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Hellish Travel Writing

There's been a lot of kerfuffle about the release of a book called Do Traveller Writer's Go To Hell? I've received an advance copy of the book to review (where I'll look at how readable the book is for a general audience), but as a travel writer myself I've got a few thoughts.

In case you haven't heard the author Thomas Kohnstamm purports to have been so badly paid by Lonely Planet while updating a guidebook for Brazil that he has to sell drugs to make ends meet. This is after spending the first couple of days partying in Rio to acclimatise. Ohhhhhkay, so you're strapped for cash but you spend the first couple of days partying? I've never had this kind of luxury on a job I've done for Lonely Planet.

I think anyone who accepts a job where they the money isn't going to work out probably doesn't deserve the tag professional. If you've got a problem with the pay rate: don't do the job. It's amatuerish to take a gig, waste time and then waggle fingers at your employers for being bad payers.

There are also claims that his guidebooks played loosely with the truth and in the latest report he says he never visited Columbia when he was contracted to write that guidebook. This embarrases travel writers, possibly more than his anecdote that when he had sex with a waitress his review included some in-joke nonsense about "friendly service". Any first year journalism student will tell you to examine your sources and based on someone openly boasting about how bad a job they've done, this book should be treated with a lot of salt.

Of course, any second-year journalism student will tell you that when you want to get some dirt on a company the first people to approach are disgruntled former employees.


  1. I remember attempting to use that LP guide to Colombia last year when I was in that country. It was horrible. I ended up borrowing the 1996 LP to Colombia. It was so obvious that the recent edition had very little to offer. So, it's not shocking to hear this latest news.

    But, I wonder, how much of Kohnstamm's new book is also fiction?

  2. There are good and bad authors in any company, Jeff. Sorry you've hit a bad lot in Columbia, though I believe Mr Kohnstamm only wrote "frontmatter" chapters like history and culture for that particular book.
    I can well understand the tendency to "fictionalise" guidebook writing, because the truth is it's actually a lot of hard work and checking bus timetables really doesn't make an exciting read.


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