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Reflecting on Popular Travel Books in a Time of War

By Kathy Widing

Each year we ask the same small group of leading travel booksellers to tell us which guidebooks are selling best in their stores. At the same time, we ask the experts a series of leading questions on the travel books they are currently reading and recommending to their customers. Their answers give us both an indication of this year’s most popular destinations and, destination aside, the best travel books being written.

Our thanks to Terrell Aldredge at Seattle's Wide World Books and Maps, Sandye Wexler at Chicago’s Savvy Traveller, Susan Hickman at Distant Lands in Los Angeles, and Cindy Cohen at Lonely Planet.

Transitions Abroad: Other than a country-specific guidebook, what is the most useful reference or planning guide on your shelve (along the lines of Traveller's Handbook, Traveler's Tool Kit, Practical Nomad, etc.)?

Aldredge: The new Rough Guides, First Time Around the World is excellent. I like Practical Nomad but it can be a little dense and intimidating for just the kind of traveler who most needs this kind of book. The Rough Guides has a lot of information in a really manageable format. The paragraphs are short; much of the information comes in easy-to-understand checklists, graphs, and sidebars. There are useful rail/distance maps in the region-specific chapters. Although the book was written for around-the-world travelers, the advice works for anyone, especially if you’re on a budget or interested in getting off the beaten path.

Wexler: There isn’t anything else that we’re aware of.

Hickman: I love and recommend the Traveller’s Handbook as one book that should be on every traveler’s bookshelf. Not only is it a terrific resource with lots of really practical advice, it’s great fun to read the articles about the kinds of travel situations I’ll probably never face but that are fun to imagine!

TA: What is the best offbeat travel guide in your store (along the lines of Vagabonding by Ralph Potts or perhaps Carl Franz’ The People's Guide to Mexico)?

Aldredge: The Rome: City Series is one of our staff’s favorite picks. All the reviews are written by fellows and residents of the American Academy in Rome, a center for advanced research in the arts and humanities. From comments on the Pantheon by architects and classicists to recommendations for the best place to eat carciofil alla Guidea on a hidden side street in the Jewish Ghetto, this book can help you find the rome that only true insiders know about.

Wexler: Again, I don’t really know of any.

Hickman: For movie fans The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations by Tony Reeves is a gem. It’s a British publication, so it includes a fair number of foreign films. It gives addresses and descriptive information to help you find the key locations from the films, and color insets guide you through such themes as “The World of James Bond” and the “Star Wars World Tour.” Listings are cross-indexed by destination, so you can find films to check out for a sneak preview of your next destination.

TA: Travel literature has become increasingly popular as a supplement to guidebooks or just for a good read. What is your favorite travel narrative or anthology of the past year?

Aldredge: Coasting by Jonathan Raban was originally published in 1987 it has been unavailable in the U.S. for long enough that that this year’s reissue from Random House feels like a new book. I love Jonathan Raban’s writing (I always tell people that I would read his laundry list if he would publish it), and I never get tired of reading about England. Novels set “in country” are a wonderful way to get a better understanding of a place. My personal favorite this year, and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, is God's Mountain by Eric De Luca. Set in post-war Naples, conveys how Italians feel about themselves and their country.

Wexler: Some tried and true writers and their latest publicatins include Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz and Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux.

Hickman: I really enjoyed Paul Collins’ Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. It’s refreshing to read about someone whose relocation abroad isn’t quite the stuff of fairy tales—and to indulge in a bit of bibliomania for a while.

TA: Finally, all categories aside, what’s your own favorite travel book?

Aldredge: I’ve been spending quite a lot of time with DK’s Turkey Eyewitness Guide lately. My own trip to Turkey is postponed until next spring, but I plan to know what I’m looking at by the time I get there.

Wexler: Probably An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie, James Kirkup (Translator) because the dream and actuality were so weird and the author came so far in so many ways.

Hickman: I love anything by Pico Iyer, Bill Bryson, or Eric Newby. I loved Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations, and one of my old favorites is Catherine Davidson’s 365 Views of Mount Fuji. But the unsung book I have most enjoyed and love to recommend is Pilgrimage: Tales from the Open Road by Patrick Pfister. He’s a wonderfully insightful traveler and an eloquent writer as well. I think Pilgrimage captures the essence of traveling that so many of us strive for but don’t often manage to achieve.

Top Selling Travel Books 2003

Distant Lands

1. Rick Steves’ Italy 2002
2. Lonely Planet Italy
3. Storybook Travels: Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children’s Literature (by Colleen Dunn Bates and Susan LaTempa)
4. Europe Through the Back Door 2002
5. Rick Steves’ Paris 2002
6. Lonely Planet Spain
7. Eyewitness Italy
8. Great Eats Paris (by Sandra Gustafson)
9. Lonely Planet Japan
10. Great Sleeps Paris (by Sandra Gustafson)

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Global Titles

1. Italy
2. Mexico
3. Costa Rica
4. Australia
5. New Zealand
6. Thailand
7. Ireland
8. Europe
9. China
10. Brazil

Savvy Traveller

1. Michelin Geen Guide Paris
2. Europe Through the Back Door
3. Eyewitness Paris
4. Eyewitness Prague
5. Rick Steves Italy
6. Eyewitness London
7. Lonely Planet Italy
8. Eyewitness Florence & Tuscany
9. Lonely Planet Ireland
10. Lonely Planet Brazil

World Wide Books & Maps

1. Rick Steves Italy 2003
2. Rick Steves France 2003
3. Lonely Planet Mexico 8th edition
4. Lonely Planet China 8th edition
5. Rick Steves Paris 2003
6. Rick Steves Great Britain 2003
7. Rick Steves London 2003
8. Lonely Planet Costa Rica 5th edition
9. Lonely Planet Italy 5th edition
10. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Additional bestsellers (excluding books from the Lonely Planet or Rick Steves series)

1. The World is a Class: How and Why
to Teach English Around the World
by Caleb Powell
2. The Impenetrable Forest
by Thor Hanson (Uganda)
3. Moon Handbook to Pacific Mexico
4. Walking the Camino de Santiago
by Bethan Davies and Ben Cole

Key Planning Guides
Short-Term Study Abroad: IIE’s Complete Guide to Summer and Short-Term Study edited by Marie O’Sullivan (IIE Books, 53rd ed., 2003, 582 pp.). The companion volume to Academic Year Abroad, this is the most comprehensive guide for those seeking a short-term vacation abroad with a focus on learning.

Europe Travel Book by Des Hannigan, et al (AA Publishing, 2003 ed., 576 pp.). Another "highlights of" guide, but the Survival Guide and Essential Information section for each country are especially thorough.

Britain and Ireland Bed & Breakfast Guide 2003 (AA Publishing, 2003, 720 pp.; sold in U.S. by AAA ( This reference guide contains all the information you need to choose from 4,000 inspected guesthouses, farmhouses, inns, and small hotels.

Traveling the South Pacific Without Reservations by Evangeline Brunes (Penrith Publications, 2001, 328 pp; available from or from the publisher). A highly personalized account of a solo trip through the islands with a Lonely Planet guide.

The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery by Joseph Dispenza (Avalon Travel). An intelligently written book, with a good bibliography, by a former monk on how to follow the road to self-discovery.

Culture Smart France! by Barry Tomalin (Graphic Arts Center Publishing, 2003, 168 pp.). One of a growing series of titles on the customs and etiquette of individual countries written by experts on the culture. In addition to providing reliable cultural background information, each book has a chapter on Making Friends.

The Guide to Cooking Schools (ShawGuides, 15th ed., 2002, 440 pp; Internet edition free at Detailed descriptions of culinary and wine education programs in 32 countries.

Museums and Galleries of London (Langenscheidt Publishers, 2002, 224 pp.). This beautifully illustrated 4-color guide provides background history and cultural background along with incisive evaluations of more than 130 museums and galleries. Also some helpful travel advice.

First Time Around the World by Doug Lansky (Rough Guides, 2003, 314 pp.). An easy-to-use new guide by an experienced world traveler that covers everything from initial planning to booking to what to take with you and what to do when you arrive.

Great Railway Journeys of Europe (Langenscheidt Publishers, 2002, 400 pp.). Evocatively photographed, this thoroughly researched practical guide also includes fascinating background information. You’ll want to read it at least once before you go, try to fit it in your luggage, and read it again when you return.

Clay Hubbs

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