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Voltaire Brown’s Don’t Travel Europe


Was Voltiare always an idiot or was he just ahead of his time?

“For decades, people have sought the ideal guide for traveling through Europe, a guide that was witty, entertaining, informative, and packed with crude jokes you could tell your cousins. It was our objective to capture the spirit, the philosophy — and, yes — the social decadence of Europe, as well as come up with some damn good jokes you could tell at a party. Welcome to the first and last edition of Voltaire Brown’s Don’t Travel Europe.” Voltaire Brown

Driving around Delaware with a college friend in 1990, we started making jokes about a guidebook through Europe that would lead men to Europe’s finest hookers.  A possible title could have been Let’s Do Europe, a spoof on Harvard Student Services Let’s Go guides.   By the mid-1990’s, the Lonely Planet guides had become omnipresent on the travel circuit, even if travel hadn’t yet become democratized and sanitized like it’s become post 2000, to the point where elderly people with Alzheimer’s can be seen touring the theme park Vietnam has become. Lonely Planet guides are always politically correct, and the view of every country they write a travel book on is a positive one.   Let’s be honest.  Not every country in the world is worth traveling to, is it?

So I adopted an alter-ego of Voltaire Brown, a name created from the juxtaposition of the brilliant French enlightenment philosopher and one of the most common English surnames in existence.  Voltaire was meant to be a run-of-the-mill everyday (and unsuccessful) travel philosopher.  My Voltaire would take the opposite stance of the p.c. Lonely Planet scribes.   Voltaire’s philosophy was that Europe was full of snooty cultural supremacists.  You were better off as a traveler saving your money and spending it on all-you-could-eat Chinese buffets in your own country.

I started writing the book in April of 1994.  Three months later, I embarked on my 3-yr odyssey through Asia and Africa.  I didn’t get back to the United States until 1997.  I diligently continued with the book after I moved out to California, thinking I could use the satirical chapters as a calling card in Hollywood.  But alas, scatalogical and goofball humor was coming into vogue by the late 1990’s and wit was out.  The pages on which Voltaire was printed were used to mop up the coffee stains on the desks of Hollywood agents.  The American Pie actors, Adam Sandler, and Jim Carrey went onto become millionaires, as Voltaire Brown got dumped into a paper shredder.

Publishers shunned it and potential agents had much better things to do, like try to line up mediocre talent Andrew Dice-Clay with a TV series.  The book got read and appreciated by too few and sat in digital format on my server for over a decade until I figured it might get a second chance and the respect it deserved via Doug’s Republic.

Had the internet existed in the mid-1990’s, Voltaire could have avoided the publishing route entirely and gone straight to the masses via his own blog and forums.  That sort of community internet didn’t really come into existence until the early 2000’s.  Now there are plenty of other sites around mocking travel.  Does that mean Voltaire Brown was ahead of his time?

The original intention was to write this book mocking Europe, and if well received, pen another book mocking Asia.  Asia, the largest continent on earth, is full of different cultures, and there’s a lot to satirize.   Considering Voltaire never struck a chord, the Asian masses were speared his rapier wit.

This book was authored before European currency integration.  There was talk in the air about a unified European currency in those days, but the currency was still five years away from supplanting national currencies and eight from becoming the sole legal tender.  From the time I finished the book until 2010, twelve more countries have joined the European Union, most of which Voltaire writes about but not from a European Union point-of-view.  The world continues to grow smaller and more standardized, and Europe continues to grow more pretentious.

One advantage of writing a guide book like this one, Voltaire points out, is that it never becomes dated.  “Our guidebook can’t be considered inaccurate if none of our readers travels to Europe,” he wrote.   If any of you reading these chapters takes great offense with the words, then Voltaire did his job too well.

[To read the brilliant book, click the picture of the European Union flag with sexy Voltaire in the center]

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