Lonely Planet Writer Admits To Fabricating Guide Book Based On Info From Girlfriend

Who needs to actually travel in order to write guide books? Not Thomas Kohnstamm.

From Reuters:

The Sunday Telegraph said Kohnstamm also claims in his new book “Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?” that he accepted free travel, contravening company policy.

He said in one case he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

“They didn’t pay me enough to go to Colombia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating — an intern at the Colombian consulate,” the newspaper quoted Kohnstamm as saying.

Lonely Planet said it had reviewed Kohnstamm’s guidebooks but had not found any inaccuracies in them, the Sunday Telegraph said.

We always sort of assumed that this sort of thing went on, but how is the travel-writing community taking Kohnstamm’s self-promotion? Gadling is advocating outrage:

In an amazing coincidence, Kohnstamm is set to release a new book next week called Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism. The book, from what I can tell, is the story of how Kohnstamm manages to embody every bad stereotype about travelers there is, and he comes off sounding like a complete boor who’s just dying to tell the world about his unbelievably cool life. Here’s an excerpt:

“The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight. We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner. I pen a note in my Moleskine that I will later recount in the guidebook review, saying that the restaurant ‘is a pleasant surprise . . . and the table service is friendly.'”

You had sex with a girl? In a foreign country?! Cool!

Oh, wow.

5 reasons to be outraged by the Lonely Planet fraud [Gadling] (Thanks, J!)
Lonely Planet writer says he made up part of books [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    What a douchebag.

  2. cmcd14 says:

    what a puff.

  3. EyeHeartPie says:

    More like he’s wishing that’s what he actually did…

  4. hi says:

    I’ll be the 1st to say ‘no he didn’t’.

  5. m4ximusprim3 says:

    from the margin of the guidebook:

    TRAVEL TIP: When visiting Bolivia, make sure to bring extra protection. They have this nasty version of the clap that makes your hair fall out.

  6. scoopy says:


  7. louveciennes says:

    People like this are why I have a “douchebag” tag on del.icio.us.

  8. Beerad says:

    Actually, I bet he just heard about the waitress sex from a chick he dated once.

  9. laserjobs says:

    Bought a Foder’s guide to Chile and I am sure the author had not visited the place for at least 10 years if not more. This was a current year version and would not have wished this guidebook on my worst enemy. Ended up dumping it withing the fist week of using it and bought a local guide that was top notch. Now I only buy guidebooks from local writers.

  10. weakdome says:

    I’ll be penning in my moleskine “don’t eat at the tables in the back corner”
    Good tip!

  11. m4ximusprim3 says:

    Also, how awesome would it be if “this chick” turned out to be a compulsive liar?

    I wonder how many tourists would drive for days into the back country to see the sacred “Santuario de la que volaba cerdo” only to realize there wasn’t actually a shrine devoted to a flying pig?

  12. petrarch1608 says:

    i prefer Rough Guides. They usually have the best maps, easiest to follow directions.

  13. petrarch1608 says:

    @laserjobs: I went to chile and used the Rough Guide. It was great, although the dollar exchange rate was way off.

  14. Mr. Gunn says:

    So many people these days dying to be famous for being a douchebag.

    the craigslist entrapment guy, the “gym in 24 minutes” guy, now this guy…

  15. legotech says:

    Evidently he was only hired to write the non travel advice bits and only made this stuff up to sell copies of his book:


    “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.”

  16. Mr_D says:

    I’ve heard that recently, the Rough Guides series has surpassed Lonely Planet in quality.

    Of course, I’ve never actually gone to any country I’ve bought a travel guide for, but whatever.

  17. Anonymous says:

    @laserjobs: Fodors is HORRIBLE. I suffered through their Italy guide. Pure garbage. It was amazing.

    Luckily all the LP guides i’ve used have been pretty decent, some of the best actually. Still their hostel information was marginal.

  18. smythe says:

    Looks like this guy is still writing fiction.

  19. UnicornMaster says:

    What kind of Jackass gets paid to write about traveling to other countries, and doesn’t bother to go? It’s like a food critic not going to the restaurant or music critic not going to a concert. These are jobs that people kill for, and he’s too self-involved to enjoy it? If he’d makeup going to Colombia I’m sure his “memoir” is all made up too, especially the part about random sex in a foreign country.

  20. djanes1 says:

    Just replace whats-his-name with Rick Steves in your mind and this story becomes a lot funnier.

  21. morganlh85 says:

    Sounds like a publicity-craving pig.

  22. j3s says:

    This wouldn’t have happened if Lonely Planet had checked his receipts.

  23. ideagirl says:

    My husband used to be an editor for a major travel publisher. This issue is very, very common. The writers and publishers have something of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on this stuff.

    The problem is that the advances in publishing today are so low that most writers can’t make the research trip and pay their bills at the same time. It was not this way 10-20 years ago, but it is now.

    I know of one writer who was offered a Rough Guides update, it would have been his first book, and he was very excited–until he found out it paid a whopping $2000, and he was expected to pay for his own travel. Not bad if you’re a college student killing the summer, but impossible if you are trying to support yourself as a writer. JMO.

  24. Dr-Ben says:

    I just feel disappointed for LP. This guy shafted them, and is banking on destroying their brand to plug his new book about how he is a terrible person.

  25. withoutnations says:

    I’ve used http://wikitravel.org/ for my last few trips, great resource

  26. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    i’m debating if this is better or worse than “Lonely Planet Writer Admits To Fabricating Guide Book Based On Info From Wikipedia”

  27. I’ve taken LP books to both conventional and weird places; they’re generally pretty spot-on. Rough Guides are a little better at providing historical and cultural context, but LP is better at finding out of the way places, which is how I like to travel.

    LP is also better for telling you how to slum around living out of a backpack and staying in hostels, which is how I do not like to travel…

  28. Superawesomerad says:

    There’s nothing more charming than a guy who brags about being bad at his job.

  29. MeOhMy says:

    This is like that guy Frey that embellished the crap out of his memoir and then said “Well it’s kinda sorta a work of fiction…if I get called on it…”

    The fact that he was “exposed” is nothing more than a planned publicity stunt.

  30. v2h5a81 says:

    The thing that kills me is the fact that this ass of a guy did not even bother to do this right, just makes things worse, I am Colombian, and well it just doesn’t help that the media is continuously making us out as a horrible country but to have a travel guide not even care well that’s another shot to the arm. Maybe I can tell them that I will go and do the book and actually visit the Country….. at least I will enjoy being there.

  31. mammalpants says:

    that sex in a chair bit has nothing on what happened to me the other day when i went to the mall with a hand full of coupons.

  32. whatdoyoucare says:

    @djanes1: LOL

  33. brent_w says:

    Haha, sounds like he might have embellished in this book, quite a bit.

  34. belltolls says:

    LP should be crashing a disaster response story an hour saying:
    what they doing to correct; great shame having sponsored this douche; and how they will prevent this from happening again–but I do not see it so…bye, bye brand.

  35. Viajero says:

    Thing is, he chronicles his lying so much that even his stories about his lying can’t be trusted — I also bet there is a lot of embellishment.

    All we know is that he’s pathetic. Note to author: Get help.