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on January 4, 2008
This is a very funny, insightful, and highly literate book. It's really not just about travel. It's part humor, part polemic, part memoir and it is this variation of narrative that served to hold my interest from start to finish. It's also peopled with some great characters--which gives it a depth that very few travel books have.

Thompson can be savage at times, but his targets in just about every case deserve what he dishes out. For example, The Lonely Planeteers have had it coming for a long time for a level of smugnesss that borders on dementia--and Thompson gives it to 'em good!

The section on hackneyed travel writing was one of my favorite parts ("a bewitching blend of the ancient and modern") and should be mandatory reading not just for travel writers, but for ALL writers-- sort of a humorous "Politics and the English Language" for travel writing.

But it's not just venom. Other parts show a real affection for the people and places that the writer has encountered outside of the disneyfied destinations that disappoint us all.

Highly recommended on any level but especially great for a long plane trip.
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on December 22, 2007
Every once in a long while a razor sharp writer comes along worthy of being added to that short list of smart, hilarious, one-of-a-kinds in the mainly hacked to death travel lit arena. Chuck Thompson is my vote for 2008. Smile When You're Lying is not for the faint-hearted. You probably won't see Thompson on Oprah this year, and if you're looking for a warm, fuzzy, found-myself-in-Bhutan-and-Tuscany holiday read, you're in for a shock. But if you want to laugh your head off while being led behind the iron curtain of travel industry gloss by a guy who's logged his share of dollar-a-word time in junket boot camp - you'd be very wise to read this book. And you'll be even wiser after reading it. Thompson's well-argued manifesto about the pallid fantasy of travel journalism is contrarian but self-deprecating, soap-box free and most importantly very very funny. And supported by his own wildly varied experiences in the field. His whac-a-mole, memoir-style route around the globe (Alaska, Philippines, some hellhole in Germany etc.) is filled with savvy insights you won't find in a library of Lonely Planets (which get their due here too). A wildly refreshing read from a seasoned traveler with the cojones to compare teaching English in Japan to making panda babies (just read the book and you'll get it) and opining that all the Caribbean really needs is a fresh coat of paint and ten years without tourists. Highly recommended.
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on December 15, 2007
Excerpts from a review I posted on my site, [...]

After years of writing sugarcoated articles about his travels, Chuck Thompson is rebelling against travel's airbrushed image with Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer. His confessions include brutally honest opinions of the travel industry, tourists, and expats, all wrapped up in a reality that you won't find in glossy travel magazines.

An easy read that will keep you entertained even as it makes you think, Smile When You're Lying is a good book for anyone who likes to travel and doesn't get put off by some colorful language or explicit stories. If some of his rants get too negative or cynical, he does a good job of balancing them out with humorous stories. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "... a Zen-like acceptance of travel as a highly unpredictable animal is the most effective way of approaching it." The same could be said of this book.
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on December 28, 2010
Gearing up for a business trip this was my selection that I thought would be a light, humorous, read along the lines of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" for the travel world. At first, I thought I had got it right but the book quickly sputters, fizzles, and nosedives into flaming wreckage. It's almost hard to decide where to start this review, there were a few laughs up front and then it degenerates into a self-deprecating mess at times and a self-aggrandizing mess at others, then it derails into some lengthy discourses on the Philippines that manage to go nowhere. The anecdotes slowly begin to have less in the way of endings or points at all and it becomes almost painful to finish.

I love to travel and I love to travel far off the beaten path, I don't reach for glossy travel/ad magazines because none of the places I go or stay would ever be in one. I thought the author was going to have similar tastes, and I think he *thinks* he does, but he doesn't. He thinks all travel writers are shills or idiots and he is the only one to set them all straight but instead he gives a masterclass in failure. I think he is actually so used to lying and the game of being a travel writer that he truly doesn't know how to actually travel.

It ends up a mish-mash of a couple funny tales, a long detour into his ESL days in Japan that aren't very interesting or noteworthy, a longer detour into his failed foray in a travel magazine which is less interesting, and then a hobbled together "ending" of lame high school stories and poorly told anecdotes with a touch of poorly told history tossed in for good measure. He manages to make a story of almost being raped by a machete-wielding local so boring I was hoping for a bad outcome.

Skip this and read "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" by Troost. You'll thank me.
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on January 11, 2008
Chuck Thompson pours salt in the eyes of the Lonely Planet guide mega-corporation. A company started on the backs of rogue travelers but has turned into a mega-behemoth galactic empire of leave no stone-unturned travel books. It's not hard to poke fun at giants. Chuck Thompson points out that these guys are self-riotous when they review countries. He is quick to point out their stance on responsible traveling. Lonely Planet is for it and Chuck Thompson calls it preachy. But Lonely Planet is just bringing up a valid point. I've often cringed and rolled my eyes at some lonely planet reviews but I usually find they are like-minded. The books are well researched and have decent human ethics behind their writing. Responsible traveling means respecting local cultures and not acting like a freaking uneducated moron thinking you own the world because you're a rich westerner. Lonely Planet caters towards travelers who think they are living in the 1960's hitchhiking their rucksacks across the old spice trail which would take travelers through several Middle Eastern countries where you might get blown up by the US military (by mistake of course because a bearded traveler looks suspicious). In reality people check into boutique travel hostels and spend their time soaking up the cultural curiosities of local beers, souvenirs shops and the occasional guided tour. Chuck Thompson spends most of his book trashing these types of people and the travel writers who entice the tourist hordes irresponsibility. Yet he seems to find fault in Lonely Planet for warning against boorish behaviour. His argument goes that nobody should preach to anybody else. Which is a fair point. However Chuck Thompson has his share of opinions and preachy soapbox rants. He hates the Caribbean, thinks travel writers are only out to get a free lunch and a room in fancy resorts and thinks big oil has ruined his home state, Alaska. I may or may not agree with some or all of these points. I'm just pointing out the hypocrisy of this book and I'm pretty sure Chuck Thompson admits it though. But on the whole the book is extremely readable and funny as hell. It's a book, mostly, about his life. Not that anybody cares or has ever heard of Chuck Thompson but he writes a damn good story. Even when he's talking about his childhood and early life as if he's a big shot Hollywood celebrity he spins a good yarn. The characters (presumably are real people) are interesting and entertaining. You wish your friends were that interesting. I recommend the book but don't believe the back cover. It's not an expose on the travel industry. It doesn't come close to being that intelligent. It's just a travel writer who has many opinions - which include the obvious fact that someone has to pay for the trips travel writers go on. Usually the hotel foots the bill. It saves the magazine money. Of course, logically, the hotel won't pay for someone to spend a night only to write a poor review. If you like personal rants from a guy whose job description takes him to weird and exotic places, you'll enjoy this book.
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on June 15, 2011
This book was marketed as a funny, truthful journey through the eyes of a seasoned travel writer. It is more of a personal rant--a vendetta against the travel industry in general, and especially those mega-corporations who sponsor travel writers on luxury trips to the Caribbean, in hopes of that writer giving them an excellent review. The author spends an increasing amount of time lashing out against the established-well known travel corporations; in fact, it becomes monotinous. I found this book neither entertaining or funny, just angry. The author, however, is truthful as far as I can tell, and gives a lot of information about the travel industry.
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VINE VOICEon September 17, 2008
How can you pass up a book that promises ". . . a hilarious behind-the-brochures tour of picture-perfect locales, dangerous destinations, and overrated hellholes from a guy who knows the truth about travel?" After reading the cover, and some of the quick reviews on the back of the book, I decided that it was time to read some stories that travel editors refused to run from a prolific travel writer.

Contents: Introduction: You Deserve Better; "Welcome to Thailand, Ulysses S. Grant!"; Baked Alaska: How Drugs, Tourism, and Petroleum Tamed the Last Frontier; Canned Hams, Kendo Beatdowns, and the Penis Olympics: The Education of an Accidental Ambassador in Japan; Lost Among Expats: The Shiftless, Debauched, Tedious, and Necessary Existence of Americans Abroad; Why Latin America Isn't the World's Number One Tourist Destination and Probably Never Will Be; Am I the Only One Who Can't Stand the Caribbean?; What Lazy Writers, Lonely Planet, and Your Favorite Travel Magazine Don't Want You to Know; The Curse of Chinatown: And Other Updated Wisdom for the Modern Traveler; Boys Gone WIld: How the Philippines Became the Friendliest Country in the World Despite/Because of the U.S. Military; Is It OK to Miss the Cold War? The Philosophical Dilemma of Eastern Europe; Not-So-Ugly Americans and the Road of Good Intentions; Acknowledgements

Chuck Thompson, author of Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, has found a place for the stories and anecdotes that his editors refused to run. And we all benefit. Starting with a story about being broke and alone (after beginning the adventure with four Thai college girls) on a small Thai island and ending with a look at American stereotypes abroad, Thompson provides the reader with an inside look at travel writing, tells you why travel reviews all seem to be the same, and a complete skewering of Lonely Planet. It is the latter, and those that worship those books, that take the brunt of his criticism. And provide quite a few laughs. Whether he is smuggling Russian flags, flashing back to his school days in Alaska, or providing his unvarnished view of the Caribbean, he uses his uncensored travel-writer opinion to provide you with a perspective that you rarely see. For example, when you get to the chapter on the Caribbean, he writes:

". . . I find myself wondering why anyone-much less the 35 million people who go to the Caribbean each year-would blow presumably limited vacation days and budgets on a place where the definition of "paradise" is fluid enough to include sullen service, neglected hotels, and restaurants where waiting forty-five minutes for a small mango juice is considered an immense honor."

Thought provoking comments like that are found throughout the book.

For the most part, Thompson delivers on the promise of ". . . a fierce and frank skewering of the travel business and media." Throughout the book, he lays waste to most of the business of travel writing. He provides a unblinking eye at many popular travel destinations and how editors, in bed with resort and hotel operators, manufacture the reviews that you read. Further, he adds frank anecdotes, some extremely embarrassing, to provide the reader with "color" not found anywhere else. But I was expecting more. Especially after reading the mini-reviews on the front and back covers. Don't get me wrong, this is a good book when he turns his focus on the business of travel and the travel media, but it was lacking . . . any sort of pleasant reviews (whether that is a destination or anecdote). For the most part, this is a dark book. As a travel veteran, I would have guessed that he would have found a couple of good destinations, but, other than the Philippines, I don't think that they exist for him. Either that or he is so jaded, he is unable to recognize them.
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on December 17, 2007
If it was only an expose on the workings of the travel guide industry--you'll never look at LONELY PLANET the same way--it would be a great read, but Chuck Thompson also writes about his own extensive globetrotting with affection (this is a man who genuinely loves to experience other cultures) and anger (except when they rob him and steal all his money), meaning as a bonus you get an example of what a travel guide truly SHOULD be.

Buy it and discover there's more to life than FROMMER'S.
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on May 25, 2016
I have to confess: I didn’t have very high hopes for this book. I picked up Chuck Thompson’s "Smile When You’re Lying" on the advice of a friend, but as I read the back cover, my suspicions grew that I knew what was going on here. The book says Thompson, a travel writer for over a decade, had finally tired of the exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies that plague most travel writing (much of it all but paid for by the very destinations it’s meant to promote), and he was ready to pull back the proverbial curtain and tell us the whole truth. That meant, I assumed, one more burned-out misanthrope who was sick of arriving at his destination only to discover that it wasn’t the rosy past anymore, yet another screed condemning the spread of McDonald’s and Starbucks.

So I was surprised, when I finally sat down and opened the actual book, to discover that Thompson wasn’t about any of that (well, okay, most of it). He does roundly thump the travel industry for broad-brushing and distorting, for making every location a pastiche of clichés about old meeting new and “delicious scenery.” But what he wants to communicate to readers is that travel is more, not less, than what it’s made out to be. With all its ragged edges, its disappointed expectations, missed flights, and even boredom, really going to another place and trying to discover what is human there pushes us, stretches us, and brings us home different than when we left.

Thompson substantiates his views with a litany of anecdotes from his own time as a professional vagabond, from his misadventures on a lonely Thai island to his discovery that South America is not as deadly as is widely believed. Thompson is opinionated and can be critical, but, most refreshingly, he isn’t cynical or despairing. He hasn’t spent all these years traveling without finding something to keep him going, and that—not his distaste with the state of the industry—is the real take-away here. Thompson’s wit and candor, not to mention the fact that his stories almost always end with his own humiliation, keep the book from feeling like a simple diatribe. In his best moments, he’s also insightful and articulate, helping to explain something about why we travel and what the good of it all is.

It may be there isn’t much hope for “travel writing” as an industry, but Thompson at least gives readers a valuable chance to gain a new perspective. You may not agree with everything he says, but if you love travel, you should take a peek at Thompson’s book: he might just show you something you’ve been missing.

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on March 9, 2008
Chuck Thompson has helped me to realize why I detest most travel writing despite being a frequent and enthusiastic traveler. I've often tossed an Outside or National Geographic Travel (I don't even bother with Conde Nast) aside in frustration and wondered why the articles seem so unsubstantial and unsatisfying. Thompson is at his best when he provides insight into the travel writing industry or gives travel tips (excepting the gift of chocolates to airline employees--come on!) but the first couple of chapters on Thailand, Alaska, and Japan were trite, unreadable, and uninteresting. Overall the book didn't work for me, mainly because of Thompson's writing style and tone. I couldn't stand how he kept deviating from the subject with his not-so-amusing observations on unrelated topics (he really isn't as funny as he thinks he is). Also, he relied too heavily and too often on sarcasm as a way of making his point.
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