12 April 2012

Five Wrong Turns A Day -- Only Five?

Today we uncovered a scandal that has gone unreported – since 1988! 

In a thrift store copy of Frommer's Hawaii on $50 A Day, published in 1988, on page 7, is an invitation to join Frommer's $25-a-Day Travel Club – Save Money on All Your Travels. OK as far as it goes.

Until we turn to the back of the book where an advert reads "NOW, SAVE MONEY ON ALL YOUR TRAVELS! Join Arthur Frommer's $35-A-Day Travel Club."

In just 400 pages the cost of this Club inflated by 40%. "We don't have to tell you that inflation has hit Hawaii as it has everywhere else," the authors write. Yes, but 40%?

In 1987 the national inflation rate was 4.7% – high, but nothing like the inflating cost of the $25 to $35 dollar-a-day club.

I bring this up because I've been laughing out loud reading Doug Mack's new book Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day.

Mack's mother Patricia took a trip to Europe fifty years ago with the first Frommer's Guide – the most famous one, Europe On Five Dollars A Day. She kept a journal, sent back postcards, and her son one day came across the keepsakes and another copy of the Five Dollars A Day book. Son Doug decided to retrace his mother's steps following the same guide she once used.

No Google, no Trip Advisor – only his own naivete and that book. Adventure followed, some of it funny, other parts enlightening, boring, frustrating.

I once did what Doug's mother did – traveled Europe in the 1960s using Frommer as my guide. I've been to Europe many times since. I wouldn't use such a guide now, even if I could.

Doug Mack wanted to be in the same position his mother was all those years ago – first trip to the Continent, knowing very little about what would be there. Using the same book, now a half century out of date.

So, how did it go, and what did he discover? Lots, as it turns out. 

Take packing. Frommer recommended packing light, utilizing a lot of drip-dry Dacron. Frommer called for a tweed sports jacket and two neckties, among other things. At the time this was a startling improvement over, say the Fielding guides. Temple Fielding himself traveled with two large suitcases containing at least "35 handkerchiefs, ten shirts, ten ties, three pairs of silk pajamas," plus a briefcase, and a raffia basket holding "maraschino cherries, vermouth, a bottle of Angostura bitters, a portable Philips three-speed record-player, five records, and... a large nickel thermos with a wide mouth." Plus a yodeling alarm clock.

In his own packing, Mack writes, "just one pair of shoes but five shirts... zero suits, zero handkerchiefs." 

"I noticed my fellow Americans doing the same – the stereotypically informal, boorish Americans had given way to circumspect, well-attired ones. Good job, team. For example, I wore only black socks, because I had heard that white ones were the classic sign of the American tourist."

"Pierre: Ha! Look at that tourist with his camera and guide-book!

"Jacques: Wait, but observe his socks! They are ... black! 

"Pierre: Zut alors! You are correct! He is one of us! What a fool I am! Let us go speak to him in English and invite him to lunch!"

In Florence, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Venice, Rome and Madrid, Mack began to realize that the beaten track is beaten for a good reason – that's where a lot of the good stuff is. Still, he notes, in Munich "amid jovial tourist crowds and pork-festooned pork... the authentic, historic character is rather overwhelmed by all the people who have come to marvel at the authentic, historical character."

Mack learned that "the most important travel app is the off button" and that "basic common sense and open-mindedness and willingness to go with the flow and trust the Goddess Serendipity" is the best way to travel, whether on or off the beaten track.

"Arthur Frommer, after all, was the one who said to the masses, 'You can do this.' You don't need a lot of instruction, really. Just get out there and make it up as you go along, guided not by rules or numbers but by an insatiable curiosity. No matter where you go or what your budget, you're bound to meet interesting people, learn about other cultures, see some cool things (and some not-so-cool things – but that's part of the experience) and come back alive and invigorated and slightly-but-in-a-good-way confused."

Staying on that tourist trail, Mack decided, can be an ethical decision. "These places... can handle the crowds... So please don't go beating new paths," he writes. "An ecotourist lodge in the middle of an otherwise-untouched beach or jungle may do its best to educate visitors about the place and be light on the land, but many of these places would be better off left alone."


Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day: One Man, Eight Countries, One Vintage Travel Guide by Doug Mack. Penguin paperback $15. ISBN 9780399537325.

I wasn't able to find a copy for sale of the original Frommer's, but I did find:

Europe on Twenty Five Dollars a Day by George McDonald and Arthur Frommer.Simon & Schuster 1984 paperback in Good condition. Price: $1.49.

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