Patricia Schultz on how '1,000 Places To See Before You Die' created the 'bucket list' genre. And how she squeezed 200 new places into the new edition
When Patricia Shultz unleashed 1,000 Places To See Before You Die on the world back in 2003 the CEO of Barnes & Noble said it would never sell. Three million copies later – and a whole raft of imitators in its wake – a new edition has been released. She talks to Peter Moore about writing and researching a book that changes people's lives.
What gave you the idea to put this book together?
I had been writing travel guides since 1985. It was frustrating because I was locked into particular destinations for these guides, Europe and a little bit of South-East Asia. Ultimately what I wanted to do was something much more far-reaching and much more global.
In 1995 I happened upon this wonderful publisher, Workman, who proved to be the practical and logical home for a book of this nature. They were very supportive and really gave me carte-blanche to do a book like this – all across the board, from the very well-known to the almost unheard of, the extravagant to the quirky.
Was it an intimidating book to write?
When Workman gave me the contract and told me to just go for it, I thought: “This is really cool!’ Then I went home and cried. I thought: ‘How will I ever put a book together of this breadth?’ But I did. It took eight years. It was a very organic, forever morphing, concept of a book.
I imagine it seemed like a never-ending project.
That's why I was very excited to come back and do it as a revision. I now understood a book of this nature. I could correct all of the shortcomings, the imbalances and what I didn’t quite get right the first time.
Plus I’ve travelled so much since the first book came out in 2003. The world has changed. I have changed. With the makeover it got this time around, the book is much more representative of what I would like it to be.
Have you visited all the places featured in the book?
No. I would need to be about 300 years old to answer yes to that question. But I am doing my best. I think I’ve probably been to 75-80%.
When you were offered the first contract to write this book did you stop travelling to put it together or did you realise you needed to visit a few more places to fill it out a bit?
The latter. And not just a few more places! It was like, now I have to go and revisit everything that I’ve ever seen to make sure it’s as wonderful as I recall it being as well as see the rest of the world to fill the book with the very, very, very best.
In the end I didn't re-visit the places I already knew. I vetted them and researched them, picking colleagues' brains to make sure that these places were as wonderful as I remembered them to be.
I spent most of my time going to the places I hadn’t yet visited that had been on my bucket list, which I just kind of knew belonged in the book.
The 20% I haven’t been to were places I knew just had to be in the book. I haven’t been to Antarctica, I haven’t been to Mongolia. But they had to make the list.
Have you ever heard from anyone who said ‘I’ve ticked off the 1,000’?
Oh no! In fact I get a lot of very anxious people who worry ‘I’ve only seen 236’ and I think ‘Wow! That’s 200 more than the average person.’
It’s funny though. People do count. A lot of them appreciate that someone was crazy enough to spend eight years of their life compiling a list like this, all the homework and research, giving them a foundation, a base for them to begin.
Of course, you don’t have to tick off the 1,000. There's a supplementary App that offers thematic lists as well.
We had thematic lists in the index of the original and I found them to be hugely useful to make the book even more user-friendly. Sometimes geographic organisation doesn’t work for you. If you want to go to Cambodia, if you want to go to Namibia, it’s easy enough to find that. But how about if your husband is a golfing fanatic and for his 40th you want to create some kind of ultimate golfing odyssey? Where do you even start, other than Ireland or Scotland? Where do you even start?
The thematic categories were wonderful. But actually it didn’t make it into this edition because we were over our page count and those seemingly innocent indexes accounted for 30 or 40 pages. So that’s why we put them on the App and also on the website. Hopefully that keeps the book useable, as a resource, for browsing as an armchair traveller, or just opening at random.
What has been the reaction to the book?
In a word: unbelievable! People have travelled for hours just to hear me speak or wait around afterwards to tell me how the book has revolutionised the way they travel, how it has inspired them to finally get off the couch after 45 years.
One man came to see me at a travel show in New York and he had a forest of coloured tabs in the book, in four different colours. One colour was places he had been to, one colour was places his wife had been before they got married, another colour for places they’d been to together and finally a colour for places they hoped to take their children.
He was an accountant and organised to an almost scary degree. But he had it all mapped out and it gave him enormous pleasure to account for these different places, to be able to tick off the places he had been and to feel like he had been making progress towards an end goal. And the end goal in his life was to see as many of the world’s wonders, rather than wake up when he was 90 to discover life had passed him by.
Did you set out to get people off the couch or has that just been an organic result of the book?
I think that ever since I’ve been writing guidebooks and having my foot in the door of the travel literature world it has been a goal. For America, in particular. The statistic that always stunned me was that only 30% of Americans have passports. It doesn’t mean they don’t travel. Their own country is just so massive. You could travel a lifetime and not see it all.
Ideally, though, what you want to do, is travel beyond your borders, to strike off and see what the rest of the world is about. So, whatever I wrote about for the past couple of decades, was with that intention. To make people aware.
Not just Americans. The last time I was in the UK I met a British woman who said: ‘I always thought America was about the golden triangle of New York, San Francisco and Disney World.’
I hate to use the word, educate, so I hope the book inspires people to open up their horizons, to explore and to increase their understanding of the world.
How did you choose which countries to leave out?
In many ways, I went with what I knew. So, can we go to North Korea? Yes. Can we go to Iraq and Afghanistan? Probably yes, but I’ve never been. There’s just too much of the world that is welcoming. You may not think Iran is welcoming until you get there and you’re blown away by the level of graciousness.
Having said that, I did not include many edgy, available-to-us-but-just-barely kind of places. I did a number of places in Myanmar, a country that had been written off and boycotted. Even Cuba, for Americans, is opening finally.
You kicked off the whole ‘bucket list’ genre with this book. How does that feel?
Isn’t that funny? I’m very thrilled. Suddenly everything is a number and everything is a list.
Even the expression ‘Before You Die’ has gone into the pop vernacular. Before 2003, there was a lot of resistance to using the word ‘die’ on the title. Today it is thrown around flippantly but at that moment, just after 9/11, America was still reeling.
My publisher was playing golf with the CEO of Barnes & Noble. He told the guy about my book and he said: “Great concept but horrible title. It’ll never sell.” There are currently three million copies in print and it has been translated in to 25 languages!
I’m looking at the new edition, and the cover says there are over 200 new entries. And it’s still called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. What happened to the entries they replaced?
I used very creative math! I kept most of the first edition’s 1,000 entries. But what I did was deconstruct the book and reorganise it, in a very practical manner. There were some places I got a little carried away with in the first edition. Like Italy. Because I lived there five years and know it a little too well. So instead of doing two or three different entries, all of which can be found on the Amalfi Coast, I merged them into one single entry on the Amalfi Coast, instead of one on Positano, one on Ravello, one on Sorrento.
I just had this image of all these distraught tourist boards ringing up and saying: “Why did you cut us from your list?”
But I was intent on opening the book to new places. I’m proud to say that there are 28 new countries in the new edition.
Patricia Shultz's visit to the UK was sponsored by Trafalgar Tours. Trafalgar offer tours to over 400 of the places listed in Patricia's book and pride themselves on giving the customers a deeper understanding of the places they visit. For more details, visit their website.
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