Seth KugelHi and thanks for dropping by the website. I’m Seth, and that’s me above in Indonesia’s Baliem Valley, pretending not to be terrified, and on the left, floating down the Amazon and completely missing the view. But enough small talk. I’m a freelance journalist and travel writer, the host of the “Amigo Gringo” YouTube channel (subscribe!), and a frequent contributor to The New York Times. I’m also a co-founder of LiveCampusTours by Nylie, a start-up launched in the summer of 2020 that helps high school students narrow down their college search list by pairing them with current undergraduates for 1:1 campus tours via smartphone. My book, Rediscovering Travel: A Guide for the Globally Curious, came out in November, 2018, and contains my collected wisdom (or lack thereof) from traveling the world as Frugal Traveler columnist for the NYT from 2010 to 2016. You can order it here. Ah, and feel free to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. (And in Portuguese on Twitter and Instagram.)

As the former Frugal Traveler, the most common question I get is “How did you become the Frugal Traveler?” followed closely by “How can I become the Frugal Traveler?” Those are tough, so I much prefer the third-most-common question I get, which is “Room for milk?” (Yes.) But I’ll try to answer the first two – not to mention, “How did you end hosting a Brazilian YouTube channel?” – by giving a bit of background.

After growing up in Newton, Mass., I studied political science at Yale, which is also where I made my first money from writing: a $100 prize for the best senior essay in comparative government. I suspect it was also the only senior essay in comparative government. After graduation, I joined the Teach For America program and worked as a third-grade bilingual teacher in the Bronx for three years, where I learned a lot of Spanish and taught a little English. Then I went to the Harvard Kennedy School for a Master of Public Policy degree, specializing in immigration policy infused with a stiff dose of economics and statistics.

Next up, I worked in an immigrant services project for the City of New York, and switched over to the Division of Child Protection for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. (Note that neither of those should be seen as vital prerequisites to become the Frugal Traveler.)

During this time I began freelancing for The New York Times City section, which no longer exists, and eventually quit my day job and started covering the Bronx for City. It was still a freelance gig, so I wrote for lots of other places as well, including Time Out New York, which I tricked into letting me write about food. That eventually led to being called a “Latino food expert” in Gourmet, which is the precise moment I learned what “expert” means: a person who a major publication says is an expert. What a joke. Speaking of jokes, I also sold a humor piece to the New Yorker that was never published, got paid and all, so I can legitimately say “I have written for the New Yorker” but not “My work has appeared in the New Yorker.”

Then I wrote a book, Nueva York: The Complete Guide to Latino Life in the Five Boroughs, co-authored with Carolina Gonzalez; it was published in 2006. From April 2006 to December 2008, I wrote the Weekend in New York column in Travel section of the Times. And from 2001 to 2008, I taught a journalism course on interviewing techniques at the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. That was fun. If I can ever stop traveling I’ll definitely try doing that again.

At the end of 2008, I relocated to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to continue writing for the Times Travel section, and work as Brazil correspondent for the international news organization Global Post, which launched on January 12, 2009. From Brazil, I also contributed to magazines like Wallpaper, Conde Nast Traveler and Food & Wine, as well as the Washington Post.

In June, 2010, I took over the Frugal Traveler column for the Travel section of The New York Times, beginning with a grand 13-week trip by bus, boat and train (but mostly bus) from São Paulo to New York. I also started writing a travel column in Portuguese for the web portal iG; I don’t do that anymore but you can find a few examples from the column under the “Matérias em português” tab to the left.

In 2014, I was invited by Rede Snack, a Brazilian company whose name means “The Snack Network” and whose logo is a YouTube-style play logo with a Dorito in place of the triangle, to create a channel for Brazilian tourists in New York. Brazilians, few people know, are the fourth-biggest source of foreign tourists to New York City, after Brits, Canadians and Chinese. The channel launched in October 2014 and is still going strong.

I quit Frugal Traveler in 2016, wrote a book in 2018, and now teach journalism at both NYU and the School of the New York Times. When the pandemic hit, I convinced people around the world to give me virtual tours of their neighborhoods via Zoom, and found it so compelling I teamed up with a serial entrepreneur, a recent college grade and a university administrator to use the same system to bring high school students to campus if they can’t make it physically or want to narrow down their choices before making a visit. The big difference between us and the virtual tours all colleges offer is that ours pair the high school student with a college student that shares their interests, and offers live, one-on-one tours. Check out this video explainer

Along the way I have managed to learn Caribbean-inflected Spanish and Gringo-inflected Portuguese pretty fluently since college, and I also have ten years of French study buried deep in the back of my brain, though it would take a neurosurgeon to extract it. Quel dommage. Hmm, not sure what that means.