Is Arthur Frommer Daft? Or is Experiential Travel Idiotic?

This month the first issue of AFAR was launched. I haven’t read it, but in the quest for pr, editor-in-chief Susan West did a little interview with the Frommers, meaning Arthur and his daughter Pauline. The results were quite interesting.

Pauline, you see, was quite gracious, admiring the breadth of a magazine that covers “Experiential Travel”, you know, where you go and actually interact with the folks at your destination.

Here’s what Susan from AFAR says is covered in the premier issue:

Todd Pitock’s journey to find authentic Berber culture in Morocco’s Anti-Atlas mountains, Sam Fromartz’s apprenticeship with a Paris baker, and Lisa Katayama’s inside look at Tokyo’s “maid café” culture. I described how we make sure to include resources with each story to help readers take a similar kind of trip—outfitters in Morocco, cooking classes in Paris, English-language tours of Tokyo’s fantasy-play cafés.

Oddly, at the end of the interview, Arthur Frommer sorta had what my mother used to call a “conniption fit”. I’m guessing people don’t have those any more, or they’ve become so ingrained in political “argument” that folks don’t try diagnosing them. In any case, in a gruff and gravely tone, Arthur called AFAR the most absurd publication he’d ever heard of.

Why? Well, because the travel experiences being written about weren’t, as Aurthur put it, “available to everybody”.

Poppycock, Aurthur! Being held hostage in a big tin can full of ruffians from my own country floating in a foreign one is available to all. It’s called cruising. I’m not going subject myself to that just because it’s “available to all” (folks who have money, that is). I’d take experiential travel any day.

I’d add that I suspect there are quite a few people who like reading about travelers who’ve had extraordinary experiences. Sure, not everyone who goes to Paris could possibly apprentice with a one man bakery operation, but that doesn’t mean a person passionate about learning something that happens outside one’s comfort level and language skills should just give up trying. Besides, even those who can’t afford to get to Paris could afford to read about it.

I’m no outgoing hunk of aggressive yet charming travel writer, yet—on my own, mind you—I’ve cooked in a Sardinian restaurant, I’ve helped with the olive harvest in Tuscany, I’ve excavated a cave on a Greek island and I’ll be helping to “break down a pig” into (hopefully prize-winning) salami and other delectables soon in Italy. It’s not rocket science. It’s work.

It’s not like experiential travel isn’t available to everyone. You have to express an honest interest in what’s going on, then prove yourself worthy of the time of others. Then you ask. Here’s another thing moms tell you: the worse that can happen is that they say no.

Worse than the depiction of far-out travel experiences are normal ones embellished by travel writers on press trips as if the writer had connections that you couldn’t possibly have. I can smell press trip a mile away in some people’s writing, and it happens way too often. Here’s a made-up sample:

“I’ve persuaded lovely acquaintance Silvia Bartollini, the director general of the culinary branch of Piemonte tourism, to join me for a leisurely drive through vineyards bursting with the plump grapes Piemontese alchemist turn into heady Barolo wine, which we’ll sip at our first stop, a traditional osteria that has been serving staunch Piemontese farmers since the middle ages.”

Translation: Silvia, who has drawn the short straw that makes her our escort for the day, is smashed into a minivan crowded with a whole bunch of journalists just off their 12 hour flights from heaven knows where and smelling like it. We’re on our way to lunch where we’ll get a free meal at a place that charges 30 euro for a plate of pasta because the chef got a Michelin star last year. There are some kinda grape vines zipping by our windows but I couldn’t write down the name because the road is rough and the driver crazy. I’ll Google it later.

Now that experience isn’t available to everyone either. It just takes advantage of a thing good writers do much better than non-writers: Lie on paper.

Anyway, I hope you’re interested in experiencing things on your travel. Otherwise, hey, Arthur can likely advise you on where to go.

Listen to the Susan, Pauline, and Arthur: interview with Susan and the Frommers’ discussion (Click on “The Travel Show – August 23, 2009 – Hour 2”, it’s the first 15 minutes.


Is Arthur Frommer Daft? Or is Experiential Travel Idiotic? originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Aug 29, 2009 © .

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