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Rediscovering Travel: When Going Frugal, Think Seth Kugel

Author Seth Kugel's new book REDISCOVERING TRAVEL explores world sightseeing on the cheap. Images courtesy of Norton.

By Ali McPherson

Globe-trotting writer Seth Kugel, known primarily as the New York Times‘s “Frugal Traveler,” returned to his former New School class to discuss his new fun and adventurous book, Rediscovering Travel (Norton) revealing the realities of traveling while broke.

“My mom was backpacking around Europe before the term backpacking was even invented,” said the Jackson Heights resident. Kugel, who grew up in Massachusetts, went on family trips during his summer vacations. His new book chronicles his interest in meeting people, wandering around, and being the opposite of a tourist.

Although Kugel has been a travel writer for the New York Times for eight years (as well as other outlets including Gourmet and Global Post), he admitted that writing this book was torture. A self described, “disorganized and easily distracted person,” the 48-year-old single Jewish author recalled the experience as incredibly hard. “Writing this book exploded my mind and it took a couple of years to get everything in reasonable order.” For his next book, he promised himself that the process must be more self-organized and in chronological order.

Growing up, Kugel was addicted to traveling. His adventures have included traveling solo to a Kenyan village when he was only fifteen years old. Later, while he was in the Dominican Republic, he stayed in someone’s home for a month where he was able to perfect his Spanish and gain a more authentic experience apart from the touristy attractions.

During the former columnist’s time as a Yale student, he spent a semester abroad in France. “It was cheaper to fly and travel in France one semester then it was to stay at Yale.” Yet, after completing his degrees in public policy and political science, he only wanted to write, travel and sample exotic food.

The Queens freelancer admitted that writing about globe-trotting was not as glamorous as one might initially think. He recalled the time he camped out on an island in Norway which was one of the most expensive places he’s ever been. “I wanted to go to a bar for a drink, and I had to sacrifice my finances. Twenty dollars a day in Norway is not a good idea.”

As if traveling the world wasn’t enough, he also has a popular YouTube channel “Amigo Gringo” written and presented in Portuguese. In his videos, Kugel gives tips on tours, restaurants, and all that New York has to offer.

However, when it comes to living as a freelancer in New York, he doesn’t find it very alluring. Kugel explained that is almost impossible to make a living as a freelance travel enthusiast. His advice is to find a regular gig. “That’s the only way to do it… or marry a lawyer.”

Seth Kugel visits his former New School writing class taught by award-winning professor Susan Shapiro. Photo (C) Susan Shapiro.

Seth Kugel will be reading from Rediscovering Travel this Wednesday, November 14th and Thursday November 15th at Barnes and Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. To learn more about Kugel’s work, visit sethkugel.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Based in New York, Ali McPherson has published work in the New School Free Press and is currently an editor for Eleven and a Half Literary Journal. 

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