Thomas Kohnstamm’s World Worsts
Name Thomas Kohnstamm
Who? Has written over a dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks before he went on to write the funny, truthful, behind-the-scenes-of-guidebook-writing bestseller: Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism. He has also contributed to Travel + Leisure, Time Out New York, Forbes and numerous other publications. He is at work on a new book about the first Amazonian to attend Oxford.
Countries Visited 50+
1. Worst Hostel I’ll never forget the smell of the hostel in Costa Rica (back in ’98) with the decomposing rat under the bed.
2. Worst Bus Ride Nighttime Greyhound from Port Authority to DC. Hands down. Another one that wasn’t terrible – but was rather funny – happened on a bus in Venezuela: a Dutch friend (who couldn’t read Spanish) overlooked the “urination only” sign on the bathroom door. After taking care of business, he was accosted by the bus stewardess. She promptly checked the stall, upbraided him in front of the other passengers and fined him the equivalent of $12. He tried to deny it, but she publicly refuted him with all sorts of graphic evidence. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time.
3. Worst Street Food Random pig organs reheated atop a sheet of corrugated metal. No idea which organs they were. Protein is hard to come by in some parts of the Andes.
4. Worst TV Travel Personality I have a fair amount of respect for anyone who can pull off a travel show. I will say that if I were truly lost in the middle of nowhere that I’d rather run into Survivorman Les Stroud than the relatively more famous Bear Grylls. Giada de Laurentiis (or her writers) would fail Travel Writing 101 with the incessant commentary on “gorgeous sunsets” and “yummy dinners.” But with a famous family and other obvious assets, viewers probably give you a bit more leeway to suck.
5. Worst Guidebook Series People expect me to say Lonely Planet, but I actually think that LP is one of the best. I really don’t dig Fodor’s or Frommer’s – I am not their intended audience. That said, I’d argue that all guidebooks have weaknesses and they are best used as a simple tool for trip organization rather than a paint-by-the-numbers approach to travel.