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Instructor Spotlight - Ron Stern
Lifelong Learning recently interviewed Ron Stern, who teaches a variety of travel-related classes.
Ron, in your experience, what three elements are the most helpful for travel writers and photographers?
Curiosity: I think you need this as a basic requirement. This is what drives me to want to know more about different places and cultures. I am always learning and travel is a perfect vehicle that allows me to expand my horizons and get to know our world and the people in it.

Information: Knowing how to approach the right people, what they expect from me and how the world of travel writing works. This is what I try to convey in my classes.

Outlet(s): An outlet is where your article, video or whatever is going to be seen or viewed. In the past this meant primarily newspapers and magazines, but today we are not limited to these. Things like websites, social media sites, and blogs can be seen as legitimate outlets, and many people are traveling based on this new age of electronic media.

Fly Cheap, Stay Cheap, Travel Cheap sounds packed full of useful information. In your course description, you mention the Internet. How has the Internet changed travel opportunities?
Prior to the Internet you were pretty limited in your options for travel. You either had to send away for information or use a travel agent. Now, of course, all this information is readily available from your computer. For a lot of people, however, knowing which sites are the best ones for different purposes can be a little overwhelming. I try to cut through all that by giving you the ones I have used for years, showing you why I like them and how they can be used to find the best deals for airfare, lodging, attractions, rental cars and cruises. 

Could you pass along one tip for packing light?
Actually, I can give you two. I put everything in large Ziploc bags because I can squeeze out most of the air to save space. I am also a big fan of Scottevest smart clothing. They have an entire line of men’s and women's apparel that contain scores of large and small interior pockets. I can put an amazing number of things in my Scottevest jacket including water, iPads, cellphones, documents, snacks and many more. The best thing is that these don't count as checked luggage and I just put the jacket on the security conveyer belt. This saves a ton of space in my carry-on.

Many people fantasize about being paid to travel the globe. How did you come to make the fantasy a reality?
Well, in my case I was transitioning from a career in law enforcement. I started out writing some books back in the ’80s related to careers in this field and then became interested in travel. The problem for me, as with most, was that I needed time and money in order to make this a reality.

I read a few articles written by travel writers and figured I would try to see if I could do something similar. I started out by writing for a newsletter that had a large circulation and then approached the right people in Las Vegas to do a review of the popular shows that were there at the time.

To my surprise, all of them extended a complimentary invitation to see these shows. They gave my wife and me perfect seats and a press kit that included information that would help me write my story. We were amazed how fun and relatively easy this was to obtain, once you have the outlet or publication in place.

From then on, it was more of the same. We have been very fortunate to have traveled all over the world – to Spain, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France and many other countries.

Do you have a favorite destination? 
I suppose the answer would be the places where I have gone back numerous times. Those two countries would be Switzerland and Germany. Both have wonderful cities with diverse culture, food and people. I just returned from Eastern Germany where I visited towns previously under Soviet/Communist control during the Cold War. Today they are alive and vibrant, especially during Christmastime.

Is there anything you'd like to add about your classes or your teaching style?
I have been teaching these classes for 12 years now and try to convey the information in a fun and easy-to-understand manner. I have received many letters and emails from people who have taken my classes to say how much they enjoyed them. Many have launched their own travel writing careers using the techniques I teach in class.