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A not so Lonely Planet

A few years ago I interviewed for a job at Lonely Planet. Being an avid traveller and travel writer, working for the infamous guides had always been something that appealed to me. I loved the idea of getting off the beaten track in another country, discovering little-explored corners of the world and telling fellow travel-lovers about them.

When I first started travelling, just before the internet took over as the preferred place to find tips and itineraries, there was one of those fat blue books in every hostel you visited. Every second person was toting around one of the guides in their bum bag and the answer to the question of how you found out about a hotel or museum or night club was inevitably Lonely Planet. And I longed to be a part of the team that discovered a new travel destination first.

However, as the guides and the Lonely Planet brand became more and more popular, there began a backlash against the idea of exposing every accessible corner of the globe to a world of travellers hungry for a tick on the to-do-list.

As places like the coast of Peru and inland Croatia and small Indonesia islands became less intrepid and more widely-visited, some travellers began to resent the guides that handed these experiences to people on a silver platter rather than making them earn the destination by discovering it themselves.

In many places, Lonely Planet became the target of much bitterness and the little blue book was often better off hidden in your backpack.

As a travel writer myself, I definitely began to feel conflicted about the love of stumbling across a well-kept-secret with just a handful of fellow-travellers and my passion for writing about exotic, far-flung and little-know locations.

Then came social media.

Since the explosion of Facebook and Instagram, of #travel and #wanderlust, it’s not the guide books and the travel writers who are blowing places wide open but social media influences, bloggers, models with willing boyfriend photographers and the everyday travel-lover who are setting the agenda for next year’s travel trends.

Now I’m not judging any #travellers. I post images from my adventures all the time. It is hard to resist the allure of being the one to show the world something magic, of making a public record of something special you’ve seen.

But although I don’t think twice about throwing up a picture the Eiffel Tower, more recently I’ve found myself pausing with my finger on the post button after snapping an image of a deserted beach or untamed mountain top. I’ve been hesitating before tagging my location at a spot that’s only seen four social media checks ins.

It’s in these moments I think back to that Lonely Planet interview.

Because despite often being seen as the guides that turned all the world’s far-flung travel destinations into tourist traps, I learnt that the writers they hired weren’t always as careless as that. Apparently, I was told that day, there was more than one occasion were they would refuse to write about a certain place at all, deeming it the kind of spot that needed to discovered without their help. They left a lot of places alone, untouched, free from itineraries and check-ins and hashtags. They keep it quiet. And I think there’s something to be said for that.

So I didn’t get the job but I’m still a travel writer and I do report on lots of destinations. But every now and again I keep one or two to myself so you might have the joy of discovering it for yourself first.