Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Demise of Lonely Planet As We Have Known and Loved It

In 2007, I took a wonderful trip to the Andalucia area of Spain. During an earlier trip to the US, I had purchased a Lonely Planet book for that area, but I later decided to add a week in Portugal since I was going to be right next door, anyway. I had an ancient LP for Europe on a Shoestring, so I figured that would do for my short time in Portugal. In some ways, it was fine; in others, it was useless. I vowed to never again travel without an up-to-date Lonely Planet book. 
I'm a budget traveler and always will be. I don't believe in wasting my hard-earned money on expensive hotels and meals. Besides, I travel to meet people and try to understand how and where they live. I want to stay where they would stay. I believe that luxury accommodations separate travelers from the locals. Besides, traveling on a budget allows me to stay twice as long or travel twice as often.
Lonely Planet was founded in 1972 by an Australian couple and was aimed toward backpackers and budget travelers. The books told all about a place (and still do.) It helped us figure out which budget lodgings were comfortable and which were ratholes. It helped us find a decent meal at a reasonable price.
When I went to Italy with girlfriends a couple of years ago, I taught them how to use a Lonely Planet book. First, I read through and decide where I want to go. I mark all those pages with tabs. Then I read some more and figure out what it is I want to do in those places. I highlight the good stuff. Next, I consult the maps and hotel information. I decide where I might want to stay, carefully considering the hotel's location in relationship to my mode of travel and to what I want to see while there.
If you are a planner, you can make a reservation. If you're more laid back, mark the four or five hotels that seem to suit you best and take your chances when you get there. Generally, I don't make reservations; I never know when I'll run into a fellow traveler who will tell me about some wonderful place I didn't know about. If I'm tied to reservations, I might miss out.
By the time I've done all my research, I have bunches of tabs sticking out in all directions, some marking where I want to go, others marking where I hope to stay or what I want to see. The book is also marked up with lots of highlighters in different colors.
The best part happens when I get to my destination. Those big books can be very heavy, so I (gasp!) cut the book apart as I travel and carry only the section relevant to where I am that day. If done carefully, the binding holds each section together so I'm not leaving a trail of pages behind me. After three weeks of traveling all over Italy, this is what my book looked like:
After Italy, we planned to cross over to Croatia because my friend really wanted to go there. As a birthday present, I had purchased a Lonely Planet Croatia for her Kindle. I was excited to see how it would work in an electronic version. I kept thinking of how nice it would be to not have that weight to carry in my luggage.
It worked just fine if all you wanted to do was to sit down and read the book cover to cover. The all-important village maps were so small that they were useless. And forget the colorful highlighting and tabs on the pages. The electronic process was horrible! OK, so her Kindle was a really old one - one of the very first. We figured that was the reason for the problem.
Now we jump forward two years to my trip to Provence. Now I have an iPod Touch. It is smaller than the Kindle but I know how to enlarge photos and type, so I thought an electronic version would work fine. Once I arrived in France, though, I realized that I had the same problem finding a particular village I wanted to visit. I thought they'd all be listed in a table of contents. Nope. I could enlarge the maps, but once I did, I could only see a tiny area. After struggling for a couple of weeks, I broke down and bought a real book as soon as I found one in English.
I was staying in an apartment the entire time and eating at home, so I hadn't even paid much attention to the dining and lodging sections. Once I had the book, I began paying attention. Gone are the budget hotel listings. Room prices seem to average between 100 and 300 Euros per night. Restaurant meals tend to cost as much as three or four nights stay at a typical hostel.
Of course Europe is expensive, especially to someone who lives in Mexico, but there are many budget options that are not listed in the book. Hostels have almost disppeared from its pages. No more picnic suggestions.
So what happened? It seems that Lonely Planet was bought out six years ago by BBC Worldwide. The founders kept 25% of the company, and presumably some control, for awhile. But they finally sold the rest to BBC a few years ago. Then, this year, BBC sold to Kentucky millionaire Brad Kelley's NC2 Media. Apparently, BBC pledged to keep things the same, but the changes are obvious, and I have also heard that many employees were laid off. BBC took a huge loss when they sold. Personally, I think that's what they deserve for ruining a good thing.
They claim that their target audience has changed from budget travelers to the mainstream and affluent audience. The problem with that is affluent travelers use travel agents. They are too busy working to spend hours pouring over a book to decide were they want to stay. And dining? That's why they have a concierge in those fancy hotels. 
I say Lonely Planet made their luxury bed, so let them lie in it. They won't get any more of my money.
Sorry about the rant, but thanks for reading, anyway.
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Sunday, October 20, 2013


I read somewhere that the happiest people are those who can adapt to the changes in circumstances that life throws at them. Apparently, it is the ability to adapt to those changes without stress that counts. It makes sense to me. The Buddha said that one of our sources of suffering is trying to hold on to things as they are and refusing to accept that everything changes, whether we want it to or not.

Of course, things are changing around us all the time, and there is little we can do to stop them. Our kids grow up and move out. We get married and then, often, divorced. Our parents grow old and die. We change jobs, change homes, and change friends. Getting through life is much easier if we are able to accept these changes and move on. I think the secret may be to file the fond memories away in our hearts, and then jump right in to find out what other adventures life has in store for us.

Twelve years ago, when I first retired, my plan was to spend a year traveling all over Asia. It was an ambitious plan - Japan, Korea, Shanghai, Taiwan, the Philippines, Bali, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong - but I had been looking forward to it for a long time. A few weeks after I arrived in Japan, the bombs went off in the nightclub in Bali. Then the US State Department began issuing warnings to Americans traveling in Islamic areas of Asia. To put it bluntly, I chickened out.

I had, by then, realized that I really liked Japan, so I just decided to stay there, maybe even get a job teaching English for a year or two. After traveling around for the first three months, I rented an apartment in Osaka and settled in and had met quite a few friends. I was ready to go to work when I realized out that something was wrong with my mother. So after six months in Japan, I said goodbye to my new friends and flew home to Portland, Oregon.

Mom had diabetes and couldn't seem to figure out what she was supposed to be doing to manage it. But there was more to it. My mom was only 70 and had always been very intelligent and independent. Why did she need me there? I leased an apartment in Portland while she stayed at her house in a tiny coastal town a few hours away. Then she got a pancreatic cyst. We decided that maybe we needed to live together, so we bought a house outside Portland. Two weeks after moving in, we found out the cyst was really cancer. She died at home two months later.

As you can see, life threw a lot at me during that first year and a half after retirement. If I had focused my mind on all the things that were going wrong, I could have been pretty miserable. I didn't get to see all of Asia that I wanted to see, but Japan was lovely. Then I missed the spring cherry blossoms in Japan, but Portland was just full of pink and white cherry blossoms when I got there. My apartment was delightful, but our house was even better. Mom truely believed that she was going to be with my father and her parents, so she almost looked forward to her death. I was able to resell the Portland house at my full asking price in one week, and I was soon on my way to Mexico, which was what I had planned for after the Asian trip.

Fortunately, the past nine years have been much calmer, but not without unwanted and unplanned for changes. While I was in France last spring, I found out that the best girlfriend I have ever had in my life was leaving Mexico and moving back to Florida. Then I learned that Mexico had changed their immigration laws and I would never be able to nationalize my car. I liked that Honda and thought I'd drive it the rest of my driving life. But even these changes haven't turned out to be that bad.

Patty ended up renting a house in Leesburg, only 30 miles east of Terry's brother's house, so we will be able to visit now and then, and last Sunday, she and I talked on the phone for an hour and a half, just like the old days. And thanks to Skype and Vonage, there is no reason we can't continue that quite regularly. I hired someone to take my car north of the border for me and sell it, quite easy and painless. When I couldn't decide what Mexican-made car I wanted to replace it with, I realized that I really did not want a car. The buses run about every 10 minutes and cost me only about 30 cents. I figure I'm saving a ton of money on gas, insurance, maintenance, registration, and depreciation. That will easily cover the cost of an ocassional taxi or rental car. I'm really enjoying walking around the villages rather than driving on cobblestones and trying to find a place to park. And I've always had a bike, but now I have more excuse to ride it. Also, my former carport is now a new patio right inside my front gate!

One more huge change... before she left, Patty got me involved with an art quilting group that she had joined. Quilt guild politics and lack of selling opportunities had led me to just kind of give up on my old quilting passion. My new quilting friends have re-inspired me, and I'm now look forward to spending five or six hours in my studio every day. And that, essentially, is my excuse for not posting to this blog for the past five months. I will try to improve -- I promise!