$5 a Day travel series

When the Times  and I parted company after three years, it was with mutual enthusiasm–I to write the first of several books, Mexico On $5 A Day, for Arthur Frommer. A lasting memory of the Times is Herb Mitgang’s comment after I had admired one of his pieces: “I always try to get motion into my stories; to make them move.” It was one of those little tips that I’ve always remembered.

     Arthur Frommer, the man who invented cheap travel for Americans, got the idea for the $5-a-Day books in the early 1950s when he was serving as a GI in Germany and discovered that existing guidebooks tended to list only the “best” (i.e. most expensive) hotels. He published the book himself, retailing at $1.95, paying the printing bills with money from 2,000 copies engendered by an ad in the Times Book Review.  When I first met him, at a cocktail party, he told me that when people saw the title in uptown store windows they were amazed that Europe could be done so cheaply, and immediately went in to buy the book, whereas in Village bookstores passersby sneered, saying “Is he kidding? I do it on $1 a day”.

     Frommer described himself as somewhat square. ” A lot of kids feel that the book takes a somewhat bourgeois approach to Europe but I don’t think I ever was as offbeat in my approaches or as liberated as the pioneering elements of youth were at that time.  I was always looking for establishments in which anyone of any age could stay. Places with four dry walls, fairly traditional establishments, not the places where you stay in a sleeping bag on the floor.”