Farewell Frugal Traveler

May 26, 2010 at 4:59 pm (Uncategorized)


For the past few years I’ve savored Matt Gross’ travel columns.  I printed out all his Italy posts and brought them in a folder when I left to study in Bologna.  Carrie and the girls might have their Manolos, but I have a penchant for cheap tickets and friends with couches around the world.  So to celebrate Gross’ last column for the New York Times, “Three Things I’ve Learned About Frugal Travel (And the Things I Didn’t Do)” here are some of my favorite excerpts over the years from the King Frugal Traveler himself.

[Frugal travel is] about realizing that your budget — whether high or low — does not determine the quality of your travel experience. To travel well, you need to pack an open mind, a lot of energy, infinite patience and a willingness to embrace the awkward and unfamiliar. No amount of money in the world can buy those things — because they come free.

[On Bologna] For the next four days, I indulged in all the perquisites of student life. I woke up late and ate pizza; I browsed the library at the Sala Borsa, the old stock exchange whose Roman foundations are visible through clear plastic floors; I marched uphill through 666 arches to the hilltop Sanctuario di San Luca; I took a day trip to nearby Modena to see how balsamic vinegar is made; and at night I met an ever-growing circle of students for aperitivi.

I walked into the chapel, where a choir was singing and parishioners were shushing tourists. Just to the left was the tomb of Vasco da Gama, who had sailed from Lisbon to India at the dawn of the 16th century. Above the tomb lay his statue, hands clasped, a garland of fresh flowers below his heavily bearded chin. He looked, I thought, like someone I’d want to have a drink with.

I often wished it were still the late 19th century, when gleaming new railroads and steamers carried one across the plains and oceans of a world that had, almost overnight, grown smaller… I did not have vast riches. I did not have a devoted French servant. And I did not have faith in airline timetables and the easy availability of hotel rooms and economy-class seats. What I did have were three months with no pressing engagements. So I jumped at the opportunity to write about the traveler’s holy grail: the round-the-world voyage…Then I turned to my favorite hobby: entering unusual airport codes on Kayak.com, whose stripped-down design and inclusion of lesser-known carriers (Uzbekistan Yullary, anyone?) never fail to impress me.


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