It used to be the case that you never saw a traveller without a copy of the Lonely Planet guide. But do you still need guide books whilst travelling?
The joke was that if somewhere was in the Lonely Planet guide it probably wasn’t worth going to as it would have been ruined. In my own experience, I remember reading about one of the best restaurants in Manali, India and turning up to find it full of western visitors, all with a copy of LP guide to India next to them.
Not a problem in itself, but the quality was not up to scratch and the staff seemed surly or even resentful of the customers. A trip to the cafe next door yielded better quality food and the normal friendly Indian service with no backpackers.
Perhaps an isolated incident with a business that (admittedly strangely) didn’t want tourist custom, but I have seen various incidences of this; Previously authentic spots that had been over run with tourists and effectively ‘ruined’.
This can be applied to beaches around the world or hippy hangouts which became ‘mainstream’. A sign of the times perhaps, as something becomes more popular more people want to experience it. Now, we don’t need to read in guidebooks to find out about the hot new place to hang out (which in turn means its easier for somewhere to get spoiled).
The argument for and against taking a printed copy of a guide book can go either way.
YES: You Do Still Need A Guide Book
Having a paper copy of a book can be absolutely invaluable. It doesn’t break, the battery doesn’t die and you don’t get screen glare. You’re also unlikely to have someone try and steal your paper guidebook.
Guide books are great preparation for visitors as they provide history, cultural information and at a glance information that you can just flick through at leisure. Some of this stuff you wouldn’t necessarily read unless it was in a book and you could idly read it in the airport, on a bus or in your hotel room etc.
As you don’t have to read them cover to cover it is a great way to read up on particular regions, so you can flick through and find a particular section of interest in a few seconds.
All guidebooks provide decent maps, some to obscure towns that aren’t necessarily on the tourist trail. Having this to hand on arrival in a new town can be great help – plus you don’t need a data or wifi connection to use it!
Although if you are travelling across a region you may need to get a different guide book each time, you can often swap with fellow travellers who are going the other way. Also you’ll usually find abandoned versions of guide books to neighbouring countries in hostels and hotels as you go.
Although books can be bulky, tablets and e-readers are often just as bulky, plus they need chargers and plug adapters to be carried.
NO: You Don’t Need A Guide Book
There is now so much information online, much of it updated regularly, that having a guidebook that was printed a year or two ago is now unnecessary.
There are travel magazines, blogs, forums and feeds for pretty much every country packed full of advice about where to go, when and whats going on there. You can read up as much or as little as you want on a subject or region – plus you can cross reference information easily if you need to.
Having access to a map is now as simple as using Google Maps. With the offline mode you can download a map to a particular area and use it whenever and wherever. This means you can see where you are in relation to a particular area and what is around you, much easier than a printed map in a big book.
This also means you can explore areas not covered by books and find things that even the guidebooks don’t mention. Doing your own research you might find that gem of a restaurant or a quiet beach or even a local event or course that isn’t mentioned in a guide book.
If you don’t even want to bring an ebook reader or tablet you can usually pick up a local map and information in a tourist office or information centre.
Even though e-book readers and tablets may be bulky, they’re not as bulky as guidebooks. You’re also likely to be carrying chargers and plug adapters anyway for other devices, plus they can be used for other things like reading novels, browsing the internet and watching films.
What Guides To Buy?
Having a guidebook can be handy still. Arguably the best ones are:
- Time Out, (excellent in depth city guides, usually pretty up to date)
- Rough Guides (good general guides)
- Lonely Planet (the original backpackers bibles – often accused of being over the hill/washed up but still good)
- Footprints Guide (a decent an reasonably in depth alternative)
You can also get ebook versions of these books so you can download them for use on Kindle or Nook etc.
However there are many free or cheap ebook guides available these days, from a variety of authors.
- The Shoestring Traveller: A guide to travelling on a budget around the world (by yours truly) – is obviously a great read! (COMING SOON)
- The Adventure Travelers Handbook, Nellie Huang: tips and stories for adventure travel.
- My Itchy Feet, Donna Hull: Inspiration and tips for adventure travel.
- Travel The World On $50 A Day, Matt Kempnes. The guy who runs the NomadicMatt site provides his tips and advice – also has various city guides via his site.
- The Worlds Cheapest Destinations, Tim Leffel. 21 countries where your money goes furthest – also has a guide to budget travelling.
- Chris Backe provides various guides to cities, mostly in Asia.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list and there are many sites where you can find free or cheap pdf guides to all sorts of places.
Want to let us know about other guide books available online? Comment below… Don’t forget to share!