Doug Lansky
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Doug Lansky

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"Rarely in our industry are we educated and entertained from the perspective of the traveler. Doug Lanksy not only reminds our industry of the importance of selling the experience of the travel journey, he does it with humor and insight. Before we can effectively market a destination we need to understand its brand from the visitor perspective and Mr. Lanksy opened my eyes and reminded me it's not about us it's about our guests and what they experience while visiting which makes them return." - MMG Worldwide


Your lecture has inspired our students to travel abroad and see the world with their own eyes. At Westminster our goal is to create global leaders and your program has helped us inspired and encourage our students to go out there and practice their leadership abroad. Once more, thank you for your message. - Westminster College


Vagabond, writer, and humorist Doug Lansky relishes the lighter side of travel.
Doug Lansky is one of those enviable souls who has managed to channel his wanderlust into a livelihood. While most of us may be footloose in our youth, only to be deskbound thereafter, Lansky has turned vagabonding into an ongoing lifestyle that has sustained him since college. He funds his travels—he has visited more than a hundred countries so far—largely by writing: a syndicated column, guidebooks, and books of humor with a travel theme. His most recent projects include a traveling exhibition of humorous signage, based on his Signspotting series of books, as well as a website that celebrates the woes of the road, giving travelers a place to vent their frustrations and share the low points of their journeys.
What is your philosophy of travel? At first, I fell into that old trap in which you think you're traveling off the tourist trail, hanging out with Bohemian-looking backpackers, comparing passport stamps, but you're actually on the trail. Whether it's the Banana Pancake Trail, the Gringo Trail, the Lonely Planet Trail, or whatever you want to call it, your goal is always the same: to tick sites off a list. Later I came to realize that getting your picture taken in front of this or that landmark is not what travel is about. That's like the dessert of travel. For me, the main meal is doing, not just seeing. It's about following your own interests on the road. So, for example, if you like bird watching, you go birding in Italy by contacting a local club and joining them. I try to use my interests as a skeleton key, to help unlock local cultures and make an organic connection with people there doing something I like to do. For me, meeting people with similar interests is what travel's about now.
Can you give another example? While doing the classic Eurail trip during my junior year abroad, I ventured down into Morocco with these Australian guys I met in Spain and then realized I hated traveling in a big group, so I left them and ended up living with two Moroccan guys and selling carpets for them in Marrakech. I was working on percentage as a sort of tout, going into tourist hangouts and pulling in customers. These Moroccan guys can push rug like nobody's business. They somehow turn the conversation from, "Did you have a nice time so far?" to "What is your credit card limit?" in the most natural way possible. And so people are spending $5,000 or $10,000, and I am pocketing $500 to $1,000 a day. I made a lot of money. That taught me that I could have a cool travel experience without having any other travelers around—and by doing something unique.
Tell me about your website, www.titanicawards.com. The site is all about the Titanic Awards, "celebrating the dubious achievements of travel." The idea is that every trip has some bad aspects. People are dying to tell the stories of what went wrong, to get them off their chest, whether it be something they hated about a particular airline or how a particular hotel was the worse place they ever stayed. It's both cathartic and entertaining.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you on the road? I'd gone up the Amazon on a cargo ship, lain in a hammock elbow to elbow for about nine days, and I was just bored out of my gourd. So I rented a dugout canoe, and two other travelers and I went out to find some headhunters and live with them for a week. At 3 one morning, some drunk guys woke me up by tapping me on the head with a machete. They were shouting at me, and I felt blood running down my face, and I was like, "Wait, wait, wait, take it easy. I got something for you." I fished a can of tuna out of my backpack and gave it to them, and that seemed to satisfy them for the time being. It was just really stupid on my behalf to think I could go and hang with headhunters, and so I guess I was paying the price. But I did get a book out of the experience, Up the Amazon Without a Paddle.
But I mean I did not really think—I thought that whole headhunter thing was silly and maybe it is but when they were already actually cutting your head, that starts to go through your head. I mean there is stuff like that kind of a thing and there is stuff that kind of just—I mean just like that Amazon trip, that was the worst wait I've ever had. I bought my ticket, got on a cargo ship and we sat there in the harbor at Manaus for four days and there were all sorts of shady characters coming on and off the boat and trying to—would walk around with knives and you got—and just sitting there in that heat for four days. It was like the worst airport waiting lounge, it was like an airport waiting lounge at a 105 degrees humid and no service and no toilets and that kind of thing. I remember just thinking "God, this is just such boring waste of time, awful travel and there is nothing to write about."
What travel experience haven't you had that would you really like to try? I'd love to do the via ferrata in It - National Geographic, April 2010, By Keith Bellows


As a tiny university in New England, who can normally rally just a handful of students for events on campus, Doug Lansky’s “60 Minute World Travel Survival Course” garnered our biggest audience ever, jam-packing our largest lecture hall. But it wasn’t just the sheer numbers of show-goers that impressed us, it was Doug’s uncanny ability to connect with the audience – at one minute instigating genuine laughter, and at the next inspiring the students to seek out unique travel adventures on their own. Although it was late, and he surely had to be the feeling effects of his flight from Stockholm, Doug graciously remained after the show to sign books and answer questions; students lined up to take advantage of this rare opportunity for one-on-one time.

Apart from Doug’s magnetic performance, our office was able to raise the profile of internationalism on campus through creative, professional and stand out advertising provided to our office through Doug’s agency. Both Doug and his counterparts at Keppler Speakers were truly a pleasure to work with and we look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with them again.

Trisha A. Mason
Director, International Programs
- The University of New England


When you visit a new country, you're not allowed to vote. You can't cash a personal check. Your library card isn't valid. Yet they let you drive. They let you get behind the wheel of a multiton vehicle and zip around anywhere you please.
Somehow we're expected to navigate the road and pick up the traffic nuances - perhaps even adjust to a steering wheel on the opposite side of the car while driving on the opposite side of the road - all before we make our first lane-change. If that isn't demanding enough, there are the signs to contend with.
Not just the roadside traffic symbols that look more confusing than psych-test ink blots. There are also signs that look woefully out of place. And then there's the occasional screwball posting that almost stops us in our tracks - if we could just find the brake pedal fast enough in that rental car.
Fortunately, a few daring drivers have been able to find a place to pull over, get out, and snap a picture.
If you're wondering how so many of these preposterous public postings came about, here's one partial explanation: There are 406 million native English speakers in the world. This may sound like a lot, but the figure represents less than 10 percent of the world's population.
Yet, thanks to American, Canadian, Australian, British, Irish, and New Zealand linguistic stubbornness (or cerebral shortcomings) and an appetite for travel, the world has - without any formal treaty or prolonged UN debate - adopted English as the almost-official tourist language. An estimated 350 million to one billion people now speak English as a second language, which means that, as an Anglophone, you can be understood (or misunderstood) by as much as a quarter of the people on Earth.
Mastering proper English, even for the most educated Anglo, is no easy task. So, it comes as little surprise that nonnative English speakers who aren't as tuned in to the subtleties of English get things delightfully twisted despite their best efforts to cater to us by putting up signs.
Before laughing, consider for a moment who among us would have the courage to put up a sign in a foreign language? Just imagine the hilarity if we tried to cover our English-speaking lands with signs for Russian, Turkish, or Chinese tourists. We'd walk around completely unaware of gaffes that would have these travelers rolling with laughter.
Do you think all of us would take the time to check spellings, grammar, and possible double entendres in even a small percentage of the world's roughly 6,800 known languages (about 2,200 of which have writing systems)?
As it is, we snicker at multinational corporations when their marketing campaigns fail overseas. Take Pepsi's slogan, "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation," which was launched in Taiwan and directly translated as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead." Or the KFC slogan "Finger-Lickin' Good!", translated into Chinese as "Eat Your Fingers Off!"
So when you're laughing at the signs pictured here, laugh with a warm heart for the sign-makers. In any other language, they could have been you. - Philadelphia Inquirer


Anyone who travels a lot knows the importance of signs. At the very least, they help get you where you're going. And at times they even help you discover new thrills. But they also can be downright bizarre. The editors of Lonely Planet tapped a network of sign spotters around the globe to find some of the most ridiculous examples and collected them in a new book, Signspotting: Absurd & Amusing Signs from Around the World, compiled by Doug Lansky. - USA Today


I would like to thank you for your recent speaking engagement here at the University of Minnesota. We enjoyed a much larger crowd than anticipated. Many students from our outdoor program, residential halls, and international clubs were in attendance. We've been trying to offer more unique programs on campus, due to student's daily routines, busy schedules, and the range of entertainment offered around the city. This program fit the mix we were looking for, and everything worked out perfectly.

Your presentation was very upbeat, humorous, educational, and well focused on college-age students. You included some great information on travel safety, packing light, what to pack/not to pack, how to extend your budget, lodging, eating, and the hilarious slide show that brought this all to life. It was a great, laid back evening for all.

I have received a lot of positive feedback from the students. Many students are thinking of traveling abroad this year, and wanted some extra helpful hints. The personal Doug Lansky "packing list" was a hit. - University of Minnesota


Pack your backpack, follow this writer’s lead for an ultimate globe-trotting adventure. Four days after his graduation from college in 1992, Doug Lansky turned down his dream job, an entry position at The New Yorker, and took off to live
his dream. All told, the 32-year-old has spent about nine years seeing the world, working intermittently and writing syndicated dispatches for U.S. newspapers about his adventures abroad. Now married and the father of a 2-year-old, he lives in Stockholm and is the author of a just-published primer for would-be global nomads, First-Time round the World: A Trip Planner for the
Ultimate Journey (Rough Guides, $14.95). Here, Lansky talks to USA TODAY’s Jayne Clark about the art of the extended journey.
Q: What was your thinking when you began your sojourn?
A: I had only a vague plan. I went to Miami with the idea of hitchhiking to South America on yachts. I failed miserably. It was hurricane season. So I flew to the Virgin Islands and found a job on a luxury charter yacht with a young crew looking for a good time or paying customers, whichever came first. Finally, a guy told me, “You need to use your
mind. Go to Spanish school in Antigua (Guatemala).” Seemed like good advice.
So I went the next day, though I didn’t even have a guidebook.
Q: You sound pretty impulsive.
A: That’s part of the beauty of travel. You just sort of go with the wind. With a too carefully planned itinerary, it’s like ordering off the menu. You already know the result you’re after.
Q: I guess serendipity is one of the luxuries of long-term travel. But this
sort of travel isn’t for everyone, even those with time to spare, is it?
A: Travel is an itch that’s best cultivated from within. What we don’t have in the States is a culture of travel. In the United Kingdom, they have a “gap year.” In Australia, everyone goes “walkabout” for a period. In Israel, after doing army service, they leave. But because we don’t have this culture, the Americans you meet on long trips tend to be a pretty cool group because
they’re the ones willing to take a chance and go for it. People in other
countries are more likely to be pressured into it.
Q: What keeps Americans off the
international nomad circuit?
A: The pressure to pay back student loans, for starters. Also, Americans are, more than other nationalities, denied by their jobs. People are anxious to start down the career path. And again, it’s not in our culture. If you don’t know anyone who’s done it, it’s a more frightening prospect.
Q: Your book is aimed at young budget travelers. But people of all
ages are doing this, aren’t they?
A: Yes. It’s easier to cope with a tighter budget when you’re younger because you might be staying in a hotel where the bed is sagging and the only art is the urine stain on the mattress. But in midlife or retirement, you probably
have more money and can often, for under $50 and sometimes under
$30, stay in comfortable digs. There are people out there in all these categories.
I met an 80-year-old American with a hip replacement on a bus in Bolivia and she was having a great time.
Q: Speaking of buses, you’ve moved around the world via a range
of idiosyncratic transport.
A: Yes. Feluccas (a traditional wooden sailboat) on the Nile in northern Africa.
Motor and bike rickshaws in India. Tuk-tuks in Thailand — sort of a golf cart
meets a motorcycle. And in South and Central America, lots of overland buses
with Jesus .gurines on the dashboards. P.J. O’Rourke called them the Latin American emergency brake. Or maybe that was the horn, which also serves as the turn signal and the air bag.
Q: And using the local means of transport enhances the experience,
even when it’s uncomfortable or terrifying?
A: It does. Tourists don’t take the bus in developing countries. Hop on one and suddenly you’re in with locals. And on longer trips, it provides a unique opportunity for conversation and, sometimes, forging friendships.
Q: Now that you’re a husband and father, are your travels behind you?
A: No, but it does complicate things when my daughter comes along. Between the extra gear involved and calculating naps with time zones, it feels more like planning a NATO military maneuver. However, as soon as she’s big enough to carry her own pack, I’m sure we’ll be back on the road. - USA Today


Doug,

Thank you for the investment you made with our students on Friday. The goal of our weekly convocation series is to stimulate conversation outside the classroom, and you did that for us in a wonderful way. In fact, the campus is still buzzing and I continue to hear students talk about your visit. Not only did you inspire and encourage the audience to think differently about travel, you also provided very practical tips for making travel safer, more economical, and ultimately the most rewarding experience it can be. And you did all of this in a way that was lively and engaging. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Kerry Raadt
Carleton College - Carleton College


Hi Dustin,

I just wanted to let you know that the event went AMAZINGLY well tonight! We had almost 400 people attend, which for Truman is huge (especially considering the student activities board had their talent show at the same time). Thank you so much for your recommendation, Doug was a fabulous speaker and everyone really enjoyed the presentation.

Also, if we wanted to send him a thank you note, is there an address we could send it to?

Thanks again for all your help, I really appreciate it!

Emily Meyer - Truman State University


Sean,

I just wanted to let you know that Doug did a phenomenal job on Thursday night. Despite inclement weather, we were still able to attract about 250 people, which is a testament to both the appeal of his subject matter and the large fan base he has acquired through his columns and Sign-Spotting features. Doug did an excellent job of imparting useful travel information, while at the same time keeping the presentation funny and entertaining.

What I was most impressed with, however, was Doug's willingness to stay long after his presentation ended to talk to students and community members interested in hearing more about his travels and opinions on traveling - the presentation ended at 7:30 PM, but Doug stayed and answered questions until almost 9:00 PM. As people slowly filtered out of the theater, I had at least 10 people tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation and thank me for bringing him to campus. Although the speaker we brought in last year was very good, I must admit that I didn't have a single person stop to thank me after that presentation; it's just another sign of what a great experience Doug's speech was for so many people.

I should also mention that Doug was very easy to communicate with and did a great job in helping us promote the event - his website has great posters that we used to put up around campus, and he also sent me an email about two months before the show with a ton of different ideas to promote the event on campus. All in all, I would highly recommend Doug for any campus looking to hold an event that is both informational and entertaining. He did an excellent job at Marquette, and I know he will do the same at any other university.

Thanks,

Andy Weyer
Marquette University - Marquette University


This is the third time we've had Doug come and present his World Travel Show to students in the University Scholars Program here at NC State University. Each time Doug has been the consummate professional, doing all of the little things to make certain his multimedia presentation is a success. And it shows. Our 460 seat cinema is routinely full for Doug's talks, even when we have him doing two shows in two days we can count on a full house. Students respond to his humor, his stories, and the information and experiences Doug shares. We are delighted to have him return regularly, talking up the importance of getting out and seeing the world and helping to convince students that
this--international travel--is very doable and very worthwhile. And students are clearly delighted--each visit Doug is evaluated by students and his evaluations consistently rank him in the top 2 or 3 of the 25 lectures/performances we sponsor each year. It is not uncommon to hear from students that Doug's is the best lecture they have seen on campus.

Ken Johnson
Assistant Director
NC State University
University Scholars Program - NC State


As a tiny university in New England, who can normally rally just a handful of students for events on campus, Doug Lansky’s “60 Minute World Travel Survival Course” garnered our biggest audience ever, jam-packing our largest lecture hall. But it wasn’t just the sheer numbers of show-goers that impressed us, it was Doug’s uncanny ability to connect with the audience – at one minute instigating genuine laughter, and at the next inspiring the students to seek out unique travel adventures on their own. Although it was late, and he surely had to be the feeling effects of his flight from Stockholm, Doug graciously remained after the show to sign books and answer questions; students lined up to take advantage of this rare opportunity for one-on-one time.

Apart from Doug’s magnetic performance, our office was able to raise the profile of internationalism on campus through creative, professional and stand out advertising provided to our office through Doug’s agency. Both Doug and his counterparts at Keppler Speakers were truly a pleasure to work with and we look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with them again.

Trisha A. Mason
Director, International Programs - New England


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Bio

Budget Travel Expert and Author

Doug Lansky is an adventurer, award-winning travel writer, National Geographic and Huffington Post contributor and a world-travel expert who has written books for both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. He brings the audience along on a global odyssey in his acclaimed, informative, and often hilarious presentations. Whether he’s using lessons learned while traveling full time for 10 years in over 100 countries to help university students save money and create one-of-a-kind journeys, explaining to seasoned, budget-savvy travelers how to find those unique, enriching experiences or showing marketing professionals how international campaigns go astray, Lansky’s photo-driven presentations will have audiences laughing and leave them looking at the world in a new way.
After working the copying machine at Late Night with David Letterman, Spy Magazine, and the New Yorker during college, Doug Lansky rejected life as a professional intern and hit the road. After two and a half years working his way around the planet – picking bananas in Israel, snowmobile guiding in the Alps, selling carpets in Morocco, and hitching on yachts – a car accident in Thailand brought him home. Six months later, Lansky was back on the road, but this time with a nationally syndicated travel column that grew to reach over 10 million readers in 40 major newspapers, including: the Denver Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press, the Arizona Republic, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Raleigh News & Observer, the Seattle Times, and many more.
Lansky hosted an hour-long travel documentary for the Discovery Channel/Travel Channel, taught journalism at Colorado College, published several books, including, Last Trout in Venice, Up the Amazon without a Paddle, and Rough Guide to Traveling Around the World, has contributed to Esquire, Men's Journal, National Geographic Adventure, and he served as the regular world-travel expert on Public Radio's flagship travel program, Savvy Traveler.
Lanky is the author of the Lonely Planet best-seller Signspotting, and The Titanic Awards, which celebrates “dubious achievements of travel.”

Lansky is working on two new books while he tours the lecture circuit and contributes to other publications. To date, he has been on the road for roughly ten years in over 100 countries.
Lansky was born on the third-world island of Manhattan, grew up in the arctic tundra of Minnesota, and attended Colorado College (with a few random classes from London University and Harvard), and majored in a subject he can no longer recall. He currently makes his base camp in Stockholm.