When next we speak, I’ll be on Romania time

meandcaratiasipalaceofculture.jpgActually, I don’t really have anything else to say to you guys. I board a flight in just over 24 hours and as soon as I touch the ground in Bucharest, I’ll be a blur of over-Red Bulled, under-rested, stress-addled, bilingual jabbering motion for the next four weeks. I could promise to submit trip reports here at least once a week, but I really have no idea if that’ll be possible. On the surface, this research trip appears to be a cakewalk, but this is a Romania and Lonely Planet perfect storm we’re talking about here. Two entities that on their own virtually guarantee unpredictable chaos. When put together, be terrified (on my behalf). Be very terrified (on my behalf).

For you guidebook groupies, this research trip is only to update the chapters on Romania and Moldova for Lonely Planet’s Eastern Europe and Europe on a Shoestring books. So while the total number of pages that I’m writing/updating is far less than if I were also researching for the Romania & Moldova book, the geographic area that I’m covering has nearly doubled (I didn’t cover Bucharest or Transylvania last time, that was Robert’s job). So, while there’ll be less facts to check in each city and therefore less time spent pounding the pavement, there’ll be more time driving and as I’ve already testified, despite improvements in road conditions and driving behavior, driving in Romania and Moldova largely remains white knuckle, ass-tightening anarchy.

I’ve spent the better part of four days doing pre-trip paperwork. First reading the 39 page brief, then copying and pasting the action items and queries in said brief into the actual chapter pages so as to trigger on-the-ground action when I pass each location. More time-consuming copying and pasting ensued when I started rooting through the suggestions/compliments/complaints from the 267 reader emails received through lonelyplanet.com since the last time we updated these books. Most of which were, of course, complaints. People rarely think to write when a guidebook has steered them true, much like people rarely think to call their airline when their flight goes well. Like last month when my Northworst flight from LA to Minneapolis left on time (my first on-time Northworst flight in 13 consecutive tries over four years, by the way), did I think to call and compliment them? No. But when their incompetence and distain left me stranded at JFK for 24 hours without food, shelter or reasonable access to my luggage last summer, did I ring them up? Oh hell yeah. Within seconds. And I made damn sure that everyone I spoke to knew precisely how badly their mothers had failed to raise them.

Some of the LP complaints are about bad service they received at the hands of places recommended in the book, but others were, inevitably, how lazily and negligently they felt the book had been researched and written. Now mistakes are going to happen. This is unavoidable. But equally, there’s numerous fact-of-guidebook-life aspects that many people fail to recognize. Since I’ve just finished suffering through about 50 emails explaining what a poor job Robert and I did on the previous editions of the books, and am feeling profoundly bitter and unappreciated, allow me to share some simple and cathartically sarcastic publishing wisdom for those who are too clueless to figure this out on their own:

• Just because you found something amazing that wasn’t included in the book doesn’t necessarily mean that the author never knew about it and therefore did a sloppy job on the ground. The fact is, we are limited in how much information we can include by the physical number of pages/words that can be squished into a reasonably sized guidebook. If we included every amazing site, hostel, restaurant, bar, park, market, vista, kebab stand, street corner and adorable old lady selling moonshine from her front porch, the guidebook would be about 1,500 pages long, cost about US$80 and take two years to research and write (meaning by the time you got your hands on it, the practical information would already be prohibitively stale). So maybe, just maybe, your beloved coffee shop was cut for the greater good and not because the author was too hungover to venture to the part of the city that you fancy you discovered before anyone else. Now it’s possible that the author, while checking/updating the 213 existing points of interest in the city and sleuthing out new and alternative places, may not have stumbled across your little old lady moonshine dealer, but hey, as amazing and singularly dynamic as we LP authors are, there’s only so many hours in the day and only so many days in the research cycle. If we didn’t find it, we aren’t total morons and failures, OK? And no, you were not the first person to explore that part of the city, so get over yourself.

• I’m sorry to inform you that due to the time-space continuum and the typical two year cycle of guidebooks, the information contained within your guidebook, may be anywhere from 12 months to three years old. Take a look inside the front cover and note the publication date. Now note the current date. Finally, subtract another nine to 12 months and that’s when the author was physically on the ground researching the information in the book. If you find that a few prices have risen 5-7% , that’s just a simple fact of inflation, not because the author “never visited the city”. And for the love of Buddha, if you choose to save a few bucks and bypass the current edition in favor of grabbing a discounted previous edition of the guidebook, you are never allowed to write in complaining about any inaccuracies contained therein. You’re officially deserving of any price change surprises and unannounced rural hostel closings that you spent half a day hitchhiking to.

• If you traveled 10,000 miles only to seek out the same food/sites/roadside oddities that you enjoy at home, and you’re pissed off that these items were not in the guidebook, you’re totally retarded.

I guess I had a lot to say after all. Surprised?

Oh one more thing, I’ve finally gotten myself onto Twitter (you feed reader people can’t see it, but there’s a Twitter widget in the blog’s margin now). I hope to tweet on a regular basis while I’m racing through the Romanian countryside, particularly if I’m being negligent with throwing up genuine blog posts. So keep a hard eye on that little box for 140 character or less bleating communiqués. One word tweets such as “arrested” or “undead” or “OMFGbears!” should be taken very seriously.