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The secret to successful travel

"Today" travel editor Peter Greenberg tells how to get the most out of your vacation, including money-saving tips. Read an excerpt from "The Travel Detective."
/ Source: TODAY

Americans are traveling more than ever before. And to look at the abundance of ads on TV and in the newspapers, there are more travel companies promoting "deals" than ever before. But travelers are also being hit with excess charges and high ticket prices. "Today" travel editor Peter Greenberg recently updated his book "The Travel Detective: How to Get the Best Service and the Best Deals from Airlines, Hotels, Cruiseships, and Car Rental Agencies," complete with tips for how to navigate today's travel landscape. Read an excerpt.

Most of us love to travel. That's the good news.

The bad news: We hate the process of travel.

We've been abused. And after each trip, we tell ourselves we'll never do it again.

And yet, we can't wait to do it all over again. And we do.

To many people, travel remains a voyage — or a flight or an Interstate trip — of discovery. But to most of us, travel remains a ritual of reassurance. Where there's a whim ... there's a way. And even though we hate the process, we continue to travel.

In 1999, more than 1.3 billion people traveled by air. The average American traveler is 44 years old. Of all American adult travelers, 49 percent are men, 64 percent are married, and 48 percent have children.

We travel to escape, or to explore, or to rest. Travel is, for many of us, an exercise in renewal, or a test of our limits. And some of us travel, simply, because we CAN.

And we DO. In a recent American Express study of 200 developing and developed countries, travel and tourism were found to be the biggest industry. In fact, if travel and tourism were a country instead of an industry, its gross national product (GNP) would rank among the top five in the world.

As an industry, it is one of the world's largest employers — one of every eleven jobs worldwide is held by someone in the travel business.

I've been traveling since I was six months old, when my parents took me on a very long DC-6 flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Since then, I've flown on virtually every commercial aircraft ever made, from DC-3s to Comets, Fokkers, Ilyushins, Fairchilds, and Boeings.

Over the years, my passports have bulged with the entry and departure stamps of more than 120 of the world's 187 countries.

And many readers of this book have passports that are fatter than mine.

There has been an exponential jump in the number of travelers and in the frequency of their trips.

In 1978, at the beginning of airline deregulation in the United States, only about 17 percent of all adults had ever taken an airplane flight.

With deregulation came dozens of new airlines. Airfares started matching bus fares, and the number of passengers soared.

Today, more than 84 percent of adults have flown. An impressive number, but also a scary one, because a majority of that 84 percent feel abused by the process.

But the key question remains: Are we tourists or travelers?

To me, the definition of tourist is victim waiting to happen. I know very few people who define themselves as tourists. Instead, they call themselves travelers. But that doesn't mean they're good travelers.

I always get a laugh on Mondays. That's when my incoming-call volume soars.

Nearly everyone who calls is angry. They've just returned from a trip and there were problems.

And the calls seem to share the same structure, language, and intonation.

"It was a HORRIBLE flight," one will say. "The service was TERRIBLE." And, they add, they will NEVER do it again.

"Really?" I respond. "A horrible flight?"

"Absolutely," they answer. "Horrible."

"Let me ask you something," I continue. "At any time during your flight, did the airplane hit a mountain and disintegrate?"

"No..."

"And when you landed, did the wing hit the runway and did you cartwheel and explode?"

Again, "No."

"And," I conclude the questioning, "are you calling me from your ... destination?"

"Yes..."

"Well, hang up the phone. It was a GREAT flight. You arrived!"

A funny thing then happens between the time my phone rings on Monday and the time it rings again — the same person is calling — on Thursday.

The person who had insisted that his or her experience was horrible on Monday, that he or she would NEVER do it again, is now in a mild panic.

Why? Because it's THURSDAY and he or she is desperate for the information necessary to get to the airport, get out of town, and try it all over again!

We have become a nation of travel junkies. And our addiction seems to be incurable.

And yet, for many of us, the decisions involving the PROCESS of travel are flawed. We have a serious entitlement problem. Half of us don't think we're entitled to anything when we travel. And the rest of us think we deserve EVERYTHING.

Result: A nation of unhappy, but addicted travelers.

So, what do we REALLY want when we travel?

Chances are, if you've traveled lately, you now have a list. You may not have written it down or committed it to memory, but you've got it — your list of all the ways a trip can be ruined.

Excerpted from "The Travel Detective," by Peter Greenberg. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Greenberg. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.