Pauline Frommer is co-president of Frommer Media, alongside her legendary father, guidebook pioneer Arthur Frommer; this year is the 60th anniversary of his first book. The Frommer series now has more than 100 titles; Pauline has written eight of them.
She’s lost count of the number of miles she logs each year, but she is no slavish loyalist to a particular airline. Instead, Frommer follows the best deal.
“My favorite carrier, at least in the U.S., though is JetBlue,” she says. “I like the legroom, and the staff seem to have a better sense of humor than many other carriers.”
Here are her travel secrets:
Never miss a local story.
▪ A simple safety tip to help you blend in almost anywhere. Evelyn Hannon of the website Journeywoman gave me one of the best pieces of practical advice I’ve ever heard. Because female travelers are more likely to be harassed in some countries if they’re seen to be outsiders, the first thing she does when she gets to a new destination is shop for something small in a very local grocery store or pharmacy. And then she carries the bag that her purchases came in around with her, because she knows that, no matter how different she looks from others in the place, the bag will mark her as a local-and possibly provide some protection.
▪ The one thing you didn’t know you needed for a family trip. Never travel without a headphone splitter — that’s my mom tip. It allows two or three people to plug in their headphones and watch the same movie at once. It’s been a lifesaver. My kids and I can gather round one laptop or iPad, then discuss the movie afterward. It makes them play nice, and it also lets you keep another iPad fully charged instead of running down the battery on several devices.
▪ If you’re planning travel with your family, you’re probably looking at the wrong places. I think you need to go to countries that allow kids to do things that would be illegal here. In Belize, for example, my 10-year old was rappelling off the side of cliffs, and we swam into these caves where there was a cathedral-like room with ancient Mayan artifacts calcified to the floor, including bones from human sacrifices. In New Zealand, my kids bungee-jumped and rolled around in the big ZORB balls. I don’t want them always to be comfortable. To me, on a vacation, it’s about being brave and challenging themselves.
▪ The single feature that transforms any hotel room. I always book a room with a balcony, whether at an Airbnb or a hotel room. You can get out of the confines of your room and see the life around you but still have the privacy to be out there in your robe, drinking a cup of coffee. I remember being in a room like that in Paris, right off the Boulevard St. Germain in one of those French buildings set around a courtyard. I would sit there and watch the neighbors, seeing how they really lived their lives: hanging up laundry, kids playing on push toys. I felt as if I saw a Paris the tourist never sees.
▪ Always, always road-test a traveling companion before a big trip. First do a two-day, short trip with anyone you haven’t traveled with. On my first trip at college-I was on a research trip for my dad, as I’m a Frommer-I went for three months with my friend Darren. By the end of the trip, we despised each other; I don’t know if I’ve ever hated anyone more. It was because we didn’t travel in the same way: He always wanted to interact while I need time to burrow into a book or be alone with my thoughts. You both need to know who you are when you choose a traveling companion.
▪ If you’re going to the Grand Canyon, don’t make the same mistake everyone else does. Too many people just drive up to it, say, “Ooh, there it is,” and leave. But you have to go under the rim-maybe just 400 feet, or a 30-minute hike-and that will change things immensely and add to your understanding. Go under the rim, and suddenly the landscape is totally transformed. At sundown or sunup, it’s a different canyon. And you have to force yourself to stand still and let it work on you. The same is true in a museum: If you try and flit around there and see too many things, you get exhausted.
▪ Favorite cities for picking up the perfect souvenir. Taipei, in Taiwan, has the most amazing, bling-bling stocking stuffers; I love Shilin Night Market . When my daughters were younger, I brought home two umbrellas-well, they were dolls that transformed into umbrellas. And they were their favorite thing ever, for such a long time. For me, I bought a cell phone case that was half-rhinestones, half-fur, which was so wacky, but it made me happy. The other place is Paris, especially the Rue d’Alésia, which is where a lot of the outlet stores are for the Parisian designers, like Sonia Rykiel, Azzedine Alaia. It’s where I got my first suit as a teenager, and I constantly go back.
▪ The one U.S. destination that should be better known. I went to Mackinac Island in Michigan off-season, and it blew my mind. So many places have history to them, but there’s always going to be signs of modernity around: traffic lights, wires for phones, and electricity. But not on Mackinac. It never allowed cars in its entire history, because the lanes are too small, so there are no traffic lights; everyone gets around by bike or horse and carriage. Don’t stay at the Grand Hotel , though, because you have to take their dining plan; I stayed at the Chippewa Hotel instead, with a lovely balcony overlooking the lake.