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Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism
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Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism

3.19  ·  Rating Details ·  1,281 Ratings  ·  199 Reviews
For those who think that travel guidebooks are the gospel truth.

WANTED: Travel Writer for Brazil
Decisiveness: the ability to desert your entire previous life–including well-salaried office job, attractive girlfriend, and basic sanity for less than minimum wage
Attention to detail: the skill to research northeastern Brazil, including transportation,
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 22nd 2008 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Oct 04, 2009 Martine rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: fans of Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson
Every once in a while when I return from a holiday, I fantasise about becoming a travel writer-cum-photographer. At the risk of sounding like an insufferable show-off here, I think I've earned my dues in the travel world. I've visited 36 countries in five continents, including a few stints as a tour guide in China. I speak my languages, have a fairly strong stomach, can deal with grotty hotels as long as they're not too noisy, and am both a decent writer and a decent photographer, a combination ...more
Aug 20, 2008 Michael rated it did not like it
Seattle author. Seems from blurb like an interesting perspective - we'll see!


OK, I bought this at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, one of my favorite Seattle area bookstores. The kid who wrote it is a Seattle author and I like to occasionally buy something obscure somewhat on impulse from local authors.

After I looked at some of the other Goodreads reviews, I realized that I'm not exactly the target demographic for his readers - I'm about 25 years too old - although I'm mal
Do travel writers go to hell? This one may. Narcisstic and self-indulgent, and that's just the book.

What would be an interesting topic for travellers who have relied on travel guides in the past is instead treated to a mess of a book that only peripherally deals with the writing of travel guides. If the reader looks hard enough it can be found in small doses amidst lengthy expositions of the writer's tawdry life playing with drug dealing and sleeping with prostitutes.
Jun 23, 2008 Cathy rated it liked it

I haven't read anything this trashy since I'm With the Band!

He spends most of his time in Brazil drunk or stoned. He sleeps with any girl that moves. (Oh wait, he only makes out with the 15-year-old.) He's a Sagittarius! I alternately loathe him and love him.

Do I believe half of what he says? No.
Yet, I couldn't put the book down and I am ashamed of myself.

One thing I know for sure? He's never writing travel books again.
Bode Wilson
Jun 21, 2008 Bode Wilson rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: horny frat guys, I guess.
Christ, what a mess. Thoroughly unlikeable narrator, seems to look to some giant chip on his shoulder for inspiration. None of his exploits sound remotely appealing or entertaining. Saved somewhat by a running discussion of the effects that travel guides have on the places featured within them, a point usually undercut by the author's sophomoric rantings.
Nov 30, 2008 Adele rated it did not like it
This book sucked. Thomas Kohnstamm is basically a chauvinistic, narcissistic asshole who somehow convinced Lonely Planet to pay him to write about Brazil. Poorly. Then, he exploits them in this hey-I'm-only-35-but-whatever-I-can-write-a-tell-all memoir, and they give him more money to go write about Chile. OK, yes, I'm totally jealous that I'm not a Lonely Planet guidebook writer too, but even if I were I would still detest Thomas Kohnstamm. Anyone can go abroad and have crazy, unexpected ...more
Oct 28, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing
This book probably wouldn't have found a publisher if not for its hook as an titillating expose of the travel writing industry. Which is a shame, because the book is hilarious and very well written. It seems that the scandal has been oversold, because except for a somewhat hurried "I made up some stuff" epilogue, the actual descriptions of how he survived as a travel writer on a subsistence wage mostly reads as quite reasonable. It also seems that Lonely Planet was ultimately happy with his ...more
Jul 01, 2008 Philip rated it liked it
Recommends it for: cynics who think it's all rigged, people who like sex and drugs
Shelves: memoirs, non-fiction
I didn't get much from this book except that Tommy did a lot of drugs and had a lot of sex while he was supposed to be writing for Lonely Planet. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the book, it just wasn't what I expected.

I also wonder how much of his inspiration comes from his travels, and how much inspiration comes from Jayson Blair or James Frey. I mean, the Author's Note even says, " was necessary to omit certain events, rearrange and compress chronology, and combine a few of the characters.
The operative question isn't "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?" so much as "Who Gives A Crap?"

Lonely Planet may be one of back-to-back advertisement book that people buy(or borrow) avidly. What it sells: perfect holiday and all you need to get it; food, accomodation, transport & activities, the whole package. No matter what stage of travelling addict a person is, he probably has consulted it at least once.

Maybe now it's not being relied on as heavily as before with the wonderful world of www with sites such as tripadvisor, still it has its uses. I don't rely on it much, since mostly
Apr 29, 2008 Wendy rated it it was ok
Naturally, it's difficult to be objective about this book given the anticipatory grief it caused me and my closeness to the subject. It's tempting to engage in a close reading of the book, seeking - and finding - errors in presentation of facts, even more errors in judgment and, most of all, many errors of omission.

As a memoir: eh. Typical, but fairly sloppy lowbrow lad lit. I’m not particularly interested in or impressed by TK’s prodigious partying and substance abuse and his constant skirt-cha
Oct 29, 2008 jess rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Masochists.
Shelves: 2008
Oh, Thomas Kohnstamm. I had high hopes for your book. I expected behind the scenes, the true story of travel writing, "the dream job" demystified, a conscious examination of the effects of Lonely Planet-Style tourism on developing countries.... Something, perhaps, to make Mr. Kohnstamm's self-indulgence and frustrating incompetencies feel like redemption.

I settled in, determined to finish it, and told my wife, "I am going to finish this book today, if it kills me." She practically laughed at me
Jan 07, 2009 Monica rated it liked it
This must be the year for travel writers' exposes. First, I read Chuck Thompson's "Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer," and now I've read Kohnstamm's account. I must say I recommend Thompson's book over this one, although I enjoyed "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?" as well.

Kohntstamm was working as a paralegal for a New York law firm, when, after an upbraiding by his boss while working late one night, he walks off the job, to become a travel writer for Lonely Planet cov
Oct 26, 2011 Stephy rated it did not like it
If one considers "Swashbuckling Adventures" to be lots of booze, drugs and sex, this is your book. By the time a guidebook makes it into print, the process has taken so long that an amazing percentage of the information is obsolete. Get your travel information online.

I really did think this book might give me some insight into the way travel writers work. It could have done just that. Instead, it read from the very beginning like a "Boy did I get drunk and wasted on drugs with this or that perso
Oct 28, 2011 Aimee rated it did not like it
This book had promise: it offered a peek behind the curtain of what really goes on in researching and writing a Lonely Planet (LP) guide. LP’s mantra for getting travelers “off the beaten track” (and thus promising a unique experience) has made these guide books a Holy Grail of independent travel for seasoned and wannabee travelers alike. Kohnstamm’s misadventures illustrate that you can’t believe everything you read, and the LP guides are just that—guides, not gospel (it’s disturbing in ...more
Aug 31, 2016 Alex rated it did not like it
Shelves: travelogues, 2008
You think this is going to be fun, right? Because it's an expose about how Lonely Planet is sortof bullshit, and you like to travel, and that sounds like a good time. But it turns out that Thomas Kohnstamm is like the biggest douchebag on any continent, and it makes you want to stop traveling so no one else will ever look at you and think "oh man, another American, I bet he's a douchebag like that one Lonely Planet guy." He bills himself as the Tucker Max of travel, and that's about all you need ...more
Mar 02, 2013 Virg rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm actually surprised I'd never heard about it until a friend lent it to me.
I wouldn't say it's an amazing book, or a new revelation or anything of the sort. But it puts forth a very plain truth, in very plain language. I think anyone that has ever travelled with a backpack, stayed in a hostel, or referred to a travel guide of any sort, should definitely read this book. It's funny and fun, and just makes you want to keep travelling. I personnally especially enjo
Nov 13, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
I'm sorry to say that I did not enjoy this rather indulgent take on Thomas' bad boy travails barely writing a Lonely Planet guide book in Brazil. Found it a 2nd-rate Hunter S. Thompson meets wanna-be Kerouac (both of whom I don't care for but can see some amusement in for mostly young wastrel men in their perma-adolescence). I grew quite bored and turned-off by the author's unsavory drug and sex misadventures with sad and dissipated ex-pats and desperate Brazilians.
Sep 12, 2015 Emma rated it did not like it
Vulgar and boring unfortunately.
Florian Blümm
Nov 01, 2016 Florian Blümm rated it really liked it
Fun book about a newbie travel writer going to Brazil to write for Lonely Planet lacking money, time, experience and ruthlessness.

Seems to be written for a male audience and is over the top with all the sex, drugs and rock'n roll at times.

Makes a couple of good points about the consequences of backpacking and how tourist places develop into full blown package tourism sites.
Apr 13, 2012 Tonia rated it liked it
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 ...more
Ash Bruxvoort
Dec 27, 2009 Ash Bruxvoort rated it it was ok
Thomas Kohnstamm's travel book Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonismwas published in 2008 and raised some questions about the ethics of Lonely Planet guidebooks and some questions about Kohnstamm himself. You can read more about that here because honestly I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this book.

Kohnstamm quit his life, his girlfriend, his office job, all because of an author to write a Lonely Planet guide
Jun 29, 2009 Jan rated it liked it
I got the impression of the author as a hard-edged embellisher, the kind who would gather a crowd at a bar telling stories about his exploits in exotic locations, garnering plenty of attention but ultimately not much sympathy. This is an account of the author's first time writing for Lonely Planet guides, and it starts off as a bitter rumination on the life he left behind in New York: dead-end job, long-suffering girlfriend, and degenerate best friend who seems to have been cut out of one of ...more
Aug 27, 2015 Erwin rated it really liked it
Interesting, politically incorrect story about a young man traveling through Brazil as he updates a mass market guidebook for other travelers. It's an interesting story, well written, fast paced. Even the people that complain about the content often write that they were "unable to put it down".

As someone who travels quite a bit, I've been surprised that often times I don't run into many other western travelers, but at some destinations there are suddenly loads of western travelers, and having li
May 22, 2008 Mari added it
this book begins in the soul-killing cubicle of a boutique manhattan law firm where the author works as a paralegal, which is to say, as a nihilist. he escapes to work for lonely planet brazil, and tries desperately to cover too much territory with too little money and too little time. the shortcuts he takes to pound out the pages are, of course, what make this book the verbal heroin that it is, as well as the candor in revealing the absurd process by which travel guides can be written. i worked ...more
Andrew Hecht
Apr 19, 2010 Andrew Hecht rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who has ever traveled or will travel with a guide book
"AS they say, two of the most important attributes for a travel writer are a strong liver and a good ability to bullshit."

If you've ever traveled with a guide book, particularly the Lonely Planet, this should be required reading. Kohnstamm details how he chucked in his life as a "legal researcher", giving up his job, his apartment and his girlfriend amongst other things to pursue a career as a guidebook travel writer.

His account reveals how he was massively unprepared for the daunting task of g
Jun 25, 2011 Rebecca rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Another one of the free books from the awesome pile! I have been wanting to read this book since I heard about it. I mean, look at the title! It's perfect! This book was an okay read. I makes you think twice about "The Bible" as Lonely Planet is known as on the road. Which is why I don't read it. Anyway, this guy is American, but is interested in S. America, so he wrote a LAS guide which Lonely Planet published when he was in college, so when it came time to update the Brazil (cause they speak ...more
Mark Eisner
Jun 11, 2008 Mark Eisner rated it it was amazing
To begin, I will disclaim with great pride that Thomas is one of my best friends. In fact he wrote the beginning of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell while we were living together in southern chile (after he just wrote about patagonia for Lonely Planet,) with a full view of a snowcapped volcano; I was beginning my biography on Pablo Neruda (follow up to The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems) While some have called him a jerk and a cad in reviews on amazon (and in discussion boards before the book eve ...more
Oct 25, 2008 Kim rated it liked it
Recommended to Kim by: Jasmine
Anyone who has done any bit of backpacking or hostel living or meandering about New York City in your 20s or questioning of your life's path when all you want to do is hit the road will be drawn to this book. It starts out strong and hilarious, with Thomas describing himself as a slightly ridiculous, irresponsible character. The descriptions of hostel life and road friendships and romances are spot-on (particularly the levels of debauchery undertaken by Thomas and his companions). However, as ...more
Jul 29, 2008 Asaf rated it liked it
There is a self congratulatory tone in Kohnstamm's recantations of shady interactions with drug dealers, endless drunken debauchery and fleeting encounters with prostitutes and women. For me, within the first twenty or so pages he already succeeds in becoming the assassin of his own character, leading me to question whether the tales he told were a true portrait of the places he visits or simply a self fulfilling prophecy of a shallow, 'cooler than you' lifestyle he seems naturally drawn to; ...more
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check out my new book DO TRAVEL WRITERS GO TO HELL?
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“It is my hope that this book will help to demystify the origins of travel writing and show that when thousands of travelers follow a guidebook word-for-word, recommendation-for-recommendation, it not only harms contemporary international travel but can also do serious harm to places in developing countries.” 1 likes
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