Let’s Go began as a pamphlet put together by an enterprising Harvard sophomore named Oliver Koppell. Koppell’s father Henry was the head of YTC Universal, a New York City travel agency. He helped his son organize charter flights to Europe on the Harvard campus. Koppell did business through Harvard Student Agencies (HSA), an independent student corporation established in 1957 as a forum for entrepreneurial ventures at Harvard.
Let's Go, initially a pamphlet by Oliver Koppell, a Harvard sophomore, originated from his father's connections to YTC Universal, a travel agency. With the support of Harvard Student Agencies (HSA), Koppell organized charter flights and compiled a 1960 European Guide filled with travel information and advertisements. The guide, distributed to customers, served as both a useful tool and a platform for Koppell's ambition to assist travelers and create job opportunities for young Harvard students. Recognizing its potential, Koppell convinced HSA to publish a student guide to Europe, which his father suggested naming "Let's Go."
The first bound edition of Let's Go, titled "Let's Go: The Student Guide to Europe," was created by a team led by John Marlin in December 1960 and released in spring 1961. Marlin, with his extensive travel experience and notes from his solo trip across Europe during the summer of 1959, collaborated with Lois Dean and Gordon Milde to produce a 64-page book covering multiple European countries. Marlin extensively researched over 20 European countries, wrote over 300 pages, and earned $200 and the copyright for his work. Oliver Koppell consolidated Marlin's efforts and managed the printing and sale of approximately 1200-6500 copies of the guide. This inaugural edition set the irreverent and opinionated tone that Let's Go became known for, providing practical budget travel tips alongside witty content.
James Posner, joining Harvard in 1961, later took over the project and continued the series, despite a disappointing second edition prepared by the Harvard Lampoon crew. Posner made a bold decision to print at least 5000 copies of the 124-page book, envisioning national distribution and achieving modest success in the first year.
Let's Go was designed to be a highly practical and utilitarian travel guide. James Posner and Oliver Koppell, with Koppell now serving as HSA President, aimed to create a comprehensive compendium that could easily be carried by travelers. They envisioned a guide that would fit comfortably in a pocket, both in terms of size and durability, and sought a cover and paper that wouldn't deteriorate from sweat. To achieve a unique and unconventional look, Posner enlisted artist Richard Copaken to provide witty and irreverent illustrations throughout the 1962 guide, as well as design a cover featuring two youngsters embarking on a European journey in a hot-air balloon, which became the guide's logo until 1969.
Let's Go had operated from the HSA offices at 4 Holyoke St. in Cambridge until the 1964 series, when the business secured its own space at 993A Massachusetts Ave. The ambitious team decided to double the print run to 20,000 copies, recognizing the commercial potential of the guide. This marked a shift in concept, as Let's Go transformed into a substantial book, transitioning from back pocket to backpack size. For the 1964 edition, another student couple and seven editorial assistants traveled across Europe during the summer of 1963 to provide updated content. The book underwent editorial refinement and was completed in December, priced at $1.95.
The 1966 edition of Let's Go, compiled during Andrew Tobias's first summer, showcased 260 pages of travel coolness, introducing new sections on "How to Buy Art in Europe" and "Hitchhiking in Europe." To promote the 50,000 copies available by Christmas, Tobias appeared on the Today show and received extensive media coverage from magazines and newspapers such as Newsweek, Esquire, and The New York Times. Let's Go experienced a surge in sales, leading HSA to install WATS lines for orders and hire students for a direct-call bookstore campaign. The guide's popularity grew rapidly, cementing its reputation as a shorter, hipper, and refreshing travel companion.
The hard work of 70 editors and salespeople resulted in the outstanding 1967 edition of Let's Go, which was even pirated and sold in Taipei, Taiwan. The guide included diverse content, such as English pubs, skiing in the French Alps, and translations of useful phrases in Italian, French, and Spanish. Despite initial financial losses, the combination of aggressive marketing, publicity, and strong dollar value led to success as more Americans traveled abroad. Building on this momentum, Let's Go announced plans for sequels, and in December 1967, Let's Go II: The Student Guide to Adventure was released, expanding its scope to cover destinations worldwide and featuring tales of adventure and practical travel advice.
By the 1968 series, print runs of Let’s Go: Europe had reached 65,000. That edition was assembled by 20 traveling editors and catered specifically to female travelers via a new section entitled, “The Traveling Girl.” At this time, Let’s Go was still self-published. Tobias and his comrades arranged the typesetting and printing and coordinated sales and shipping entirely on their own.
In the 1969 series, Let's Go released "Let's Go: The Student Guide to America," featuring diverse American destinations and experiences. The guide covered topics such as driving the Alaskan Highway, the Great Bike Trek, climbing Mt. Whitney, surfing in Hawaii, and exploring the psychedelic scene in Haight-Ashbury. However, the USA-focused guide was not repeated the following year. Meanwhile, the student workforce at HSA's Publishing agency expanded for the 10th-anniversary edition of Let's Go: Europe, emphasizing its role as a travel guide rather than a sociopolitical tract.