Travel Book Confidential

A new book by Thomas Kohnstamm, a former Lonely Planet author, is shaking up the travel book world. In Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? he claims he wrote about Colombia for Lonely Planet, without ever going there, relying instead on information from “a chick I was dating” who worked at the Colombian Consulate. He also claims he took favors in exchange for good coverage, and was forced to supplement his travel-writing income by selling drugs.

The story has been covered by Reuters and the AP and by The New York Times blog, “The Lede.”

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism

  • Paperback: $13.95
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (April 22, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0307394654
  • ISBN-13: 978-030739465

The Lonely Planet says in a statement that they are fact-checking the books Kohnstamm wrote for them (Chile & Easter Island, 7th edition; South America on a Shoestring, 10th edition and Caribbean Islands, 4th edition). It also says, “Thomas talks most about his work on Brazil (6th edition). This book is now out of print and has been replaced by the current edition. This has been fully updated, and Thomas has not contributed to it at all.” The 6th edition is still owned in many libraries, however.

A contributer to the travel Web site “Gadling” concludes the story is “Just another example of Kohnstamm blowing things out of proportion for the sake of shilling his own book.” He refers to a piece in the Guardian, that points out Kohnstamm was never expected to go to Colombia:

Lonely Planet publisher Piers Pickard told Associated Press that Kohnstamm’s revelation of not having been to Colombia was “disingenuous” because he was hired to write about the country’s history and not to travel there to review accommodation and restaurants.

Kohnstamm later told AP: “It was expected I would never go to Colombia.”

Separately, the New Zealand Herald reports that a Lonely Planet author has also questioned Kohnstamm’s story and called him an “embarrassment.”

Copies of Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? are on order for half the libraries I checked.

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