Frommer Book Changed U.S. Travel Habits In 1957, Arthur Frommer's Europe on 5 Dollars a Day became an immediate best-seller and changed the way Americans viewed international travel.

Frommer Book Changed U.S. Travel Habits

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Back now with DAY TO DAY.

(Soundbite of Northwest Airlines ad)

COHEN: That's the vintage ad Northwest Airlines promising the greatest in comfort and luxury to Americans traveling overseas. In the 1950s, Europe was considered a destination for only the privileged and the brave.

Mr. ARTHUR FROMMER (Travel Writer): You were told that Europe was a war-torn continent where it wasn't safe to stay at anything other than a first-class or a deluxe hotel, and you had to eat in a three-star restaurant. And most people undertook the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime crossing. Most Americans never dreamed that they themselves could do it.

COHEN: That's Arthur Frommer. You may recognize the name. He's the guy behind the popular Frommer's travel Guides. Fifty years ago this month, Arthur Frommer published a book that revolutionized overseas travel and gave millions of Americans access to the foreign and unfamiliar. It was called "Europe on 5 Dollars a Day."

The idea started when Frommer was a GI stationed in Germany in the early 1950s. He'd go to Paris or Amsterdam or London any chance he could.

Mr. FROMMER: Every three-day pass, every leave, no matter how little money I had, I got on the train or I cadged a free Air Force flight and I went somewhere and I just discovered that this was such a marvelous opportunity so easily available to many people and yet very badly misunderstood by most Americans, especially by my fellow GIs. I would return to the barracks from my weekend trips to find that my fellow GIs had stayed at home all that time. They had not ventured outside the barracks. They were scared to travel.

And I sat down, and without even thinking about it - never intending to become a travel writer - I wrote a little book initially called "The GI's Guide to Traveling in Europe." But it later dawned on me that maybe I should do the same thing for civilians, and I civilianized the book. I called it "Europe on 5 Dollars a Day."

COHEN: You wrote some basic rules of the game for traveling in Europe. Can you describe those?

Mr. FROMMER: Well, basically I told people that you had to stay in lodgings that were in buildings that had never been intended as hotels, that had started out as residences whose owners had then fallen on hard times and converted them into little pensiones or bed-and-breakfast houses or canal-house hotels. I said you took breakfast in the morning in the very kitchen of the family that both lived in and operated the little inn. And when the time came that you needed more milk for your coffee or some butter for your croissants, you stood up and went to the refrigerator and took this out. You lived like a European. You lived in a family setting.

COHEN: You had to guide Americans a bit in terms of what they could expect and should expect in terms of things like hygiene.

Mr. FROMMER: Yes, hygiene was an important part of it. I pointed out that since you were in buildings that were never intended to be hotels, that the rooms did not possess private baths, that there was usually just one private bath or toilet per floor, and you had to go down the corridor and use them. But this was not the end of the world, and this is what you had to do to live cheaply in Europe.

I had to explain all this because this was a new world for Americans. We never dreamed it was possible to travel internationally in 1957.

COHEN: What sort of reaction did Europeans have to the publishing of your books?

Mr. FROMMER: They, I believe, were very grateful for it because they were very much in need of tourism. And one of the European newspapers, I believe - I was very pleased about this - said that my book was the next best thing to the Marshall Plan, that it brought over waves of Americans.

They were a better form of American. They were people with an intellectual curiosity, were not demanding of pretentious facilities, who were willing to live on the economy, to eat in local restaurants, to take picnic lunches and the like. It was a giant surge that occurred of the American tourist who found that they could travel to Europe inexpensively.

COHEN: For many decades there were a couple of key travel guides that you'd see everyone kind of lugging around with them in Europe and elsewhere. Now with the Internet, anyone can post their travel recommendations online. With so much information out there, how do you think that's affected the quality of the travel experience?

Mr. FROMMER: Well, there is a lot of information, but there are a lot of tourists. There are, what - 12, 13 million Americans who will be traveling to Europe this year as opposed to the less than one million Americans who were traveling there in 1957.

COHEN: Fifty years ago you offered some advice to travelers going to Europe. What advice would you offer travelers today?

Mr. FROMMER: I would advise them first to make every attempt possible to travel in the off-season. There are so many famous destinations in the world today that are so inundated with tourists that they are no longer pleasant to visit in certain months of the year. If you attempt to go into the Sistine Chapel in Rome, in the months of July and August, you're like a sardine in a can. You're pressed together, you scarcely have the space to crane your head backwards to look at those magnificent murals on the ceiling of the chapel.

And go to a Mediterranean nation when it's still pleasant to visit, but where it's the months of November, December, January; you can continue to enjoy the experience of authentic travel that people enjoyed in the 1950s. But beyond that, you simply make the decision that you're going to adopt logical, non-pretentious methods of travel. You are not going to be a status-seeker. You are not going to glory in deluxe meals or accommodations. You will eat and stay as the people eat. You will give up some of the pretensions, and if you do so you can continue to enjoy a very wonderful form of travel.

Travel, to me, has never from the beginning been a recreation. It's been a learning experience. It has been an activity of immense excitement, and in fact it's an experience that to me is an essential purpose of a civilized life.

COHEN: Arthur Frommer, who wrote "Europe on 5 Dollars a Day" 50 years ago. Thanks so much for being with us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. FROMMER: Thank you for having me.

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