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“Do you need someone to carry your bags?”
That’s the party joke people often ask me when they hear I’m a travel journalist. I laughingly say a porter isn’t required as, “I’m mostly the carry-on kind.” But really, I’m thinking, my job only looks like a vacation.
Vacation days are precious and many Americans get few of them. My job as the Frugal Traveler columnist for The New York Times is to help readers make the most of their time off without spending a fortune.
My love of travel started early. I come from a close-knit family of modest means that spent every discretionary penny on travel. When we weren’t debating politics at the dinner table, we were planning our next big adventure, usually an ambitious road trip; we once drove from Detroit, our hometown, to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia — a nearly 1,500-mile trek. The cars we took were beaters, but the memories are priceless.
Travel continues to teach me things every day, and I want readers to experience travel too — without breaking the bank. Accordingly, careful, painstaking planning is a must.
Before I set off on any reporting trip, I conduct weeks of research on where to stay, eat and what to do. I schedule dozens of activities, tours and interviews. My limited budget — this column is, after all, called Frugal Traveler — means I sometimes must move fast and with flexibility.
When people learn that I travel for a living, there are a few things they most often ask me. Here are a few of those questions, answered:
How do you choose your destinations? Can you go anywhere?
Alas, no. I follow the news in budget travel, reading travel blogs and talking to industry experts for inspiration. I look for destinations that offer travelers one-of-a-kind experiences they won’t regret after seeing their credit card statement. In October, I visited Key West, Fla., where I split a room at a hostel with three strangers, all in the name of cost-effectiveness. Last spring, I traveled to Aspen, Colo., a city known for its luxurious amenities. I stayed at a relatively affordable, family-run lodge and visited art museums for free.