Friday, April 13

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional HedonismDo Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism by Thomas Kohnstamm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To all people who want to be a travel writer: this will broaden the knowledge you have of what this work may hold for you.  With Lonely Planet and its professional cohorts the budgets are smaller than you might think, the deadlines arrive sooner than you thought, and rather than enjoying a beach, restaurant, cathedral or art gallery you may be busy gathering data.  This data may include open and closing hours, costs of entrance, what type of travellers visit this place, and food menus.  Thomas Kohnstamm plays by the book and does not take freebees at the beginning of his trip.  Then his budget runs out and he must create means of raising funds to complete his trip and writings of Brazil, including finding and taking any freebees possible.  The mayhem he finds himself in is astounding and the way he able to deal with the issues is equally hilarious....well, at times scary with the black eyes to prove his travel struggles.  Despite his struggles and frustration with Lonely Planet, he continues to travel and write for this organization.  He is a nomad at heart and can not lose his thirst for movement around the world.  He is an entertaining and funny writer who uses approachable language.  Check out this book and his written works for Lonely Planet for stories that will make you laugh, gawk in shock, and shake your head in surprise.

Best parts of the book:

This book is not intended to be an expose and it is not intended to discourage the purchase of use of travel guidebooks.  I almost always take a guidebook with me when I travel, and it invariably helps me in some way that makes it worth its price and worth its weight in my pack.  It is my hope that this book will help to demystify the origins of travel writing and show that when thousands of travellers follow a guidebook word-for-word, recommendation-for-recommendation, in not only harms contemporary international travel but can also do serious harm to places in developing countries.  Maybe if people see what arbitrary bullshit goes into the making of a guidebook, they will realize that it is just a loose tool to give basic information and is not singular or necessarily the correct way to approach a destination. p. 3

So, travel writing, like any job, has its issues.  However, travel writing is particularly disorienting since you are expected to work in a tourist environment that is built for pleasure.  You must find a way to make yourself effective in that peculiar limbo between work and play.....We travel writers live in perpetual motion.  Relationahips are transitory and fleeting.  Friendships, even more so.  Home is where you are on a given night.  It is at once glamorous and pathetic, exciting and perversely routine.  The longer you do it, the harder it is to return to normal life, and one day you wake up and realize that the road is your permanent address.  There's no going back. p. 3-4

The majority of travel book fall into three basic groups: 1. There are the earnest writers who become enlightened through contact with the simple, honest live of Mexican peasants or the unparalleled tranquility of the Tuscan countryside.  A more holistic approach to life is discovered and the universe is balanced....2. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the smug writers who mock how backward plumbing and transportation are anywhere outside of North America....3. Last but no least are the Charlie Bronson guys who attempt solo ascent of mouton without telling anyone where they're going, are forced to amputate their appendages with a sport, and then expect us to appreciate their triumph of human spirit. p. 54

"Parachute Artist" is a name given to a certain type of travel writer, particularly itinerant guidebook writers.  Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, defines a parachute artist as "someone who can drop into a place and quickly assimilate, who can write about anywhere."  You must be able to wake up in Thai Hill Country, Kaliningrad, the Ganges Delta...or Port Moresby and quickly wrap your head around the place.  You must determine its character and capture the so-called zeitgeist in a way that can be explained in a 300-word section introduction and 250-word city and regional introductions - even if you've never set foot on that continent before.  You must find the best accommodations, activities, restaurants, and practicalities; write pseudosagacious, balanced reviews on all of them; and then flip the channel to the next destination and do the same thing all over again.  Efficiency is of the essence. p. 73

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Tonia,
    Enjoyed that. Read right to the end. Thanks for the clips from the book. Yes. One, you have reviewed a book I would like to read. Never having had a class on travel writing, I am still mystified at exactly how to approach that form. Of course, it took me a whole university course to figure out the format of movie reviews, -- reading them, trying to write them, learning what it is people are looking for when they come to read them. Must be the same with travel writing.

    On other matters, thanks for the wrap-up on your 40th birthday party. That was fun from afar.