Let's Go (book series)

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Let's Go, Inc.
Industry Publications
Genre Travel guides
Founded 1960
Founders Oliver Koppell
Harvard Student Agencies
Headquarters Cambridge, MA, USA
Area served Worldwide
Products Travel guidebooks
Parent Harvard Student Agencies
Website http://www.letsgo.com/

Let's Go is a travel guide series researched, written, edited, and run entirely by students at Harvard University. The first of the budget/backpacker-oriented travel guides,[1] Let's Go promotes itself as "the student travel guide" but is aimed at readers "both young and young at heart."[2] Let's Go was founded in 1960 and is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

History[edit]

Founding[edit]

The first Let's Go guide was a 25-page mimeographed pamphlet put together by an 18-year-old Harvard freshman named Oliver Koppell and handed out on student charter flights to Europe; the first professionally published guide was issued in 1961. Early guides tended to be freewheeling—for example, advising travelers on motorbiking through Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and financing travel in Europe by singing in the street. The first edition described how to travel from Europe to Asia on just four cents: by taking the ferry across the Bosphorus, from the European to the Asian side of the city of Istanbul, Turkey.[1]

As the guide became more popular throughout the 1960s, increasing quantities were printed every year. Let's Go also commissioned an artist, Richard Copaken, to give the series a logo: its trademark hot-air balloon. (That other Let's Go logo, the hitchhiker thumb, did not appear until 1973.) Maps and a "general introduction" section (the "Before You Go" of modern guidebooks) were added, and the venture went national. Sales skyrocketed after Let's Go Business Manager Andrew Tobias promoted the books on the Today show in 1966.[citation needed]

The company's success inspired it to produce spin-off titles in the late 1960s. One of Let's Go's most irreverent titles, Let's Go II: The Student Guide to Adventure, covered "exotic" destinations such as "Red China" and wrote in its Vietnam chapter, "Just about no one wants to go to Vietnam these days. Most Americans who do travel there go with the army and leave as soon as they can."[citation needed] Additional one-offs for budget travelers included Let's Go: The Student Guide to America[citation needed] and Let's Go: Caribbean.[citation needed]

Expansion[edit]

In 1971, Let's Go became weary of self-publishing (i.e., "cutting and pasting on Oliver's living-room floor") and signed on with publisher E.P. Dutton. At this time, Let's Go's only title remained the original flagship Let's Go: Europe. The book's popularity, however, caused its staff to consider additional titles. The first permanent new guide, Let's Go: Britain and Ireland, was published in 1976.[citation needed] After excellent sales, Let's Go: France[citation needed] and Let's Go: Italy[citation needed] soon followed. All four were updated every year thereafter. Indeed, for much of its history, Let's Go was the only travel guide to update each of its titles every single year.[citation needed]

Let's Go continued expanding as it added further European titles as well as a new, permanent book on domestic travel. In 1982, Let's Go signed a contract with new publisher St. Martin's Press to publish its roster of six titles.[citation needed] By 1985, Let's Go was publishing 10 books a year, including Let's Go: Mexico, the first new title not written from previously existing content.[citation needed] In 1986, 440,000 copies of Let's Go books were printed and sold in dozens of countries within three months of being researched—a new industry record.[citation needed]

By the 1990s, Let's Go branched out into city-specific guidebooks, allowing expansion to continue at a rate of multiple new guidebooks per year. Around this time, Let's Go earned some of its most famous monikers, including "the granddaddy of budget guides" (the New York Times) and "the Bible of the budget traveler" (the Boston Globe).[1] At 15 titles in 1992, the student-run company emphasizing travel on a budget had become one of the largest travel guides in the world.[citation needed]

Digital era[edit]

In 1996, Let's Go launched its website, Letsgo.com, while publishing 22 titles and a new line of mini map guides. By this time, Let's Go had branched out beyond just Europe (its traditional turf) and North America to Africa and Asia, as well. The company's first South American guide, Let's Go: Ecuador and the Galapagos, came in 1997 as the 24th title. Let's Go: Australia and Let's Go: New Zealand followed the next year, putting Let's Go on every continent but Antarctica.[citation needed]

Into the 2000s, the physical books evolved as well, with updated covers, new editorial features like a "Price Diversity" scale, and photos in the guides for the first time. The company was still expanding at a breakneck speed, from 30 titles in 2000 to 33 in 2001, 37 in 2002, 41 in 2003, 45 in 2004, and 48 in 2005. At this point, Let's Go employed over 200 students every year.[citation needed]

Let's Go also expanded its web presence dramatically in this decade. The company profited from strong online advertising and partnerships, and gradually populated its website with blogs, podcasts, and videos. In 2008, a redesigned website was unveiled that made Let's Go the first travel guide to offer all of its book content online free of charge. Let's Go has also brought its content to smartphones and tablets as well: since 2011, its guidebooks have also been available for download as e-books, and the company has released dozens of free, destination-specific mobile apps, with more in the works. The Let's Go Travel Guides App has been rated as "a must have brilliant app".[3]

Let's Go also announced a new print publisher, Avalon Travel,[4] upon the expiration of its contract with St. Martin's Press in 2009.[5] The switch led to a new format for the insides of the books, new retro covers for the outsides, and a rebranding to emphasize Let's Go's student origins. The theme has been changed in 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2009.

Business model[edit]

As a subsidiary of Harvard Student Agencies, Let's Go's charter states that the company may only employ degree-seeking Harvard students; because of this, Let's Go's business model is unique among publishers. Every year, a student management team is chosen from the previous year's staff. This core group works out of Let's Go's Cambridge offices all year round on the company's website, publicity, and editorial matters. Over the winter, the management team hires a staff of Research Managers and Editors, who in turn hire the company's traveling Researcher-Writers. Research Managers and Editors work part-time throughout the spring semester to prepare and train Researcher-Writers for their trips. After the semester ends, the Researcher-Writers leave Cambridge for their destination, while the Research Managers and Editors begin working full time at the Cambridge office. Researcher-Writers, traveling alone, typically spend from six to eight weeks of their summer (June–July) on the road, visiting the assigned establishments in their assigned cities and sending raw copy back to Cambridge. In order to keep the writing true to the budget heritage of the series, Researcher-Writers are paid a daily stipend intended to cover only basic expenses (although Let's Go does cover airfare to and from their destination). Meanwhile, Research Managers and Editors work throughout the entire summer, aiding the Researcher-Writers for the first half and editing the copy in the second half. The guides are assembled from the edited copy in August and September, and are released in bookstores the following winter—just as the publishing process for the next year's guides has begun.[citation needed]

Editorial style[edit]

Let's Go has used many words to describe the style of its content. "Witty and irreverent" is possibly the most frequently used descriptor; the company takes pride in its youthful, casual, sometimes zany tone and trains its writers to avoid "brochure-ese". Let's Go also promotes the unvarnished opinions of its reviews, stating that they want the takeaway of every single listing, good or bad, to be clear to the reader. This honesty led to a lawsuit against Let's Go in 1990 as a result of a scathing review of an Israeli hostel, but the travel guide was victorious in court, upheld by the judges as "the modern equivalents of Thomas Paine or John Peter Zenger."[6] Other traits the company has emphasized include its budget roots and social consciousness (all Let's Go books include a "Beyond Tourism" chapter that lists volunteer, study, and work opportunities abroad, many of which help "give back" to the destination).[citation needed]

Titles[edit]

As of the 2015 series of guidebooks, Let's Go has published 73 permanent titles covering six continents. The books range from country guides to adventure, city, budget, and road trip guides, many of which are still updated annually. Let's Go has also published 20 abridged, pocket-sized "map guides" (Amsterdam, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Dublin, Florence, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, New Orleans, New York City, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, Venice, and Washington DC), though these have been discontinued.[citation needed]

Book Type Continent First published Last published Notes
Let's Go II: The Student Guide to Adventure Adventure Multiple 1968 1968 Limited edition
Let's Go: Alaska Adventure Guide Adventure North America 2004 2004
Let's Go: Alaska & the Pacific Northwest Country North America 1988 2003 Split into Let's Go: Alaska Adventure Guide and Let's Go: Pacific Northwest
Let's Go: Amsterdam City Europe 2002 2008
Let's Go: Budget Amsterdam Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Amsterdam & Brussels City Europe 2011 2011
Let's Go: Budget Athens Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Australia Country Australia 1998 2009
Let's Go: Austria & Switzerland Country Europe 1994 2005
Let's Go: Barcelona City Europe 2002 2010
Let's Go: Budget Barcelona Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Budget Berlin Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Berlin, Prague & Budapest City Europe 2010 2011
Let's Go: Boston City North America 2001 2011
Let's Go: Brazil Country South America 2004 2004
Let's Go: Great Britain Country Europe 1976 2011 Originally called Let's Go: Britain & Ireland
Open Library: 1999
Let's Go: Buenos Aires City South America 2009 2010
Let's Go: California Country North America 1995 2005 Open Library: 1999
Let's Go: California & Hawaii Country North America 1988 1994 Became Let's Go: California
Let's Go: California & the Pacific Northwest Country North America 1984 1987 Split into Let's Go: Alaska & the Pacific Northwest and Let's Go: California & Hawaii
Let's Go: Caribbean Country North America 1970 1970 Limited edition
Let's Go: Central America Country North America 1996 2010
Let's Go: Chile Country South America 2003 2005
Let's Go: China Country Asia 2000 2005
Let's Go: Costa Rica Country North America 2003 2010
Let's Go: Costa Rica, Nicaragua & Panama Country North America 2010 2010
Let's Go: Eastern Europe Country Europe 1995 2008
Let's Go: Ecuador Country South America 1997 2005 Two incarnations have existed; the original became Let's Go: Peru & Ecuador
Let's Go: Egypt Country Africa 2002 2003
Let's Go: Europe Country Europe 1960 2015 Open Library: 1987, 1995, 1998, 1999
Let's Go: Europe Top 10 Cities City Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: European Riviera Country Europe 2011 2011
Let's Go: Florence City Europe 2010 2010
Let's Go: Budget Florence Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: France Country Europe 1978 2011 Open Library: 1981, 1995
Let's Go: Germany Country Europe 1994 2011 Open Library: 1999
Let's Go: Germany, Austria & Switzerland Country Europe 1992 1993 Split into Let's Go: Germany and Let's Go: Austria & Switzerland
Let's Go: Greece Country Europe 1984 2010 Two incarnations have existed; the original became Let's Go: Greece & Turkey
Let's Go: Greece, Israel & Egypt Country Multiple 1981 1983 Split into Let's Go: Greece and Let's Go: Israel & Egypt
Let's Go: Greece & Turkey Country Multiple 1992 1998 Open Library: 1996
Split into Let's Go: Greece and Let's Go: Turkey
Let's Go: Guatemala & Belize Country North America 2010 2010
Let's Go: Hawaii Country North America 2003 2009
Let's Go: India & Nepal Country Asia 1997 2004
Let's Go: Ireland Country Europe 1994 2013 Open Library: 1995, 1998
Let's Go: Israel Country Asia 2000 2012
Let's Go: Israel & Egypt Country Multiple 1984 1999 Open Library: 1997
Became Let's Go: Israel
Let's Go: Budget Istanbul Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Istanbul, Athens & the Greek Islands City Multiple 2011 2011
Let's Go: Italy Country Europe 1979 2013 Open Library: 1980, 1998
Let's Go: Japan Country Asia 2004 2004
Let's Go: London City Europe 1991 2008 Open Library: 1993, 1998
Let's Go: Budget London Budget Europe 2012 2014
Let's Go: London, Oxford & Cambridge City Europe 2010 2013 Originally called Let's Go: London, Oxford, Cambridge & Edinburgh
Let's Go: Budget Madrid Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Madrid & Barcelona City Europe 2011 2011
Let's Go: Mexico Country North America 1985 2008 Open Library: 1999
Let's Go: Middle East Country Multiple 2000 2003
Let's Go: New York City City North America 1991 2011 Open Library: 1999
Let's Go: New Zealand Country Australia 1998 2008 Temporarily became Let's Go: New Zealand Adventure Guide
Let's Go: New Zealand Adventure Guide Adventure Australia 2005 2005 Reverted to Let's Go: New Zealand
Let's Go: Pacific Northwest Country North America 2004 2004 Became Let's Go: Pacific Northwest Adventure Guide
Let's Go: Pacific Northwest Adventure Guide Adventure North America 2005 2005
Let's Go: Paris City Europe 1993 2011
Let's Go: Budget Paris Budget Europe 2012 2014
Let's Go: Paris, Amsterdam & Brussels City Europe 2013 2013
Let's Go: Peru Country South America 2005 2005
Let's Go: Peru & Ecuador Country South America 2000 2000 Became Let's Go: Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia
Let's Go: Peru, Ecuador & Bolivia Country South America 2001 2003 Split into Let's Go: Peru and Let's Go: Ecuador
Let's Go: Budget Prague Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Puerto Rico Country North America 2004 2008
Let's Go: Roadtripping USA Roadtrip North America 2005 2011
Let's Go: Rome City Europe 1993 2010
Let's Go: Budget Rome Budget Europe 2012 2012
Let's Go: Rome, Venice & Florence City Europe 2011 2013
Let's Go: San Francisco City North America 2001 2004
Let's Go: South Africa Country Africa 1999 2003
Let's Go: Southeast Asia Country Asia 1996 2005
Let's Go: Southwest USA Adventure Guide Adventure North America 2002 2004
Let's Go: Spain & Portugal Country Multiple 1984 2013 Originally called Let's Go: Spain, Portugal & Morocco
Open Library: 1991, 1995
Let's Go: Thailand Country Asia 2003 2010
Let's Go: Turkey Country Multiple 1999 2003
Let's Go: USA Country North America 1969 2008 Open Library: 1993, 1996, 1999
Let's Go: Vietnam Country Asia 2005 2007
Let's Go: Washington, D.C. City North America 1992 2004 Open Library: 1998
Let's Go: Western Europe Country Europe 2001 2010
Let's Go: Yucatán Peninsula Country North America 2010 2010

Notable alumni[edit]

Because Let's Go employees are all students when working for the travel guide, many of its alumni have gone on to distinguished careers in travel writing and other areas.

In popular culture[edit]

There have been references (in a non-review/article context) to Let's Go in:

Films[edit]

Music[edit]

Print[edit]

Television[edit]

References[edit]