My first beach read in Thailand was Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and sent American author Thomas Kohnstamm a message through his website to let him know. As a result of his considerate response (and kind visit to this blog), I thought a short Q&A might help spread the word.
GoBackpacking: The book’s plot relies on your openness regarding salacious one night stands and alcohol/drug use. How did family, friends, and peers react when it was published?
TK: My mom didn’t care for all of the drinking stories. My girlfriend didn’t care for all of the sex stories. My father couldn’t have been more proud. Seriously though, it was hard to be open and honest about some of the less savory details… therefore I did not share the manuscript with any friends or family while I was working on it. Otherwise, I probably would have shied away from discussing certain aspects.
GoBackpacking: One reviewer likened your writing style to that of Hunter S. Thompson. Do you consider him an influence?
TK: I think that Thompson is a thematic influence. I have a lot of respect for him, but have only read a few of his books. In terms of actual writing style, I spent a lot more time reading and studying the techniques of Charles Bukowski.
GoBackpacking: Upon reading your book, why should travelers continue to trust the information presented by companies such as The Lonely Planet, especially as it relates to accommodations, restaurants, and nightlife?
TK: My point is that guidebooks are inherently subjective and somewhat arbitrary and therefore should not be treated as “The Travelers’ Bible” or the singular and correct approach to a destination. Guidebooks are still useful for recommendations, but I would argue that you will always be let down if you rely exclusively on a single source for information – when traveling, reading the news etc.
GoBackpacking: In addition to keeping notes for the guidebook, did you also keep a personal journal while traveling in Brazil? What purpose did it serve you at the time?
TK: I kept a bit of a journal – albeit an uneven one. I wrote basic observations on my laptop and recorded all sorts of details and factoids. I am fortunate to have a really good memory, so I rely primarily on my memory for my impressions of a place. I find that it is best to wait a while and be away from a place before I write about it.
GoBackpacking: Earlier in the year, The Lonely Planet began to make individual guidebook chapters available for download over the Internet. Do you foresee a time when hand held devices and increasingly small, WiFi-enabled laptops render paper guidebooks obsolete?
TK: Sure. It’s already happening in cities in North America, Western Europe and East Asia. I think that we are going to need better global wi-fi coverage and plans before it happens in developing countries too. I am sure that there’ll be some sort of a backlash though – a low tech travel movement or something along those lines. Such technology will be efficient and highly useful, but the old sense of “getting away from it all” will become increasingly hard to find.
GoBackpacking: Do you have any advice for how aspiring travel writers can get their foot in the door with guidebook companies? Does working at company’s such as The Lonely Planet or Rough Guides make it any easier to establish relationships with other print or online media organizations?
TK: Writing is one of the those random careers that has no established path. Having some writing experience and a lot of travel experience (especially concentrated experience in single region or country) will probably help to get your foot in the door with a guidebook company. It never hurts to have a contact who already works there and can pass along your resume and a writing sample. Luck, timing and mastery of a foreign language all help too. I don’t think that a relationship with a guidebook company will necessarily open doors for you in other media. However, guidebook research does give you lots of additional travel experience (if not a regional expertise), which, in itself, can be parlayed into travel writing assignments.
Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? is available on Amazon.com.