Meet The Reclusive American Billionaire Who Bought Lonely Planet

Last year, the Wall Street Journal called Brad Kelley “the man with a million acres.” Now the American billionaire and land addict has expanded his kingdom to include the world’s biggest travel-guide publisher. Kelley’s NC2 Media bought Lonely Planet from BBC Worldwide in a deal announced yesterday.

Most of the headlines focused on the huge loss BBC is taking by selling the company for about $78 million. It paid double that to buy the Melbourne-based publisher a few years ago. Some travel insiders are wondering if NC2, a small firm based in Nashville, Tenn. and specializing in digital development, will continue to publish the familiar blue-covered guides while devoting energy to digital expansion. NC2’s chief operating office, Daniel Houghton, made some routinely vague comments about being committed to the brand’s roots in publishing in a Q&A with Skift Travel. NC2 also produces “Outwild TV,” a story-rich Web series on adventure travel:

A fair amount of the chatter surrounding the news questions whether NC2 will have any more luck than the BBC did with the brand, which was portrayed as struggling financially and with digital innovation. But Kelley surely knows what he’s doing. He didn’t become a billionaire by making bad deals. (Actually, he earned his fortune in the cigarette business.)

Kelley, who’s on the Forbes 400 list of the world’s richest people, must know a promising brand when he sees one. Lonely Planet is the world’s largest travel-guide publisher with 40 years under its belt and 120 million books sold. The BBC grew it from the third most-popular guidebook series in the U.S. to the first.

Kelley, though, is the anti-Trump, with about as much flash as the Amish. The Wall Street Journal called him “deeply private” and claimed he doesn’t use Twitter or email (as of last fall). His hobbies, according to the article, include making bourbon and raising exotic animals; he’s also passionate about conservation. Most of his land – which is concentrated in Florida, Texas and New Mexico and in total outsizes Rhode Island – is devoted to ranches, and his holdings make him one of the top three or four land owners in the country, right up there with Ted Turner.

According to the WSJ, Kelley grew up as the son of a tobacco farmer in Kentucky and bought his first piece of land at 17. He maintains his primary residence in Franklin, Tenn., a town with about 65,000 residents.

That description might seem to cut against the image of an innovative digital firm and the exotic locations on which Lonely Planet is an authority, but in the WSJ Kelley talked about his land habit in financial terms, not romantic ones: “It’s a nonperishable commodity and it’s as good a place as any to put my money,” Mr. Kelley says. “It’s better than derivatives.” The article reported that “the national average value of U.S. ranchland rose 12% compared with five years earlier; in Texas, it is up 30% compared with five years ago.”

Lonely Planet is now based in a state that doesn’t warrant a blue-spined guidebook of its own, but it may well be in better hands.

[Photo credit: Joshua Alan Davis via Flickr]

Book Review: ‘The Food Traveler’s Handbook’

food traveler's handbookFull disclosure: I know Jodi Ettenberg, author of “The Food Traveler’s Handbook.” I’ve eaten with Jodi and explored cities with her; she’s even inspected the spices in my Istanbul sublet apartment. Rather than let my friendship with her just guarantee a great review of her book, I will use it to vouch for the fact that she’s the perfect person to write a food guide for travelers: intrepid, resourceful, curious and (of course) always hungry.

On the road full time since 2008, Jodi has explored the world through food on her blog Legal Nomads. To keep costs down and her palate happy, Jodi strives to eat as locally as possible, chasing down the best street eats, cab driver hangouts and mom-and-pop restaurants. With this handbook, she shares her tips and resources for eating well, cheaply, and safely anywhere in the world. The guide is peppered (pardon the pun) with anecdotes from Jodi and other travelers (blogger Nicola Twilley recommends revisiting a market at different times of the day for different experiences), quirky facts (how about a 1742 recipe for ketchup that will keep for 20 years?!) and guidelines for local dining culture (you’ll keep getting your coffee refilled in Jordan until you learn the proper way to shake the cup and signal you’ve had enough). The book is infused with an enthusiasm and passion for food that’s contagious, and you may quickly find that planning a tour of the world through dumplings seems like a must.Jodi’s travel style may not be for everyone – some people crave familiarity and easy comfort, especially when traveling, and the prospect of eating a mysterious dish at a tiny food stall might be daunting. But for those looking to expand their horizons through food, connect with locals while traveling or just get a good meal without risking food poisoning, “The Food Traveler’s Handbook” is worth tucking into. Just be wary of reading it on an empty stomach, or you might find yourself, as I did, propelled out of bed at 8 a.m. with a strong craving for soup.

The Food Traveler’s Handbook” is available in paperback and as an e-book for Kindle. Additional books in the Traveler’s Handbooks series include guides for Career Breaks, Solo Travel, Luxury Travel and Volunteer Travel. Additional resources for food travelers can also be found on Jodi’s blog here.

[Photo credit: Jodi Ettenberg]

How To Create A Successful Hiking Route


A couple of years ago, I spent six enjoyable days hiking the East Highland Way and wrote a series about it for all you fine folks. Back then this trail through Scotland had only just been established by devoted hiker Kevin Langan.

I felt like a real pioneer when I did this route. The 82-mile journey from Ft. William to Aviemore was unmarked and there was no guidebook yet. Kevin was kind enough to email me PDFs of the page proofs. I never saw anyone else doing the trail and only heard of one other hiker, a German who was a day ahead of me.

Now the East Highland Way is fully established. The guidebook is not only in print now, it’s on its third edition. Kevin’s website is getting tons of hits, and his publisher has added some stuff for the techies in the form of a free Android mobile phone app for the route, which is now available on the Google Play store. GPS (.GPX) and Google Earth (.KMZ) route files are available to download from the website free of charge, as is a new amenities brochure, which includes maps of each location and places of interest.

The trail has also received markers. When I did it I had to rely on generally trustworthy Ordnance Survey maps. It’s nice to have confirmation with trail makers, though.

I caught up with Kevin and asked him how he went about building this new trail and what’s new after two years.

%Gallery-163506%What made you decide to establish a new route in the highlands and what made you pick the Ft. William-Aviemore line?

After walking the world-famous West Highland Way, I noticed that hikers can engage with a whole other network of interconnected trails such as the Great Glen Way, the Rob Roy Way, the Kintyre Way, and the Cowal Way. It was by exploring these routes that I then became aware of a satellite group further east. The Speyside Way, Dava Way and the Moray Coastal Trail seemed to be cut-off and isolated by a series of lesser-walked glens. It occurred to me that strategically, a new connection at this point could theoretically fuse together the various national trails and create a much larger path network to explore. The missing link in question ran between Fort William and Aviemore, two towns already drenched in outdoor culture and heritage. This was entirely theoretical at first and was never anticipated to become a mainstream long distance trail.

How did you go about researching and establishing the route?

In the years to follow I explored the area many times both physically and virtually, trial-blazed various routes and took more notes than I knew how to compile. It was through detailed analysis of the terrain and distances that I finally settled on the East Highland Way route as it stands today. Three websites and three guidebooks later, the route is becoming more popular with each day.

How did you get markers for the route? Were those put up by the government?

The waymarking has been done by building up relationships with various landowners. There are also various existing sections that use locally waymarked trails already, which is great – mainly the Badenoch way and the newly waymarked Loch Gynack trail. The EHW waymarking so far has been done very organically from the ground up. The new orange East Highland Way markers have been distributed to land owners and strategically placed at their discretion. These will include the forests of Inverlair and Corrour and also the full length of Loch Laggan past Ardverikie.

How has the route changed since I walked it (when the first edition was still in production)?

Since you walked it the route has changed immensely. Almost 10 miles of reduced road walking:

1: The route now leaves Fort William via the old Ben Nevis access path past the Alcan smelter, rather than the tarred cycle path to Torlundy.

2: The route uses a new Forest trail approaching Spean Bridge, which bypasses the road section.

3: A new forest route through the Ardverikie estate, which reduces the road walking along the Ardverikie driveway by a few miles.

3: The road walking through Laggan village has been chopped in half with a shortcut over the moor to Glen Banchor.

4: A new high-level route has been introduced between Newtonmore and Kingussie, which replaces the old tarred cycle path.

5: A new route waymarked through Invereshie House estate towards the Frank Burce sculpture park.

What’s next for the EHW?

I think the East Highland Way is growing steadily and I would be happy for people just to continue walking and enjoying the route and that over the years further waymarking is introduced and further road walking eliminated. It’s quite a simple project with a simple agenda. The most important thing for me is the quality of the product. I need to stay focused on finding the best quality paths and attractions along the route and everything else will sort itself out.

Are you planning to establish more routes?

I’ve got various projects, which are ongoing and take up lots of my time. There will hopefully be other long distance routes in the future although this isn’t something I’m actively pursuing at the moment. They are extraordinarily time consuming and need a lot of effort and hard work not to mention free time to be produced properly and with a high quality output in mind.

[Full disclosure: I contributed several photos to the original edition. I didn’t ask for payment, and I don’t receive any royalties. I gave Kevin free photos because I believe in promoting this trail. I don’t know if they’re in the third edition.]

The Problem With Guidebooks, Or How I Came to Hate Lonely Planet On A Sunday in Crete

anogiaHave you ever been so annoyed with a guidebook that you wanted to track down the author and bludgeon them to death with a rusty hatchet? Neither have I, but yesterday I came close.

I almost always invest in a guidebook when I take a trip. But I’m not sure why, because I’ve been led astray on so many occasions. After arriving in the Greek isles at the start of a six-week trip, my wife and I bought the Kindle edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to the Greek Islands.

I’m generally very high on Lonely Planet but this book is awful. For example, yesterday I convinced my family to make a day trip to Anogia, a remote village in the mountainous interior of Crete, on the basis of an enticing description of the place in the book (see photo above). The author described the village as “memorable” and “known for its rebellious spirit and determination to express its undiluted Cretan character.” (Whatever that means.)He or she went on to say that the town’s cafés were “frequented by black-shirted mustachioed men, the older ones often wearing traditional dress,” and claimed that the town was sought out by “foreign travelers in search of rustic authenticity.”

I was also drawn in by the author’s vivid description of the town’s reputation for lawlessness and its history – villagers sheltered Allied troops in WWII and the Nazis murdered all the men in the town in retaliation. I knew it would be a trek from our base in Plakias, on Crete’s south coast, but based upon the author’s recommendation, I didn’t want to miss the place.

Google maps claims the trip should take one hour and 27 minutes each way, and I’m a fast driver, but it took us two hours on windy, torturously circuitous roads to reach the village, largely because we were constantly getting caught behind slow moving cars and trucks that were impossible to pass on the curved roads.

Here I have to admit, in full disclosure, that my adorable, yet sometimes highly annoying, 2- and 4-year-old sons also contributed plenty of stress on the drive, what with their quarreling, whining and intermittent demands for snacks, movies, entertainment and pleas to get out of the damn car.

I was exhausted by the time we arrived in the town, which, by the way, is at least an hour drive from anywhere that travelers might be coming from. But I was still ready to dig the place. The day trip had been my idea and I was eager to prove it had been a good one.

Anogia has two sections – a lower town, which has 2-3 cafes, a church, restaurants and 20 or 30 widows dressed in black aggressively peddling rugs, and an upper town, which has 2-3 empty hotels, two forlorn restaurants and a smattering of homes and other businesses. The cafes in the lower town were full of old people but none were dressed in traditional outfits and only two men had impressive moustaches.

Perhaps the village-folk had received warning that a Lonely Planet author was coming to the town and they all prepared by growing stashes and getting gussied up in traditional Cretan outfits? Or perhaps the last Lonely Planet author to actually visit this town passed through in 1974 and everyone else has just used their description for subsequent editions since then?

old person sleepingAnogia is not an attractive town. If I had to describe it, the words I would use are: unremarkable, modern, remote, ugly, forlorn, impoverished, touristy and avoidable, among others. The town may have an interesting history but we saw no museums and none of the elderly people we met in the village spoke English. It’s the kind of place that’s fascinating to read about but not very interesting to actually see. How dead was this little village? I think this photo of an elderly woman taking a nap with her door open (right) says it all.

After deflecting offers from about two dozen carpet sellers, we’d seen all we needed to see of the upper and lower towns, both equally forgettable. Like gluttons for punishment, we decided to take the LP guidebook authors advice on a lunch recommendation and sought out a place called Ta Skalomata, which they claimed had “home baked bread” and “great grills at reasonable prices.”

In six weeks of travel around the Greek Islands, I’ve had exactly one bad meal and this was it. We took the waiter up on his recommendation that we try their fresh grilled lamb, but it was pricey and was about 85 percent bone, cartilage and fat. Revolting.

The torturous two-hour ride back to our base was filled with recrimination, along with a tremendous amount of whining coming from the back seat, and I felt terrible for killing our day on such a boondoggle. If we had a month in Crete, it would have been a pity, but with just a week, it felt like a criminal waste of our time.

The information you find in guidebooks is often just one person’s opinion and it has to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Why had I led my family to a remote village in Crete, a place loaded with beautiful and interesting places to visit, solely based upon an enticing entry in Lonely Planet?

We’d already been burned by this book on more than one occasion. The authors told us about a “world class” Mexican restaurant in Naxos that was a joke. In Kos, we took a one-hour-and-20-minute ride on a public bus out to a town called Kefalos, based upon a description in the book, which claimed that it was a “traditional village” that was a good place for visitors looking for someplace “a little more authentic.”

When I read the words “traditional village” and “authentic” I conjure up images of a nice old town, with a square filled with cafes, pedestrian streets and old stone houses. Kefalos has none of those things. Like Anogia, it’s a very ordinary, modern town with little charm and nothing to see. Worst of all, we had no car and would have been stuck there for six hours, thanks to the limited bus schedule, if we hadn’t been given a ride by a very friendly pharmacist in the town.

There is no way to adequately cover all of the most interesting sites in all of the Greek Islands in one book. But what’s maddening about this one is that they devote tons of space to places that barely deserve to be in the book at all and gloss over or completely ignore other places that are really quite interesting.

For example, the book has a very slim chapter on Naxos, but inexplicably features a four e-page long description of a jewelry shop in Halki, another mountain village they over-hype as “one of the finest experiences” on Naxos, when in fact the place is eminently forgettable.

Likewise, there is no mention of San Michalis, an absolutely gorgeous place on Syros and the book gives short shrift to the beautiful western half of Samos and to some of that island’s amazing hikes to medieval churches and monasteries.

The problem with this and indeed many guidebooks is that the authors try to make nearly every place seem interesting and so travelers who don’t have time to see everything are left guessing which places they should visit and which they should skip. They delve into the town’s history, which is interesting, but what you really want to know is: what’s the place like and is it worth my time?

Guidebook authors are out in the towns they visit doing the research and meeting people who have a vested interest in attracting tourists to the place. It’s only human nature not to want to turn around and write that a place is an unremarkable hellhole after having made friends and contacts. But that’s a shame because travelers have limited time and need help prioritizing.

As for my disastrous outing in search of Cretan “authenticity,” I’m as much to blame as the author of that section of the guidebook, because I’ve been traveling and getting burned by guidebook advice for decades and I should have known better. The next time I read about a place that’s very “authentic,” I’ll be sure to give it a miss.

[Photo by Dave Seminara]

The Green Book: A Guidebook For The Age Of Segregation

Green Book, segregationIt’s hard to imagine nowadays when the only limitations to travel are money, time and health, but for much of America’s history a large segment of the population had trouble traveling just because of the color of their skin.

During the days of segregation, most hotels were off-limits to African-Americans, as were other facilities like restaurants, movie theaters and campgrounds. Those that did allow blacks to enter had strict rules of segregation. Stopping at the wrong restaurant could lead a black family to being insulted or worse.

Yet a rising black middle class had just as much hunger for travel as anyone else. The problem was: how does one travel safely? One answer was “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guidebook that listed hotels and restaurants open to black people. While it wasn’t the only such guidebook, it was one of the most popular and long lasting. It was started by Victor H. Green in 1936 as a guide just for New York City, but soon expanded to include the whole country and eventually Bermuda, Mexico and Canada.

I’d never heard of this book until I saw it mentioned on the excellent website I’m Black and I Travel. I downloaded a free PDF of the 1949 edition from the University of Michigan website and found it a fascinating read. The book introduces itself as a resource “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.”

Then come the listings. I took special note of places I used to live. Tucson, Arizona, only had one listing for a restaurant and no lodging mentioned. Columbia, Missouri, had a hotel and a tourist home, which was a private home that rented out spare rooms to travelers. The hotel has since disappeared and the land on which it stood is now taken up by an adult store and theater. The guesthouse is now a private residence. New York City, of course, had plenty of listings. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing and the Harlem listings are longer than the listings for many states.

%Gallery-153462%Another city that has a sizable listing is Tulsa, Oklahoma. Only 28 years before, the thriving black neighborhood of Greenwood had been burned to the ground and hundreds of black people killed by a white mob in the worst race riot in American history. By 1949, numerous black-owned businesses had literally sprung from the ashes and got into “The Green Book.”

The advertisements open up a different era too. How long has it been since hotels boasted they had hot water and radios in every room? Only two national companies advertised in this edition: Esso, which was a leader in selling franchises to African-Americans, and Ford Motor Company, which placed an ad for its very cool 1949 convertible. Green also advertised his own reservation bureau, noting that a shortage of beds for black travelers made it essential to plan ahead.

There are also a couple of articles, including one on what to see in Chicago, highlighting its large black neighborhood as well as more general interest sights. Another article talked about Robbins, Illinois, which was of interest to the black reader since it was a prosperous town owned almost entirely by black people. The guidebook notes that with “no prejudice and restrictions” the community was able to boom. The article finishes: “It is worth the trouble to go out and take a look at what an experiment of an exhibition of what Negroes working together can do. Indeed, it would not be a bad idea to pitch in and help.”

One thing that struck me most about this book was the absolute lack of rancor. The problem of segregation is noted, and in a couple of places Green hopes for it to end one day, but there are no angry tirades against the injustice that black people were suffering. If I had been black in 1949, I doubt I would have been so charitable.

“The Green Book” is a sobering reminder of a sad time in U.S. history, and also a reminder that things occasionally get better – not 100% better, but time has seen a major improvement. Green stopped publication after 1964 after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It is now a rare item and it’s not even clear if a copy exists for every edition. If you think you or your grandparents may have a copy tucked away in the attic, go check. It should be preserved.

Do you have memories of travel in the age of segregation? Tell us about them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy University of Michigan]