Love to travel? Here’s how to spend less and see more…how to pack smart and not get pickpocketed…the best adventure cruises…great vacations for families…and more. World-renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer shares her secrets as she answers your questions.

READER:What is your recommended carry-on bag?
PAULINE FROMMER:I have used a Victorinox for years, and it works fine for me but I’ve never really studied whether it is “the best.” The key thing is to limit yourself to a carry-on when you travel so you don’t become a slave to your luggage. There’s nothing worse than lugging heavy bags around!
READER:I’m going to London and Paris in May. If I just take a carry-on, what do I pack?
FROMMER:Clothes in dark colors! You want to have clothing that won’t show stains and can be interchanged into a number of outfits. And if you’re a woman and you know how to tie a scarf well, bring one of those. It will make you look very Parisian!
READER:I travel quite a bit for business. My job has me in Maine (in the dead of winter) one day and Miami the next. How do you recommend packing for varying climates?
FROMMER:That’s a tough one. I guess the key is layers. And they have wonderful down coats now that come with a little stuff sack. They literally are the size of a grapefruit once they’re in the sack (Uniqlo has them). They’re a wonderful item to pack if you’re going to be changing climates a lot. They have them for men and women.
READER:What is the first thing you do when you arrive at a new destination?
FROMMER:That really depends on the destination and why I’m there. If I’m there to write about the place, I immediately start taking notes because I find that I have the best insights (and eye for detail) on my first day in a new place. If I’m worried about jet lag, I’ll try and get myself out into the sunshine as much as possible.
READER:I like the idea of taking a cruise—being able to experience many different cultures and places easily—but I don’t want to spend a week on a boat with 3,000 people who only want to be with people like them. Can you recommend any cruises for adventurers or people who truly want to experience many cultures?
FROMMER:Well, if you have a long time to cruise, you could do “Semester At Sea,” which is a small boat that carries students and a number of nonstudents (usually seniors) to ports around the world. The participants meet with local experts, tour the sights and really delve into the culture they’re seeing. There’s also a British company called Swan Hellenic Tours, which does cruises that have more of an educational bent and utilize smaller ships. Or you might skip the cruise altogether and do an overland tour, visiting a number of different cultures (usually exotic ones in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe) in a van with a small number of people. The travel agency Adventure Center, in Emoryville, California, acts as a clearinghouse for these sorts of tours. They may be more what you’re looking for.
READER:I have two teenage children who are challenging to please—I want to expose them to foreign cultures, but I also want them to enjoy their vacation. Where would you recommend we go?
FROMMER:Belize! It’s a wonderful mix of cultural sites (Mayan ruins) and nature adventures. And sometimes the two are mixed. My family’s favorite adventure there was the ATM cave (it stands for a long and unpronounceable Mayan name). You swim into the cave and then clamber through it until you come to a cathedral-like hall where, centuries ago, human sacrifices took place! As you walk around, you’ll see ceremonial bowls and actual human skulls calcified to the floor.

Most teens also enjoy London as there’s a great mix of sights and adventures to have there. If you have the money for airfare, many areas of Asia will also fascinate your kids.

Rent movies about the places you’re going in the months leading up to the trip, ones that give some insight into the culture and the history of the place. That should help get the teens excited. Also, let them take part in the planning. Give each one a day that is theirs to plan for the family, give them a guidebook and see what they come up with. You’ll likely find yourself on a great adventure, and they’ll likely be more patient with the days they didn’t plan.

READER:Should I exchange money before I go abroad, or should I wait until I get to my destination? Does it make more sense to withdraw money from a local ATM or exchange cash?
FROMMER:The reason tourists are targeted by pickpockets is that they carry too much money on their person. So I’d say, exchange about $100 worth before you leave, so you can get from the airport to your hotel and then rely on ATM machines while abroad. You’ll get a much better exchange rate than at change bureaus that way, and they’re convenient. Take out small amounts at a time.
READER:My family takes an annual vacation in the summertime, but I want to try somewhere new. Europe is so expensive in the summertime, are there affordable European destinations that you would recommend?
FROMMER:You might consider heading to Central America instead. Airfares tend to be much lower there, and in many areas, the weather is stable year-round and costs on the ground are quite reasonable. Most importantly, you’ll discover a number of fascinating cultures, historic sights and nature sights in Central America (as I said, Belize is my personal fave).
READER:My brother-in-law is going to Barcelona and is extremely worried about pickpockets. How can he avoid looking like a naïve tourist?
FROMMER:I’m not a fan of those wallets you wear in your underwear or around your neck. I think if you’re smart and keep your wallet in a place that’s hard to reach (i.e., not your back pocket), you should be fine. And when you’re in crowds (where pickpockets work), keep your hand on your wallet. Las Ramblas gets a lot of pickpockets so be extra vigilant there.
READER:Some of my friends who travel a lot have complained that they’ve had favorite clothing stolen from their checked luggage. Is there a way to prevent that?
FROMMER:There are locks that are approved by the TSA. You might want to get one of those. That being said, I think this type of theft happens very rarely.
READER:I want to take a trip to Moscow this summer but heard the visa process is a nightmare. Is this true? How long should I plan on it taking?
FROMMER:The Russian visa may well be the hardest visa in the world to complete. You may want to simply pay a third party to work on it for you. I’d also keep checking the US State Department Web site because with what’s going on in the Ukraine, this may not be the best time to go to Russia.
READER:When is the best time seasonally to go to Barcelona, Spain?
FROMMER:Spring or fall is best for Barcelona (one of my favorite cities). The only reason not to go then is if you want to explore the rest of Catalonia. A lot of the splendid little hill towns and wonderful beach resorts are open to visitors only in the summer months. I was in Catalonia in October last, and Barcelona was fab, but the hotel where we stayed in one of the hill towns had only us for its guests and no restaurants were open in the town. Or the town next door. Or the town next door to that!
READER:We are planning to take our daughter to Ireland within the next year or two. What is the best time of year for that?
FROMMER:Summer is high season, but since so much of Ireland has to be enjoyed outside, I think it’s the best time to go. Not that it isn’t sometimes rainy and chilly in summer, too. But (hopefully) you’ll get some days of sunshine that way. And Ireland is tremendous for children! They’ll love seeing the old castles, scrambling over the rocks of the Giant’s Causeway and hanging out with you in pubs (kids can be in pubs until about 9 pm in most parts of the Emerald Isle). The Irish themselves are also wonderfully accommodating to parents.

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