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For those who think that travel guidebooks are the gospel truth. WANTED: Travel Writer for Brazil QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED 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, For those who think that travel guidebooks are the gospel truth. WANTED: Travel Writer for Brazil QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED 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, restaurants, hotels, culture, customs, and language, while juggling sleep deprivation, nonstop nightlife, and excessive alcohol consumption Creativity: the imagination to write about places you never actually visit Resourcefulness: utilizing persuasion, seduction, and threats, when necessary, to secure a place to stay for the evening once your pitiable advance has been (mis)spent Resilience: determination to overcome setbacks such as bankruptcy, disillusionment, and an ill-fated one-night stand with an Austrian flight attendant As Kohnstamm comes to personal terms with each of these job requirements, he unveils the underside of the travel industry and its often-harrowing effect on writers, travelers, and the destinations themselves. Moreover, he invites us into his world of compromising and scandalous situations in one of the most exciting countries as he races against an impossible deadline.


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For those who think that travel guidebooks are the gospel truth. WANTED: Travel Writer for Brazil QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED 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, For those who think that travel guidebooks are the gospel truth. WANTED: Travel Writer for Brazil QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED 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, restaurants, hotels, culture, customs, and language, while juggling sleep deprivation, nonstop nightlife, and excessive alcohol consumption Creativity: the imagination to write about places you never actually visit Resourcefulness: utilizing persuasion, seduction, and threats, when necessary, to secure a place to stay for the evening once your pitiable advance has been (mis)spent Resilience: determination to overcome setbacks such as bankruptcy, disillusionment, and an ill-fated one-night stand with an Austrian flight attendant As Kohnstamm comes to personal terms with each of these job requirements, he unveils the underside of the travel industry and its often-harrowing effect on writers, travelers, and the destinations themselves. Moreover, he invites us into his world of compromising and scandalous situations in one of the most exciting countries as he races against an impossible deadline.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Martine

    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 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 which I think might be of some interest to publishers of guidebooks and travel magazines. Needless to say, I occasionally dream of becoming a Lonely Planet writer, so you can imagine how eagerly I snapped up Thomas Kohnstamm's Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, a tell-all tale of the author's first tour of duty as a Lonely Planet researcher in Brazil. It seemed the ideal book for me -- a book about a guy who had the job I want, although I fully expected him to tell me it wasn't a dream job at all. What I didn't realise when I bought the book was that Kohnstamm was the guy who seriously embarrassed Lonely Planet last year when he admitted in an interview to plagiarising whole sections of his LP guidebooks and writing about places he had never even visited, forcing Lonely Planet to embark on a major revision of the books and chapters he had written in an effort to control the damage done by his widely publicised interview. Clearly, Lonely Planet takes its credibility seriously. However, I suspect that Kohnstamm's modus operandi is rather more common among guidebook researchers than LP wishes to acknowledge, judging from the number of times I've visited hotels recommended by LP only to find that they had been closed for years... Anyhow, being a travel junkie and aspiring Lonely Planet writer myself, I had high expectations for Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?. Unfortunately, it turned out that the author and I were a bad match. Kohnstamm, you see, is the kind of traveller I loathe -- the kind of backpacker who only seems to travel to get drunk, stoned and laid (usually in that order), who only goes to Cambodia to find one-dollar bags of weed, visits Northern Thailand and Northern Laos to smoke opium with the hill tribes, spends most of his time in India comparing the relative effects of ganja and bhang lassis, and, when told that I'm from Holland, will say with glazed-over eyes, 'Holland, eh? I've been to Amsterdam. I love Amsterdam,' only to answer my 'Really? Whereabouts in Amsterdam have you been?' with a shrug and a non-committal 'Can't remember. I was stoned all the time.' I've met too many guys like that, and at the risk of sounding like a goody two-shoes, they annoy me. I'm not sure whether that's because I'm secretly envious of their freewheeling ways or rather because I'm genuinely repulsed by their attempts to be cool and 'out there', but either way, I find them annoying. I guess I'm old-fashioned that way. Sadly, Thomas Kohnstamm is the very stereotype of the dreaded sex-and-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll tourist, something I didn't realise when I bought his book because the blurb conveniently failed to mention it (although in retrospect, the subtitle, 'A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventure, Questionable Ethics and Professional Hedonism', should have been a bit of a give-away). Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? reads like a modern update of a Jack Kerouac or Hunter S. Thompson novel. Its first chapters contain so many references to sex, masturbation and binge-induced vomiting that I actually found it quite off-putting. The rest of the book is marginally better, but still, I don't think I'm wide of the mark when I say that one third of the narrative is about the drugs and alcohol the author ingests in Brazil, another third is about the women he beds (all gorgeous, obviously), and the remaining third is roughly divided between his attempts to sell ecstasy to fund the remainder of his trip (...) and his repeated vows to change his lifestyle and focus on the job at hand, only to be dragged to yet another booze-fuelled party half a page later. I'm sure this description sounds fabulous to people who like their travelogues Kerouac-style, but to my judgemental self, it got very tedious after a while. After just a few chapters of Kohnstamm's immature behaviour, I found myself wanting to read more about Brazil and its attractions, and less about the fuckheads with whom the author hung out during his trip (although I do admit that he drew those fuckheads very well). Kohnstamm's repeated assurances that he was basically doing an undoable job because Lonely Planet's deadlines are ridiculous and the pay is not nearly generous enough to cover all the expenses quickly began to grate on me, especially in the light of the long nights he apparently spent drinking and the long mornings he supposedly spent sleeping off his hangovers. I found myself increasingly annoyed with his constant excuses for not doing his job properly and with the weird decisions he kept making, such as staying in a flat for two weeks to have sex with a pretty prostitute when he was supposed to be researching hotels. So I guess you could say Kohnstamm wasn't the right author for me, nor I his intended audience. He's too much of a Hunter S. Thompson wannabe for me, and I'm not enough of a sleaze-loving frat boy to appreciate that kind of thing. I guess we were both to blame for the mismatch. It's a pity Kohnstamm is such a shallow, self-congratulatory arsehole, because I suspect he's a decent writer underneath all the bluff and bravura. He has an engaging writing style, a decent sense of humour and a good ear for dialogue. Furthermore, he obviously has a brain on him, albeit an alcohol-addled one, and judging from some of the more outrageous descriptions in the book, he also has a lively imagination. When he is not bragging, whining, breaking half a dozen laws or generally being obnoxious, he actually makes some astute observations about travelling, guidebooks and being a guidebook contributor. He has insightful ideas on Lonely Planet users like myself (sheep who like to think of themselves as intrepid travellers but all end up doing exactly the same things), the way Lonely Planet has changed (and in some cases ruined) tourism in certain places, and the way Lonely Planet has sold out over the last fifteen years, a fact to which anyone who owns an LP guidebook from before the year 2000 can attest. He also provides some good insight into the compromised nature of travel writing, which tallies with my own experiences as a tour guide in China. Sadly, though, these observations are lost amidst increasingly repetitive tales of drunken debaucheries and sexual exploits. I'm sure the latter will appeal to many readers (judging from the staggering number of five-star reviews the book has received on Amazon USA, there is definitely a market for this sort of thing), but again, I would have preferred a less sleazy write-up of Kohnstamm's experiences in Brazil, one which told me more about travelling in Brazil and the job of being a travel writer and less about Thomas Kohnstamm's propensity to get himself into trouble. Call me holier than thou, call me a jealous wannabe travel writer, but really, this book could have been better, both as a travelogue and as a travel industry exposé. 2.5 stars, rounded down to two because I'm in an ungenerous mood.

  2. 4 out of 5

    PastAllReason

    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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    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 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 male and I'm assuming he doesn't really expect too many women to read this. (Several months ago I read "Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government--A Memoir" by a fellow of about the same age and I think it would engage any adult - I'm not sure what the point of limiting one's audience in this way is.) The author is trying to answer the question, "What is the life of a Lonely Planet (or similar) guidebook researcher/writer like?" (He refers to this as "travel writing" from time to time and in the title of the book, even as he admits that travel writing and guidebook preparation are completely different.) Most of the book, however, is about his debauched life while he worked on a guidebook for Brazil as a kind of sideline (a sideline to drinking, getting stoned, and so on). Since he is traveling for most of the time, this book itself qualifies (I suppose) as a travel book. Basically the interesting factoids for users of Lonely Planet would have made a nice magazine article - one learns that he cut corners, took freebies (meals, hotels), didn't see everything he included, knew he was leaving good stuff out, and so on. Not terribly surprising. The problem with this book, other than that I felt like I should wash my hands after I read it, is that his "adventures" are almost all the same, over and over. He seems to think his readers will all be young men who love to read vague recollections of drunken (or stoned) sex with women whose names he doesn't know. I was quite surprised about the extent to which Thomas portrayed himself as a just plain unpleasant person - far beyond the "questionable ethics" in his sub-title. First, in the fifty pages he takes to describe quiting his New York City job (which is certainly not travel, and not very interesting) he describes a drunken and unprovoked assault on his best friend, who he leaves lying on the street. Later, when he is running out of money, he starts selling drugs to raise more money. I'm trying to imagine what he told his parents before they read this (who he mentions as having brought him up as a "traveler") - I would assume that he told them something to the effect that none of the sex, drugs, beating up drunken friends, etc., are real; rather that they were required by his publisher. Otherwise I have trouble imagining them not disowning their genius child. It's even more unsettling that he makes numerous self-congratulatory asides. Early on he mentions Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, and even Ernst Hemingway while talking about his endeavor, a not very subtle (and silly) comparison. And at the end, he reveals that the Lonely Planet assessment of his guidebook effort, written while stoned, was that it was excellent. (He doesn't present this as an ironic statement on the quality of Lonely Planet guides but rather as a kind of pat on his own back that even when blotto, he produces a wonderful product). It was a good idea for a book, anyway.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    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 work 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 work. The bad reviews for this book on goodreads are shocking. From reading them I can only assume that they are from people who have been missold this book as some kind of Paul Theroux travel novel. It's not. It's much more Fear and Loathing in Brazil than Mosquito Coast. There's drugs, sex and lots and lots of drink. I love Paul Theroux and Hunter S. Thompson, so there's no surprise I enjoyed this book. It's no literary classic, but it is a damn good read. If you like vicariously living the life of a suffering, self-abusing travel writer, you'll enjoy this book. If you love travel, have experienced life on the Lonely Planet trail, and/or have lived a depraved existence at any time in your life, you'll find this book impossible to put down.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bode Wilson

    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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Adele

    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 experi 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 experiences-- in fact I'd say that's a general rule-- and Kohnstamm wants readers to congratulate him for it. He tries for self-deprecation now and again, but it's really outweighed by his multiple, repeated declarations of how cool he is. Among the things he lets us know: he's extremely attractive, he's a cokehead and an wino, he sells ecstasy to make a buck, he can sleep around if he wants (naturally, all of his conquests are gorgeous- plus, one's a hooker and one's sixteen!) and he can dupe his editors and future readers in a poorly researched guidebook. I do give Kohnstamm props for his language skills- the way he tells it, he speaks decent Portuguese. And to his credit, he makes Brazil sounds awesome (but really, I already wanted to go there, and how does one make Brazil sound not awesome?) I have nothing else to say. The first sentence is pretty comprehensive: this book sucked.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    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, "...it was necessary to omit certain events, rearrange and compress chronology, and combine a few of the characters. 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, "...it was necessary to omit certain events, rearrange and compress chronology, and combine a few of the characters. ...much of the dialogue and many emails have been re-created." Besides, if he Blaired it for LP, why shouldn't he do it in this book?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Caveman writes book. I bet the money would go further if he didn't buy so much alcohol. Really though using and treating every woman (and, really, person) like shit thing was the worst part. The weirdest thing is it seems like he wasn't regretful of his actions but rather was bragging about them?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    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 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-chasing was really rather disgusting (I do not envy those reading for a cameo as a named or unnamed sexual conquest: they’re generally given quite short shift: the waitress mentioned on the back cover copy isn’t given a name or description of any kind). That said, he can be rather humorous at times, particularly with dialog, so fiction might suit him better and might lead to some deeper thinking and a more nuanced structure. TK as travel writer: I don’t think he presents the task entirely accurately, and in particular, I think his befuddlement with the difficulty of the task is extremely disingenuous. That said, I know from firsthand experience that it’s a challenging job with a steep learning curve and I also know that he was given a difficult assignment first time out (though I do not believe it was as difficult as he claims). Many of the points he makes about the LP’s direction/guidebooks/tourism/etc are salient - sometimes a little obvious, other times a bit more fleshed out and complex. I think his sense of his impact as a writer on the guidebook’s users is overstated and quite bigheaded and in fact, the egomania displayed in the book overall is sometimes off-putting. All in all: Unsavory. Fairly entertaining, though I’m not sure how much interest it would generate among those without an interest in the whole LP-TK-travel writer ethics fiasco. Also of note: the book is absolutely riddled with typos.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    The operative question isn't "Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?" so much as "Who Gives A Crap?" Dull.

  12. 5 out of 5

    astried

    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 what 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 what triggers my trip longing are places connected to my general reading (Alexandria, I'm looking at you. I'll get there one day). But I'll still browse it to see what other things I can see while I'm there. Food recommendation is of course is important, but I still cringe remembering people seating next to me in a restaurant quoting LP's entry out loud. Just eat the bloody food and have done with it! Mostly clouded by Thomas' adventure of being a stud traveller, this is what the book is trying to say. LP as a travelling template; go here there and there, then you've done X-land. See this and that; whatever you do, don't miss this or that. How reliable is the template though? Thomas' insider voice said, not as much as it is advertised. Don't hang your perfect holiday on a guidebook. For me the thorn is on the horde mentality, which can be seen clearly anyway. People move from Huai Xai to Luang Prabang to Vientiane; from North to South Vietnam (or opposite); Bali - Gilis; still people wonder why they're not on "virgin" undiscovered spot on earth. Sure, I'm part of the horde, and yes, I am grateful for LP and its ilk; I only hope that I can still find personal facet as small as it could be within this well trodden path. The rest of the book, well... let's say I'd even skip it if it's free & I'm sure glad I'm a good skim reader. I don't feel like giving stars rating, so there!

  13. 5 out of 5

    jess

    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 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, "You don't like that book. Why bother?" I showed her that I was almost done, less than 30 pages from the end, and besides, how did she know I didn't like it? She answered, "You would have finished it already if you liked it." Well. Okay. Yes, I understand that the author intends to be a self-indulgent, frustratingly incompetent person bumbling through a job they are not suited for; perhaps a job that no one is suited for. I get it, I really do. It's still annoying. How many Brazilian women did he sleep with during this book? I DON'T KNOW. I LOST TRACK. How many drugs did he do? I DON'T KNOW! I LOST TRACK. How many times did he set moral or ethical guidelines for himself, only to break them within two pages? I lost track of that too. Certainly, we are all human, and failures are a part of our experiences, but it was exhausting to here him go on and on and on about experiencing Brazil for so many weeks on end, wasting so much time, and being just as irritating at the end. Barf. This was the farthest thing from a wry, intelligent, entertaining reflection on hedonism and travel. I only give it two stars because his writing style is marginally entertaining and his observations were occasionally interesting.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    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 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 covering northeast Brazil. Kohnstramm flounders in Brazil, partly because he doesn't really see how to cover all of the region with the funds and time allowed him, and partly because he spends a lot of time partying and attempting to hook up with women. He eventually winds up trying to deal ecstasy to make ends meet, but fails at this as well. I got a little bored with Kohnstamm's "poor me, I can't possibly get this written" attitude towards the middle of the book, but finished it because I enjoyed Kohnstamm's writing and storytelling overall. He's a very funny writer. I loved his description, for example, of a Scandinavian who visited L.A. and developed a love of methamphetamine: "'We would go to the cook's apartment in West Hollywood in the mornings before school and buy the crystals while they were still warm. D'ya fucking believe that, man?' It conjured images of white-gloved Keebler Elves pulling trays of meth from the hearth. I mentioned to him that in the States people don't usually brag about their love of meth. You keep it to yourself like a DWI or an old case of genital warts. But he was unfazed."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    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 L 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 LAS there, NOT!) book, they asked if he would do it. And because it's everyones dream to travel write, he chucked it all in and went off to update. Very different then what he expected. Lots of books are full of bullshit, which he learned and he pretty much ended up drinking and fucking his way around S. America on LP's dime. Not what I really want from my writers. Just another reason to NOT use LP (though I am sure RG isn't much better) Some parts were funny about when some girl yelled at him because a restaurant that she and a friend were going to meet up at no longer existed. Which is why I never use books for food reccs. And what else.....it was pretty funny. Makes you hate LP in the end, which was a good read for me because while I think they do okay work, I hate that like everyone uses them and think they are the end all and be all of travel books. And because of that, their quality has gone down and their books are kind of a pain in the butt now. Sort of like the backpackers trail on the E. Coast of Australia! But that is another book for another time. Grade: C

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephy

    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 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 person, and screw this or that woman, and if I could remember more I might tell you" kind of book. I came away with a clear understanding that it is not practical to expect professional work from the writers at this particular writer's publishing house. It is evidently not reasonable to expect an honest review from this writer in particular. If the waitress screws him, he writes: "It's a pleasant surprise of a restaurant", with "friendly wait staff." I wouldn't trust this guy to know the difference between a clean and dirty hotel or restaurant, much less a restroom, on a bet. The book reads like an incredibly tedious boring drunk-a-log. What a waste of good time, good paper, and what a rip-off of the company who paid him for his reviews. I don't care about his debacles. I don't know if ALL travel writers go to hell, but his one should, for wasting space on planet Earth.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aimee

    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 practic 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 practice to see how many travelers in a particular destination are clutching their LPs). It’s hard to take someone seriously when their priorities are getting drunk/high/laid/cash, which is Kohnlstamm’s point. He’s also spot on that a mention in an LP guide changes a destination often for the worse, and that real treasures are downplayed. That said, I found his justification for his sloppy work on the guide to be weak. It’s difficult to sympathize with a character who is blessed with opportunities that most of us do not have (travel all over the world, attend Ivy League schools, write for premier publications) but who is too shallow to appreciate them and p*sses them away. He’s a victim of his own ennui.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Virg

    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 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 enjoyed it because it's somehow written exactly the way I think. I associated with the writer, and really liked his style

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    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 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 to know about that. If you ever see this guy, punch him in the dick for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    thereadytraveller

    Drawn instantly to this book due to its title, it consists of a small part expose on the travel guidebook writing industry but predominantly focuses on the author’s drug, alcohol and sex trysts, whilst attempting to update the north-eastern part of the Lonely Planet guidebook. At times, there are some genuinely funny parts and the book is well written but in the most part the author’s overdose of cynicism and forced depravity come across as somewhat contrived with a deliberate attempt to court co Drawn instantly to this book due to its title, it consists of a small part expose on the travel guidebook writing industry but predominantly focuses on the author’s drug, alcohol and sex trysts, whilst attempting to update the north-eastern part of the Lonely Planet guidebook. At times, there are some genuinely funny parts and the book is well written but in the most part the author’s overdose of cynicism and forced depravity come across as somewhat contrived with a deliberate attempt to court controversy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

    I couldn't identify with the author, and his lifestyle, at all; immature partying druggies who read the book might.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    Vulgar and boring unfortunately.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    While I found the author/protagonist very hate-able, and many of his editorial decisions a bit perplexing, if he wrote another similar book about another of his trips I would likely read it ... and will likely not read any of his official Lonely Planet books. As the main character of his own book, he comes across as very self centered, full of braggadocio, womanizing, and generally lacking a moral compass. As a character it would be nice if he showed some personal growth in this book but he does While I found the author/protagonist very hate-able, and many of his editorial decisions a bit perplexing, if he wrote another similar book about another of his trips I would likely read it ... and will likely not read any of his official Lonely Planet books. As the main character of his own book, he comes across as very self centered, full of braggadocio, womanizing, and generally lacking a moral compass. As a character it would be nice if he showed some personal growth in this book but he does not. It appears he decided to go with a sort of shock-jock "look how shockingly edgy I am, you'll be turning the page in amazement at how many drugs I do and women I cavalierly lay!" angle with this book and I do hope if he chooses to write a second travel book he learns to weave his shocking behavior more into a narrative that doesn't depend on pure shock value. As far as editorial decisions I mean the pacing for one thing. When I was telling a friend about this book I was about 40% of the way through the book at which point he had described in step-by-step detail every moment of a two day drug fueled bender in New York City and two days of a drug fueled bender upon arrival in Rio. The remaining 58 days or so of his assignment are relegated to the remaining 60% of the book. What I enjoyed about the book was the travel adventures, I really could have done without the moment by moment account of his last wild weekend in New York City. He continually harps on the ill effect of guidebooks, and Lonely Planet guidebooks specifically on little known local gems the guide might describe and thus turn into over touristy places. This is a good point but he harps on it continuously throughout the book, in nearly every chapter. He has beaten this horse to death and then beat the dead horse with a dead horse. Yes it's a good point but we get it already. He also complains constantly about how impossible the time constraints of the project given him are, but as many people have pointed out, maybe if he wasnt' constantly partying he'd have had a lot more time. If this was a work of fiction with an intentionally dislikable protagonist or he had taken a less smug tone the reader would be less frustrated with him not realizing this, but as it is, his tone has all the self satisfied assurance of a self-righteous man with no regrets and nary a second thought about his behavior. So as I said, he himself comes across as an odious bastard, but once he finally moved on from writing about puking in clubs in New York to actually traveling around Brazil I kept the pages turning, interested to read about the places he visited and yes the salacious debacles he got himself into. I hope if he writes about his trips in some other countries he shows a bit more introspection, and devotes more words to descriptions of places and cultural observations rather than his own arrogant philosophizing.

  24. 4 out of 5

    JoAnna

    Travel writing: The act of leisurely journeying around a city, region or country mingling with the locals, finding hidden dining and sleeping establishments, and fully experiencing the intricacies of a culture unrestricted by time or money, then translating those experiences into eloquent prose so that others can find equally rewarding and memorable experiences when they, too, travel to that city, region or country. Or not so much, according to Thomas Kohnstamm, author of Do Travel Writers Go to Travel writing: The act of leisurely journeying around a city, region or country mingling with the locals, finding hidden dining and sleeping establishments, and fully experiencing the intricacies of a culture unrestricted by time or money, then translating those experiences into eloquent prose so that others can find equally rewarding and memorable experiences when they, too, travel to that city, region or country. Or not so much, according to Thomas Kohnstamm, author of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism. With two months and a limited monetary advance, Kohnstamm doesn’t mask the near impossibility of covering and writing about six Brazilian states for an updated Lonely Planet guidebook. But he’s stuck in a dead-end job with a newly robbed apartment and a relationship that dances dangerously close to non-existent. What else is a guy to do but accept the few dollars dangled in front of him and hop a plane to South America? From his first night in Brazil—when he wakes up to a flight attendant in his hostel bed—Kohnstamm takes readers on an eye opening journey into the life of a travel writer. At first he tries to complete his assignment with as much integrity and completeness as possible … but that lasts about 24 hours. As drunken nights slip into hungover mornings, Kohnstamm stumbles from one part of the country to the next, running his budget down on meals and rent. In an attempt to remain unbiased, he chooses not to mention that he works for Lonely Planet, but all good things must come to an end and before long he cashes in his title for comped meals and lodging—and is asked for advice like the know-it-all writer people assume him to be. His tale ebbs and flows as he travels. He bunks with a prostitute, attempts to sell drugs to stay in the black, nearly gets arrested and finds himself involved debauchery of all shapes and sizes. In the meantime, he shines a light on the travel writing industry—an industry that ideally relies on unbiased, comprehensive coverage but actually forces writers to take shortcuts and bribes to get a job done. Kohnstamm also notes that once those “hidden gems” are uncovered by travel writers and published in mainstream guides, they become exposed and commercialized, thereby losing the charm that made them special in the first place. It’s a fine dance Kohnstamm does. But his insider’s look at the creation of a travel book is eye opening for those who rely on guides for travel—and for aspiring travel writers who hope to follow in his footsteps.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christi Winkelman

    This is one of the books that grabbed my attention from a thirft store bargain bin. I kept going back and forth, finally decided to give it a try. I think from now on out if I don't rush home to immediately read it, I should pass it up. I like to have an open mind but this is pushing the limits. I really wanted the promise of adventure and this failed to deliver. I skipped pages and I don't feel like I missed anything. The two star rating is for the times he actually said something I observed an This is one of the books that grabbed my attention from a thirft store bargain bin. I kept going back and forth, finally decided to give it a try. I think from now on out if I don't rush home to immediately read it, I should pass it up. I like to have an open mind but this is pushing the limits. I really wanted the promise of adventure and this failed to deliver. I skipped pages and I don't feel like I missed anything. The two star rating is for the times he actually said something I observed ans many things I suspected about the tourist industry in my own travels and why alot of the information feels out of date. Mainly side commentary is made in the vein of romantic notions vs surviving the hazards of travel writing without guidance and without funds. Instead he decides he has to sell drugs to survive. But it's all cool because he is a self proclaimed douche bag and he doesn't make excuses for it. I should have paid attention to the blurb on the back: "As Kohnstamm comes to personal terms with each of these job requirements, he unveils the underside of the travel industry and its often-harrowing effect on writers, travelers, and the destinations themselves. Moreover, he invites us into his world of compromising and scandalous situations in one of the most exciting countries as he races against an impossible deadline." *sigh* Moreover indeed. On some level the writing is intriguing. He occasionally makes poignant observations. He could have wrote something else, perhaps with less shagging, and it would have been an enjoyable read. The chapter titled 'Dream Job' and 'Paid Vacation' is good but that's about it. Bottom line; reading this will motivate you to only use local guides, ones you can follow visibility on Instagram. Thankfully in this day and age there are reputable ones ready to show you around.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Rohman

    This book was recommended to me by a travel writer when I asked: Are there any books that you can recommend that will help me understand the travel writing lifestyle? The information I need is more about your life and not necessarily, what you do for a living. This is the book that was recommended and the fact that this book was chosen is very telling. I read the reviews of this book after reading it and while I respect everyone’s opinion and them sharing it, most of the negative reviews missed t This book was recommended to me by a travel writer when I asked: Are there any books that you can recommend that will help me understand the travel writing lifestyle? The information I need is more about your life and not necessarily, what you do for a living. This is the book that was recommended and the fact that this book was chosen is very telling. I read the reviews of this book after reading it and while I respect everyone’s opinion and them sharing it, most of the negative reviews missed the entire point of the book. This is not a go-to or how-to book. It’s a book about the author’s journey to becoming a travel writer when he was tasked with writing a guide to visiting northeastern Brazil and the struggles, problems, and issues that came with it—some of it self-imposed, others not. Yes, there are parts of the book where he tells of his numerous trysts but that was all part of his journey and they are not described in explicit detail. If you read this book in its entirety and learned nothing about the struggles of a travel writer, then perhaps the author had hoped or thought one might learn or understand the travel writing business from his point of view and through his experiences. Does the author do everything right? No. Could the author have made better choices and could he have chosen to do things better, yes but those are all facts that he admits to in the book. There is a lot of back story at the beginning of this book but I think it was necessary and puts things into context and perspective for the reader as the writer starts his journey. It helps the reader understand some of his motivations as he goes on his travels. This book was funny—often funny, intriguing and eye-opening. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    An engagingly-written book about an entitled person choosing to behave badly while ostensibly writing a travel guidebook. I can't say how bad his actual guidebook ethics were because his antics (mostly involving getting drunk, stoned, and having one-night stands) became so tiresome so quickly that 40% of the way through the book I gave up. It wasn't worth my time, and I don't think it's worth yours. As another, better review put it: the author portrays himself as one of "those people" you run int An engagingly-written book about an entitled person choosing to behave badly while ostensibly writing a travel guidebook. I can't say how bad his actual guidebook ethics were because his antics (mostly involving getting drunk, stoned, and having one-night stands) became so tiresome so quickly that 40% of the way through the book I gave up. It wasn't worth my time, and I don't think it's worth yours. As another, better review put it: the author portrays himself as one of "those people" you run into while traveling who claim to be looking for life-changing experiences but really are just doing the same crap you can do at home (but in a more exotic seedy spot).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susanne M

    Serves as a good reminder to always take what is written in travel guidebooks with a grain of salt as there can be irreversible consequences for both the travelers and the location of the travel destination when they are treated as the bible. I found this book entertaining and enlightening enough since I already knew what to expect in terms of the author's debauchery and lack of ethics from other reviews. I just hope that he isn't the norm and that there are plenty of other guidebook writers who Serves as a good reminder to always take what is written in travel guidebooks with a grain of salt as there can be irreversible consequences for both the travelers and the location of the travel destination when they are treated as the bible. I found this book entertaining and enlightening enough since I already knew what to expect in terms of the author's debauchery and lack of ethics from other reviews. I just hope that he isn't the norm and that there are plenty of other guidebook writers who are dedicated to their assignment.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for. A bit too much hedonistic personal information and not enough on Brazil (although too, I was expecting a broader survey of various places, but I was mistaken). Made me question both the accuracy of Lonely Planet (and for that matter, any of the popular guides) and my long-time desire to visit Brazil. I definitely would not have the constitution to be a travel writer. I also wonder how much is embellished for the reader, and have also always wondere Not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for. A bit too much hedonistic personal information and not enough on Brazil (although too, I was expecting a broader survey of various places, but I was mistaken). Made me question both the accuracy of Lonely Planet (and for that matter, any of the popular guides) and my long-time desire to visit Brazil. I definitely would not have the constitution to be a travel writer. I also wonder how much is embellished for the reader, and have also always wondered about how people he met and wrote about felt about their portrayals.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I read this in 2019 and it's funny how dated it already feels, not just for the primitive technology (Internet cafe era of international travel) but for many of the gender attitudes. My main sentiments: (1) ick and (2) surprise that he actually followed through with submitting a final product for publication.

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