Frugal Traveler Blog: Frugal Columns Spark Clashes and Creativity

Written By wartini cantika on Rabu, 16 Januari 2013 | 17.35

Reader responses to my last two columns — on how to use TripAdvisor and finding retro ways to save on travel — were often thoughtful, original and occasionally hilarious. Here is a selection.

From the hundreds of TripAdvisor comments, I've picked out five pairs of readers who disagree with each other (not just with me, for once!) and then tacked on a few more I found irresistible. (To the guy who checked into hotels with a TripAdvisor cap on to get better service: you are a genius. Now if only I were allowed to wear a Frugal Traveler cap …)

The pairs:

1. We use TripAdvisor to confidently find independent hotels in out of the way places — places and hotels we otherwise wouldn't normally consider. Thank you, TripAdvisor, for providing us with that ability. We've stayed at some wonderful, memorable, unique establishments we would otherwise have missed. TripAdvisor is the best thing to ever happen to independent hotels and restaurants who provide good value to their customers.
– CC210, Brewster, Mass

On the basis of TripAdvisor reviews we went to a "little out of the way restaurant" in Buenos Aires. When we got there the place was filled with Brits and Americans. Turned off by the crowd we walked around the neighborhood, found a real and unreviewed local place, had a nice meal, met some local people, and heard some local music. TripAdvisor is fine if you don't mind ending up at hotels and restaurants filled with other TripAdvisor reading people. Needless to say we didn't write anything about the place we found and enjoyed on TripAdvisor.
– bsd, Brooklyn

2. As a (small) hotel owner my experiences with TripAdvisor have been pretty painful — we are often rated low on the standard measures of "cleanliness, quality of linens, comfort of room, noise level, consistency of housekeeping, maintenance of facilities, etc." I don't blame guests for judging us harshly for that, but there is far more that we offer that is usually not taken into account, such as community, spirit, artistry, and purpose — qualities that are hard to quantify.
– Geoff, Alaska

Geoff, the fact is that "community, spirit, artistry, and purpose" don't go very far to offset a dirty, loud, shabby room (which seems to be what you're getting dinged for). My suggestion would be to get the basics right, because when that is done, guests will be in the frame of mind to notice your other fine qualities and comment on them. When I'm staying in any property, small or large, the thing that is most important to me is getting a comfortable and peaceful night's sleep in a clean room. If you're not giving your guests that experience on a consistent basis, then you deserve your low rating, no matter how community-minded and artistic you are.
– Barbara, New York

3. One thing not mentioned are the TA forums where users can interact with each other, asking questions to others who know the destination or have traveled there before them. I find this section invaluable. I've gotten advice on everything from how and where to catch a ferry to get to a resort island to which rental agencies are more reliable than others in various European cities to where to eat on night Christmas in Paris. The forums are a tremendous help.
– Lisa A, NYC

The typical TA location forum seems to be dominated by a small clique of very opinionated people. I've noticed over the years that these people are quick to offer suggestions and comments. Oftentimes their information can be quite helpful. But woe to the person who disagrees with their perspective or seeks something outside their areas of assumed expertise.
– Andy, Chicago

4. I'm all for spontaneous explorations, but the downside is often a lot of lost time and energy. For me sites like TripAdvisor can minimize the lost time and energy so that I can more productively explore and enjoy.
– Rita, California

Forgive the lofty language but TA and other such democratic websites really do expose innocent travelers to Toqueville's "tyranny of the majority." Unlike reputable and well-researched guidebooks, TA makes it impossible to extract the truth, or at least a well-founded opinion, from either the impulsive and unmeasured opinions of readers or, worse, from marketers who use this chaos to their own commercial advantage
– Daughter, Paris

5. It's fascinating that some people prefer ignorance to information, and even express their self-satisfaction with their preference. TripAdvisor is invaluable, but of course you have to approach it with openness tempered with skepticism – like the rest of life. Gushy favorable reviews are useless. Negative reviews can be useful if you're convinced the reviewer isn't unreasonable. It's the reviews that explain in a little detail what was right or wrong – and especially what might appeal to some people but not to others – that make travel choices less uninformed than they used to be.
– 60's Aussie, Canberra

Why use evaluative literature at all for travel. I traveled decades without stuff like TripAdvisor. What useless nonsense. Yes, one does require a bit of information about planes, visas and such. But, do remember, all these business models are promotion tools created by the mass tourism industry for non-travelers. Intrepid travelers are pretty thin on the ground, anymore. Back in the day I would be scoffed at by the great "educated classes" for arriving in China or the Soviet Union unarmed with Frommer's or Lonely Planet. And I was a professional librarian. Sometimes the best "travel experience" is just to go to a place, with money and a map, and let the trip take over; plan less, think less. Is anyone listening?
– Thus Spake the Dancing Scorpion, Arizona

The rest:

I have contacted other travelers about their comments, and people have contacted me. That is a terrific feature.
– Sunny, NYC

Too bad that there isn't an algorithm that determines a "Kvetch" rating for reviewers… it certainly is possible.
– Contrarian, Detroit

I have a TripAdvisor luggage tag and a TripAdvisor cap that prominently identifies me as potential reviewer. More than once I've felt that it improved the level of attention and service delivered at check-in to a resort property. Certainly didn't hurt.
– Mendodude, NorCal

Of course everyone has a comment about TripAdvisor! (See, crowd sourcing in action!)
– Lisa J, San Antonio

And here are some additional retro savings tips from readers.

I get a guidebook from my library before I go. Very cheap… free!
– Elizabeth9174, San Antonio

When you check in at the hotel, chat up the front desk agent and ask if they offer any special deals that week. I've scored free drinks, boxed lunches, concert tickets, metro passes, free wifi, spa services and other perks not to mention room upgrades. Kind of hard for them to say no when you're standing right in front of them with a friendly attitude.
– Lia9255, Chicago

Another option is housesitting. We've done so 5 times so far, for from 1 week to 3 months, in France, Boston, England, Canada, and San Diego. Full kitchens, washer/drier, TV/Wifi, fullsize bathrooms, etc., are usual. Rarely, a car. Three of five involved pet care. Sites include: trustedhousesitters.com; homecarers.com; mindmyhouse.com.
– Patnagle, Olympia WA

You left out one tip — Don't over-plan, and be adventurous. A bad meal or getting lost once in a while never hurts anyone. It may lead to an unexpected and pleasant adventure further down the road. I also find street food often being superior than Michelin starred restaurants.
– ATL, Ringoes, NJ

I have a variation on the 'phone contact for reservations' to offer; research your hotel online, then use their email address to introduce yourself and arrange accommodations. My experience is that you get the same degree of service that you would via phone contact, better prices than booking online through a volume broker, and you have a better chance of speaking with someone who has a good command of English.
– Petert Seattle, Wash

If you have a whole week, just do one thing per day. Don't cram 3 things in one day – you don't get a chance to really see it, and it's rushed. Better to do 5 fun things thoroughly and remember it than rush through a whirlwind mega-tour and not have "experienced" anything.
– YD, NYC

Your "Choose Cheap Countries" also works domestically. When my husband and I got married a decade ago, we both thought a Northern California Wine Trip would be the thing to do for our honeymoon. As I started researching air fare and hotels and winery fees, I was kind of stunned at how well beyond our budget the trip would be, even if we did the whole thing modestly. So we kept the "Wine Trip" and changed the locale to New York's Finger Lakes. It was a small fraction of the cost of going to California and we had a marvelous time.
– Chasmosaur, Twin Cities

Here's another low-tech and retro suggestion. I landed once in Switzerland and without any guide book and almost no planning managed to pick up enough paper (yes!) brochures starting at the train stations to learn everything I need to know. They're free and in many places (not all- China has none) very complete guides to many local and regional things- transport, local fairs and holidays, farm walks, wineries, etc. I found them at every hostel, station, and other tourist sites. Just look for them, and toss them when you're done.
– Me2, California

Don't buy souvenirs. Don't eat in restaurants that have menus translated into multiple languages. Never go into a store that says "English Spoken". And please don't pack a pillow or a blanket.
– Elle Ruderman, Paris


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