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This is a very readable book that will have you winning your next game of Trivial Pursuit, or at least the travel section of it.

Part amusing and part amazing, the book has a series of vignettes about fascinating and arcane aspects of travel and the world's cultures and sights.

 
 
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Travia

The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia

Nadine Godwin has been writing about travel for over 35 years.

So she has a great background and draws upon her years of involvement in the travel industry, to create a book that is fun to read, equal measures entertaining and educational.

 

 

This book is crammed full of things you absolutely don't already know, and in truth don't really need to know.  But these factoids are fun, interesting, and amusing, and the book is an easy and pleasant read.

If you're looking for something you can read for short snatches of time, something you can pick up and put down as it suits you (an, ahem, 'bathroom book'), this would be a great choice.

Recommended.

About the Book

The paperback book measures 5 3/8th" x 8 1/4", and is 5/8th" in thickness.  It has 235 pages.

The book is printed onto good quality white paper as is standard in hardcover books.  Disappointingly, there are no illustrations or cartoons or photographs (although there is a picture of the author on the back cover).

The book, with a list price of $16.95, is not available from Amazon, and it is unlikely to be found at bookstores, but can be purchased direct from the author's website.  Travel Insider readers get a $1/copy discount and receive personally autographed copies of the book - send them an email to arrange this.

The book has twelve chapters, plus an Appendix and Bibliography.  Chapters cover general subjects such as hotels, air travel, sea travel, trains, and some wider ranging topics such as "This 'n That" which has a miscellany of items.

About the Author

Nadine Godwin has been writing for one of the better travel industry publications, Travel Weekly, for a massive 33 years, part of which was spent working as Editor-in-Chief of the sister publication, Travel Weekly UK.  Before that, she worked at a regular newspaper and for another travel publication, giving her a very impressive total time in the industry.

In 2002 she was recipient of the American Society of Travel Agents' Travel Journalist of the Year Award.

Nadine clearly has the background and industry contacts to research out these mini-facts, and the ability to put it all into an interesting good read.

What the Book Contains

There are 662 different items of travia (travel trivia) in the book.  Some items are a single sentence - for example the interesting factoid that for some time starting from 1964, National Car Rental paid travel agents their commission for booking cars in Green Stamps!

Others span two or more pages, for example, a list of unusual museums (how about the 'Knowing and Playing with Waste' museum in Turin?).

Another lengthy list is of things you might want to try eating, drinking or chewing - including such delicacies as Mopane - an edible (???) caterpillar in southern Africa.  But while the list includes Mopane, it doesn't mention witchetty grubs (they taste like corn), a delicacy from the Australian aborigines.

Or (thank you, reader Fred) how about a tasty dish of live skinned snakes, served in Hanoi?  Surely that is worth a mention?

Some of the items are fairly trivial, although they help to flesh out a subject, and others are things that really make you pause for thought for a minute.  For example, according to the book, since the airlines were deregulated in the US in 1978, roughly (why roughly - why not exactly?) 150 new airlines started business.  Only one survives today - America West.

However, one would have to wonder about the definition of 'survive' - surely some of the startups have been folded into other airlines - does that qualify as surviving?  And even America West is now operating under the name of US Airways, having bought out US Air when it was in bankruptcy last year.

This is a book one can start reading at the beginning, in the middle, or backwards from the end.  It is a book you can read intermittently over several months, and it is also a book you might find yourself reading solidly through in a few solid sessions.

It is a great book, full of fun facts about things you'd never even stopped to consider before.

Errors and Opinions

It is terribly difficult to fact check a book like this, but Nadine deserves full credit for trying as best she can.

Book producer John Hawks says

EVERY ITEM in the book, from cover to cover, went back to the source involved -- a national tourism office, airline PR officials, other travel guide writers, etc. -- for a final proof.  Nadine literally wrote the book in late 2004 - early 2005 and then spent the rest of the time until we went to press in April 2006 fact-checking the entries.

This is a very commendable effort, and the errors that do exist simply underscore the difficulty in finding definitive sources to provide provenance for such things.

And so while the book is probably largely accurate, I'd hesitate to consider it the final arbiter on the issues it raises.

For example, how does one confirm the validity of the claim that the International Spy Museum in Washington DC is the world's only museum devoted exclusively to espionage?  The author makes this claim on page 162, but speaking as one who has visited the KGB Museum in Moscow, I can assure her she is incorrect.

As a New Zealander, I'm pleased to see my home country feature prominently in the book - almost more prominently than I'd have expected, but I'm not entirely sure I agree with the author when she claims the tradition of rubbing noses as a greeting by NZ's native race, the maoris, is something only done by males not females (see page 99).  I've done this (it is called a 'hongi') with elderly and very traditional maori ladies, and here's a picture endorsing the practice on the NZ Maori Arts website.

Although New Zealand features prominently in the book, I was disappointed to see the author failed to give fair credit to NZer Richard Pearse for beating the Wright Brothers to be the first person to fly a powered airplane.

Other things don't seem right to me - St Basil's Church on Red Square in Moscow being nine churches in one?  That's the first I've heard of this claim, and I've been both inside and outside it.  There are different rooms inside the one structure, but nine different churches?  No.

In addition to statements of probable fact, there are also lists of things that are more matters of opinion, and not necessarily complete.  For example, the several lists of unusual types of hotel rooms in the hotel section makes no mention of the hotel in the desert opal mining town of Coober Pedy, Australia, where the rooms are underground, and with a bit of thought, one could probably come up with a number of other distinctive and unusual types of hotel rooms.

When one makes a list of unusual or distinctive things, how can one decide what to include and what to exclude, and how can one be sure that one has definitively tracked down every possible candidate for inclusion?

Although she overlooks Coober Pedy's distinctive Desert Cave Hotel, she does mention - but not in the hotel section - a similar underground motel in a different part of Australia.

These comments aren't intended as searing criticism, but rather should indicate to you that the book's contents are 'persuasive but not conclusive' and 'extensive but not exhaustive'.

Summary

This is a good book for light entertainment.  It lacks the authority of - well, it is hard to know what an absolutely conclusive source of similar information may be, but for an interesting read, it is a great choice.

I particularly like that it can be read in small parts, as and when time allows, making it well suited for busy people who don't have the time to read a book from cover to cover.

The book is currently only for sale through their website and lists for $16.95.  The publishers have kindly extended a special offer to Travel Insider readers - email to them and they'll arrange for a $1 a copy discount off the book plus send you a personally autographed copy by the author.

Recommended.
 

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Originally published 16 Jun 2006, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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