Like the McDonalds of tourism, the proliferation of Lonely Planet has branded and shaped our interaction with the world. In the winter issue of Geist, Stephen Henighan compares international travel before and after the popular guide book series took root. He considers early travel narratives by Harry Franck and A.F. Tschiffely, Americans whose journeys favored rough improvisation over guided plans, relying instead on advice from locals and their own observational knowledge. In contrast, Lonely Planet has effectively homogenized how people think about travel, reducing the experience to a predictable set of outcomes.
“The company’s formula, laying its easy-to-consult categories over each destination like a grid, has not only charted the world: it has changed it,” writes Henighan. “By assuring almost everyone that they can travel to faraway places and find familiar comforts and attitudes, Lonely Planet, along with its competitors, has acted as a catalyst in installing cheap hotels, transportation links and English-speaking personnel in locations where otherwise they might not exist.”
Henighan acknowledges that Lonely Planet has also helped democratize travel through both its mass appeal and its nod to specific groups, such as women, people of color, and the LGBT community. No small feat, considering that experiences like Franck and Tschiffely’s were once limited to a privileged few.
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