Pico Iyer’s humble Let’s Go beginnings

If you’ve ever read Pico Iyer, you’ll know that he is one of those rare, wonderfully eloquent travel writers who can really nail a destination and make you feel as though you were there.

What you probably don’t know about Pico, however, is that he began his career writing for Let’s Go–the ubiquitous publication so often clutched by young Americans backpacking through Europe.

Pico was at Harvard University studying Old English when his calling in life came in the form of a flyer posted on the campus seeking writers for the series (the books are written entirely by Harvard students). He quickly applied and was soon on his way with $1,400 to get him through 70 days of research.

According to a great article Pico recently penned for Condé Nast Traveler, writing for the budget publication, “was the best vocational training I ever had, a crash course in all kinds of lessons learned on the fly, and a perfect illustration of the ancient Calvinist truth that life and a free lunch are rarely well acquainted.”

The hardest lesson learned by a 20-something Harvard student studying Old English, however, was “that what a reader of any guidebook wants is not a wise guy’s 20-page treatise on Art versus Nature in the Cotswolds but the dirt on whether that grimy curry house is less poisonous than the grease-stained burger stand down the street.”

And that’s why we love Let’s Go when we’re students, and Pico’s subsequent books when we’re adults.