50th Birthday Q&A: Harvard’s ‘Let’s Go’ Travel Series Still Sends Students Global

Solo Travel, Websites and Blogs — By on June 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

It’s always exciting when a fellow respected travel website celebrates their birthday–especially a 50th birthday! Obviously the Harvard Let’s Go series hasn’t been around for 50 years in digital form, but through it’s work abroad bringing young travelers budget savvy advice from cities all over the world, it has become a Lost Girl favorite.  Lost Girl Michele Herrmann got an inside peek at what goes on with the Let’s Go staff when she chatted with a few editors, research writers and managers to find out just what makes Let’s Go tick. Here’s all the need-to-know info about their views on solo travel and safety. Happy birthday, Let’s Go, and may you have many more!

By Michele Herrmann

For 50 years, Harvard students have been writing and updating the Let’s Go guidebook series, traveling solo across continents and time zones to report on affordable yet invaluable experiences for its readership. Back at Let’s Go headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., editors perfect their copy. In celebrating its golden anniversary, four female staffers shared their perspectives on solo travel, staying safe, and taking in the journey.

Meet the Staffers:

Marykate Jasper, now a senior, started as an associate editor for the Australia 2009 issue and then was a researcher-writer for Florence/Italy 2010. As managing editor for LG’s 2011 series, she oversees editorial tasks for destinations such as Brussels, France, Greece, Spain, and Morocco.

Ansley Rubinstein, a 2010 graduate, started out as a researcher-writer in Sydney. In summer 2009, she was a researcher writer in the Greek Isles. This summer she is covering Germany and Austria.

Beatrice Franklin, now a senior, was a researcher-writer for the Thailand 2009 guide and a researcher-manager for the Rome and Florence 2010 guides. She is conducting research for Amsterdam and the Netherlands for the 2011 series.

Iya Megre, now a senior, has been a managing editor for guides on Rome, Florence, Greece, and Israel and an associate editor for Let’s Go France. This past academic year, she was the managing editor for LG’s staff writer program.

Getting the Dirty Deets:

1. How has working for Let’s Go changed your perceptions about travel?

Marykate: Before working for Let’s Go, I was hesitant about solo travel. I’d only ever traveled with my friends or family, and I’d always thought of solo travelers as some sort of antisocial vagrants. But once I’d gone almost seven weeks on my own, I found that I’d become one of those antisocial vagrants. I still love going places with my friends, of course, but I also realized that when you’re alone, you can get more out of it. I learned how to trust my instincts about safety and how to be smart about my travel.

Iya: Travel has always been important to me, and my work at Let’s Go hasn’t changed my perception of travel itself so much as how I approach it. I’ve become very good at two things. First, planning. I made a detailed itinerary for the trip I took with friends to Montreal last spring break, which included scheduled free time to explore and/or lounge around. But then, second, is spontaneity. On the road, you have to deal with whatever comes up.  I’m very much willing to ditch my own schedules and go where the wind (or last minute plane ticket) takes me.

Beatrice: Being a researcher has definitely spoiled me in terms of travel. I’m so used to seeing ten billion things in whatever place I am in, from famous sights to supermarkets, that it’s hard for me now to just be on vacation somewhere and sit on a beach. I do travel alone for the book, and although that was hard to get used to at first, it’s now become one of the things I love most about the job. The independence of choosing what I want to do everyday is great, and I always end up meeting a lot more people (both locals and other travelers) when I’m out on my own.

Ansley: This job has undoubtedly changed my perceptions on travel. Especially in really touristy destinations, it takes effort to get off the beaten path and be a traveler rather than a tourist. As a RW, I must become an immediate expert on my destinations, go everywhere, see everything, and learn as much as I can so that my readers can do the same thing but in half the time.

2. What is it like to be on the road for the publication?

Iya: I don’t have any researcher-writer experience myself, but I’ve known and overseen people who have. It’s not easy. It can get lonely, and it can get frustrating, and it can get exhausting. So people do it once and they’re done. Others find it so liberating [and] learn so much about themselves and other cultures every time that they do it all four years of college. Imagine your job is to experience everything a place has to offer and then you come home late at night, and put everything you’ve done into the right words. And then you have to wake up and do it all again, in a new place. In the end, our researcher writers go through all of this trouble so that our readers don’t have to. Our destinations change every year, based on where we think students are going and want to be going.

Beatrice: Being on the road for LG is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done. You’re all alone and there are a lot of people back in Cambridge counting on you, so you have to be very disciplined. I usually try and research for four or five hours in the morning/early afternoon, come home and write until dinner, and then head back out to do nightlife research. All travel expenses are covered by LG. We each get a daily stipend that is equivalent to what a traveler on a budget would likely be spending per day. I decided to live in an apartment while I’m in Amsterdam, but I didn’t want to be too far outside of the city center, so I splurged a little bit on rent because I knew I could save money cooking most of my meals.

Ansley: Being on the road is exciting, exhausting, inspiring, confusing, lonely, thrilling, and so much more. It’s definitely a rollercoaster, but that’s what makes everyday an adventure! As part of our assignment, we are given a rough itinerary of where we have to be when, but each day we plan out independently on the road.

Marykate: I spent most of my time in Italy writing down pasta prices and checking the operating hours of famous museums. Sometimes I got so lonely that I would jump up and introduce myself frantically to any stranger I heard speaking English. That being said, it’s also an amazing and empowering experience. I got to meet Italians from every walk of life. All the researcher writers travel during the summer. A research manager who writes up a day-by-day itinerary determines the specific schedule of your route. You’re responsible for handling all the logistics during your route.

3. How has the series encouraged college students to travel? How has it perhaps played a role in studying abroad?

Beatrice: I think that just reading one of our guides is a great way to get inspired to get on the road because we bring these places to life in a way that will speak to students. As for study abroad, we go out of our way to include more than the obvious tourist places, so the guides can help students get oriented and start integrating into wherever they are studying right from the beginning. One of the best things I hear when I’m on the road is when I’m at a great restaurant or bar and a local finds out that I write for a travel guide and say, ‘Oh but surely this place isn’t there, no tourist would know about it.’ Then I get to flip open the guide and prove them wrong. Those are the kinds of places that make studying abroad what it is.

Ansley: When students read about someone like themselves who have traveled, they are much more likely to take that same leap and go somewhere. LG has also increased our online content. There are blogs posted by all our researcher writers uploaded in real time as we experience these places.

Marykate: I think the series has definitely encouraged students to travel because it presents travel as an affordable, accessible thing for people our age to do. Tons of students want to make a trip to some place like London possible on their budget, but without any applicable advice, they just can’t know-how to do it. Let’s Go provides that know-how. Our Beyond Tourism section (a chapter on volunteer, study abroad and work opportunities in foreign countries) is a big part of that know-how. That sort of information can be difficult to look up on your own. So when LG does the legwork, it’s easier for our readers to find out about these opportunities.

Iya: Students have a variety of different travel needs from your typical tourist. We want to see all the standard sights, but we also want to have fun, go out, engage with locals, do something exciting—and we usually want to do it cheap. LG is designed to give our readers just that. Our content caters to people living in a city for four months just as well as those passing through for two days. It’s important to us to find the places where locals go rather than the tourist traps, which will save you a lot of time when you’ve just moved into a tiny apartment in Berlin and have no clue where to get a good lunch. So we’ve done everything we can to encourage people to study abroad and help them while they do.

4. What advice would you offer fellow female college students if they were in your shoes?

Beatrice: Read up on what different parts of a city/country are like, even if it means spending a bit more money to stay somewhere you feel safe. Being a girl on the road has its good and its bad sides. Obviously it can make you a target for unwanted attention, but at the same time a lot of other people will help you out if you look like you need it. I always end up becoming good friends with bartenders, when I’m out researching, and those are really some of the best locals to meet because they are used to keeping an eye out for trouble. Also, it’s good to have a place where you can feel safe at three in the morning. My advice is just to get out there and to try traveling alone. Talk to anyone and everyone, explore; ask questions. Many of my favorite travel stories happened because I went up to someone and said hello. Oh, and smile a lot. That helps too.

Marykate: Of course, the obvious answer to question is to be careful. You still have to trust your instincts about what’s safe and what’s stupid. But don’t let fear ruin your trip. You should be cautious and aware, not terrified.

Ansley: Trust your instincts. Plan carefully and well, but don’t be afraid to have unexpected adventures.

Iya: Be safe, always. Our books contain a lot of trips for solo women travelers like the benefits of wearing a wedding ring in certain areas of the world. Other than that, this is your opportunity. Do whatever you want to do, be whoever or whatever you want to be and let go. You’ll learn a lot more about wherever you are (and probably yourself) that way.

BY MICHELE HERRMANN

For 50 years, Harvard students have been writing and updating the Let’s Go guidebook series, traveling solo across continents and time zones to report on affordable yet invaluable experiences for its readership. Back at LG headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., editors perfect their copy. In celebrating its golden anniversary, four female staffers shared their perspectives on solo travel, staying safe, and taking in the journey.

– Marykate Jasper, now a senior, started as an associate editor for the Australia 2009 issue and then was a researcher-writer for Florence/Italy 2010. As managing editor for LG’s 2011 series, she oversees editorial tasks for destinations such as Brussels, France, Greece, Spain, and Morocco.

– Ansley Rubinstein, a 2010 graduate, started out as a researcher-writer in Sydney. In summer 2009, she was a researcher writer in the Greek Isles. This summer she is covering Germany and Austria.

– Beatrice Franklin, now a senior, was a researcher-writer for the Thailand 2009 guide and a researcher-manager for the Rome and Florence 2010 guides. She is conducting research for Amsterdam and the Netherlands for the 2011 series.

– Iya Megre, now a senior, has been a managing editor for guides on Rome, Florence, Greece, and Israel and an associate editor for Let’s Go France. This past academic year, she was the managing editor for LG’s staff writer program.

How has working for Let’s Go changed your perceptions about travel?

Marykate: Before working for Let’s Go, I was hesitant about solo travel. I’d only ever traveled with my friends or family, and I’d always thought of solo travelers as some sort of antisocial vagrants. But once I’d gone almost seven weeks on my own, I found that I’d become one of those antisocial vagrants. I still love going places with my friends, of course, but I also realized that when you’re alone, you can get more out of it. I learned how to trust my instincts about safety and how to be smart about my travel.

Iya: Travel has always been important to me, and my work at Let’s Go hasn’t changed my perception of travel itself so much as how I approach it. I’ve become very good at two things. First, planning. I made a detailed itinerary for the trip I took with friends to Montreal last spring break, which included scheduled free time to explore and/or lounge around. But then, second, is spontaneity. On the road, you have to deal with whatever comes up.  I’m very much willing to ditch my own schedules and go where the wind (or last minute plane ticket) takes me.

Beatrice: Being a researcher has definitely spoiled me in terms of travel. I’m so used to seeing ten billion things in whatever place I am in, from famous sights to supermarkets, that it’s hard for me now to just be on vacation somewhere and sit on a beach. I do travel alone for the book, and although that was hard to get used to at first, it’s now become one of the things I love most about the job. The independence of choosing what I want to do everyday is great, and I always end up meeting a lot more people (both locals and other travelers) when I’m out on my own.

Ansley: This job has undoubtedly changed my perceptions on travel. Especially in really touristy destinations, it takes effort to get off the beaten path and be a traveler rather than a tourist. As a RW, I must become an immediate expert on my destinations, go everywhere, see everything, and learn as much as I can so that my readers can do the same thing but in half the time.

What is it like to be on the road for the publication?

Iya: I don’t have any researcher-writer experience myself, but I’ve known and overseen people who have. It’s not easy. It can get lonely, and it can get frustrating, and it can get exhausting. So people do it once and they’re done. Others find it so liberating [and] learn so much about themselves and other cultures every time that they do it all four years of college. Imagine your job is to experience everything a place has to offer and then you come home late at night, and put everything you’ve done into the right words. And then you have to wake up and do it all again, in a new place. In the end, our researcher writers go through all of this trouble so that our readers don’t have to. Our destinations change every year, based on where we think students are going and want to be going.

Beatrice: Being on the road for LG is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done. You’re all alone and there are a lot of people back in Cambridge counting on you, so you have to be very disciplined. I usually try and research for four or five hours in the morning/early afternoon, come home and write until dinner, and then head back out to do nightlife research. All travel expenses are covered by LG. We each get a daily stipend that is equivalent to what a traveler on a budget would likely be spending per day. I decided to live in an apartment while I’m in Amsterdam, but I didn’t want to be too far outside of the city center, so I splurged a little bit on rent because I knew I could save money cooking most of my meals.

Ansley: Being on the road is exciting, exhausting, inspiring, confusing, lonely, thrilling, and so much more. It’s definitely a rollercoaster, but that’s what makes everyday an adventure! As part of our assignment, we are given a rough itinerary of where we have to be when, but each day we plan out independently on the road.

Marykate: I spend most of my time in Italy writing down pasta prices and checking the operating hours of famous museums. Sometimes I got so lonely that I would jump up and introduce myself frantically to any stranger I heard speaking English. That being said, it’s also an amazing and empowering experience. I got to meet Italians from every walk of life. All the researcher writers travel during the summer. A research manager who writes up a day-by-day itinerary determines the specific schedule of your route. You’re responsible for handling all the logistics during your route.

How has the series encouraged college students to travel? How has it perhaps played a role in studying abroad?

Beatrice: I think that just reading one of our guides is a great way to get inspired to get on the road because we bring these places to life in a way that will speak to students. As for study abroad, we go out of our way to include more than the obvious tourist places, so the guides can help students get oriented and start integrating into wherever they are studying right from the beginning. One of the best things I hear when I’m on the road is when I’m at a great restaurant or bar and a local finds out that I write for a travel guide and say, ‘Oh but surely this place isn’t there, no tourist would know about it.’ Then I get to flip open the guide and prove them wrong. Those are the kinds of places that make studying abroad what it is.
Ansley: When students read about someone like themselves who have traveled, they are much more likely to take that same leap and go somewhere. LG has also increased our online content. There are blogs posted by all our researcher writers uploaded in real time as we experience these places.

Marykate: I think the series has definitely encouraged students to travel because it presents travel as an affordable, accessible thing for people our age to do. Tons of students want to make a trip to some place like London possible on their budget, but without any applicable advice, they just can’t know-how to do it. Let’s Go provides that know-how. Our Beyond Tourism section (a chapter on volunteer, study abroad and work opportunities in foreign countries) is a big part of that know-how. That sort of information can be difficult to look up on your own. So when LG does the legwork, it’s easier for our readers to find out about these opportunities.

Iya: Students have a variety of different travel needs from your typical tourist. We want to see all the standard sights, but we also want to have fun, go out, engage with locals, do something exciting—and we usually want to do it cheap. LG is designed to give our readers just that. Our content caters to people living in a city for four months just as well as those passing through for two days. It’s important to us to find the places where locals go rather than the tourist traps, which will save you a lot of time when you’ve just moved into a tiny apartment in Berlin and have no clue where to get a good lunch. So we’ve done everything we can to encourage people to study abroad and help them while they do.

What advice would you offer fellow female college students if they were in your shoes?
Beatrice: Read up on what different parts of a city/country are like, even if it means spending a bit more money to stay somewhere you feel safe. Being a girl on the road has its good and its bad sides. Obviously it can make you a target for unwanted attention, but at the same time a lot of other people will help you out if you look like you need it. I always end up becoming good friends with bartenders, when I’m out researching, and those are really some of the best locals to meet because they are used to keeping an eye out for trouble. Also, it’s good to have a place where you can feel safe at three in the morning. My advice is just to get out there and to try traveling alone. Talk to anyone and everyone, explore; ask questions. Many of my favorite travel stories happened because I went up to someone and said hello. Oh, and smile a lot. That helps too.

Marykate: Of course, the obvious answer to question is to be careful. You still have to trust your instincts about what’s safe and what’s stupid. But don’t let fear ruin your trip. You should be cautious and aware, not terrified.
Ansley: Trust your instincts. Plan carefully and well, but don’t be afraid to have unexpected adventures.
Iya: Be safe, always. Our books contain a lot of trips for solo women travelers like the benefits of wearing a wedding ring in certain areas of the world. Other than that, this is your opportunity. Do whatever you want to do, be whoever or whatever you want to be and let go. You’ll learn a lot more about wherever you are (and probably yourself) that way.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.