As it was titled in the early 1980s, Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $25 a Day was a rare example of a book that completely and demonstrably changed my life.
If I were to attempt ranking these 32 books in terms of greatest influence, Frommer’s guidebook surely would land in the Top Five.
These past few years I’ve checked now and again to see if Frommer is still with us, and not only is Frommer hale and hearty at 90, but he and daughter Pauline are still rocking the budget travel world. I had no idea.
- Arthur Frommer (Wikipedia)
- How Arthur Frommer Built a World Famous Travel Guidebook Brand with Pauline and Arthur Frommer, by Hannah Pinkerton (Under 30 Experiences; June 25, 2019)
- Arthur and Pauline on the Live Different podcast with Matt Wilson
As for why Frommer’s book impacted me so deeply, here’s an extended excerpt from my 1985 travel narrative series at Potable Curmudgeon.
In 1983, I was asked by the late Bob Youngblood, my former high school English teacher, to accompany him as a second chaperone on a student trip to Europe the following year. The price seemed reasonable at $1,600 for nine days, with airfare, hotels, bus and most meals included. I responded affirmatively.
A few months later, I was strolling past the travel section in the library when a title caught my eye: Europe on $25 a Day, by Arthur Frommer. As ever mathematically challenged, I shook my head with disbelief. Was it a misprint? Could it really be true? Skeptical, I checked out the book, took it home, poured a beer, and started reading. Eventually a pocket calculator was produced.
The earth fairly shook.
My fellow twenty-something males would have required the woman (or women) of their dreams to be running bikini-clad across a Florida beach during a sultry rainstorm to elicit anywhere near my response to Frommer’s book, in which clear and reasonable tips plainly illustrated how to do Europe right, and for far longer duration than a mere week.
My new writing hero insisted that travel could be educational, and offer a rare glimpse into different worlds. His advice on the nuts and bolts of budget travel technique was relentlessly informative, effortlessly evocative and consistently pragmatic.
- Always think like a European traveler, not an American, and like a local, not a visitor.
- Don’t expect things in a foreign country to be the same as home, and expect to pay more when they are.
- Think, plan, and accept the available bargains.
- Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant. Pack a salami, buy a loaf of cheap crusty bread, and picnic.
- Walk, ride the bus, rent a bike.
My brain was hard-wired for the humanities and history, and yet the comparative sums quickly became persuasive. At $25 per day, my $1,600 properly budgeted the Frommer way came out to 36 days, not nine. If I were to postpone the epic voyage for another year, leaving even more time to save money, the trip might last three months, not nine days.
For the next year and a half, my European travel obsession escalated, fed by a steady diet of travel books, magazine articles and PBS documentaries. Thomas Cook rail schedules were studied, and European history devoured with renewed zeal. Plans were jotted, expanded, revised, discarded, and brought back from the waste paper basket. I acquired a Pentax K-1000 camera and learned to use it, just barely.
By the spring of 1985, with departure nearing, a rough outline had settled into place …