Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

First, let's get all your pesky questions out of the way. Yes, Arthur Frommer used to write speeches for the Nixon Administration. No, he doesn't believe in unicorns or creationism. His favorite color is heather grey; his least favorite odor is gently-worn diaper. He once killed a yak with his bare hands.

Okay, not really. The enigmatic Mr. Frommer may forever remain a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a Motel 6 garbage-can liner, but gosh, he sure knows his way around a nifty travel publication.

Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel doesn't dawdle with fanciful story leads ("What this is really about, I tell myself as I pack my wide-brimmed fedora and tarantula repellant, is liberation"), nor does it imperil its editorial credibility by plugging, say, lip gloss as a travel accessory. So while the publication may pack all the pizzazz of an actuarial table, it relays pertinent information about destinations and deals in a readily browsable format. That's probably the reason you read a magazine like this, unless you're one of the Gabor sisters.

The April issue of Budget Travel spans the globe with aplomb. While destinations and activities in the continental US nab much of the attention, the mag also visits England's Cornish coast (its "secret hotels" are secret no more) and the Canadian Galápagos (in "Canada Gone WILD," a headline that teases repeated blarings of Rush's 2112). Both features exemplify what makes Budget Travel the most populist travel title in magazinedom: a minimum of flowery description, but reasonably priced lodging/noshing/activity suggestions aplenty.

The first-person "Trips That Can Change Your Life" recounting of a post-tsunami trek to Sri Lanka happily refuses to tug on the heartstrings. The monthly "Road Trip," on the other hand, unveils a host of reasons to spend four days in South Dakota that don't involve an inability to secure bail money.

Though I'm not as bullish about the user-contributed content --tips like "follow the crowds for safe street food" prompted me to wonder if similar advice had been meted out in Jonestown --Budget Travel devotes only a few pages here and there to it. Wisely, the mag sticks to practical advice meted out, um, practically: featurettes on several of the country's most enticing small towns, lists of Web sites that accommodate last-minute golf reservations, a "What $100 buys in... Bhutan" primer that merrily hypes what appears to be a $3 balsa-wood dildo.

Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel falls a little flat in its "How" section, subtitled "Learn to Work the System." The larger items feel oddly outdated (bits about RSS feeds and credit cards promising freebies have been written multiple times for every conceivable audience) and the quickie blurbs relay somewhat-less-than-essential info (except for the note that American Airlines has raised the price of its snack boxes to FOUR FUCKING U.S. DOLLARS. Man, that blows my honey-roasted-peanut budget to holy heaven.).

Clearly, Budget Travel takes the Thrifty McThrift mentality a little too far at times. The April issue contains too many distracting "special advertising sections" (five of 'em, totaling 23 pages), while its photos more often than not boast the size and clarity of postage stamp. Guys, if you need some cash to up the production values and/or decrease the reliance on marketing pap, maybe you oughta postpone that Himalayas-On-225-Yuan-A-Day research expedition until after the galpal-mandated emasculation known as fall foliage season.

I don't travel much, partly because pumping this tripe into your e-mailboxes twice a week keeps me chained to my computer. But should I decide to hit the road--anyone up for a tour of minor-league-baseball outposts? A Graceland pilgrimage? A visit to Sam's Club Med?--I'll likely give Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel a gander before I go. In this case, a practical traveling companion is more useful than a personable one.

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