Let's Get Away From it All:
The Life and Times of HSA Researchers
It you've ever browsed in the travel section of a bookstore, then you've probably seen the books.
"Let's Go. USA. Let's Go Europe," and their companions are a series of regional travel guides for people who want to see Europe the inexpensive way.
Work for the guidebooks begins the December before they are published, according to Teresa E. Turvey '84, the editor of the Italy and Great Britain version. Editors are chosen, and start planning their books by looking at the previous book and seeing which areas need more coverage and which needless.
Then, editors choose their researchers, meet with each researcher to decide what his itenary will be, train their researchers. The training sessions, Turvey said, are necessary "to give them an idea of what they're letting themselves in for."
By June, the researcher is off exploring the far reaches of exotic places such as Europe, Morroco or maybe the Soviet Union.
Jeffrey T. Wise '88, an applicant for a job researching Europe, said he filled out the extensive application because he wanted the opportunity to go places he had never been before.
A similar fascination with the Let's Go guides induced Per H. Jebsen '96 to file an application last February to research Spain. "It just seemed like a really great job--to go to Europe and have my expenses paid.
For Jeffrey M. Rosen '86, the lure of working for the "Bible of budget travelling" was too great to resist.
As an editor of the first version of the Let's Go Pacific Northwest, Diane K. Wachtell '83-'85 found it "a little frustrating not to be able to write." She added, "I was really psyched to go home places and write about them, not having to make up adjectives for places that I hadn't seen, but to be able to see a place and know which adjectives to use."
Wachtell researched for the first edition of Let's Go Mexico. Although she does speak Spanish, Wachtell said she was so anxious to work on the new book that, "had it been about Scandanavia, I would have told them that I spoke Scandanavia. I would have told them that I spoke Scandanavian."
Armed with only an itinerary, luggage, map, money, and, perhaps, a typewriter--the researcher arrives at the starting point for his travels. His job is to update and revise the previous book, making changes where necessary, as well as adding new finds to the book.
"The most exciting thing is when you find new things," said Rosen. "You go to local bars and talk to factory workers and shopkeepers there, and ask them to tell you about good places."
For Jebsen, finding cheap places was easy, but not finding cheap and "half-way decent" places. Sometimes, he did make a mistake and "stay in dives." One particularly memorable "incredibly dark" dive was located in Barcelona, complete with a decrepit sink and "all sorts of bugs." recalled Jebsen.
Wachtell remembered quite a different sort of night spent on a beach on the Pacific coast of Mexico. A man who had picked up her and her co-researcher when they were hitchhiking told them about a beach owned by the Mexican military. They hiked in to the base and obtained the commander's permission to stay on the beach. Later, said Wachtell, he came to ask them whether they would be interested in going, along with his camp, to a festival in town.
Rosen was treated equally well by the members of a small town, who took him to a feast at the mayor's palace and then gave him his own trailer in the local campground.
Not all of the surprises for the researchers involved people. Jebsen found an abandoned village on a hillside, which was "really wild."
He said that he later found out that the village had been abandoned after the government flooded its fields to make a reservoir. Jebsen added he was told that a hippie commune had taken over the village, but while he was there, he saw no one.
In the Pyrenees, Jebsen hitched a ride from a man who had "an incredibly wild imagination about the U.S.. He thought the streets in New York were paved with gold."
Researchers agree that the job isn't just running around, exploring and having fun, though. It often takes hard work, especially since there is a semimonthly deadline. Jebsen said, "I was surprised at how difficult the job is. A lot of people think they're getting some sort of paid vacation in Europe."
He added, "I remember all the times I would be in some disgusting hostel and being incredibly hot--with sweat pouring down my face--thinking, 'what the hell am I doing here?"'
"I would write anywhere," Jebsen said, adding that he often wrose on buses or trains. Some hotel rooms were poorly lit, so Jebsen had to resort to the light of the bathroom sink for light.
Rosen didn't find his job easy, either. He attributed this to "a stupid mentality that makes you want to perfect each word."
Their hard work pays off, though, because good writing is essential to the guidebooks, said Turvey. She added. "We pride ourselves on the writing in our books."
Although his summer was "incredibly high-pressured and fast-paced." Jebsen said. "Most people go to Europe to see the sights, so when it's your job to go to Europe to see the sights, it's not that bad."
There are negative aspects, though, besides the work. Most of the people in the tourist industry are not so friendly as the researchers would have like them to be.
Rosen found that most of the people whom he had to deal with were, as he says, "their usual gruff selves."
He recalled one French hotel proprietor who repeatedly refused to show him a room. She said she couldn't stand the people who found her hotel through the Let's Go series, and she wanted to be taken out of the book. "So as retribution," laughed Rosen, "We kept her in."
Some of the Mexicans Wachtell met along the way were "friendly only in a way which they construed to be friendly." This included yelling the only English they knew, often curses, at Americans walking down the stress.
Other aspects of the Let's Go job ended up frustrating Wachtell. Because Let's Go paid when they thought was fair pay to live in Mexico without taking into account the devaluation of the peso Wachtell said she was "living hand-to-mouth. It's a horrible experience."
Other problems arose from the fact that Mexicans "don't generalize. They're not used to it. Even the train stations don't have posed" schedule," said Wachtell.
"If you ask three different people something, you get three different answers. Things change every five minutes." Although she had 600 pages written by the time she was through researching, the said had no idea whether her information was right.
Maintaining a light tone while she was writing for Let's Go was often difficult under these circumstances. Wachtell said. "I always had to resist the temptation to let my frustration come out on the pages, because most of the people I was writing for would be travelling for pleasure."
She managed to stick out her prescribed stint in Mexico because she was travelling and working with a friend, said Wachtell. This had its drawbacks, she adds. "It allowed us to cultivate a very bad attitude about Mexico."
Even companionship did not prevent the two from "kissing the ground in Texas we were so glad to be there."