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Two decades later, he's still a happy wanderer, but a wiser one

September 17, 2006|Arthur Frommer | Special to The Times

TWENTY years ago, I wrote a dozen rules for improving a vacation trip. Though most of them haven't changed, all have been modified to reflect the lessons that 20 years of travel have taught me. Here's how I travel today:

Jet lag: I combat transoceanic jet lag by going to sleep immediately on arrival. Time was when I would instantly hit the streets on my first full day in London or Seoul. That overexertion would turn me into a zombie for the rest of my first week abroad. No longer. I now go to bed the moment I reach the hotel, making a relaxed transition to a new time zone with a much clearer head.

Do research: I prepare for my trips by reading histories and art appreciations. In my early years of travel, I thought nothing of flinging myself to destinations without studying the history and culture of the places I was about to visit. But I arrived as an untutored ignoramus, confused and bewildered. I now read about the evolution of the Gothic cathedral before a trip to Europe. My trips are more meaningfuland rewarding.

Pack light: I pack less and enjoy more. I no longer take an outfit for every conceivable occasion. I take a quarter of what I used to carry and now travel with a single, medium-size suitcase that's only half-full. That one factor has improved the enjoyment of my trips more than any other.

Find a physician: I equip myself with the names and addresses of competent, English-speaking physicians. If I can't obtain the names of reliable physicians at my destination in advance, I obtain a list of those doctors maintained by the International Assn. of Medical Assistance to Travelers, www.iamat.org.

Ask for discounts: I haggle over the prices of my accommodations. I take advantage of the perishable nature of hotel rooms. Because such lodgings are a loss to their owners if unsold for a particular date, such people, I've found, often react favorably to a request for a discount.

Picnic: I eat one meal a day picnic-style. I now make one meal each day out of simple, cold ingredients purchased in a foreign grocery or delicatessen. That way, I not only eat sensibly, healthfully and cheaply, but I also enjoy the local specialties.

Think small: I take a small, select assortment of travel products. And I emphasize "small." Eyeshades to ensure sleep. Earplugs to blot out unwanted noises. A small immersion heater for coffee or tea. Tums or Maalox for indigestion. And comfortable walking shoes.

Make contacts: Before my departure, I acquire the names and addresses of people to look up. I ask friends, associates and relatives for the names of their acquaintances in the cities I am about to visit. I've found the most memorable events of travel come when you interact with residents of another place.

Get brochures: I request literature from government tourist offices and institutes. I often learn about fascinating events and activities this way. For a list, see latimes.com/foreigntouristoffices.

Stay calm: I stay calm and roll with the travel punches, accepting the fact that travel is an uncertain activity subject to glitches and delays. Instead of ranting when the airport announces a postponement, I whip out a paperback book and savor an interlude of leisure.

Buy insurance: I buy various forms of cheap travel insurance. Many things can go wrong, and insurance can protect against some of the consequences.

Off the beaten path: I avoid the tourist-heavy areas and choose the undiscovered. Having had my fill of all the massively popular destinations, my current tastes are for places not inundated by visitors.

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