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Travel Tips from the Pro: Peter Greenberg Tells You What You Need to Know

CBS Travel Editor and WID Distinguished Scholar Peter Greenberg shores up his UW–Madison undergrad memories and reflects on why it's important to venture outside the norm.

Peter Greenberg

Of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations, CBS News Travel Editor and Distinguished Scholar at Discovery Peter Greenberg has visited 151 of them. WID chatted with him about life on the road, tips for budget travelers and how to summon the courage to get that passport — and use it.

As host of the syndicated Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio Show and founder of petergreenberg.com, Greenberg estimates he travels about 420,000 miles each year, or a little less than a trip to the moon and back.

Yet the New York native regularly makes time to return to the UW–Madison, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication arts in 1972. Currently Greenberg is one of WID’s Distinguished Scholars at Discovery, meaning he will make periodic visits to campus throughout the year to give talks and participate in various programs and events.

Why should students take the plunge and travel internationally?

Greenberg: [Only about 35] percent of Americans even have a passport, and that’s up in the last couple of years because of new requirements for Mexico and Canada. Americans are the most fearful travelers in the world. We’re not very evolved as travelers, and it’s sad.

You’re going to be working in the global village. And if you truly want to be competitive in the marketplace and pursue your passions in a way that isn’t just psychically rewarding but also financially and professionally rewarding, you need to look out the window and see that the world doesn’t end at the shores of Lake Mendota. It begins.

Are study abroad programs a good way for early 20-somethings to travel?

Absolutely. I always go back to the Mark Twain quote: “Never let school get in the way of your education.” If you can do it, or even if you want to play with a gap year, the answer is yes. Any chance you get, do it. You get to immerse yourself in a new culture. You get to learn a new language. Why wouldn’t you jump at every opportunity you could to learn about the world?

People must ask you about cultural differences all the time. But what about cultural commonalities? What do we folks in Madison have in common with people a world away?

What the folks in Madison have in common with the folks in Karachi is: You both know Madison. But [Madison folks] don’t know Karachi. The starting point, the common ground, is that you both know something about America. And that opens the conversation– it doesn’t end it– and that allows you to learn about their country because you’re first talking about yours. We still set the table culturally for most of the world, through music, video and the Internet. You can start with McDonalds and continue with the Kardashians — they know it. They also can tell you the state capitals and more about American history than you probably know.

What is your biggest tip for travelers on a budget?

The biggest myth out there is that all the available deals are online. They’re not even close to all being online. What you see online are what the travel providers choose to put online, but the Internet doesn’t think creatively. If you have any kind of creative itinerary or are on a budget to a place you’ve never been, why would you ever mortgage your creative thinking to the Internet? I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t use it for research. I’m not even saying you shouldn’t use it to close the deal [on a ticket or reservation]. I’m telling you not to use it to do the deal first.

What you need to do first is go against all of your cultural instincts right now and pick up a phone and dial a human being and talk to them. Technology should never take precedence over common sense. And never take a ‘no’ from someone who is not empowered to give you a ‘yes’ in the first place.

What items do you always bring with you?

I carry Gorilla Tape, which is like a high form of Duct Tape, because it can fix anything. I also carry replacement and spare batteries for everything I own. I carry a flashlight, an emergency medical kit in an Altoids tin, and a laminated card with my credit card numbers, but not the expiration dates or security codes. I carry a photocopy of my passport. I also carry 100 $2 bills for tipping. They’ll always remember you for that.

Of the many countries you’ve visited, where would you go again?

Everywhere. I’m always learning something new. I never take anything for granted. I still get a kick every time I take off and every time I land, and I still get a kick every time I get an opportunity to learn something new. My mother told me a long time ago that it’s much more important to be interested than to be interesting. What keeps me going that I’m still interested.

So I don’t think you’re ever going to hear me say, ‘I’ve already been there.’ Yes, I was there, but I never could possibly have taken it all in. And so, if I get a chance to go back, unless there’s a raging civil war with nobody in control or an outbreak of disease for which there is no known cure, I’m going. Why not?

— Sandy Knisely


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