Talking travel with PBS travel host Rudy Maxa (part 2)

I’m here with Rudy Maxa, PBS’s “Savvy Traveler” and host of the awards-winning series Rudy Maxa’s World. His sixth season is currently airing, featuring locales such as Estonia, Argentina, and Thailand (he’s already done a whopping 65 episodes).

He began as an investigative journalist at the Washington Post and then became the “Savvy Traveler” 15 years ago for public radio. He’s now a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and his work has appeared in GQ, Travel & Leisure, LA Times, and Forbes, among other publications. If you’re interested in more of what he has to say, check out his blog.

Read part 1 here.

What has been your greatest adventure?

“Adventure” is a big word. Watching the northern lights from a lodge in the countryside of Iceland was magical. Safari in Kenya really made me understand where in the food chain we rank-which is well below lions unless you’re talking “zoo.” Surfing in a wet suit down a white-water river in New Zealand–on my stomach with just a little board to keep me (mostly) upright–certainly got the heart pounding.

Worst travel experience?

Waiting before dawn in a tiny, freezing waiting room at what was then Leningrad’s airport for a flight to the States. The room was cold, my fellow passengers were largely drunk, and we boarded the big, old, lumbering Soviet jet through the cargo belly. The plane had to make two refueling stop before it could make it to the East Coast.
Favorite food and restaurant? Bar?

Thai and Italian. Oh, my, I have so many favorite restaurants around the world-Alma in the Twin Cities, where I live. Sushiko in Washington, DC. Cut and Fraiche in Los Angeles. L’Ami Louis in Paris. River Café and St. John in London. I’m not much of a bar guy, but I could live at a tiny hideaway called Vodka Tonic in Tokyo.

Where do you go to book flights? Any tips for getting the best deals?

I check third-party web sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. Kayak is handy for overseas flights. Cheapflights shows me if booking a few weeks or even months ahead will save me money. But I also check airline web sites for deals. For last-minute deals, it’s or Book far ahead-given how quickly airfares are rising, if you know where you want to be for Thanksgiving or the December holidays, it’s not too soon to make reservations.

What about travel agencies? When are they a good idea, and when are they not?

A good travel agent is a real find. Use an agent if you want help planning a trip to a specific destination or if you have a complicated itinerary.

Any advice to save on car rentals?

Look for deals on rental car web sites. Enterprise, the largest North American rental car company, has the largest fuel-efficient fleet with hybrids and vehicles that average 32 and 28 miles per gallon. When searching rental cars online, don’t cheat yourself. Look at outside of three summer months, they usually offer 50% off on weekend rentals at their neighborhood locations.

Do you use travel guides when you’re on the road? If so, which ones and why? If not, do you depend on friends and locals?

I almost always depend on locals or friends who know a destination well. There is so much information on the web today, travel guides often can’t keep up. A guide is good in providing a general overview of a destination that is totally new to a visitor.

Are there any truly off-the-beaten-road destinations today? Places that aren’t in Lonely Planet.

Not really, though there are experiences that some tour companies can provide in less-visited countries. But when former outposts such as Ulaanbaatar and Libya are welcoming tourists, it’s difficult to find new, hidden gems.

How do you feel about tourism to places with authoritarian regimes. Myanmar or North Korea or Iran, etc?

While I loathe spending money in a country such as Myanmar that might support a repressive government, people-to-people contact is so important to citizens of those places. At least that’s what I learn when I ask folks familiar with such places the same question you’ve asked me.

What are some easy ways travelers can save money on the road?

If you’re planning a road trip in the US, consider renting a car that might be bigger and more comfortable than yours or one that might get better gas mileage. You avoid wear and tear on your personal vehicle and you may get a nicer set of wheels in the deal.

If traveling abroad, families should consider renting apartments or condos to save on room nights and meals. If you’re going to be in Europe 17 days or longer, don’t rent a car-lease one from a company like to avoid value added taxes and high insurance charges. And with tri-band cell phones (try and Skype, there’s no reason not to stay in touch. Get out of the big cities to save money on lodging and food.