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Confessions of a Professional Tourist

Annie Musselman

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By John Maas

Visitors to Rio trust their handy guidebook to find, say, the best nightclub in Copacabana—without giving much thought to the writer who partied there first. In Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? Thomas Kohnstamm tells his story of updating the Lonely Planet guide to northeastern Brazil. Traveling on a shoestring, Kohnstamm, MA ’01, was tasked with reviewing the bars, restaurants and attractions along a 1,000-mile stretch of coast—roughly the distance from San Diego to Seattle—in seven weeks. The resulting logistical nightmare, Kohnstamm claims in the book, necessitated relying a fair amount on assumptions and hearsay, rather than pure fieldwork.

Such revelations caused an uproar in the international press before the book even hit the shelves, with Lonely Planet hastily defending its products and the travel writing community calling for blood. “I got death threats and tons of hate mail,” Kohnstamm says.

He suggests that the press misrepresented the book, which he never intended as an industry exposé. “It’s about me, about being a young person,” he says, “a gonzo memoir, an attempt at being humorous.” It’s also an entertaining, freewheeling romp from one-night stands to all-night raves on the beaches of Brazil. The book has received film option offers, but moviegoers who expect screen travelogues to end happily with gentle self-realization abroad should probably just stay home and re-watch Under the Tuscan Sun.


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