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Arthur Frommer: People are as much a part of travel as sights

  • Published Sunday, April 3, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, April 3, 2011, at 12:44 a.m.

Several years after I began writing guidebooks, I discovered that I was dissatisfied with the traditional forms of vacation travel.

To take on the expense and fatigue of a long journey simply to look at a dead physical sight — the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower — no longer seemed worth it. Rather, I began to understand that the travel I enjoyed was associated with people and ideas, the travel that enabled you to experience other lifestyles and ideologies, new and different cultures, totally different ways of dealing with urban and social problems, provocative assumptions and opinions that contradict everything you normally believe. To look upon what was different from your own life, I concluded, was part of the adventure of life.

I wrote a book called "The New World of Travel," which is no longer in print or bookstores (but may be in your local library). But I recently have realized that three extremely simple tactics not requiring book-length treatment can bring you close to my ideal form of travel. Mind you, they do not themselves guarantee a life-enhancing trip, but they make a start on doing so:

1. Arrange to meet and converse with local residents at the destination. In advance of departure, pester your friends and business acquaintances for the names and phone numbers of English-speaking people they know at the destination.

My wife and I did just that in advance of a recent trip to Stockholm; armed with such names, we then phoned these residents and invited them to be our guests for dinner at a top Stockholm restaurant. And for three successive nights, we dined with three different Swedish couples who responded to our questions and regaled us with different opinions about Swedish politics and social programs.

Sensing that we would put such questions to them, one couple even arrived for dinner with a thick batch of papers carrying economic statistics for Sweden. Those encounters made all the difference in our enjoyment and understanding of Stockholm and Sweden.

2. Arrange to dine in the home of residents. A totally new touristic resource is the program of dinners cooked by local residents of Italy in their own kitchens and served in their dining rooms to visiting tourists. It's all described in HomeFood.com, and is so successful that it has generated a broader effort to offer such home-cooked and home-enjoyed meals in major cities all over the world.

3. Arrange to stay in homes or apartments in residential neighborhoods, rather than in business-district hotels, and thus enjoy the unique sensation of living like a local. Such very successful firms as Homeway.com, VRBO.com, Rentalo.com and EVRentals.com will rent apartments or homes to you, and for even short stays of a week.

Such companies as Airbnb.com or Crashpadders.com will arrange for you to live in the spare room of an occupied apartment or home. Other programs like USServas.org. Hospex.net, Couchsurfing.com and GlobalFreeloaders.com will enable you to enjoy free hospitality in apartments and homes around the world.

And home-exchange programs (HomeExchange.com or IntervacUSA.com) will enable you to live in someone's foreign apartment or home while their owners stay in your apartment or home during the time of your respective vacations.

These three tactics will not change your life. But they will greatly improve your next vacation, making it memorable and rewarding.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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