Friday, May 29, 2009

daily life and travel guides

Haiti art. Photograph taken by Tony Wheeler, co-founder of lonely planet, upon his visit to Cartagena, Columbia.

I have been reading through a book: “europe on a shoestring: big trips on small budgets.” It’s a thick “travel guide,” 1324 pages that I began simply because I wanted to travel to europe. But my interest soon turned away from the actual (or prospective) idea of travel and toward the travel guide as an artifact of social consciousness that might teach us how to ask questions about encountering the foreign (and domestic) world. The book's like a compass, I think. But rather than helping to map geographic movement, it maps a different kind of movement, a narrative of social life and "assumed" social practices.

My favorite feature of this guide is the “Fast Facts” section that appears directly under the name of each local. “Fast Facts” includes information about the country’s size, population, languages, capital, head of state, and type of currency. But for a reader like myself, the most fascinating part of the “Fast Facts” is the daily budget estimator.

In The Netherlands, one might spend 30-60 euros a day (40-70 U.S. dollars). In Spain, at least 40 euros per day is average. In Sweden, expect to spend 600-700 S krones (about 60-70 U.S. dollars). And in Denmark, an average traveler is expected to spend 300-400 D krones per day (60-80 U.S. dollars).

What I love to think about (and what I don’t really have a clear answer for) is if other readers accept the budget approximation as an “average” example of spending, and, if they do, what steps must they take in order to accept the proposal as a possibility? What might they imagine such a budget consists of (food, shelter, something extra...)? What is necessary and unnecessary when traveling to another land? Or, to put it a bit more clearly, what is necessary and unnecessary when traveling to europe as an "other?" Are travel guides meant to be read as if one where a native or a foreigner?

Lonely Planet Publications is located in Malaysia. There are three Lonely Planet offices in each of the following countries: Australia, USA, and the UK.

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