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Europe on 5 Dollars a Day (Reproduction of Original Printing) Paperback – 2007
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In 1957, Arthur Frommer published a slim travel guide that showed Americans how to travel to Europe without breaking the bank. "Europe on 5 Dollars a Day" revolutionized the way Americans traveled - no longer did they have to be rich to eat a croissant from a Parisian bakery or take in the masterpieces at the Uffizi Gallery. To celebrate this remarkable achievement, Frommer's has issued a limited edition reproduction of "Europe on 5 Dollars a Day." Inside you will find the original text exactly as it was published by Arthur Frommer 50 years ago, as well as a current-day interview with Arthur Frommer on the past and future of travel.
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Right now, in the first decade of the 21st century, the entire travel guide business is undergoing a massive change. Guide books are morphing into web sites, and these web sites as a rule include reader feedback. The traditional, how to find a hotel, how to find a good restaurant travel guide is rapidly vanishing. Only cultural guides remain, and these will only remain for so much longer. The times, they are a changing. But, this revolution is not the first revolution in travel guides. When Europe On Five Dollars A Day was first printed, it sparked its own revolution, and changed not only travel guides, but the entire way Americans looked at world travel.
When Arthur and Hope Frommer's guide to travel in Europe first came out, commercial jets had been flying for only six years. The air travel industry was heavily regulated and subject to complex international treaties. Great ocean liners still served as a means of transportation, not just as traveling resorts. Few Americans had traveled to Europe, save as GIs on Uncle Sam's nickel. European travel was for millionaires and the truly cosmopolitan or bohemian.
Europe On Five Dollars A Day advanced the then audacious thesis that just about any American could travel to Europe, providing they were willing to travel the way Europeans traveled. Europe, back then, was much poorer than it is now, and the typical European earned much less than the typical American. Despite this, Europeans managed to tour their continent. They stayed in modest, but clean and safe hotels. They ate good food at reasonable prices. They took the train or drove strange little cars.
The book itself was written as a manifesto, a common form in the 1960s, an era of manifestos. The introductory chapters challenged the conventional wisdom and got right down to the nuts and bolts. One chapter explained how to get to and from Europe, weighing the merits of jets versus passenger liners versus tramp freighters. There was a discussion of aviation law, and how you could game the system by flying Icelandic, a non-treaty airline, taking a charter or exploiting special package fares that were slipped into the system. Another chapter discussed how to get around in Europe. It introduced automobile Americans to the well developed European rail system, Eurailpass deals, and, if one just had to drive, to the various buy a car and rent a car packages.
You can see echoes of Europe On Five Dollars A Day in Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book and Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog.
The bulk of the book is dedicated to various major European cities with a chapter on each. Each chapter described hotels and restaurants with an emphasis on getting value for money. It may seem a strange fantasy now, but it actually was possible to see Europe On Five Dollars A Day. I know, my parents took me and my sister on the grand tour, and I did the currency conversions. We were consistently on budget. We ate crepes in Paris and Algerian cous cous. We had wiener schnitzel and pastries in Vienna. We had spaghetti and meatballs and roast fish in Rome. We had squid in Barcelona. We had great Dutch and English breakfasts, and a rijstafel in Amsterdam.
The hotels weren't exactly the Ritz, but they served. The food was actually pretty good. The Europeans weren't rich enough for American style pseudo food. The baguettes and croissants in France were freshly baked and you could get a good slab of pate anywhere, so we did.
The Frommer guide also provided information on tours and attactions, so we learned about the canal boat tour of Amsterdam, the mouche boats of Paris, and took an excellent, inexpensive tour of London featuring the driest of English wit.
Frommer's guide also featured reader feedback on each city. Obviously, the first edition lacked this, but later editions included reader recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and things to see and do. Readers recommended pensiones in Florence, temperance society hotels in Switzerland and charming little museums that didn't even have signs out front but were crammed with art treasures or antiquities. There was a wonderful sense of being part of a do it yourself, buck the conventional wisdom community.
Unlike more conventional guides of the day which focused on the sights and history, this guide book took you there. That is, it took you, not some millionaire version of you. Not your bohemian Down And Out In London And Paris avatar.
One fascinating section of the guide discussed what to pack. Hope Frommer wrote it, and she was perhaps two generations ahead of her time. There is nothing in this section that would be slightly surprising today, save for a few items of clothing that are no longer worn. For Hope and Arthur a light bag meant freedom: freedom from porters, freedom from taxis, freedom from reservations, and freedom to find a good hotel. It was excellent advice then, and quite radical. It is still good advice today.
What more can I say about this book? The Frommers opened the old world to a new generation of Americans. They brought a great, new, practical attitude to world travel. Before the Frommers the world belonged to the wealthy, to adventurers, and to those in government service. After the Frommers it belonged to any Joe or Jane with an open mind and five dollars a day.
The breakthrough of Arthur Frommer’s 5-Dollars-a-Day (I think the title had inflated to $10 a day by the time I traveled) was that his was the first guide to traveling without spending a fortune: a boon too middle-class and youth travelers (as I was, too many years ago), and a welcome change from his stuffy competitors. Another great thing about the book is that it always included a map of the city center around the railway station – great for orienting yourself in a strange city.
The worst part of 5-Dollar-a-Day was that it seemed to be written for cretins. The book took such pains to make European travel seem nonthreatening to Mr. and Mrs. American Tourist, that it jokingly trivialized the great sights. Another unfortunate aspect was that the book was so wildly popular that the economical lodging discoveries recommended in the book were swamped with travelers as soon as each new edition was published.
But Arthur Frommer well merits 4 stars. As annoying as I sometimes found his writing style, his substance was indispensable to touring Europe on the cheap, and his competitors Fodor and Fielding were worse, each in their own way.