Hi, my name is Katie and I am a guidebook junkie.
I own enough guidebooks to fill the travel section of an airport bookstore. They sit on a shelf in my closet, meticulously arranged in alphabetical order, starting with a Lonely Planet guide to Africa and ending with a Rough Guide to the USA. Some are for places I have never been and don’t even plan to visit any time soon.
When I am planning a trip, I rarely settle for only one – I like to get a variety of opinions, perspectives and suggestions. Buying a new guidebook brings a rush of excitement for me as I start dreaming of my next trip. When my pre-ordered, brand-new Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia arrived last Wednesday ahead of schedule, it simply made my day. And I have, on occasion, found myself standing in a bookstore, telling myself to step away from the guidebooks. Yes, I may have a problem…
No matter how much people claim that today’s technology will make the traditional guidebook obsolete, I can’t imagine ever going without. I think I have refined the task of reading a guidebook into something of an art. I usually buy a guide not knowing much about the destination – just that something about it has piqued my interest. I start by reading the basics about the history and major attractions. I love visiting places of historical significance or with a good story behind them and I want to get a feel for what the “must see” places are.
Then, I go through city by city, skimming the descriptions of what to see and highlighting the things that jump out to me the most. I follow that by making a list of specific sites to visit or activities to do in each city. This allows me to narrow down which cities I want to visit. On a two-week trip (my max as long as I am gainfully employed), I typically aim for 2-3 cities.
Next, I go back and read about my selected cities in-depth, taking notes on the websites recommended for hotels, guides, transportation and attractions. From there, I set the guidebook aside and hit the internet, visiting recommended websites and doing Google searches for places without a website listed.
Now, you may be wondering why I don’t just go straight to the internet? Can’t I find everything I need there? True, I probably could, but I like the following aspects of guidebooks:
1. The information is consolidated in one, easy-to-read place. If there’s one downside of the internet, it may be that it has too much information. I find sorting through the results of a Google search either overwhelming (if I search generally) or useless (if I search too specifically). With a guidebook, I can simply skim the table of contents and find what I need. And if I do follow up with online research, I have a much better idea of what I am looking for.
2. Guidebooks give me a level of trust. There’s something about a recommendation from a guidebook that just carries more weight for me over an anonymous poster in the Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet forums. Likewise, there are so many websites out there, it can be hard to know which ones are the most reliable and the most up to date, especially when it comes to less traveled destinations.
3. Believe it or not, guidebooks sometimes include information that isn’t easily found on the internet. This is especially true for more off-the-beaten-path destinations where many of the hotels and guides do not have an internet presence yet. Lonely Planet tends to be the best for this, often listing individual guides and homestays that you likely will not find online (at least not easily).
4. I can refer to them along the way. Yes, it isn’t the coolest thing to pull out a guidebook when you are out sightseeing, but I confess I have done so on more than one occasion. Rather than hire a guide at Luxor Temple, I whipped out my Rough Guide and gave a spirited tour to my travel companions. While exploring the Pergamon Museum, I regularly snuck a peak at my DK Eyewitness Top Ten Guide to Berlin to read more about that I was seeing. And when I was stuck in Cologne for an extra day, I led myself on a tour of the 12 Romanesque churches described in my guidebook.
5. They inspire me. Guidebooks often give me unique ideas that I would not easily find on the internet. Most travel and tourist websites focus on the path most taken, while the best guidebooks include some hidden gems. I would never have planned a day trip to Beni Hassan and Tell el Amarna in Middle Egypt had I not read about it in a guidebook. Trier wasn’t on my radar until I read about it in my Frommer’s Germany and now it is one of my favorite places in Germany.
Of course, what it really comes down to is I just like having something tangible in my hands – to highlight, underline, fold corners and flip pages. And I just can’t do that with the internet.