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Thursday, August 14, 2008

10 oddest travel guides ever published

While we're on the subject of oddities in travel (see yesterday's post on 10 odd jobs in travel and tourism), Slate has published a fabulous reading list by Paul Collins called 'Baboons are simply too small for leopard bait: the 10 oddest travel guides ever published'. The quirky list includes such delights as A Guide through the District of the Lakes in the North of England (1835, 5th edition) by poet William Wordsworth (one of my favorites; you can read my posts on Wordsworth here); Fodor's Indian American (1975) by Jamake Highwater; George Leonard Herter's The Truth About Hunting in Today's Africa and How to Go on Safari for $690 (1963); Travel Guide of Negro Hotels and Guest Houses (1942) published by Afro-American newspapers; A Tramp Trip: How to See Europe on Fifty Cents a Day written by Lee Meriwether in 1886; and, no doubt inspired by Meriwether's way of life a century later, Overland to India and Australia by the BIT Travel and Help Service, published in 1970. You could call that last one a collaborative project. Founding 'editor' Geoff Crowther coordinated 'production', the stapling together of hundreds of letters by hippie travellers, and 'distribution' of the 'guides', little more than sheafs of papers in plastic bags. It was a process "fueled by 'shrooms and wine" that took place at the BIT 'offices', a hippie share house in London that was later "taken over by a bunch of petty crooks, speed freaks, rip-off artists, winos and cider freaks". Apparently, from Geoff's 'production team' "grew much of the colossus that is Lonely Planet." There's a much more entertaining version of the story than that generally reported in the travel media, in the form of Geoff's introduction to the update of the BIT guide in 1980, reprinted as Alternative Society 1970s: the BIT Travel Guide on The Generalist, a blog by writer, poet and musician John May.


Petulia said...

Hey Lara, cool post. I love reading about weird travel books, and the other day I found another interesting post that you might find amusing:

It is from the NYT magazine blog.
Hope all is well, Petu

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Petu, grazie! So do I! I just wish I had more time to read. I'll check this out - thanks for the tip!