Travel is a serious business, but for our
lighter moments it abounds with quirky facts and odd statistics,
more than enough trivia to fill a book.
Travel Weekly editor at large, has written such a book, Travia: The Ultimate
Book of Travel Trivia.
Published in April
by AFS Press in Lexington, Ky., it is believed to be the first book
devoted exclusively to travel trivia. Its dozen chapters explore
all manner of forgotten, forgettable and fun facts from all modes
of travel and geography.
Did you know that
the Michelin guides, the work of French tire-makers Andre and
Edouard Michelin, were given away free for their first 20 years?
Its true, and the two decades, by the way, were from 1900 to
You can be sure,
because Godwin checked every fact in the book, from the New Zealand
hill with the worlds longest place name (92 letters), to the
southernmost town in the world (Ushuaia, Argentina), to the towns
with the most taxicabs (Mexico City) and the fewest people (oddly,
there were 15 cities in the 2000 U.S. census with populations of
About the hardest
fact to verify, Godwin recalled, was tracking down the origin of
the hotel minibar. It took me ages and ages, she said.
The book credits
the Four Seasons in Washington with installing the first modern
minibar in the U.S. in 1978.
In Europe, however,
minibars had already been around for more than a decade.
electronic key card debuted in 1983.
There are 31,850
golf courses in the world.
credited with opening the first airline kitchen for in-flight
meals, in 1936.
Barbados is the
only other country in the world that can boast that George
Washington slept here, and the house where he stayed on his only
overseas trip is being renovated as a tourist attraction.
At 555 feet, the
Washington Monument was the tallest man-made structure in the world
when it was completed in 1884. It held that distinction for five
years until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.
At 984 feet, the Eiffel Tower held the
distinction for 41 years until the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet)
was completed in 1930. Alas, the Empire State Building (1,250 feet)
took the prize a year later.
When asked how this
improbable project got started, Godwin recalled that the idea
originated with former ARTA president John Hawks, who was looking
for some new titles for a venture in book promotion.
Hawks came up with
the idea of a book on travel trivia and asked Godwin to come up
with a few samples.
I wrote a few
samples, she said, but I never stopped. It was fun.
Among her favorite
discoveries is that while Charles Lindbergh is credited for making
the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he was actually the 68th
man to fly nonstop across the ocean. Even a cat did it before
Lindbergh -- twice.
Another was the
discovery that the ubiquitous chocolate on the hotel pillow
originated around 1950 at the Mayfair Hotel (now the Roberts
Mayfair) in St. Louis, and can be traced to Cary Grant.
Evidently wooing a
woman traveling companion, the film star created a trail of
chocolates from the parlor of his suite into the bedroom,
culminating with a note on the pillow.
Travia, The story, told by the housekeeper, inspired the manager to
place chocolates and good-night wishes on guest pillows.
(And thanks to Cary
Grant, by the way, Carnival Cruise Lines now doles out 16.5 million
pieces of chocolate a year.)
Godwin said she
also got a lot of laughs compiling lists of wacky festivals,
competitions and museum displays such as Houstons National Museum
of Funeral History, the annual Roadkill Cook-Off in Marlinton, W.
Va., and the Texas Fire Ant Festival.
The problem with
trivia, however, is that its practically infinite, and its always
has stumbled upon new bits of travia since the book came out, such
as a recent tip that a hotel in Germany bases its room rate, in
part, on the weight of the traveler.
Thats one I want to
check out, she said.
Included in the
book is a disturbing bit of etymology that traces the word travel
to a Latin root for torture or torment. In Old French it gave rise
to travaillier, meaning to become tired or worn out.
By the 14th
century, travaillier had given rise to the English cousins, travel
and travail. Ouch.
And heres a final
bit of trivia thats not in the book: The title is a blending of the
words travel and trivia, but who came up with that idea? Not the
author. Godwin says the word was actually invented by the books
illustrator, Liam Roberts.
The book retails
for $16.95 plus shipping. Excerpts and ordering instructions are at
www.traveltriviabook.com. -- Bill