Seth Kugel isn’t one to keep a good travel tip to himself.
The freelance journalist was The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler columnist from 2010 to 2016. In “Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious” (Nov. 13), he shares his own experiences, along with safety and technology tips.
amNewYork spoke with Kugel about the new book and his advice for fellow New Yorkers:
You have a big online presence. Why write a book, instead of using another type of media?
I wanted to take all the thoughts and experiences I’d had and put them in one place. I had done a lot of columns and videos, but there’s something about a book that is a little bit more serious, more complete — the book isn’t really serious, but it’s a way to take everything I’ve been thinking about for 10 years and put in on one place. It’s also a more intimate experience than someone who’s watching a video or reading a string of tweets. There’s less interaction, maybe, but the feeling that you get is that you’re really hanging out with somebody. At the end of the day, I’m a writer, even though I make a lot of videos. A lot of my articles make miniature points, but I wanted to say something serious about what travel is like — what I think is right or wrong about it. And hopefully make an impact on the way people travel, improve people’s vacations, study abroad experiences, gap years or whatever it is they’re doing.
Why mix personal stories and more formal advice?
When you try to say something big, you can make an argument, but what’s effective is the story. I think if I just said, “Oh, you can just go be adventurous,” people wouldn’t know exactly what I meant, and wouldn’t be convinced. That’s why the stories are there. Also, they’re more interesting. I don’t think anyone wants to listen to me telling them what to do for 250 pages.
What tips do you have for New Yorkers?
A lot of New Yorkers are trying to plan their Christmas. The easiest thing is to go to a resort in the Caribbean, go online and book it as a package. Instead of getting a resort, maybe this year you can book a guesthouse. You won’t have everything taken care of — you have to find the right beach, the restaurants, but that’s the most fun thing of travel. You can lie on the beach for a few days, but then you want to really see the place you’re visiting. Think about the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad — these are places with amazing cultures, friendly people, great music. If you’re just sitting at a resort, maybe they play some merengue songs, but you don’t really get to find your way around.
The other piece of advice I have is when you’re traveling to another country or even other parts of the country, being a New Yorker is a great tool for making friends and exploring. Everybody loves New York.
Another thing is finding people from the country you’re going to visit near you. I really like that as a New York tip. It’s easy, people are very open and proud of where they came from and will give you some advice.
How many countries have you visited?
I don’t count. For example, I love going to Brazil, I’ve probably been there 25 times. If I worried about counting, I’d go to Vietnam, or somewhere else I haven’t been to. You shouldn’t go somewhere just because everyone else has been there. Take Paris: I love Paris, but if you don’t really care, and you’re more interested in Canada, for example, go to Canada — but maybe not in the winter. This is one of the key lessons of the book — you need to travel for yourself, you need to think about what experiences you want to have, not the experiences that you want to tell other people that you had.
Kugel’s picks on where to go now
“One of the best destinations these days is Colombia, especially for New Yorkers — the trip is only as far as a trip to California. People are still scared of going to Colombia, because they saw ‘Narcos’ or something, but it’s from 30 or 40 years ago.”
Texas road trip
“I think it’s such a great tourist destination. And also, go to the border. There’s a national park, Big Bend National Park — few people go. It’s very pleasant.”
Avoid the crowds
“The funny thing is I always recommend places with fewer people. If you’re trying to find a place to go this winter, don’t go to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, go to one of the small beach cities there. Instead of going to a hot place in the winter, go to a place like Sicily or Sardinia, or the South of France — these are places that will be cheaper because they won’t be packed with tourists.”