Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

(Photo of The Twelve Apostles, Australia by Kevgibbo)


When I’m planning a trip, I like to read books set in that destination before I leave. I peruse guide books, of course, but it’s also fun to immerse myself in fiction and nonfiction set in the country I’ll be visiting. It gives me a bit of extra knowledge, history and perspective on my destination. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been exploring someplace new and gotten a little thrill when stumbling across a street, café or landmark I recognize from a story that I have read. I thought I would make some reading suggestions for various destinations, starting off with Australia.


There are great bargains to be found on plane tickets to Australia right now. Head over to FareCompare.com and check out the options. Round trip flights from LAX to Melbourne this fall can be had starting at $572. JFK to Melbourne starts at $706. United Airlines, Qantas and V Australia are all offering fare specials that cannot be beat. Snap up tickets to a land down under, and then pick up some of these titles before you depart.



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Most of us harbor a secret dream of becoming a professional travel writer. If you love to travel, does it get any better than flying around the world and exploring cool places on someone else’s dime? Well, like many dreams (see also: opening that little coffee shop or independent bookstore) it’s not that simple or that glamorous. Two semi-recent books allow you to go behind the scenes in the life of a travel writer.


Thomas Kohnstamm writes about the absurdity of composing a Brazilian guide for Lonely Planet on a shoestring budget in his book, “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism.” Highlights include having to shack up with a hooker because he can’t afford a hotel, getting beaten up by local cops and dealing drugs to pay for a plane ticket home. It’s not for the faint of heart and Kohnstamm’s bravado and aggressive writing style could possibly make you hate him. However, his story is a definite page turner and you’ll never again think of a travel writing career as romantic or virtuous.


Chuck Thompson also sets about to shatter myths in his book, “Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer.” While his book also contains plenty of sex, drugs and bad behavior, there are also some powerful lessons here about the nature of travel in general. Thompson argues that people, Americans in particular, want every place they travel to be enchanting, quaint and lovely. We overlook the fact that some of the best and most educational parts of traveling are exactly the opposite. “A Zen-like acceptance of travel as a highly unpredictable animal is the most effective way of approaching it,” he argues.


For all of their shock value, both books present compelling new thoughts on travel and allow you to go inside the head of the person writing your guidebook.

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I’m in Fodor’s Ireland!

The exciting news right now is that I’ve gotten a blurb published in the Fodor’s Ireland Guide 2009. Very exciting! I won’t know exactly what my quote is until I receive the guide, but I’m really looking forward to it.


Fodors.com has one of the best travel communities on the web. Their Travel Talk community is absolutely indispensable, with a very well-traveled group of folks on hand to give advice. I’ve been posting there for years. In recent years, Fodor’s has been incorporating travel tips from posters on their board into their printed guides. I was actually published in their 2009 guide to San Francisco, as well. My quote was about having a picnic in Washington Square Park. “On a nice day, this is some of the best people watching in town,” it reads in part.


After I returned from my two-week trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland in 2007, I posted a thorough report on the Fodors.com Travel Talk boards. I guess they have chosen a piece of that review to publish. I look forward to getting my copy of the guide!

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I read a lot of travel writing. It’s fascinating to read other people’s perspectives on distant places, foreign cultures and the state of modern tourism. Currently, I’m reading How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel: And Other Misadventures Traveling with Kids, a collection of travel essays edited by Sarah Franklin. As you might guess by the title, the essays are all about traveling with children.


I’m not sure how much this topic would have interested me before I became a parent. In those heady days, when I could be on a plane with only a few days notice and could travel for weeks with just one carry-on bag in tow, the intermingling of children and travel were vague concepts, brought to my attention only when I had to sit next to a particularly unhappy baby on a plane. Now, as the mother of a toddler, I recognize that even a quick flight to visit family these days requires the sort of advanced preparation and strategy I used to apply to tasks like coordinating a cross-country move or planning a wedding. Not only is the sheer amount of gear involved intimidating, but you can bet your buttons that junior is far less psyched about waiting in line for airport security than you are. And that’s really saying something. Suddenly, I am that person. The one with the screaming child who everyone else in the airport, on the plane and in line at the rental car agency is glaring at mercilessly. It’s enough to make a parent stay home and content themselves with the Travel Channel.


The essays in this book reminded me that I am certainly not the only parent to take a child on a trip, for better or for worse. Some of the stories are highly amusing in a been-there-done-that kind of way.   I nodded in solidarity with the mother who is stranded in an airport with her child when their connecting flight is canceled just before Christmas.  Some are of the “what were they thinking” variety, like the couple who takes their unvaccinated, cloth diapered infant to Ecuador for three months. Many of the stories are poignant, including the sisters traveling by train to take newborn quadruplets home from the hospital.  If you are a parent, you will find something in this book that makes you laugh and something that makes you shudder.

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