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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[…]

The travel columnist would live in either Queens or Ho Chi Minh City if he had to stay put for 10 years.

Question: Did you grow up traveling? 

Matt rnGross: I think my first big trip when I was little. I was almost rneight years old and my father and I went to Denmark together, one rnsummer, for maybe two or three weeks. And that was my first big rnadventure overseas. Soon after that, we had, my family moved to England rnfor a year, moved back to Massachusetts, then we moved to a different rnhouse, then we moved down to Virginia. We moved around a lot and we rntraveled a lot, California, England, Italy, France, and when I was a rnteenager, I was a skateboarder and I had access to my parents's car, so Irn spent a lot of time driving all over Virginia, southeastern Virginia, rnjust pulling into a new town, looking around, trying to figure out how rnthe town is organized and constructed, looking for great places to rnskateboard. But that taught me a lot about how cities are organized, rnwhere are the sort of industrial, warehouse loading dock zones where we rncan find places to skate where nobody will see us. How do you find rncities that have great, sort of marble granite plazas in the center? 

So,rn throughout my high school years, I was exploring and exploring and rnexploring. So, yeah, I’ve never really, never really stopped moving everrn since I was about seven years old. 

Question: What’s rnthe most compromising situation you’ve found yourself in while rntraveling? 

Matt Gross: It’s terrible when you’re rntraveling on your own and you get sick and you don’t speak the language,rn it’s terrible the first time that happens. And then you deal with it, rnand then the next time it happens, you say, “Oh, yeah, I know how to rndeal with this,” and then it becomes easier. And the next time, it rnbecomes even easier. All of these things build on each other and you rnlearn better how to travel by dealing with the really awful stuff that rndoes happen to you a lot of the time when you travel. You stay in a bad rnhotel, you get sick, you’re alone, you get lost, these are all pretty rntraumatic things that can happen. But by dealing with them, by learning rnhow to get un-lost, by learning how to talk to a doctor, how to go to a rnpharmacy and find the drugs you need to get better, makes it so much rneasier the next time. These things make you a stronger person and a rnstronger traveler. And you know, after a few years of that, you can go rnanywhere, any time, on your own, with friends, and be happy and rncomfortable and enjoy yourself in a way that you never used to be able rnto. 

Question: Is Brooklyn home to you? 

Mattrn Gross: I’ve lived in New York now for 12 years and that’s the rnlongest I’ve lived really anywhere, since, yeah, my whole life, I don’t rnthink I spent 12 years in any place as a child at all. And I love New rnYork, it’s a very easy place to live for me, because you can do pretty rnmuch anything you want at any time of day or night. There’s no limits onrn the kind of life that you lead. 

But I guess I could leave it, Irn could go somewhere else, as long as I’m near an international airport, rnthat would be great. My wife and I talk about moving back to Taiwan, rnwhere she’s from, maybe in a few years when our daughter is ready for rnschool, but, yeah, we don’t know yet. I mean, that’s, my daughter is 16 rnmonths old, so that’s at least three or four years in the future and rnthat’s just, I mean, that’s impossible to say what’s going to happen rnfour years from now. I don’t know what’s going to happen in June. I havern no idea, I have no idea what’s going to happen in June, in July and rnJuly is like the 23rd century! So, yeah, you talk about the future and Irn don’t really know. But New York, I love it, I don’t want to live rnanywhere else, but, hey, you know what? I could. 

Question:rn If you had to move somewhere for 10 years without leaving, where would rnyou go? 

Matt Gross: Honestly, if I had to leave New rnYork and go live somewhere else and just live there and not use it as a rnbase for going to other places, I could probably go back to Ho Chi Minh rnCity, Vietnam, back to Saigon and spend quite a bit of time there. I rnloved it when I lived there, I loved every trip back to visit friends rnand it’s, it’s a big place and a complicated place and I know it well, rnbut I don’t know it well enough. There’s a lot of corners I haven’t rnexplored, a lot of people I haven’t yet met there. I could focus a bit rnof energy on that city. 10 more years? I don’t know, we’ll see. 

Question:rn As a frequent traveler, how do you stay in touch with your home base? 

Mattrn Gross: I feel like a fisherman or a soldier going off and making rnthe money and then coming back, or maybe not coming back, things are rnunpredictable sometimes. When I’m off on a long trip, my wife and I talkrn just about every day. One of the nice things about having an unlocked rncell phone is you get a SIM card for whatever country you’re in and rnoutside the US, a lot of the time, receiving calls is free, so my wife rncan call me, it doesn’t cost me anything. We use Skype a lot, Skype is arn great way to stay in touch, I have it on my computer, I have it on my rniPhone and just talk for free all the time wherever I go. 

It’s rnmore complicated though, with a kid. Not seeing my daughter for two rnweeks is really difficult. And a trip I took in March, when I went to rnItaly, I was there for less than two weeks and when I came back it was rnas if she had no idea who I was. She’d been sick a little bit, so she rnwas just not in great shape overall, but when I came back, it was just, rnsort of lack of, not lack of recognition, but just a bit freaked out by rnme. But then I just came back from this two-week trip to central Europe rnand she was totally cool with me, very comfortable, very happy to see rnme. So, I don’t know if there’s really a key to it, to making it work. 

Myrn wife now says, you know, two weeks is the most I can go away, you know,rn after two weeks, maybe I should think twice about coming back at all. rnBut there’s no key, it’s just talk, make sure everybody knows that the rnground rules are. Having my wife say, "Two weeks is what you can do rnmakes it so that, okay, yes, now I know two weeks is what I can do," tworn weeks is the most I can ask for from her, two weeks is the most, is thern biggest assignment I can accept from a magazine or a newspaper. Yeah, rnhey, two weeks, that’s good, that’s my limit. And if we left it sort of rnvague, who knows what kinds of arguments and tensions would’ve arisen. 

Question:rn What’s it like traveling with your daughter? 

Matt Gross:rn She comes with me whenever I can convince my wife that it’s a good rnidea. When Sasha, my daughter, was six weeks old, we all went off to rnItaly together, we went off to Venice and Milan for two weeks, I mean, rnshe was just this little nugget, you know, fit inside your coat, but shern had a pretty decent time, she ate, she slept, she stayed warm, she rndidn’t cry too much. And we were in Italy, and so people loved her, “Oh,rn the pico nina, que, cara bambina, oh so sweet,” everybody was so happy rnto see her. 

And then in January, when she was a year old, I tookrn her alone to San Francisco for a week. It was a much more complicated rnendeavor. I mean, at a year old, all of a sudden you have this creature rnwho walks, who was starting to talk, who eats things but not other rnthings, who’s developing a sense of will and a sense of won’t. And that rnwas tough, and that was just me and her on our own together. It was rnexhausting, I mean, just the physical effort to keep up with her and to rntake care of her. And to know that at the end of the night, at the end rnof the day, there’s not another parent to shift her off to. Yeah, man, Irn was asleep at 9:30 every night because there was no other way to do it.rn But, you know, in the end, it was fun, I mean, I had a good time, she rnhad an interesting experience, who knows what she’ll remember of it, butrn I like to think that she’s getting accustomed to the idea and the rnexperience of travel. It’s not an unusual thing for her to do. 

Andrn those were just trips for stories. In the meantime, she’s been to rnTaiwan twice, she’s been to Germany, she’s been to Minneapolis, she’s rngot a well-stamped passport, you know. She knows the TSA drill pretty rnwell at this point. You know, I think she’s got a bright future ahead ofrn her as a traveler. Travel writer, I don’t know, I mean, she has troublern counting to three, so we may have to wait a little bit on that.
Recordedrn on April 15, 2010