Lonely Planet recently released its Best in Travel 2014, which includes a list of the top 10 cities for traveling. These cities are spread across the globe and include classics as well as cities that are just coming into their own as traveler destinations. The Lonely Planet list includes some obvious choices like Paris, Cape Town, Zurich, Shanghai, Vancouver, Chicago, and Auckland but it also includes less obvious choices like Trinidad, Cuba, Adelaide, Australia, and Riga, Latvia. Check it out here and then let us know, which cities would you add to the 2014 list?
When news emanated from the Melbourne headquarters of Lonely Planet two weeks ago that the iconic publisher of guidebooks and related travel titles was laying off up to 80 editors and other staffers, shock waves reverberated throughout the travelsphere. LP is the world’s largest guidebook publisher, with 500 titles covering 195 countries, produced by hundreds of writers and editors, and speculation surged in social media and old school journalism circles alike that this move portended the end of print guidebooks, or at least the demise of LP as a guidebook power.
Shortly after the announcement and its aftermath, LP’s new owners, NC2, which had purchased the publisher from BBC Worldwide in March, released a statement saying “At the end of last week, Lonely Planet began engaging with its global workforce regarding its plan for the future, which includes a restructure of the business. Since that process began, reports have emerged in the media that Lonely Planet has plans to exit the content business. These reports are untrue and stand in stark contrast to the company’s renewed commitment to great content for both print and digital offerings. … Lonely Planet remains committed to delivering quality content to our travellers, as we have over the last 40 years. There are currently no plans to reduce our breadth of destination content, or our product offering in digital or print. Large scale cuts to our guidebook publishing list are unfounded and categorically untrue and Lonely Planet is committed to continuing to publish guidebooks.”
Despite this assertion, debate about the fate of print guides in general and LP’s in particular has spread, and some other publishers have been moved to reaffirm their commitment to keep their guidebooks in print. Pauline Frommer, who with her father recently reacquired the Frommer trademark from Google, wrote to me in an email: “Starting this October, we’re going to be putting out 30 new editions: 10 will be updates from the very popular Day by Day series, and 20 new guides in a series we’re calling The Easy Guides. … We hope to be up to 80 titles by next fall. (We do recognize that digital media is a huge tool for travelers and so concurrent with the print publication of the guides will be the publication of e-books and apps, and the upkeep and expansion of Frommers.com.)” And Rick Steves, head of his own eponymous empire, wrote me: “I am very much committed to print. … Our guidebooks are literally selling better than ever. I have 30 or 40 in print and, as I have every year for the last 25, I’m in Europe right now for 4 months researching with my team.”
No clear conclusions about the future of publishing can be drawn at this point from the LP news, but one truth has emerged very clearly from the reaction to that news, and that is how deeply important guidebooks are to many people, how they become intimately interwoven into the narrative of our lives. This truth has found poignantly rippling expression in a Twitter thread – hashtagged #lpmemories — started by longtime LP author Celeste Brash.
“I started #lpmemories in reaction to all the layoffs because I was sad and sharing the good times with people was a therapy,” Celeste wrote me.
“The first post was on July 19th: ‘Once, in Sulawesi I had the honking King of taxi drivers. He honked at sticks in the road when he had nothing else to honk at #lpmemories.’ I followed this with two more #lpmemories, then Zora O’Neil, another LP author, chimed in. I did a few more, then LP authors Sally O’Brien and Sara Benson got in on it. Elizabeth Eaves got in on it somewhere in between as the first non-LPer, so I tweeted: ‘Thanks @ElisabethEaves! Hoping #lpmemories are for everyone, @lonelyplanet users, authors, whoever.’
Once, in Sulawesi I had the honking King of taxi drivers. He honked at sticks in the road when he had nothing else to honk at #lpmemories.
- celeste brash (@radioceleste) July 19, 2013
“The first reporter to pick up the story was Bronwen Clune from the Guardian. Then everyone started writing about it, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Time, the Telegraph and then the New Yorker. It’s just taken on a life of its own. But the story was always the same (and based on Bronwen’s information — she was the only one who reached out), that #lpmemories was a sort of eulogy for LP and guidebooks in general. I’m not sure either of those are dead. My original intention was just to think about the good times in honor of my colleagues who had just lost their jobs and LP which had just fired a big part of the heart of the company, the many people who made it what it is.”
A week after it launched, the #lpmemories thread had lengthened to many hundreds if not thousands of tweets, with posters ranging from battle-scarred LP author-veterans to everyday on-the-road enthusiasts. Reading the thread feels like attending a joyous-sad, wanderlust-full wake-cum-celebration, filled with nostalgia-drenched 140-character recollections of misadventure and magic.
Hearing a sudden whoosh/cry aboard the wondrous Alaska Ferry and seeing two orcas swim past the ship in formation #lpmemories
- Ryan Ver Berkmoes (@ryanvb) July 21, 2013
Tracking this journey has been profoundly poignant for me. I was the Global Travel Editor at LP from 2001-2007, and I have my own treasure chest of indelible memories from that period, but much more deeply, the company has been an integral part of my traveling life since the summer of 1978, when I set off from Tokyo for a two-month meander through Southeast Asia with a compact yellow book titled South-East Asia on a Shoestring in hand.
Already dubbed the Yellow Bible by fellow backpackers, this guide — increasingly tattered, beer-stained, curry-spattered, starred, underlined, and scribbled-in-the-margins as the trip progressed — became my invaluable travel counsel and companion; it told me where to eat and stay and what to do, but even more importantly, it gave me essential bits of history and culture that taught me how to act respectfully in a place and how to peer under its surface and get a sense of its heart and soul. Years before Lonely Planet co-founders and Shoestring authors Maureen and Tony Wheeler became actual friends of mine, they felt like friends because of their ground-level approach to foreign cultures and their personal voice that seemed to speak directly to me -– and to all my fellow tribe members who traipsed around Asia clutching their tome like a talisman.
I used the Yellow Bible to navigate Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It took me to Lake Toba and Yogyakarta and Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca. When I was marooned by a missed bus connection in what seemed a middle-of-nowhere place called Kuala Kangsar, it comforted me with news of a historic temple I should visit. And when I arrived exhausted and famished in Penang, it led me to a soul-reviving guesthouse and a street-stall feast that was one of the best meals of my trip. The Wheelers’ advice was straightforward and simple, and delivered with we’ve-done-this authority and god-we-love-travel passion.
- Sara Benson (@indie_traveler) July 19, 2013
Recalling this period now, 35 years later, it feels to me like the beginning of a travel revolution. Coinciding with larger economic and technological changes that suddenly enabled more and more travelers to venture more and more widely around the world, the LP guidebooks inspired and empowered people to explore on their own. And crucially, by example and edification, they encouraged travelers to take seriously the history and culture of the places they were visiting, to take time to learn about the beliefs and practices prevalent there. Do so and you’ll have a deeper, richer, happier experience, they preached. And they were right. But the usually unspoken and even more important message was that this kind of attitude/approach was fundamentally important on a human level.
In this sense, I believe that the Wheelers, and other early, enterprising guidebook creators who promulgated similar principles, played an immeasurably important role in encouraging travelers to become better world citizens, to be both knowledgeable and empathetic about other peoples and places, and to appreciate the everyday from the local person’s perspective. Like the best travel writing of all kinds, their work — and the works of the hundreds of similarly impassioned and empathetic writers and editors they hired over the years — brought the world closer together.
Consider the ever-expanding ripples of this effect over the company’s 40-year history, and you could argue that on a popular, person-to-person level, LP has contributed as much towards world understanding and peace as any other institution on the planet.
Of course, I’m biased. From 2001 to 2007, I wrote a weekly column for lonelyplanet.com and was the global spokesperson for LP. I’ve edited seven LP literary anthologies, with an eighth scheduled for publication next year. I’m the author of LP’s Guide to Travel Writing, which has been the signature creation of my professional career. So I owe a great, great deal to Lonely Planet. In addition, Tony and Maureen Wheeler are personal friends, and though I left the LP staff six years ago, I’ve maintained friendships with dozens of colleagues in its Melbourne, London and Oakland offices.
But for two decades before I joined the LP staff, I was just a far-flung fan like any other, relying on its guides to find my way around and into more than 80 countries, from the haute cafes of Paris to the hinterlands of Pakistan. Perusing the guidebook on the plane became a rite of passage for me, the blessing of each new adventure. It opened the portals of possibility, posing the head- and heart-quickening question: What wonders await?
Many of those wonders were pointed out in the books, but equally important, the books gave me the grounding confidence to venture out and find other wonders on my own. This is just as much a legacy of LP for me as the hostels, festivals, and off-the-beaten-path attractions it spotlighted. LP gave me the courage to leave the guide in the guesthouse and explore beyond its pages. Ironically enough, it made the planet less lonely, more friendly. It paved the path to a truth I found time and time again: that people around the world generally care for each other, whatever their background, ethnicity, and political and religious beliefs, that kindness is the glue of human connection.
I began this rambling word-journey thinking I would recall some of my own most poignant #lpmemories. But I realize now that the path has led in a different direction, that the hashtagged signpost has pointed me to a very personal celebration of the past and a heartfelt hope about the future of LP. From the Yellow Bible to the Blue-Spined Book, LP has immeasurably enriched my life’s journey and, as that ever-lengthening Twitter thread testifies, the life journeys of innumerable people around the world. In an age when intractable divisiveness, superficial advice, and anonymous expertise threaten to become the norm, its legacy and calling seem more important than ever before.
In celebration of Lonely Planet’s 40th anniversary, the famed guidebook publisher has launched a stylish partnership with traveler favorite shoe brand TOMS. The limited edition shoe features a variety of passport stamps on a neutral canvas, making it perfect for fashion-forward male and female travelers alike.
The shoe also celebrates the launch of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Responsible Travel, a mini-guidebook that offers tips for having a positive influence on the world while traveling.
We love TOMS shoes for travel, ourselves. They are lightweight, easy to pack in our carry-on, and most of all, comfortable. The brand is also famous for donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased, so it’s easy to feel good and give back while looking stylish.
There’s a catch, however. The shoe will only be available for winners of competitions on both brand’s websites and via social media between now and August 15.
Traveling to Spain or Latin America this summer and want to say more than “Donde esta el bano?” (though, that’s an important one to know)? Lonely Planet has just launched a new online foreign language program, Fluent Road, partnering with Spanish language program Fluenz. The focus is on Spanish for now, but you can choose from dialects from Argentina, “neutral” Latin America, Mexico, or Spain.
Fluent Road is designed for travelers to get the basics before a trip: Spanish for transportation, finding accommodation, ordering food, etc. It’s also a good stepping-stone to a more intensive learning program, and travelers could easily work up to a Fluenz course after completing Fluent Road. What differentiates this from other language learning like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur is a dissection of the language, showing you how Spanish works and providing explanations, not just rote immersion. Fluenz founder and avid traveler Sonia Gil guides you through obstacles, pronunciation, and practice speaking, writing and reading as a native speaker and “language geek.”
As with all online learning, you can go at your own pace; there are 30 video lessons that can be completed in one to six months. Other useful features include the ability to record yourself to compare pronunciation a native Speaker, and customizable digital flash cards to help practice. You can also contact the teacher and program designer via Twitter.
Take a free 12-hour trial now, subscriptions start from $9 for a month to $30 for six months of access, at www.fluentroad.com.
Since April, I’ve been writing about my adventures in Paraguay. Gadling sent me there for the exact reason most of you are reading this post: because few people, especially Norte Americanos, know anything about this mysterious country. The lack of guidebooks doesn’t do much to dispel the myth that Paraguay is a place not worth visiting or knowing about.
As it turned out, that line of thinking couldn’t be more flawed. Paraguay is one of the loveliest countries I’ve ever visited, both for it’s scenic beauty (think virgin rainforest; tropical farmland; dusty red roads; colonial (and colonial- and Baroque-style) architecture; Jesuit missions; a vibrant ranching culture; sleepy villages; the cosmopolitan capitol of Asunción), and the generosity of its people.
My companion in Paraguay – discovered online just days before I left – was the very excellent guidebook, “Other Places Travel Guide, Paraguay,” by Romy Natalia Goldberg, which came out in late 2012. This book saved my butt innumerable times, because Paraguay is a challenging country for visitors due to its lack of tourism infrastructure and remoteness.
In reading her book, which has plenty of historical and cultural background, I learned that Goldberg is the daughter of a Paraguayan mother and a North American father. She lives in Paraguay with her husband and two daughters, and maintains a travel blog, Discovering Paraguay.
Because it was Goldberg’s book that in part helped me to understand and fall in love with Paraguay, I wanted to share her insights with Gadling readers. Read on for her take on the country’s fledgling tourism industry, intriguing cuisine, and why you should visit … stat.
You currently live in Paraguay. Did you live there as a child?
My father worked for the U.S. Foreign Service, so I lived in several Latin American countries growing up, but never in Paraguay. I visited my family here frequently, however. I’ve been here for the past five years. At first I lived in Asunción, the capital city. About three years ago I moved to Piribebuy, my mother’s hometown. It’s the closest thing I ever had to a hometown growing up. Writing the guidebook was a great opportunity to get to know Paraguay on a deeper level.
Have you always been a writer or was your book inspired by your love of the country?
The idea to write a guidebook arose while I was planning a trip to Paraguay with my husband. There was so little information available at the time. No Lonely Planet [LP now has a bare bones section on Paraguay in its South America On A Shoestring, and a forthcoming dedicated guidebook] no travel blogs, nothing. I felt the need to create something that accurately depicted the country I knew and loved. Before this I had never even considered writing.
Well, you did a great job – your book was indispensable to me while I was there. I fell in love with the country for myriad reasons, which I’ve been chronicling on Gadling. What makes Paraguay so special to you?
To me the most fascinating thing about Paraguay is the strong presence of indigenous Guaraní culture in everyday life. The most visible example of this is the Guaraní language, which is widely spoken throughout all levels of Paraguayan society. You don’t have to go to a museum to learn about Guaraní culture, you can literally experience it just by interacting with regular Paraguayans.
Why do you feel the country isn’t a more popular tourist destination?
Traveling in Paraguay requires advanced planning as well as some legwork once you get here. Understandably, most tourists don’t want to work that hard while on vacation. But I think the biggest problem is that people simply aren’t aware of Paraguay and what it has to offer.
Do you see this changing in the near future? It seems as though the government is really working to promote it.
I do see a change. In fact, it’s not just the government. Now that Internet access is widely available here, it’s easier for the Paraguayan tourism industry to market itself to the outside world. Hopefully, they’ll figure out how to reach the type of tourists that will enjoy traveling in Paraguay.
I would characterize that genre of tourist as those who love adventure and getting off the tourist trail. Would you consider Paraguay a challenging country for tourists?
Being a tourist in Paraguay requires time and flexibility. This isn’t Disneyland. There are few English speakers, it’s hard to schedule an itinerary ahead of time, and travel within Paraguay is often delayed due to bad weather and road conditions. Of course, there are tourists who like a challenge. My goal in writing the guidebook was to help people overcome the challenges and make the most of traveling in Paraguay.
Would you like to see Paraguay become a major tourist destination? Or do you feel it would eventually change the character and culture of the country?
That’s a tough question. I would definitely like to see Paraguay become a better developed tourist destination, but not necessarily a major one. The reality is we’re surrounded by Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, all of which are much more developed and established travel destinations. I think we’ll always appeal to a smaller subset of tourists.
Since few people are familiar with Paraguay, what would you tell readers who haven’t spent much time in South America/are leery of the political turmoil and crime often portrayed by the media (not to say things are or are not blown out of proportion)? I found Paraguay to be very safe; do you feel that it’s safer than other countries in South America?
In my experience, Paraguay is one of the safest countries in South America to be a tourist. The usual warnings about using common sense in crowded or touristy areas apply. But there’s no need to be on guard all the time, especially when you’re traveling in the countryside. If someone approaches you, it’s more likely out of curiosity and friendliness than a desire to do harm. As for what’s portrayed in the media, political turmoil and corruption do exist, but, to be honest, are unlikely to affect you as a tourist.
What’s your favorite thing about Paraguay?
The open, friendly attitude most Paraguayans have, even towards total strangers. Paraguayans are always up for a conversation, and they love talking about their country and culture with foreigners. There’s something about it that’s very refreshing, and I often hear from tourists who say these social interactions were the highlight if their visit to Paraguay.
I couldn’t agree with you more. I met so many wonderful people, and I’ve never experienced such cultural pride. It wasn’t boastful; it was sweet and genuine. But I have to ask: what’s your least favorite thing about the country?
It’s very hard to see so much unfulfilled potential. This is a country with a rich culture, friendly, outgoing people and beautiful landscapes. As my aunt likes to say, Paraguay still has a lot on its “to-do” list.
What’s your favorite destination in Paraguay?
I love Yataity del Guairá. It’s a small, peaceful town where people dedicate themselves to making and embroidering fine cotton cloth known as ao po’i. Some women even hand-spin raw cotton into thread and then weave it on a loom. It’s like stepping into a time machine. The New York Times‘ “Frugal Traveler” columnist Seth Kugel recently wrote a really great piece about traveling in that region of Paraguay.
I became obsessed with Paraguayan food, which I learned is a big part of the culture. What can you tell us about that?
Here it’s all about comfort food. Hearty stews with noodles or rice, deep-fried treats like empanadas and fritters, and a ton of dishes made with corn flour, mandioca (cassava/yucca) and cheese. Chipa is the most ubiquitous; it’s a cheesy, bagel-shaped cornbread that was considered sacred by the Guaraní.
Why should readers consider a trip to Paraguay now (as opposed to, say, in five years)?
Even compared to a year ago, the tourism industry has gained momentum. There are more hostels, restaurants, and more information available in guidebooks and on travel websites. And American Airlines began a direct flight from Miami in November.
But Paraguay remains firmly off the beaten path, as you said. So people who enjoy under-the-radar destinations should come now. As for the future, a massive number of tourists will travel to Latin America for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. By then, there will hopefully be enough buzz around Paraguay that a significant portion of those tourists will come here as well.