Let's Go travel guides
Harvard Student Agencies
|Headquarters||Cambridge, MA, USA|
|Parent||Harvard Student Agencies|
Let's Go is a world-renowned travel guide series researched, written, edited, and run entirely by students at Harvard University. The first of the now-famous budget/backpacker-oriented travel guides, Let's Go promotes itself as "the student travel guide" but is aimed at readers "both young and young at heart." Let's Go was founded in 1960 and is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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.
As the guide became more popular throughout the 1960s, more and more 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.
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." Additional one-offs for budget travelers included Let's Go: The Student Guide to America and Let's Go: Caribbean.
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. After excellent sales, Let's Go: France and Let's Go: Italy 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.
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 now-six titles. 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. 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.
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). 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.
In 1996, Let's Go launched its website, www.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.
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.
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, videos, and podcasts. 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 tablets and smartphones 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".
Let's Go also announced a new print publisher, Avalon Travel, upon the expiration of its contract with St. Martin's Press in 2009. 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. Under Avalon, the lineup of physical guidebooks has continued to grow as well; at the time of its 50th birthday in 2010, Let's Go could boast 55 titles.
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.
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." Other traits that 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).
As of the 2013 series of guidebooks, Let's Go has published 73 permanent titles covering six continents. The books range from country guides to adventure, city, roadtrip, and budget 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.
|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|
|Let's Go: Buenos Aires||City||South America||2009||2010|
|Let's Go: California||Country||North America||1995||2005|
|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||2013|
|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|
|Let's Go: Germany||Country||Europe||1994||2011|
|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||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|
|Let's Go: Israel||Country||Asia||2000||2012|
|Let's Go: Israel & Egypt||Country||Multiple||1984||1999||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|
|Let's Go: Japan||Country||Asia||2004||2004|
|Let's Go: London||City||Europe||1991||2008|
|Let's Go: Budget London||Budget||Europe||2012||2012|
|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|
|Let's Go: Middle East||Country||Multiple||2000||2003|
|Let's Go: New York City||City||North America||1991||2011|
|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||2012|
|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|
|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|
|Let's Go: Vietnam||Country||Asia||2005||2007|
|Let's Go: Washington, D.C.||City||North America||1992||2004|
|Let's Go: Western Europe||Country||Europe||2001||2010|
|Let's Go: Yucatán Peninsula||Country||North America||2010||2010|
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.
- Megan Amram, comedy writer and Twitter celebrity
- Elif Batuman, Turkish author and journalist
- Lisa Brennan-Jobs, journalist and writer and daughter of Steve Jobs
- Irin Carmon, writer and blogger
- Eleni Gage, author
- Kristin Gore, author and screenwriter and daughter of Al Gore
- Barak Goodman, Oscar-nominated documentarian
- Adam Grant, organizational psychologist
- Frank Huddle Jr., former U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan
- Pico Iyer, travel writer, essayist, and novelist
- Will Johnston, crossword constructor
- Silvia Killingsworth, managing editor of The New Yorker
- Oliver Koppell, New York politician
- Eric Lesser, aide to President Barack Obama
- Amelia Lester, managing editor of The New Yorker
- Annie Lowrey, journalist
- Emily Naphtal, competitive figure skater
- Shyama Patel, writer and editor
- Adam Stein, screenwriter and director
- Nicholas Stoller, screenwriter and director
- Andrew Tobias, columnist, author, and DNC treasurer
- Graeme C.A. Wood, journalist and contributing editor at The Atlantic
- Darren Aronofsky, film director
- Jenny Lyn Bader, playwright
In popular culture
There have been references (in a non-review/article context) to Let's Go in:
- Bridget Jones's Diary
- Gilmore Girls
- Let's Go (Rancid album)
- MAD Magazine
- The Daily Show
- The Economist
- The Marriage Plot
- The Onion
- The Simpsons
- Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
- How I Met Your Mother
- "History of Let's Go". Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "About Let's Go". Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Student Travel, Student travel checklist". Retrieved 2013-05-08.
- Gordon, Laura (2009-01-27). "Let’s Go Announces Innovative Publishing and Distribution Partnership with Avalon Travel and Publishers Group West". Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- Marks, Clifford M. (2007-09-24). "Publisher, Guide Agree To Let Go". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2009-06-29.