Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lonely Planet, schmonely planet...

I am a poster child for brand loyalty. Be it face powder, fabric softener or cat litter, once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it. Sometimes my opinion is based on such important factors like the package design and pretty graphics, especially if they are in a language I can’t read. But more often than not, I am more concerned with the quality of the product, and if it works, I will keep buying it (like DiorSnow face cream for example). I’m simply too lazy to look for something else…

Same with travel guidebooks.

My very first guidebooks to Peru and Ecuador (sometime in the early 1990s) were Lonely Planet. The Peru book, by Rob Rachowiecki had not only pretty pictures, but also decent content. It got stolen, along with the rest of my luggage, somewhere on a bus to Ayacucho. But I remember it fondly, and when it came to getting an Ecuador guidebook, I also purchased a Lonely Planet edition. I liked it, too.

Then came the disastrous book on Bolivia. What a mess it was! We used the pages to make origami for school children somewhere in the Andes, because the paper was too hard and fancy to wipe our asses (even after scrunching it up).

And then the Colombia guidebook, the ancient one, written by Krzysztof Dydynski! What a waste of paper! And a lot of hurt national pride. I expected a better job from a Pole. The book was so useless and terrible, it ended up as a support for my wobbly desk in a Spanish class I was taking in Cartagena. I seriously questioned if Mr. Dydynski ever visited the places he was writing about.

The Colombia guidebook must have been cursed from the beginning. The new editions are as bad as the old ones.

And now LP is in all sorts of news, because of a writer's claim that he faked a book, including parts of the Colombia guide. Oh! For crap’s sakes!

Apart from the detail that the writer in question is a petty opportunist promoting his own book, and who obviously belongs to the school of “there is no bad publicity”, the fact remains that the LP guides are getting worse and worse.

I know, because I stayed loyal to the brand. LP can dispute the claims all they want, and stand by their accuracy, but the truth is, the days of Tony and Maureen Wheeler are over.

I don’t treat the LP books as a source of travel knowledge anymore. I read them for fun and amusement, because for anything else, they’re as useless as two tits on a bull – the West Africa guide immediately comes to mind.

The not so far-flung destinations are no better. I know, because I lived in a few, and just for gits and shiggles compared what’s around me with what’s in an LP guidebook.

So why do I keep on reading the Lonely Planet offerings? Well, this is the only English language guidebook publisher that my local library stocks, so I have little choice.

And once in a blue moon, there is a book that makes it all worthwhile, and for me it’s LP’s Bhutan guide. A truly excellent piece of guidebook writing. Accurate and to the point. A pleasure to lug around when you frolic in the Bhutanese countryside. But duh, no wonder! The first and second editions were written by Stan Armington, and the updating authors had enough brains not to fiddle too much with the Master’s words.


  1. Well said ! Whenever any series becomes a top seller, with continual new additions ,relevance and authenticity is questionable. With so many Blogs and travel sites available, www almost seems to be the better alternative; Reminiscing - anybody remember the HK Far East Economic Review Travel Guide of SE Asia ;-)

  2. My favorite brand and am somewhat loyal to is coca cola clasic. I love it.