Bad things happen to Peter Greenberg when he travels.
"That's the beauty of it," said Greenberg, travel editor of NBC's The Today Show, and author of the October title The Complete Travel Detective Bible (Rodale). "When it happens to you like it happens to everybody else" -- be it an outrageous airline fee, an unwarranted hassle, or a trip-destroying glitch -- "that's when you can declare war -- and make sure that things get changed."
Case in point: A few months ago, Greenberg -- a man who's logged an estimated 30 million travel-miles in the course of his personal and professional life -- booked passage on a low-fare carrier from London to Paris for $29. "You can only make your reservation online," Greenberg said. "And there is a notice there -- I give them credit only for that -- which said you're only allowed one piece of checked baggage; it can't weigh more than 20 kilos. Well, I'm going around Europe, I figured, 'Wow, what am I going to do?' Then I saw if I checked another box and paid another $5 to $10, I could check two bags -- great! I'll do that, it's worth it to me...
"Well, I get to the airport -- they have me overweight. But I checked the box. 'But you didn't read the fine-print' -- fine-print, by the way, which was not located on that page -- 'that said no matter how many boxes you check, the total weight of the bags you wanted to bring could not exceed twenty kilos.' What a rip-off. So, you ready for this? What do you think they charged me -- for one bag, on a flight that lasted 48 minutes ... that I paid $29 for? ... $515."
Greenberg went on The Today Show with an account of his experience; he also recounts it in his new book.
"That's what I'm here for," the reporter-author said of his ability to publicize the many ways he feels travelers are subject to abuse at every turn. "I saw people at that counter weeping. Look, I could whip out the credit-card; at least I could handle the charge -- I didn't like it -- but there were people there who had no choice: they didn't have the money, and they couldn't leave their bag ... This -- you know -- this is skyway-robbery!"
Peter Greenberg would never fall afoul of that particular nasty surprise in America -- if only because he long ago worked out a handier solution to the problem of transporting luggage for his domestic trips.
"I don't check bags," he said, "I FedEx my bags. Okay? So think how much time I'm saving there: at least two-and-a-half hours of my life ..." The delivery-service picks up his suitcases at his home or office, and the bags are waiting for him later in his destination hotel-room. "Think of all the schlepping I don't have to do, all the waiting I don't have to do, all the traffic I'm not stuck in 'cause I had to wait for the bags. Is it worth it? You bet."
There are dozens such practical tips within The Complete Travel Detective Bible, a hefty paperback whose 600-plus pages are filled with at least as many hints on how to make a journey a happy success as on how to avoid disasters. From out-of-the-way New England lighthouse bed-and-breakfasts to non-oceanic and untraditional Hawaiian-visitor activities, from unexpected cities with good subway systems (including Kyoto, Japan, and Glasgow, Scotland) to newly-opened scenic train routes (Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia; Beijing, China, to Lhasa, Tibet); from U.S. national parks to foreign medical-tourism, from how to get your passport to how to book your trip -- it's all laid out and cross-referenced for easy access.
Greenberg -- born and raised in Manhattan, educated in Wisconsin -- began acquiring travel-expertise as a young West Coast correspondent for Newsweek in the 1970s. "I was always the guy with the suitcase in the trunk of my car; I was always the first at the scene of something," he recalled by telephone from NBC Burbank, where he was tracking a story of his scheduled to air later that week. "And it dawned on me at a very early stage in my career that nobody was actually covering the process of travel as news ... so I used my access as a journalist ... covering Watergate and Gary Gilmore and Howard Hughes and all the other stuff ... and developed a specialty of travel and aviation and aviation safety."
Three decades later, Greenberg -- thanks to frequent exposure on Today and other NBC/CNBC programs -- is known to millions as "The Travel Detective."
Americans are traveling more than ever, Greenberg said, six years after 9/11: "When it comes to travel, it is so much a part of our culture now that we look at it as our birthright, and we will not be denied." Yet the more we journey, the more we leave ourselves open to abuse, he said -- through overcharging, through Draconian rules, through shabby treatment. "You know, we actually define a successful trip by how much we can minimize the abuse. And that's really who I'm talking to out there when I write my books; I'm telling them how they can minimize the abuse."
Readers, and viewers, are listening. Greenberg said he's greeted everywhere with other people's horror tales and travel tips. "If I took you out to LAX today, I would have difficulty getting to the gate without being stopped at least 15 times by people who want to tell me their stories, tell me their problems, ask for solutions, or ask advice ... which sort of confirms my suspicion about why I'm doing what I'm doing, because there's a desperate need out there for information."
That's kind of nice, in a way -- because even when Peter Greenberg travels all by himself, he's never alone. --Tom Nolan