The summer vacation season in the United States is underway. A lot of American travelers may be setting off with a renewed sense of purpose this year, thanks to a best-selling book with a lofty goal. Patricia Schultz is the author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which profiles a lifetime's worth of travel destinations around the world: everything from the Great Wall of China to a hot air balloon safari in Kenya to a drive-in hot dog restaurant in Chicago. The book has been a U.S. best seller since it was first released by Workman Publishing Company in 2003, and with publication rights sold in some 20 other countries, it is also climbing best seller lists elsewhere in the world.

Patricia Schultz says her book grew out of her life-long passion for travel. She created a few hours of panic as a four year old, when she wandered away from a family beach vacation, and she has been roaming the world ever since. But if 1,000 Places to See Before You Die began as a labor of love, even the author was not prepared for the publishing sensation it would become. "In honesty, in the beginning if I sold a couple hundred copies I would have been elated," the author says. "That we would have two million buying this book to anxiously see where they should go next, that has amazed me."

But Schultz adds that those sales figures suggest just how many people share her urge to get out and explore the world. "The very concept of travel I think is timeless, ageless. One of the most beautiful quotes I use now and then is from St. Augustine, and it was over a thousand years ago, and he said, 'Life is like a book, and he or she who does not travel reads just one page.'"

The author's thousand place list grew out of her work as a writer of travel guides, a job that left her with an ever expanding list of places she had visited over the years. "As a travel writer, people are always coming to me and saying, 'I'm going here, what should I see?' Or 'We're thinking of going to Southeast Asia, but what country, or in that country, what city, and in that city, what sites?' So I was always bombarded, and I always had all these answers, and now they're in this book. I did all the homework."

It took Schultz seven years to research and write her book. She estimates she visited about 80 percent of the sites she describes, but she also read other travel books, talked with tourism boards, and interviewed as many fellow travelers as she could find. She made her selections based on whether they evoke some sense of what she calls "the world's magic, integrity, wonder and legacy." India's Taj Mahal made the list; so, too, did the covered bazaars of Aleppo, Syria; the Moscow subway system; and whale watching on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

Despite the wide reach of her list, Schultz suggests it also shows that a good trip does not have to be exotic or expensive. "There are a lot of places around the world, places you've never heard of, but there are just as many that are here in our back yards or that are doable. You don't need to break the bank, and you don't need a month to do it."

Susan Bolotin, who is Editor-in-chief of Workman Publishing Company, cites a range of other reasons for the book's ongoing popularity. "I think it's the scope, and the really daring title, which is to acknowledge that we do all die someday, but there is a lot of stuff you want to get in before that happens. And if you are already a traveler, and if you are someone who likes to keep track of things, there is this pleasure in this feel of interactivity."

Bolotin suggests readers are also responding to the fact that the book is so well written. "Rather than being just a travel guide, this is really a travel book, so you can take it in your own armchair and enjoy reading about places you know you may never get to."

While Patricia Schultz and her editors worked together to make sure the entries reflected a balanced view of the world's great travel destinations, there has been inevitable reader disagreement about the choices. Harder to argue with, however, are the author's assertions that visitors should never forget they are guests in another place--and that travel is not just what they see, but how they see it.

"I think you need to go with a real sense of curiosity and with certain expectations, or you wouldn't be making the trip happen in the first place, but leaving your mind open to serendipity, because it's the best tour guide in the end of it all." Schultz says. "You don't want to be too rigid and restricted in these packaged tours where every moment is accounted for. You want to get out there and wander and not just physically, but to leave yourself open to different experiences, which often times are the ones that stay with you for life."

As for her own most memorable experiences while researching the book, Patricia Schultz says she had a thousand of them. "I can remember in Italy the fellow who took a day off from work just so I could see Tuscany as he knew it to be. I remember we got lost once outside of Malaga in the countryside of southern Spain, and--were we crazy to get in some stranger's car? Maybe, but this fellow showed us tapas bars and flamenco singing and 1,000-year-old caves that we never would have known had we not relied upon the kindness of strangers. I got ill once with typhoid in Africa, and it was one of the most positive experiences of my life, once I understood I wasn't going to die."

In the end, says Schultz, it is the people encountered along the way that tend to provide a trip's most lasting memories. "It's all just one magnificent travel experience waiting to happen, and it's the individual traveler I think who will determine how."

1,000 Places to See Before You Die continues to generate new lists. Next year, Workman is planning to publish a guide to a thousand places in the United States and Canada, also by Patricia Schultz. And the original book is inspiring a reality TV program, in which travelers set out to experience first-hand a sampling of those 1,000 landmarks, adventures and scenic wonders.