Here’s the latest in our monthly series of interviews with travel writers. This time, I questioned Tim Leffel, author of the contrarian traveler’s guide to getting more for less, “Make Your Travel Dollars Worth A Fortune,” published by Traveler’s Tales at $12.95, and “The World’s Cheapest Destinations”.
I’m reading it now and relishing Tim’s winning set of strategies and easy-to- remember techniques for how to save money by avoiding the peaks: peak crowds, peak seasons, peak destinations and peak hotels. Below are his answers to our questions. To win a copy of this book, see below!
1. What was the subject of your first travel article/book?
I published an article on finding inexpensive hotels on the island of Anguilla—a Caribbean hotspot known for its ultra-expensive resorts. After that I did a few articles on round-the-world airline tickets because I was in the midst of planning my own (first) trip around the world. My first book—The World’s Cheapest Destinations—came about after I completed my third trip around the globe.
2. What is your favorite place to visit?
The place I return to the most is the Yucatan region of Mexico because I have a little beach house on the coast near Mérida. My “favorite place�? is fluid though: it depends on where I’ve been in the past year or two. I tend to like the places where you can travel really well for less than you could at home, so I love Nepal, Indonesia, Peru, and Argentina — for a start. My favorite place ten years from now will probably be somewhere I haven’t been to yet!
3. What is the worst place you’ve ever visited?
Hands down that would be Cebu City in the Philippines. It’s a place you’re liable to get stuck for a few days waiting on a ferry departure to another island and there is just nothing to like about the city at all. Manila’s not much better, unfortunately.
Of course much of the U.S. is turning into soul-sucking sprawl, with the same strip malls and ugly housing developments in every town. Metaphorically another “worst place�? is a town that has absolutely no sense of place — when you can’t tell where you are. I’m afraid much of my home country is turning into a series of Nowherevilles.
4. What’s on your must-visit list?
I’ve been avoiding Europe ever since the dollar plunged against the Euro. It looks like U.S. fiscal policy will turn around soon maybe that will start to change. I’d love to go castle hopping in the countryside of Hungary and the Czech Republic and get to Transylvania in Romania. There are a lot of places in Latin America I still want to get to as well; a family Spanish immersion trip to Guatemala is coming up in the summer.
5. What is your philosophy for traveling?
I go on for about 200 pages on that subject in my new book, “Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.” In short though, I believe it’s important to not plan things too tightly and just let adventure happen. Wiling away a couple of hours in a café in the square and then wandering around town without a map will produce more meaningful memories than hopping on and off a tour bus taking pictures. Look for what’s unique about a place and find a way to experience it — through the local food, through locally owned hotels, and through the people who live there.
6. What do most casual travelers do wrong when they go on vacation?
This depends somewhat on the nationality, but overall too many people shop for travel the way they would shop for a new camera. They don’t really go into it looking at what they really want to get out of the experience and which places would be best for their budget. They get dead-set on going to a certain place instead of just playing it by ear and trusting serendipity.
With Americans and Japanese especially, there’s the tendency to over-schedule and rush around too much. And the problem of not leaving work at work. Travel doesn’t open up your perspective very much and allow great ideas to germinate if you’re still thumbing through e-mails on your Blackberry and yakking on your cell phone.
7. What is one piece of travel advice you never told anyone?
Don’t rely on one person’s advice — even mine. Seek out different opinions and point of views so you can get a rounded picture. One person’s hellhole is another person’s unspoiled paradise.
8. What is your Webzine Perceptive Travel all about?
PerceptiveTravel.com is a site featuring narrative travel articles from book authors. There aren’t many print magazines serving independent travelers these days — all the ad money goes to the aspirational luxury travel magazines — so I started this site up a year ago to fill an unserved niche. It is starting to get some recognition and awards and I’m proud of the great stories we’ve assembled. We review a lot of travel books and world music, too: two other items that don’t get enough exposure.
NOTE: The first two North American Vagablond readers who submit their best answer to one of this article’s questions will be eligible to win a copy of this contrarian travel guide. Sorry, no Contributors are eligible. Once I select the two winners, I will contact you separately for your street addresses.
“Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune”
The Contrarian Traveler’s Guide to Getting More for Less
By Tim Leffel; ISBN 1-93236-139-1; $12.95.