Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Travelers Beware!

Amy Kniss, a member of The Commonwealth Club's media and PR staff, contributes the following:

As the holiday season draws near, many of us are in the midst of making our travel plans, but before you make those reservations or hit the road you should consult Peter Greenberg's new book Don't Go There!: The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World (Rodale Books).

Greenberg spoke yesterday at The Commonwealth Club of California about how to travel better, faster and cheaper, even during these harsh economic times. The former Newsweek writer and onetime travel editor for NBC's "Today Show" has spent much of his life and career on the go, and now he is sharing the secrets of traveling well. His talk revealed much of "what locals will tell you if you asked, but travel guides won't."

Covering all 50 states and at least 50 foreign countries, Greenberg brought a humorous style to some of the more serious issues of traveling, like piracy, terrorists and airport security. But his comedic style only enhanced what might otherwise be a depressing look at what's wrong with a globe's worth of destinations.

What's the key to effective traveling? According to Greenberg, "It's all about not listening to the rules. The rules are arbitrary and going to you get you in trouble every time." He advised travelers to be contrarians, particularly when it involves going against the flow of airport traffic. "Why look at the departure board when checking to see if your flight is on time?" Greenberg asks. Those boards haven't been right since 1963. Travelers should instead check the arrival board for their gate to see if a plane is there. If not, he says, why make the trek down the terminal only to be disappointed by an inevitable delay?

Although it may seem counterintuitive, Greenberg also suggested that when travelers arrive for a departure flight, they enter at the arrival level, and vice versa when their flight arrives at an airport. His logic? Full flights lead to long lines, congestion and slow security. Entering and exiting the airport against the flow of traffic will help travelers arrive speedily at their destinations, with far less stress.

Also, when preparing to leave for the airport, Greenberg reminded travelers to print their boarding pass and check-in online to streamline the airport experience. He also recommended that travelers program the airline's 800 number into their mobile phone. That way, should they run into unexpected delays at the airport, or worse find their flight canceled, they can avoid the lines at the ticketing counter and rearrange their travel plans over the phone while fellow passengers scramble to talk to an agent in person.

Instead of landing us in jail with his "don't follow the rules" mantra, Greenberg's spin helps us tweak our expectations for particular destinations and insists that being informed about where we are going is the best offense to both domestic and international travel.

He emphasized the human element of traveling and recommended calling hotels directly and contacting airlines before purchasing online. He not only encouraged travelers to FedEx their luggage to their destination beforehand, rather than check their bags, but to befriend ticket and gate agents at airports they depart from frequently.

Most important, Greenberg said, “Get to know their names. Don't ask them for anything. Be nice. Say thank you." Greenberg says agents tend to remember you positively and are more willing to pass along essential information concerning your travel itinerary and the like. "Not because you asked them for the low down, but simply because you were nice.”


John Tedder said...

I started listening to Mr. Greenberg on WAMC in Albany,NY Wednesday, January 28th at 1:00 PM. I listened while traveling in my car, but I couldn't hear the entire hour. I would love to hear it again. The part that I did hear was fabulous. I have a friend who travels by air several times a month and I wanted to tell him to listen to it on the web, but I can't find it anywhere. Do you know?

John Z. said...

No problem. You and your friend can listen to the streaming audio from The Commonwealth Club's web site. Go to

If anyone's ever looking for audio of past Commonwealth Club speeches for the past several years, they can get them at

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