Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson is an acerbic and savagely funny account of the world from the perspective of a professional traveler.
The book takes readers on an irresistible series of adventures in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and beyond; details the effects of globalization on the casual traveler and ponders the future of travel as we know it; and offers up a treasure trove of travel-industry secrets collected.
The book is written in a caustic and humorous style, with Thompson’s no-nonsense intelligence and self-deprecating humor shining through.
He reveals the underbelly of the tourism industry, offering unabashed reports on his rollicking and sometimes gross experiences in the 35 countries he has visited.
He has little tolerance for the superficial, or for marking off checklists of supposed requisites for visitors—he devotes a chapter to explaining why Chinatown, in any city, should be avoided.
The main themes of the book are the lack of authenticity in the travel business, the effects of globalization on the casual traveler, and the importance of avoiding superficiality when travelling.
What I Liked
I loved the premise of the book. I read this book in 2008 – before Instagram, Airbnb, good Google Maps, and Uber. And wowza did I have no idea how every bad trend / incentive of the travel industry was about to hit hyper-drive over the next 15 years. The book is of its time, but still amazingly prescient in seeing so much overtourism, mimetic destinations, influencer campaigns, faux experiences, checklist tourism (it even predated the term “bucket list”), and everything else awful about the modern tourism industry.
What I Did Not Like
The author is in the book too much and way too obsessed with his identity as a ‘maverick travel writer’ – it would have been better to focus on the destinations and trends than how he’s navigating it.
I also think he took a few too many cheap shots at the tourism industry, which, for all it’s wrongs and bad incentives, does get everyone where they want to go in safe, reliable fashion.