AbsurdistanI really liked Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and I’m weirdly fascinated by any country that ends in ‘-stan’ – I’ve been to a few of them – so his earlier novel Absurdistan looked like a certainty. Sure enough the vulgar misadventures of the grossly overweight Misha Vainberg, spoilt son of the 1238th richest man in Russia, are vulgarly comic without ever really getting anywhere.

◄ UK edition


Absurdistan US editionPoor Absurdistan isn’t going to get the world attention or the US aid it so badly needs because nobody can recognize anything about it, where it is, who the Absurdis are, it’s so insignificant it’s not even worth invading. Recognition? Well look at Indonesia, a character suggests, show Americans a map and ‘Eight percent get the actual country. Another eight percent hit the Philippines. Fourteen percent go for New Zealand. A surprising nine percent aim for the Canadian Maritimes. We count all those as correct answers, because the respondents essentially know that Indonesia is an archipelago or at least that there are islands involved.’ But Absurdistan? Nobody has a clue.

◄ US edition

LP Pathfinders: top posts from July 2016

A backpacker in the Namib desert, Africa © Westend61 / Getty Images

A backpacker in the Namib Desert, Africa © Westend61 / Getty Images

Our Pathfinders have been up to all sorts of adventures this month – from visiting a prison in the Philippines to discovering a modern-day Pompeii.  Spend a night with brown bears in Estonia; plan an outdoor escape in the Greek capital; and learn how to pack light when backpacking through the world’s second largest continent with July’s top travel blogs.

Spending the night with brown bears in Estonia – Emily and Gregor

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise… Emily and Gregor bring their adventures in Estonia to life with some wonderful storytelling that pitches the imagination in a fairytale-like forest landscape and gives us a glimpse inside their heads as they venture into the wild.

This Edinburgh-based couple try and squeeze in as much travel as possible. Follow their blog at unpavedtravel.com

Backpacking light and ultralight in Africa – Valerie Bowden

This post gives you all the tips, tricks and techniques you need to help you pack not only light, but ultralight too. Such a thing may seem impossible, especially when facing a destination as diverse as Africa, but Valerie will soon have your suitcase stripped down to size.

From Cape Town to Cairo, Valerie wants to discover the real Africa. Follow her blog at backpackingafricaforbeginners.com

Montserrat: a modern-day Pompeii in the Caribbean – Ken and Cally

Ken and Cally’s post on the Caribbean is a far cry from the sugar-soft beaches and sparkling seas we’re used to. But their reflections on a region devastated by a volcanic eruption are sincere and thought provoking and they end on a high note, showing what Montserrat has to offer beyond its sombre past.

These 50-somethings have clocked up over 100 countries and counting. Follow their blog at dodgyknees.com

The day we ended up in a Filipino prison – Beatrice and Elie

Travel can expose you to a wealth of unexpected experiences – as Beatrice and Elie discovered first-hand when they found themselves voluntarily behind bars in a Filipino prison. Their post gives us an insight into the prison’s forward-thinking rehabilitation project, the ‘Dignity Project’, and we love how their images capture the personalities behind the prisoners.

This Lebanese couple quit their desk jobs to pursue a life on the road. Follow their blog at igotyourbackpack.com

Athens outdoors: the ultimate guide – Karisa Klee

Want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city of Athens? Karisa has got you covered. From island hopping to street-art tours and climbing sacred mountains for some stellar views, this post proves that even outdoorsy types can get their kicks in a big city.

This attorney from Atlanta has a serious case of wanderlust. Follow her blog at flirtingwiththeglobe.com

Find out what else the Lonely Planet Pathfinders are up to (or sign up yourself!) by checking out the Travel Bloggers: your stories forum on Thorn Tree.

A Little French Trip

Having returned from Kiev and Chernobyl with my radiation levels under control I set off for a driving trip through France and Italy with a group of friends.

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IMG_7678 - Gevrey-Chambertin - 270▲ First it was Eurotunnel under the Channel then along the autoroute to Gevrey Chambertin.

◄ Yes we’re in wine country

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▲ More driving, but now on those iconic, tree-lined Provencal roads to Les Baux-de-Provence for more good food, more good wine …

IMG_7688 - Carrières de Lumières, Lex-Baux-en-Provence - 540▲ … but also the fascinating Carrières de Lumières, in a towering cave-like quarry projections appear on walls, roof and floor, alternating between a Chagall story and Alice in Wonderland – with ‘the Crazy Hatter’ in the not-very-good French translation. It looks terrific, like some ‘60s psychedelic light show.

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▲Finally our French travels conclude at the annual arts festival in Aix-en-Provence. While we’re there France beats Germany in the Eurocup semi-final and the town’s central fountain is full of happy French footy enthusiasts waving their tricolours. Sadly this was exactly one week before the crazy truck-propelled attack on the Bastille Day crowds in nearby Nice.

Traveller talk: July 2016

Pilgrims near the cross shaped church of Bet Giyorgis dedicated to St George.

Pilgrims in Lalibela, Ethiopia. © Philip Lee Harvey / Lonely Planet

Each month our fab Thorn Tree moderators bring a few tasty morsels of community chat to the fore. This month’s menu includes: self-catering in Cuba; a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa; footwear; reading lists; discovering India by bike; and finding India in London. Our TT-ers are a very eclectic bunch.

Self-catering in Cuba?

The unusual topic of cooking in Cuba cropped up this month, which ttjpdo glowingly describes as ‘one of the best threads’ on the subject. While most users on the thread agreed that part of the travel experience was to sample local food, there was also something to be said for immersing oneself in the cultural process of buying said produce – even though that appears to involve a lot of queuing.

Original poster yuvalg1987 admits that they ‘didn’t realise how much [their] grandmother’s stories about standing in line once a month for a piece of cheese [were] still relevant to life in Cuba.’ However, queuing aside, johnavery was adamant that it made ‘absolutely no sense to cook for yourself in Cuba’ and adds that ‘shopping is a major pain in the ass even for Cubans.’

Poster yuvalg1987 was reassured that you can easily buy rice and pasta in Cuba and was told that Cuban cuisine had improved even in the last two years. But if you did want to try and cook some of your own meals it might be nice to invite your hosts, and this may be the only practical way of proceeding in terms of space and sharing amenities.

If you do manage to convince your hosts to let you use their kitchen, candydita suggests: ‘ALWAYS clean up double what you would at home to show you can be trusted to leave a kitchen as clean as you found it. Dirt and crumbs = cockroaches. Take along a couple of dish clothes [sic], sponges and t-towels. Again, a good carrot to entice the horse to let you cook in their kitchen.’

Vicsvacek enigmatically advises: ‘Be patient and enjoy the thrill of the unexpected.’

Best foot forward

Ever ready to lend a hand, TT-ers shared their travel sandal preferences for a poster travelling to Southeast Asia. Birkenstocks, Keens, Chacos, Tevas, or less expensive non-branded and locally-bought varieties? Do they slip when wet? How about comfort? Do you have wide feet? However, while walking a mile in someone else’s shoes might yield some good advice, one size does not fit all and it was suggested the poster might be wise to break in whatever they end up choosing before travelling if at all possible.

Your summer/winter reading

Summer holiday reading or books to snuggle up with and help keep you away from the rain/snow/leaves/frolicking new-born lambs or cute ducklings (tick or add whichever is appropriate for your part of the world) was introduced by shikibu. A few examples include: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘A Time of Gifts’; ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ by journo Kim Barker; ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton; ‘The Night in Lisbon’ by E. M. Remarque; and ‘Man without a Face’ by Marcus Wolf. Check out this thread for some fab book recommendations (and maybe also a few warnings – see grinninggnome’s description of trying to read ‘In The Time of Butterflies’ ‘but each page feels like an hour’) and do leave some of your own.

Fishermen on Lake Malawi at dusk.

Fishermen on Lake Malawi at dusk © Jonathan Gregson / Lonely Planet

Once in a lifetime Africa

TT-er cmilos is planning a three- to four-month trip in Africa and has been looking for help to plan the last three weeks in Eastern and/or Southern Africa due to being ‘overwhelmed with options’. This trip may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Cmilos says: ‘As an American with some African ancestry, it’s really important to me on a personal level that I understand Africa better. People tend to have this monolithic view of what ‘Africa’ is, but I know it’s incredibly vast and varied and I want to experience that firsthand. I feel compelled to see that broader picture of what Africa looks like, and I’m not assuming I’ll ever get the opportunity to go back.’

Never deterred by tall orders, TT-ers listed some suggested intineries. Kaz suggests a few days in Zanzibar followed by flying to Ethiopia and doing ‘the historical circuit’. Nathalie2 recommended Namibia for ‘amazing scenery and plenty of possibilities for outdoor activities’. She adds that you could also spend 14 days in South Africa, and seven days in Namibia, doing the Windhoek-Kalahari-Sossusvlei-Windhoek Southern loop and suggested Lake Malawi for some relaxing beach time.

Exciting possibilities opened up but TT-ers quickly warned against trying to do too much. Mvbergen says: ‘You can’t travel like in the states. Even if it’s frustrating, it’s better not to try to see as much as possible because it’s the best way to see nothing’. Some difficult choices ahead.

India by bike and India in London  

Piwakawaka has been hoping that their plan of rocking up in Kerala with a bike and cycling through India isn’t ‘crazy’. And TT-ers on the whole agreed that it isn’t. Some discussion followed about where to source the bike with newislander suggesting very strongly that it might be best to bring the bike with you or at least do a lot of research into Indian bike shops/hire places: ‘Chances are if you do this trip, you will become hooked on cycle touring but not if you have a really crap bike.’

Ngea points out that you need a bike with a ‘comfortable riding position’ and TT-ers clamboured to give piwakawaka lots of solid advice about bike models and extra gear.

Meanwhile, TT-er Giora is looking to discover India in England. Self described as a ‘colonial history buff’ Giora has been asking the TT community for places to visit in or near London that have connections with India apart from the usual suspects of the British Museum and V&A. TT-ers racked their brains and one of the suggestions was the National Maritime Museum and the British Library. Nicolapicola suggests a very speedy day trip to the Isle of Wight to see Osborne House with its ‘Indian Empire stuff’. Pedro555 made the very important point that there are ‘Plenty of establishments where you can acquaint yourself with India Pale Ale’. If you have any further ideas add them to the post.

Lonely Planet Kids: poetry competition

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At Lonely Planet Kids we love poetry, especially poetry for children and especially poetry for children that relates to travel. So we asked Kirstie Pelling, a poet and co-author of the Family Adventure Project blog, to be our poet-in-residence for six months. Kirstie has been writing poems on a cities theme and we’ve been sharing them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and PopJam. Hopefully you’ve seen some and got involved with guessing the city.

Well, now it’s your turn! For this month’s creative challenge we are asking our young explorers to create their own poem for the chance to win a bundle of Lonely Planet Kids books. Over on her blog, Kirstie has supplied you with some inspiration and tips for how to get started. And remember poems can be as long or as short you as like. Some of the best poems are short limericks or three-line haikus.

Follow the instructions below for a chance to win a bundle of Lonely Planet Kids books worth £60!

The Task

Write an original poem (of any length) on one of your favourite places. This could be a busy city, a deserted beach, somewhere you know well or somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. It could be a train-ride, a particular museum or even the best ice-cream you’ve ever had. It can be anything you want it to be. Just write it down and send it to us.


There are four ways you can help your child enter the design your own landmark competition:

  1. By email: Scan, upload or take a photo of their entry and send it from your email address to Lonely Planet Kids at lonelyplanet.kids@lonelyplanet.com.
  2. By Twitter: Tweet a photo of your completed activity sheet to @lpkids including #lpkidschallenge.
  3. By post: Send a copy of your entry to us via post to: Spot the Lot competition, c/o Lonely Planet, 240 Blackfriars Rd, London, SE1 8NW. Please ensure you include your email address with any entry sent via registered post so we can contact you if your child’s entry is chosen as the winner.
  4. On your blog: Post your child’s entry to your blog and email the blog link to lonelyplanet.kids@lonelyplanet.com.

Entries must be received by 11.59pm (BST) on 26th August 2016. With all entries, please include whether you are happy for us to share your child’s entry on Twitter. This won’t affect their entry in any way.


The most creative and inspiring entry will win an a bundle of Lonely Planet Kids books (worth GBP £60) and two runners up will receive their very own copy of the Travel Book for Kids.


Before entering, please read the terms and conditions here.

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