Ready, Set, Let's Go

It is 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, and the threat of encroaching deadlines and hard-fisted professors has forced most

It is 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday night, and the threat of encroaching deadlines and hard-fisted professors has forced most students back to the safety of their dorm rooms and library study carrels. However, at the Let’s Go office, located within the Harvard Student Agencies building on Mt. Auburn, three editors are typing diligently on computers aligned neatly along the sides of the office’s large communal cubicles, engaged in a different kind of work. Even though the Let’s Go team has yet to finish selecting their team of editors and researcher-writers for 2009, they are already laying the groundwork for the next set of upcoming guides.

“I’ve been in the process of planning out my guides for the past couple of weeks, which is an enormous undertaking,” said managing editor Mary C. Potter ’11, adding that she has even gone into bookstores to scope out the competition.

This ambition has distinguished the publication since 1960, when an entrepreneurial student, G. Oliver Koppell ’62, distributed the first Let’s Go guide to Europe. Over five decades, the student-run company has published 49 travel guides, covering countries as far-reaching as Thailand and Portugal. And despite its broad appeal, Let’s Go has also managed to retain a focus on students­­; in addition to undergraduates managing production, student researcher-writers are dispatched to ensure that the product is friendly for fellow travelers on a tight budget.


Although Let’s Go prides itself on a “witty, irreverent, and candid tone and style,” according to publishing director Laura M. Gordon ’09, their success actually depends on the cohesion of their staff of 75 students. For example, editors and researcher-writers, who provide much of the content featured in the guides, stay in frequent contact, despite the fact that editors remain in Cambridge while researchers are away traveling. “It’s a long-distance relationship,” said Nathaniel S. Rakich ’10, managing editor for Let’s Go and a Crimson Editorial editor. “It might seem tough, but many great marriages are often made out of such relationships.”

However, Let’s Go is also hoping to create more positions that are geared towards supporting researcher-writers, who are required to travel alone. This policy encourages them to assimilate into the local culture and environment without the distraction of a travel companion.

“It’s amazing but also very lonely,” said Vincent M. Chiappini ’09, who is also am FM columnist, of his experience as a researcher-writer in France. “At one point I hadn’t spoken English face-to-face with another native speaker for three weeks.”

The end result is a resource that facilitates shoestring travel. “You probably won’t find the nicest restaurants in the guides, which makes sense if you’re a student traveler,” said Emily W. Cunningham ’09, a researcher-writer in 2007 and a Crimson Sports editor.


Traveling on HSA’s dime may seem like a dream opportunity, but Let’s Go has experienced its share of tragedy. In 2001, Haley S. Surti ’01 was killed in a bus accident in Peru while researching for Let’s Go. Since then, the company has banned night travel and given mandatory self-defense training to all researchers before they go out on the road. The company also maintains a strict “all hours” contact policy, under which a designated member of staff at headquarters mans an emergency cell phone 24/7. As an added measure, the staffer is barred from drinking alcohol and riding the T during their shift.

Let’s Go has also had issues with publishing firms. After St. Martin’s Press terminated their 25-year relationship when internally commissioned focus groups evaluated the guides as “frivolous” and “silly,” they have shifted their business to Avalon Travel, a specialist in travel publications within Perseus Books Group. “They’ve been really phenomenal so far,” Potter said of the company’s new publisher. “Avalon is really supportive of our new focus on study abroad and they are very committed to bringing our student mission to the fore.”

Although this recent change in publishers has coincided with the economic downturn, Potter believes that the challenge can actually be an advantage. “Let’s Go will also probably attract a wider readership, as more people will be traveling according to a student’s guide and budget.” A growing focus on study abroad at Harvard is also likely to help keep Let’s Go afloat. “Students are not going to stop studying abroad because of the economic situation,” Rakich said.

Gordon is even more optimistic. “If anything, the numbers of traveling students will increase in the next few years,” she said.


Backed by a new publishing firm and a staff of dedicated students, Let’s Go is getting ready to stay on the travel guide scene with more than 10 new titles on the shelves by November 2009. The organization has also recently re-launched their Web site, and they are uploading new information daily in an effort to become more accessible to their growing readership.

Despite these changes, Let’s Go remains focused on their commitment to student travel and a personal element in their books. “We want our guides to serve not only as an informed voice, but also as a friend on the shoulder of our loyal readers,” Gordon explained.

This quality is what the team behind Let’s Go hopes will keep the publication fresh in years to come.

“It’s very exciting that we’re able to carry this project through three generations and it never gets old,” Rakich said. “I see Let’s Go surviving at least another 50 years.”