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"Lonely Planet readers never really experience the culture"

Originally part of BBC Buys Lonely Planet
Do you agree with this? Are you a Lonely Planet user?
7 years ago, November 11th 2011 No: 1 Msg: #146783  

7 years ago, November 12th 2011 No: 2 Msg: #146816  
B Posts: 897
I would have to agree. I am not a lonely planet user but see so many travellers sitting at airports intently staring at the LP guides or trudging streets in search of LPs recommendations that they are so focused on doing the ''must do'' that they forget to look around and see that they actually are doing.

I read a blog the other day where the author commented that the authenticity of what he was looking at had been worn away by thousands of previous gazes (or something along those lines). I have a little trouble with this search for authenticity and the real culture experience - I dont understand exactly what is being sought?

Is seeing Ankhor Wat an authentic Khmer experience? or is seeing the backwaters of the PP areas away from the 'tourist' trail the real Khmer experience?. Do we want to see only the 'beautiful/majestic' but not the deformed/diseased and dingy?

I just had a look at LPs site for Alice Springs. Described as a thriving town - what LP doesnt describe is the massive social problems of a town with an indigenous population with drinking, domestic violence, health problems, drug abuse and often child neglect. LP does not say step out of Alice Springs airport and you will see drunken aboriginals brawling, vomiting or passed out on the airport lawn. Thats the authentic experience of Alice. Sounds great according to LP..but just dont look at the parts we didnt mention because otherwise you wouldnt go there.

I also must say sometimes I think some people spend too much of their travel time navel gazing about authenticity to the point where their experience is clouded by what they expected to see but didnt...perhaps what you saw IS the authentic experience. Reply to this

7 years ago, November 12th 2011 No: 3 Msg: #146828  

Lonely planet's readers never really experience the culture

I guess I shy away from statement's like that. They are too general for me. I don't think which guide book you refer to for basic information maps out or stamps in cement the experience you will have. We often times look at several including Fodor's and Frommer's which I imagine makes most back packers cringe. Looking to multiple sources to gain knowledge and complete your research on an area is wise in our opinion. Each writer comes from a different perspective and aims for a different audience.

I think each person is individual and seeks out, views and experiences each day of travel rather uniquely. My experience will never be what yours is or was. Nor should it be. However, we can share some things in common by visiting the same town or restaurant.

For us, it is not what guidebook you have read but how open you are to the world and absorbing what comes your way.

If one was to travel to San Francisco they will have one experience if they have lunch or dinner at the Top of the Mark looking out over the city and another if they walk the city streets of Chinatown. For me, both are authentic----

Travel experiences are unique and wonderous--- to be cherish and in my opinion not necessarily compared to someone else's as better or not as good. We each get what we need from the journey.

[Edited: 2011 Nov 12 02:18 - D MJ Binkley:42569 ]
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7 years ago, November 12th 2011 No: 4 Msg: #146837  
I don’t really feel that the lowest level of any society is an “authentic” experience of the place I visit or representative of any group of people in that society. I personally feel that I should “enjoy the best and leave the rest”. I don’t care what country you are talking about there are social and economic problems there. But who wants to travel hundreds or thousands of miles at great expense sometimes to “experience” that. And I don’t really believe that the lowest and most miserable of any group represent that group as a whole. I have visited countries where the people are very poor by American Standards but the happiness level of the people is very high. Of course you will never hear of these people in the media. I say enjoy the best and leave the rest. There is not enough time in the longest of life to enjoy and appreciate the best of any culture they visit. That is where a person’s focus should be.
[Edited: 2011 Nov 14 06:17 - Ali:1 - (turned off formatting - affecting all text)]
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7 years ago, November 12th 2011 No: 5 Msg: #146840  
I have to be honest and say i havent actually looked at a lonely planet for a good 4 or 5 years but then i havent really done any 'big' travelling since having kids...maybe 2 weeks at a most and 3 locations. Lonely Planet was a fantastic reference to have in our bags when travelling around europe or america going to heaps of new places and you'd only have 3 to 5 days in each location. I thought it always tended to give a range of attactions, eateries and hotels from cheap through to posh and it often had some of the 'stranger' unexpected attractions that you might want to see as well as local foods and customs that you'd want to taste or experience. I think with the portability of the internet these days i dont really bother with actual 'books' but if you were a traveller stuck on a bus for hours i would highly recommend reading it to see if there is anything you want to bother seeing.

I tend to agree with William and i'm not really sure that seeing the poorer side of a culture is what a culture is. I guess its a interesting definition and something probably worth its own whole thread but if you look at a place like New York city there would be soooo many versions of culture it would be impossible to please everyone... from the theatre district, the art galleries, central park, immigration history, little italy,standard tourist stuff, soho, wall street, brooklyn, the ghetto etc etc. And i am sure what lonely planet touches on in its entire NYC book would be bits of it all and just in travedlling around and seeing it all you would by definition be experiencing its culture which would change depending on where you are and who you are.

So i think as long as you dont eat in a mcdonalds in every city you ever visit and always stay at the holiday inn, you will by definitly eat that country's food, see the people and start to see how they live and what they get up too.... Reply to this

7 years ago, November 12th 2011 No: 6 Msg: #146858  
Guys, you are all spot on!

A guidebook is a source of info, and all of them are different bringing different style of info. We do use LP from time to time...when? Easy answer, when source of info on the net are not widely available...to name few, only for this year, we did buy the Syria and Sri Lanka guide as well as Central America. But when I'm in South Africa, as this is the place I'm writting this, I have really no need of using the LP, or any guidebook.

Would you consider somebody to be "cool" these days because he has never connected to internet...maybe not...well, LP is just another way of getting your hands on info.

So now for the authenticity....ah, well, agree with all posters above.

In France, which on of the following three is more authentic? Dining in a three star michelin, having lunch in a brasserie, or buying you food on the local market? Guess what, all of them!

And to agree one more time with the above postings...bragging on the ability to go on cheap and poor quality is not any authentic at all. What is authentic is respecting other people and their culture. Trying to understand them before you judge them. But to have the ability to do this, you first need to be at ease and peace with your own background. And for some, it isn't the easier point.

What is an authentic experience...who cares, as long as you enjoy the ride! These days, I find the gondola ride in the Venetian as authentic as the one in Venice, it's just about fabricating souvenirs and experience. It can be fun for some, a waste for me....but let people live, for some, it's a souvenir of a life time, and who care if it's fabricated. Because at the end, why do we travel, if it's not to enjoy new experiences.

Having a good life is realizing your own dreams. Authenticity is making sure you build your own personality, leading to your own dreams and that you realize one piece of the puzzle at a time. Than you, the author of your live, will be authentic.

Now for most of the 7 billion inhabitants of little earth....authenticity is clean and available water so they don't have to walk hours per day instead of going to school. Autenticity is electricity 24 hours a day...to make sure you can also have access to safe food. Authenticity is the right to study instead of being a child worker....it's being able to ride on a bus/plane yourself if you want to explore the world. Authenticity is the right to live, because you are simply able to reach an hospital, and have access to proper care.

Let's not forget...it's easy to judge the will of others...when our choices are about travelling, for most it's about having enough food to feed their children.

Ok, now I stop.

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7 years ago, November 13th 2011 No: 7 Msg: #146898  
These kind of statements are a bit silly really, no? How can a few bits of paper actually prevent you from 'cultural' experiences?

We had an LP (new or old) for the majority of countries we visited during our travels, but I doubt that anyone reading our blog would say we hadn't experienced the culture of those countries. The most obvious reason is that being a 'lonely planet reader' obviously isn't the same as 'only visiting things that are in the lonely planet'.

I like the language section / phrasebook, I like the introduction pages on culture, history, etiquette etc and I like knowing where in town I can find a bed at 4am after getting of a sleeless 'sleeper bus'.

There seems to be a bit of elitism in the backpacking community concerning LP, the suggestion being that you're somehow less pure if you have a guidebook. It's all rubbish, just another way for certain people to feel superior, in my opinion.

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7 years ago, November 14th 2011 No: 8 Msg: #146966  
B Posts: 602
I did get some from LP. It was information that I had read before getting to Oz. It made what I was seeing much better. There were different phrases I got out of it. And the section on the apology to the Aborigines was really good. There was a fair amount of history. Just because all you see is the book at the time does not mean that is all they got out of the book.

Beside there is so much that smacks you around for culture when you are in a new place that it really can't be missed. Reply to this

7 years ago, November 28th 2011 No: 9 Msg: #147925  
The main thing to remember here is that everybody travels differently. I feel that this statement was said by someone that I would call a "travel snob", those traveler that feel that they travel the best and so on.

I use my LP for research for where I would like to go and so on. That way when I'm sitting around at night I can get a rough idea of what I would like to see on a tourist aspect and then I put it away during the day and find my own places to eat. Putting any guidebook away during your traveling is important because then your more open to experiences and so on.

The LP is only a suggestion, and while it does have some very good information and can double as reading material for those long layovers and flights, you don't HAVE to go to any of the places that they recommend. That's the joy of traveling, spontaneity. Reply to this

7 years ago, December 8th 2011 No: 10 Msg: #148541  
B Posts: 580
FYI - I got a tweet from Ryan Ver Berkmoes (He wrote Lonely Planet’s Chicago and Moscow, co-wrote Texas, Canada and Western Europe, and coordinated Russia, Ukraine & Belarus, Great Lakes, Out to Eat – London, Netherlands, and Britain).

"I run into Paulas all the time. Insufferable and should be looking in the mirror as they spew generalizations about others." Ryan Ver Berkmoes Reply to this

7 years ago, December 9th 2011 No: 11 Msg: #148566  

"I run into Paulas all the time. Insufferable and should be looking in the mirror as they spew generalizations about others." Ryan Ver Berkmoes

Ryan Ver Berkmoes said that? I tend to agree with him on that point, though I would likely not describe the Paulas as harshly as he did in that quote, unless I am in a very bad mood. As well as that, saying things like that to travellers won't help sell more copies of the book, especially if they post the quote on a major travel site. It might even earn him a telling off from his employer. 😉

I dont consider Lonely Planet books to be guides to culture. They are more a practical travel guide for the independent traveller. I think, using Lonely Planet books and experiencing the culture have nothing to do with each other. And, I also agree with the following point by Dympna, because I always find the culture hard to miss when I go to other countries too.

Beside there is so much that smacks you around for culture when you are in a new place that it really can't be missed.

[Edited: 2011 Dec 09 13:58 - Mell:49612 ]
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7 years ago, December 13th 2011 No: 12 Msg: #148732  
On our first visit to India, the LP actually took us away from the tourist trail a couple of times.On both occasions we visited these little places that only got the most cursory mention at the end of a chapter and both were truly memorable experiences, including a large dose of untainted local culture.

In China, I visited the Nu Jiang valley due to it's rather enigmatic mention in the LP. I was the only traveller in the area and my few days there were quite literally packed with what you'd call 'cultural' experiences including some of my very favourite travelling memories. I wouldn't have gone if I hadn't seen it mentioned in the book...

I think a better line would be "Some travellers never experience the culture".

Of course, not everyone is travelling to see the culture either...
[Edited: 2011 Dec 13 09:53 - BnK:116683 ]
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7 years ago, December 14th 2011 No: 13 Msg: #148828  
N Posts: 12
I wouldn't blame publisher for something that is based on behavior of people. Reply to this

7 years ago, December 15th 2011 No: 14 Msg: #148854  
^ pretty much sums it up! Reply to this

7 years ago, January 28th 2012 No: 15 Msg: #151095  
B Posts: 580
The title of this thread, and whether "you agree with this? unfortunately, lacks context and somewhat deflects away from what the blog is actually ultimately about and that is "authenticity" and certain tourists perception of what that is and how it motivates them in their travels. Regardless, it seems that most people who have read the blog have picked up on the message it ultimately conveys! (The idea of an "authentic culture" is a subjective notion that is sought by the tourist based on what they themselves perceive as authentic).

In this blog Paula (who is a self-proclaimed seeker of authenticity) labels those who do not seek out authenticity (because she believes they lack the necessary skills, knowledge - and location - to perceive it) as "Lonely Planet readers".

More broadly, In the examples I have used in this particular series of blogs, beginning with Uncontacted Tribes of Noble Savages and ending with History begins with tourism, which then pollutes the world – the traits “Indigenous People” are believed to possess or more significantly “maintain” are conflated with those of the Noble Savage of lore and taken for granted as truth. In this sense The Noble Savage is the embodiment of the tourists’ notion of the authentic; the more traits Indigenous people are assumed to share with the western notion of the Noble Savage the more authentic they are deemed, and the more attractive they are to the visiting tourist.

Tourists decide what is authentic and not, based on their own criteria, oftentimes setting standards over and above those which are considered authentic locally. For example, when a guide dons what he considers traditional garb in anticipation of visiting tourists, and decides to spruce it up with a smart white Lacoste™ shirt, he is unaware that the inch-long crocodile contamination ultimately de-authenticates him – and possibly the entire experience – in the eyes of visiting tourists.

Who is able to define something as authentic, and by which standards, is ultimately a construction of the present, and is therefore influenced by master narratives of the period, and therefore negotiable.

The irony is that the tourist who seeks the ”authentic” based on these stringent definitions is in a paradoxical search which can never really be achieved. As this theory presumes an uncontaminated authentic culture; an idea which reflects the motivations of tourists who also mostly assume an original, pure, authentic culture lays out there, to be discovered and experienced “off the beaten track”. Therefore, the tourists’ quest is a failed quest as the authenticity they seek contaminates, alters and ultimately destroys the very authentic they seek.

The tourist concern with authenticity, unlike anthropological insights about the constructed nature of culture and its traditions, sees non-Western cultures as intact until they are contaminated or destroyed through Western contact and commodification.

In reality, ALL cultures are staged, invented and remade and therefore inauthentic.
ALL cultures are alive and in process like a river which is constantly moving, and that which we enter in the middle.

There is no such thing as a virginal static uncontaminated culture.


As the quotes below astutely attest:

"perhaps what saw IS the authentic experience." littlewing

"If one was to travel to San Francisco they will have one experience if they have lunch or dinner at the Top of the Mark looking out over the city and another if they walk the city streets of Chinatown. For me, both are authentic---- " D MJ Binkley

"I don’t really feel that the lowest level of any society is an “authentic” experience of the place I visit or representative of any group of people in that society" Sojourner1208

" i'm not really sure that seeing the poorer side of a culture is what a culture is." tamnandfamily

"In France, which on of the following three is more authentic? Dining in a three star michelin, having lunch in a brasserie, or buying you food on the local market? Guess what, all of them!" Pierre

"there is so much that smacks you around for culture when you are in a new place that it really can't be missed." Dymphna
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7 years ago, January 31st 2012 No: 16 Msg: #151221  
What an interesting blog and discussion!

It certainly proves that we are all different in our thoughts and attitudes and travel in different ways and live in different ways - which is obviously a good thing or there wouldn't be much point in travelling at all!

I think a lot of people are searching for that 'authentic' experience without really knowing what is authentic anymore. Globalisation is rapidly diluting traditional cultures and so a lot of traditional performances, costumes etc. only exist when put on for tourists, not in everyday life. Without 'lonely planet' tourists seeking out and paying for these 'authentic' experiences these cultures might die out completely. A young man in a remote village in Africa is just as (probably more) likely to wear a second hand GAP t-shirt and jeans and want to discuss Manchester United and Arsenal football players than they are to be dressed in animal skins or a Kikoi and be off hunting. Is it any less of an authentic experience to meet that person? Just because their way of life has changed does it make them less authentic? Just because I watch colour TV and don't have rationing is my way of life less authentically British than my grandparents'?

I think some of the best experiences can happen when you're not looking for them, probably like Paula's funeral ceremony experience. I remember sitting at a food stall in Laos eating a delicious baguette and fruit shake - very typical backpacker food and not authentic Laos cuisine but exactly what I craved that day - when I looked across and the stall holder was picking grubs out of a log with a stick. When he noticed my curiosity we started talking and it was his favourite food from childhood that he still collected sometimes and he let me try them. If it wasn't for the tourist industry I would probably never have interacted with this guy, or tried grubs!

Unfortunately for everyone wanting to go off the beaten track (and I definitely wish this at times) is that pretty much everywhere has been discovered. The chances of stumbling over some village that has never seen Western people or uncovering some lost ruins in the jungle are pretty slim. So we are almost always going to have to share our experiences with other travellers or with locals that have been exposed to outside influences.

Maybe Lonely Planet is part to blame for this, I know a lot of people blame LP for the demise of places like Kuta on Bali, 'undiscovered' until the '70s when the Wheelers passed through and raved about it. So are all the cheap travel companies and TV and the internet and human nature's unquenchable lust for new experiences!

I use Lonely Planet (along with other resources), mostly as a way of finding out the highlights for an area and to get a rough idea of how to get to places, what is doable in a trip etc. The main attractions like famous temples and big markets and beautiful viewpoints are popular for a good reason and I would be gutted to miss out on an amazing sight just because I didn't know it was a couple of hours down the road.

Wow, really got me thinking there! Reply to this

5 years ago, August 26th 2013 No: 17 Msg: #174436  
B Posts: 580
Travel snobbery in the age of tick-box tourism

In defence of the ‘tourist trail’
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5 years ago, August 26th 2013 No: 18 Msg: #174443  

In response to: Msg #174436

Great article, thank you for posting. I've had those thoughts and have not been able to articulate them nearly as well as he did. Thank you. Reply to this

5 years ago, September 13th 2013 No: 19 Msg: #174998  
This is certainly an interesting discussion, however, it also smacks of elitism. The fact that I can access LP and use it to help guide my travels shouldn't be looked down upon. I also read blogs, read novels, read newspapers, watch docos and engage in conversation with other travelers. They all contribute to what I see, do and eat! In one Busan hostel, I swapped my daughter's Harry Potter for a Korean LP and had three wonderful hours talking with people that I otherwise wouldn't have if I was too high and mighty to take that LP. The section on Korean manners was VERY useful.
When you visit a city and stay with people who live there - are you stuck in the burbs 50kms out (like an outer Melbournian) or are you living the groovy café life in an inner suburb (where most people in Melbourne DON'T live!)?
I don't think there's a definitive answer as to what's authentic or not in any particular city/country. Depending on where you live, your economic situation, education, likes, dislikes, political persuasion etc....the LP can be very handy at times... Reply to this

5 years ago, September 13th 2013 No: 20 Msg: #175007  

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