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Matt Gross writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times travel section, where he seeks out destinations that combine high style and a low budget. He was born[…]

When you walk long distances, you see places that no one else has seen.

Question: Why do you think traveling on a small budget is rnvaluable? 

Matt Gross: More and more now, I feel that rnyour budget should just not matter. You should give up the idea that rnspending money is the key to having a great and successful trip or rnadventure. Once you put aside that idea that travel and money are rnrelated, that the more you spend, the better you travel, then you rnsuddenly... everything becomes open to you. When you say, "I don’t need rnto spend the money to have a good meal, I don’t need to spend a lot of rnmoney to have a nice place to stay, I don’t need to spend a lot of moneyrn to get from point A to point B," then you have to be more creative. Yourn find other ways to travel, you find other kinds of places to stay. 

Irn just got back from a trip walking from Vienna, Austria, through rnSlovakia, and down to Budapest, Hungary. It’s about 300 kilometers, and Irn was in these little towns that didn’t have hotels or restaurants or rnmuch of anything, and people were constantly offering me meals, offeringrn me places to stay. These were things that happened not because I said, rn“I only have a limited amount of money to spend,” but because spending rnmoney was sort of beside the point. I could’ve spent a lot of money in rnthese towns and it wouldn’t have gotten me anything. If I had spent a rnlot of money, first of all, I wouldn’t have wound up in these towns in rnthe first place. And if I had 100 euros a night to spend on a hotel, in arn town that doesn’t have a hotel, it doesn’t get you anything. Whether rnyou’ve got 5 euros or 100 euros or 1,000 euros to spend a night in an rninteresting place, the place that you get free or the place that you getrn that’s run by someone small and creative and clever is going to be muchrn better than the place that you get simply because you have money.

Question:rn What was it like walking from Vienna to Budapest? 

Matt rnGross: I learned something about walking. When you have 300 rnkilometers to walk, which is about 160 miles, I think, you learn a rncouple things about walking pretty quickly. One is that there’s a rndifference between walking a lot on your own in a city and walking 15 rnmiles a day with 40 or 45 pounds of gear on your back. My legs are very rnstrong, except for my ankles, it turns out. So there were times when I rnrealized I wasn’t going to make it unless I took a train for 20 rnkilometers and then started walking from there. 

So, I probably rnwalked well over half the distance, I think it’s 290 kilometers total rnand I walked probably about 150 or 160 of that. So, it was tough. It wasrn tough. My ankle, this ankle, is still a little swollen and I shouldn’t rnrun, so I’m going to get fat for the next few days. 

Question:rn What’s the benefit of a long journey on foot? 

Matt Gross:rn You see places that no one else has seen at all. No other tourist goes rnto [...] No one walks into Estragon, you know, these are strange places rnthat they won’t impress anyone when you tell people you went there, but rnthe kind of experiences that you’re going to have there are just rnamazing. People were giving me places to sleep for the night, they were rninviting me in for dinner. They were showing me around, offering me rnrides, helping me in my investigations. It was, the people that you rnmeet, for me, are definitely the most important part of the journey. Yourn make friends, you exchange email addresses, you stay in touch with rnthese people. Every once in a while, they come to New York or you’re rntraveling somewhere and you meet them in a third country, and those kindrn of connections are, those are the most important souvenirs, those are rnthe most important on-the-ground experiences you have when you’re rntraveling. And you don’t necessarily get those if you’re speeding rnthrough from city to city on a train or a bus. If you’re walking, you rnknow, you wind up walking next to someone who’s walking their dog and rnthey turn out to be an English teacher, and they invite you home for rnbackyard wine and sweets and give you a nice bed to sleep in. There’s rnnothing better than that. 

Question: Would you have hadrn the same experience walking across the U.S.? 

Matt Gross:rn Absolutely. This is a really large country and it’s not necessarily a rnsmall town value, but it’s, people in America are very friendly and theyrn often actually want to meet outsiders and new people. I’ve had that rnhappen. In 2007, I drove from New York to Seattle, sort of zigzagging rnacross the country, staying off the interstates entirely and in Decorah,rn Iowa, I stopped in this little town in northeast Iowa one evening and rnfound a bed and breakfast, arranged to stay there for the night, walked rndown a hill and found this cute, little bistro, La Rana Bistro, The rnFrog. And walked in and got a glass of wine and some bread and cheese atrn the counter and started talking to the owners and about five minutes rnafter they met me, they said, “Hey, you need a place to stay?” You know,rn they had a lovely house, they had a whole wing of the house with its rnown bedroom and bathroom all to itself that they just offered to me for rnthree or four days, just because they liked me. I was an interesting rntraveler who was passing through, let’s give him a place to stay. 

So,rn yeah, whether you’re driving or walking, that’s, you know, that’s goingrn to happen.

Recorded on April 15, 2010