Question: How has your traveling style changed since you
started writing your column?
: I’ve been
traveling as the Frugal Traveler for four or five years now. And I think
when it started, I was maybe a little bit more willing to put up with
certain hardships, terrible places to stay, for instance. I still like a
bad place to stay every once in a while now, but I really appreciate
having not just a shower, but a hot shower; having a decent bed to sleep
in. Those are nice things, I really like them now. I can still go
without food or go with bad food, I can walk 15 miles a day and not
worry about it, I can be on some sweaty, uncomfortable busses, but it’s
nice to have a place to stay that you’re happy to be there.
just want to, I want to sleep a little better, I want to be comfortable.
Maybe I’m old now. Maybe I’m old. That’s what happens. Question:
What’s the biggest spending trap that people fall into while
When people travel, they don’t
know what’s actually important to them. Often you have a mix of
travelers in a group and some people really care about the hotel that
they’re staying in and some people really care about the food. Other
people want to spend a lot of money on shopping, some people want to
spend a lot of money in museums. And those are all different priorities.
And people wind up spending a lot of money because they’re not really
sure of what their priorities are until they get somewhere and they
think that a lot of money has to go toward everything.
you say, “Look, all I really care about is shopping, you know, buying
clothes, buying books, buying chachkas,” whatever, then, hey, you know
what? If that’s what important to me, then maybe I don’t need to spend
that much on the hotel, I don’t need to spend that much on getting
there, I don’t need to eat anywhere besides maybe street food or some
small, easy restaurants. Focusing the money, focusing what your
priorities are, is really the way to save money and to avoid blowing it
on things that you don’t actually care about.
But it takes time,
it takes a lot of experience traveling to figure out what you actually
care about. I mean, you’re not going to know, going to a place like
Bangkok—or Sydney or wherever—you’re not going to know what you actually
want to do on your first trip. It’s only with time, after years and
dozens of trips that you say, “You know, I don’t really care about, you
know, going to fancy restaurants any more, and so, I’m not going to
spend money on that.” Question: What is your top
priority when you travel?
: Food, food. I
mean, if I, you know, if I had to devote 80% of my budget to one thing,
it would be food. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to eat
in fancy places, it just means that the experience of eating is what’s
most important to me. And so, you know, if it’s a street stall with a
great bowl of noodles, or if it’s a really great restaurant with two
Michelin stars up in the mountains that’s totally inaccessible
otherwise, those are the things that are important to me, and the price
for them is something that I’m willing to pay wherever I go because I
want that experience.
I’ve started again, as I said, I’ve
started to spend a bit more when it comes to hotels just because I’m
tired of being tired, but it’s still a lower priority for me. But food
is what I’m most excited about when I travel, and so if I’m spending 3
euros or if I’m spending, 50,000 yen on a meal, that’s what I’m going to
go for, but I also want it to be worthwhile. You know, if I’m going to
spend $300 a person on a meal, it should be a good meal. Question:
What’s one of the most memorable meals you’ve had on the road?
: Back in 1996 and 1997, I used to live in Ho Chi Minh City,
Vietnam, the form Saigon. And while I was there, I had a pretty standard
lunch routine. There was a place near my little mini apartment that did
pretty good grilled pork chops on rice, that’s really popular South
Vietnamese lunch. And I just had that all the time and it was quite
good, I loved it.
And then on a trip back to Vietnam, I think
about six years ago, a friend of mine took me to a restaurant that
specializes in this grilled pork chop on rice, and it just, it totally
blew everything out of the water that I ever had before. It was the
biggest, juiciest, most perfectly grilled and caramelized and flavorful
pork chop I’ve ever had on really excellently cooked rice. They use a
thing called broken rice, which is broken grains of rice, this is very
sort of peasanty thing, which was just perfectly cooked. The memories
that I’d had of eating my good, standard lunch every day back in the
late ‘90’s, were just completely forgotten because this one pork chop,
so sweet and charcoally and juicy had destroyed everything else. So it
makes it hard then to eat the stuff again elsewhere because there’s the
memory of the great one.
I had that happen in Galicia, in
northwestern Spain, they make this octopus... which is really simple,
it’s just long, boiled octopus. They boil it perfectly, they slice it
up, they drench it in good olive oil, crunchy salt, and pimenton, this
sort of smoked chili powder, not spicy, but very smoky, sweet flavor.
And I had it with some dark bread in this little bar and it was just so
totally amazing and perfectly cooked that I couldn’t eat octopus again
for months and months after that because nothing could possibly be as
good as this one thing at this little bar in this little town near the
So, I always watch out for these, these great meals
because they tend to ruin the future. If you want really, really, good
meals, you want to eat at a high level every day and not just, you know,
not at an ultra-exceptional level, but a very high level, because the
ultra-exceptional will make everything pale in comparison. And then, you
know, you’re disappointed and crabby because nothing is ever as
good.... and then you start talking about how you this octopus in
Galicia in northwestern Spain and you sound like a douche.
Recorded on April 15, 2010