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Do Travel Writers go to Hell? The book that changed my opinions on guide books and blogging

Do Travel Writers go to Hell? by THOMAS KOHNSTAMM

Have you ever thought that being a travel writer is quite possibly the most glamorous and exciting job you could possibly do? A life filled with adventure, excitement and discovery and the chance to travel the world and write about it for some of the best publications would be a dream come true, right?

Well, that’s what I thought too until I read this book. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it, but it made me realise that being a travel writer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.


Thomas is a travel writer working on updating the Lonely Planet guide to South America. He begins with good intentions and intends to research every place thoroughly and give honest, unbiased opinions. But a lack of money, time and resources get the better of him. The book provides a hilarious but worrying perspective on writing travel guide books and he thoroughly de-glamorizes the sought after career.

I think that this is probably the best phrase from the book that sums it up perfectly:

“I imagine that the difference between travelling and professional travel writing is like the difference between having sex and working in pornography. While both are still probably fun, being a professional brings many levels of complication to your original interest and will eventually consume your personal life.”

Tom’s gloomy perspective didn’t put me off  writing about my travels and it actually made me realise that there is such a huge need for good quality travel blogs and less and less need for outdated guide books. In the book he ends up taking free accommodation in return for good reviews. He lets people take him out for fancy dinners and he writes guides based on word-of-mouth recommendations over first hand accounts. Of course, this makes a hilarious read as he drunkenly stumbles around South America, but I’m not sure I’d ever trust a guide book in the same way again.

Guide books are great for maps and timetables but for up-to-date opinions and reviews, you can’t beat a travel blog. Travel bloggers don’t have the same deadlines or pressures. We don’t feel the need to review places that we’re not interested in or write gushing reviews about mediocre accommodation. I may be a little biased but, these days, I’d always check out my favourite blogs for destination reviews before I’d buy a Lonely Planet.

If you’re interested in reading about the life of a travel writer you should definitely check out this book or, better still, check out some of my favourite travel bloggers this year!

 Has anyone else read this book or read something that made them realise that travel writing isn’t always the dream career we’d like to think it is?

Jeremy Branham

Monday 1st of April 2013

This book definitely sounds interesting. No, traveling and travel writing aren't the same. When I was writing guides for Expedia last year, I realized how limited I was in time. Like Thomas, I had to depend on locals for recommendations for places as I couldn't possibly see and do it all. In some ways, I felt like a failure for doing this. However, it is reality. And it's all consuming too!


Friday 29th of March 2013

I haven't read this, but I'm going to because I authored two guidebooks and it is really, really difficult. They aren't just good for maps. From my perspective, they're more inclusive and the fact-checking is way better (author depending of course). I'd only trust a local blogger because even if you visit a place for a week, you don't really get to know it unless you live there or visit there quite often. Plus, a guidebook has to adhere to some sort of standard. You never know why a blogger picked a certain restaurant. That said, I like both, I do both. I like that I can contact a blogger for advice in real time.

Guidebook writing can be miserable. I just read Travel Writing 2.0 and the author says it's the most difficult type of travel writing.

I had to call 100 or so places in French and track down so much information. I did so many restaurant and hotel reviews in a few weeks. The deadline is short. The pay is not great. But it's really worthwhile because you get to send tourists to the best places. And you get your name in a book. Can't wait to read this, thanks for reviewing it.

Natalie Roberts

Saturday 8th of September 2012

Great post Monica. I've just bought the book so I will let you know my take. I'm not a travel writer, but if I'm looking for reviews and information on a destination I would always pick a blog over a guide book. Things change so quickly these days, so you can't always rely on a guidebook to give you up to date information.


Tuesday 11th of September 2012

Looking forward to finding out how you get on with the book!


Wednesday 29th of August 2012

Nothing is ever what it's all cracked up to be ;)

I saw this book the last time I went around travel area in a bookshop and was intrigued! It sounds entertaining and I might pick it up sometime.

I think guide books and travel blogs / any information on the Internet can compliment each other well. Guide books are good for a really thorough coverage of a place, especially for some places that are not widely written on the Internet. Blogs are good for direct real-people opinions and experiences, but they're all over the place and unedited, so you need to dig through the mess a bit.


Monday 3rd of September 2012

So true. Finding a good blog post can be tricky and it takes time to wade through all the crap that's out there. It's good to know that most guidebooks are reliable and easy.


Wednesday 29th of August 2012

With guidebooks, I always use them as a start-off point to spark my interest on the history and learn more about the culture and people of the place im visiting. For a visual reference on what I'll be visiting, the internet is my pal. for more indepth info on the history of a destination, wikipedia seems to my old friend with that one! although wikipedia did say that the japanese language is quote 'related to Hungarian and is gay'.....


Monday 3rd of September 2012

Haha, good old Wikipedia. I guess this just shows that we all go to different places for different things when we're researching travel or actually on the road. It's good to have all the options we have these days.