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Posted by Jessica on Jul 21, 2009
1,000 Places To See Before You Die: A Book Review

When a travel book is reviewed on Amazon.com as being "a great choice for a traveling grandpa" or renamed "1,000 Places To See For Boring Millionaires" than you'd probably skip over it. Right?

Think again.

Back in 2004, Christmas arrived shortly after Tim and I shared the news that we'd be going around the world. One of the presents sitting under the tree for me on Christmas morning was a book called 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. (Aside from this particular title, there are also several other 1,000 list books available too.) Flipping through the pages while still cozy in my pajamas, I was not only excited by many of the places described inside, but I was touched that my parents were taking our travel plans seriously.

Little did I know that morning but that present would change our upcoming trip entirely. In fact, if it hadn't been for that book, Tim and I would have never thought to consider Turkey in our travel plans. We would have missed the wonders of Istanbul and the stark beauty of Cappadocia and we wouldn't have gotten engaged...well, at least not in Turkey. (For those curious: The entry in the book that prompted us to add Turkey to our itinerary was one that told us about taking a balloon ride over the amazing fairy chimneys in Cappadocia.)

1,000 Places To See Before You Die comes in at nearly 1,000 pages (quite fitting, I suppose) with loads of details about many exotic places and interesting sites described throughout. There are well over 100 countries highlighted in the book and just about any experience you can think up (and many you never would have imagined) are detailed too.

But I've read many other travelers' reviews of the book (and those amusing reviews on Amazon too) and have repeatedly discovered it's not a popular choice. (I've also discovered some folks take list books way too literally.) Specifically, it's seen as an unrealistic book for any "serious" backpacker. The critiques point out that many of the places and experiences described in the book are out of most people's reach. As a result, they write-off the entire book as a waste of time.

I think those reviewers are missing out on a fun resource. One of the best parts about traveling is dreaming of visiting faraway places, foreign people, and exotic experiences. Traveling is about imagining possibilities. And before you can travel, that's mainly what you do: imagine, daydream, and brainstorm about all the places and experiences you might want in this life. And how do you do that? You read travel blogs for suggestions, you look at pictures online for interesting sites, and you scour your library for any and all travel books all the while looking for inspiration.

Traveling isn't about following word-for-word the suggestions of any book, or any other traveler for that matter. It's about traveling in a way that works best for you, not what works best for someone else. When someone buys a Lonely Planet guide, chances are they aren't going to visit every place it lists, but they will get a good idea of what is and isn't possible from it. Any guide's job is to do just that: guide you. And so what better way to be guided and inspired than by a book called 1,000 Places To See Before You Die?

I will agree the author often highlights very expensive hotels and restaurants in each destination. But when highlighting a restaurant or a resort, she usually goes on to explain what else in the area. Sure, the other attraction might only get a brief mention. But it is often mentioned which gives any "serious" backpacker enough information to hop online and do a bit of research prior to their trip.

(I would also point out the book focuses mostly on Western countries. There are around 600 pages dedicated to the US, Canada, Europe (mostly Western Europe), Australia, and New Zealand. But there are only 300 pages dedicated to Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean. Even someone not steeped in a traveling lifestyle can see that's a great disparity.)

There's rarely going to be a travel book for everyone, every budget, and every style. And this particular travel book certainly has its drawbacks when you look at it critically. But when you open your imagination up just the tiniest bit, it can be quite easy to be taken to the faraway lands mentioned on its pages. At the very least it's a great resource for someone new to traveling who is looking for inspiration. Just remember to see the book as a traveler's guide and not the traveler's bible and you'll be fine.

(And for the record, it's still great for people more experienced with traveling too. When we start daydreaming about where to go next in the world, this book is one of the first I pull off our shelves for ideas.)

For several months after that Christmas, Tim and I pored over the book, reading about those far off lands, looking things up online, and getting ideas, lots and lots of ideas of possible places for us to visit. Did we consider staying at the $600 per night hotel the book says is located right next to Machu Picchu? Of course not. But reading the book made us remember: yes, we definitely need to visit Machu Picchu (and stay at the $20 per night hotel in the nearby village).

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July 21, 2009 at 6:26pm
The idea of the book is great, even if its selection of places on the southern hemisphere is too thin to be taken earnestly…

Karl Baedeker (see wikipedia) in Germany started a series of guidebooks in the year 1828, and in 1844 he introduced a ranking where "three stars" would be given to tourist attractions that are worth a whole trip to see them.

For me, the list would include the surfing hippos of Gabon, the mosque in Djenne, the dive sites of Lembeh strait, and Chankillo fortress in the desert of northern Peru… among some 100 sites I could put together just off the top off my head where the author of that book has never been :)

July 22, 2009 at 7:56am
Do it Klaus…make that list! or better yet, write a book. I'd buy it :)

Jessica, I have that same book and I enjoyed flipping through it when I received it as a gift a few years ago as well, although I do remember thinking that it focussed too much on the US and Europe. I haven't looked at it in a long time though, I think I'll dig it out tonight and have another peek!

Jessica the hedgehog
July 22, 2009 at 2:58pm
Klaus – Like Deb mentioned, Tim and I would buy that book too! It could be called Klaus Approves of This Place or some such silliness. ;)
Jessica the hedgehog
July 22, 2009 at 3:00pm

I haven't looked at it in a long time though, I think I'll dig it out tonight and have another peek!

Deb – Funny you should mention that…after I posted this story I realized I hadn't yet flipped through the book for its suggestions about India. I think I'll pull out our copy tonight too. :)

Tim the hedgehog
July 22, 2009 at 6:16pm

It could be called Klaus Approves of This Place or some such silliness. ;)


LOL! Nice! :D

July 23, 2009 at 2:40pm
I – the aspiring traveler – just purchased a used copy off Half.com…whee! It'll be awhile before I can put it to proper use, but 600 pages dedicated to North America? I can handle that on my present budget.

And I love your engagement story and need to go read it again and cry sappy girl-tears. As I do. :)

July 23, 2009 at 2:45pm
See? Done and done.


Out of all of the people that I know – family, friends and the lot – you two are my absolute favorite love story.

Jessica the hedgehog
July 23, 2009 at 2:52pm

I – the aspiring traveler – just purchased a used copy off Half.com…whee!

Wheee indeed! :) I think you'll enjoy it a lot. I love flipping through it to take a peak at the suggestions. Sure, we can't afford most of the places she specifically recommends…but it's perfect for getting inspiration and some fun ideas about where in the world it's possible to go. :)

Out of all of the people that I know – family, friends and the lot – you two are my absolute favorite love story.

Awwwww! *blushes* This might be my most favorite comment ever. :) :)

July 25, 2009 at 11:39pm
You know, a traveler willing to blow off any guide book is a traveler that is just too cool for school. They're the ones you run into who have proudly dumped their LP "in a trash can right outside the train station". (Am I alone in hearing this story one too many times?)
I guess I've run into too many people bragging about finding the local hotspot all on their own… and fail to realize the irony that they're talking about it to someone who found it with a book!
I love 1,000 Places… no one takes it on the road with them and follows it like religious text– it's inspiration! It's a flip book! It's a mini adventure just seeing what page you land on!
Personally, I like the 1,000 Places day calendar… color pictures! A mini adventure with every page!
July 27, 2009 at 12:38pm
Just starting it, keep checking klausapproves.com :)
Jessica the hedgehog
July 27, 2009 at 1:45pm
JamieO – Too true, too true! I think there are some backpackers in particular who get so focused on being trendy or off the beaten path or unique that they dismiss the rest of us who just enjoy traveling for the sake of traveling (no matter where we found our inspiration or guidance). :)

I haven't seen the calendar before! I might have to get one for 2010. Wheee! :)

Tim the hedgehog
July 27, 2009 at 1:54pm

Just starting it, keep checking klausapproves.com :)

Sweet! I can't wait to see more… :D

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