanced my Vietnam experience. M. M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions — first published in 1978 — remains a top notch India read. Under the Tuscan Sun changed the way a whole generation of women think about Italy.)

Reading a novel set in the country you’re going to visit is helpful for planning the trip — but Pauline and I are in agreement that nothing is as important as pouring over a good guidebook. Web sites and apps are useful, but guides written by “the very best travel journalists” are invaluable.   ELIZABETH HANSEN



Pauline Frommer: Photo by Vincent Knakal     San Blas Beach, Panama: Photo courtesy of ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS     Chimei, Penghu, Taiwan: Photo courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau     Frommers book covers: Photos courtesy of FrommerMedia LLC

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