Even without ever picking up a Frommer's guide or having heard of the series, you can easily gather from that initial title that Frommer's specializes in budget-conscious travel advice. Though over the years the boast of $5 a day would creep up to $20 to $45 to $90 a day (and the "on" in the title would sneakily morph into a "from": Frommer's Italy from $90 a Day), after which point the series faced financial realities and just started titling them "day by day," leaving the penny-pinching up to you (Frommer's France Day by Day). A magazine called Budget Travel (still in publication) would join the Frommer's brand and, as with most publishers, so would a website with pretty much all the information you could find in the guidebooks as well as a travel blog written by Arthur Frommer himself.
The decision to stop printing guides really comes as no surprise, regardless of whether you have any insider knowledge of the travel industry or the publishing industry. It's just the way publishing has been going for a long while now. Everybody can probably think of at least one example of some publication or other that you used to be able to hold in your hand and crack open the covers or flip the pages of that you just can't anymore, simply because they don't make 'em like they used to. I used to work in publishing. Encyclopaedia Britannica, the company I worked at longest--and that had existed a full 240 years before I even pushed a few editorial pencils and marked up a few manuscripts there--made a big announcement last year that it would no longer be printing encyclopedia sets. It was something I'd say most of the company's employees and former employees and anyone who'd ever worked for a publishing company for that matter could probably see coming--yet it made world headlines (both digital and print kind) and it was hard not to feel some loss and shock, even for those of us who set down our red editorial pencils and closed the cover of the company style manual years ago.
These days, as a part-time traveler/full-time travel dreamer/once-upon-a-time copy editor, I admit I get a lot of my info and advice online. A lot of it--but by no means all. I still buy and read actual travel guidebooks. And I still rely on guidebooks when I travel--much more so than any current or new technological device. In fact I probably rely on guidebooks exclusively for info and advice while I'm on the road--as I generally don't bring along my cell phone (it's a cheap one anyway with no apps whatsoever that I don't even know how to upload or install or use or whatever you call it) or laptop (it's too heavy and I'd be afraid to lose or damage it). Even when I've resorted to printing out articles or maps from online sources while preparing to go somewhere, note that I'm still relying on the good old-fashioned technology of print, of actual, physical pages that you hold in your hand, fold up in your pocket, spill food and drink on, scribble in the margins or on the backs of, tear up in fits of traveler's frustration or panic, use as toilet paper in emergency situations (uh-huh, you heard me...and fellow travelers, you know what I'm talking about), and about a thousand other actions.
As for which brand of guidebook I rely on, I'm not married to any particular brand. I usually flip through a few different brands on the same destination whenever I'm planning a trip before deciding if I want to buy one and which one. Sometimes it's size and weight that make the decision for me. Sometimes it's organizational style--things like good indexing, useful general info grouped together at the beginning or end of the book, color fold-out maps at the beginning or end with more detailed maps placed often throughout the book. Sometimes it's content--more advice and consideration than average for female travelers' concerns, more info on a lesser-known place or sight I'm planning on visiting, more history. Sometimes it's writing quality--does the text sound like it's been written by some stoned 20-year-old backpacker dude or a detail-obsessed architecture zealot or a cranky xenophobe or what? Budget almost always plays a big part in my choice of guidebook. If a guidebook lists no hostel options, it's out of my league. Sad fact. Hostels, B&Bs, budget motels, lunch cafes, sandwich shops, whereabouts of grocery stores, free days at museums, work-exchange options, local public transit stations, public restroom locations--these are the kind of deadbeat, er, I mean pennywise listings that speak to me. Conversely, the more a guidebook gives space to car rental and valet services, Zagat restaurant ratings, exclusive spa and salon getaways, high-end shopping recommendations, directions to high-rise rooftop nightclubs with swimming pools, and helicopter tour options, the more I know it's not meant for me. I don't think such guidebooks are even aware travelers like me exist much less share the world's roads with their kind of target tourists.
|A woman with suitcase. Edward Dimsdale - Road, East of England, Autumn, 1997|
Being budget-conscious has usually meant I lean towards brands such as Lonely Planet, Let's Go, and Rough Guide. These brands are also better suited towards younger and solo travelers in my opinion. Their recommendations have certainly saved me a lot of money, and I've probably been able to travel farther, to literally get more mileage out of my dollars, with these brands than I would have with the advice of brands like Fodor's. I admit the budget brands of travel guides have also misled to me to the occasional forget-rustic-this-is-just-downright-scuzzy accommodation or eating place. I once heard a genuinely intrepid and fearless young female backpacker make a similar complaint about the Footprint guides, which I've seen but have never used.
Where do Frommer's guides fit in with all this? Frommer's has always been decidedly budget-conscious but with a step in the direction of comfort, cleanliness, and class-consciousness. A fair bit closer to Fodor's than to the Lonely Planet variety, a forerunner to Rick Steves if anything. For enthusiastic, adventurous, and frugal travelers, yes, but specifically for those who long outgrew the "charm" of sleeping in a dorm with a bunch of strangers or washing their clothes in the sink or shower (and using the complimentary soap and shampoo samples) to save on hotel laundry charges.
I think it was for this reason, as well as the brand's reputation for unpretentious yet good-quality writing, that I chose a Frommer's guide when I purchased my very first travel guidebook. It was in 1994, the year I first went to Ireland. I was 21, a student, and working as a store girl in a local Polish bakery for something like $5.50 to $6 an hour. My previous occupations up until this time had been an usher and candy seller at a movie theater and a book checker-inner and sorter at a library. You can see why I might have been drawn in by the promise on the Frommer's cover: Ireland on $40 a Day. In truth, I think I managed on a third of that--mainly by eating a full breakfast in the morning, which tied me over for hours, then drinking a bottle of Coke or a small carton of milk really fast for "lunch" (drinking fast, in a few gulps, tricks you into feeling full), and for dinner eating the 6 scones I had gotten for a pound in the Moore Street Market in Dublin--one scone per day, sometimes two if I hadn't managed the full breakfast in the morning. I ate the scones dry--no butter, no jam, no nothing. The older they got, the more they crumbled--but just as long as they didn't turn green. I remember eating one in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin and one on Inishmore, the crumbs falling all over the little patch of grass I had staked out in some field where I'd knocked over my rented bike and climbed over a wall to hide from the road. (Even though no one knew me in all of Ireland and so no one cared, I remember feeling I had to eat on the sly, like it was a vulgar thing to do outside of any restaurant--where I felt too awkward as a young foreign girl sitting by myself--and like it was something to be ashamed of that I was basically just consuming scones, milk, and Coke on my vacation.)
|My first job was at a movie theater at age 17. I was always dreaming. New York Movie, 1939, Edward Hopper|
I cut corners in tons of ways that first trip outside my country. I wanted to supplement a reasonable but still somewhat costly for me tour I took for part of my trip. Taking a tour had been something of a compromise to easy my parents' worries about me being all alone in a foreign country for a couple weeks. I think choosing the Frommer's guide may have been a bit of a compromise as well--in the sense that while it suited my budget tastes, it was maybe meant for a more mature and secure traveler. By using the Frommer's guide at that very inexperienced stage in my life, I was being thrifty but also perhaps trying to make up for my inexperience with the security that came from following the decidedly sensible advice and middle-class recommendations of Frommer's well-respected and well-traveled writers. You might say that my Frommer's book served not only as a guide but also as a guard--likely steering me away from some of the edgier places and more reckless fun I might have gotten myself into had I taken a Lonely Planet guide along with me. (Or maybe it made no difference whatsoever. I did hitchhike during that first visit in Ireland after all. But just once. And just for maybe 5 miles. And I kept my hand on the passenger door handle the whole time and sprung out of the car and ran the second the driver stopped at my destination--just to be safe. I am a proper product of a Midwestern suburban upbringing, people.)
|I've only hitch-hiked twice in my life. Pic ource: Jeremy and Claire Weiss: http://www.day19.com/|
I know I still have my first Frommer's guide somewhere--packed away in boxes ever since I moved out of my Chicago apartment and essentially gave up a permanent address of my own for awhile to travel at length. It's a pretty tattered copy. Far more so than any of the guidebooks I've used since. It's well marked up with pages torn out and then shoved back in from those times I just wanted to carry one of the city maps around rather than the whole book. In many ways it's as much proof of my travel credentials as a stamped-up passport. Arthur Frommer would probably love the tattered sight of it--the wreck of it much more potent evidence of the good use I got out of it than a million personal hits on his website could ever be. It's like the difference between a battered suitcase and a brand new credit card. Both got you around the world. But while one's all about the money, the other's all about the journey...and has the scars to prove it. I'm hanging onto my old Frommer's and all my old guidebooks--and I'll keep buying them as long as someone's printing them. I'd no sooner be satisfied with digital-only reading than I would be with virtual traveling, with a paperless world than a roadless one.