I’ve been sensing a few grudges and a lot of ill-will towards travel guidebooks coming from the self-appointed ‘travelling elite’ such as professional travel bloggers and ex-pat tour guides who are basically guidebook writers themselves who would be desperate to get a fraction of the success of Lonely Planet.
Bloggers will profess – or boast – how they travel without guidebooks and never read them, preferring to speak to locals for a more authentic experience, or do their research online for advice and information. Quotes like ‘I don’t read Lonely Planet’ and ‘I never travel with a guidebook’ are proclaimed on home pages as if it’s a badge of honour.
While much of the advice in guidebooks will be fairly simple and can quickly become outdated, one thing worth remembering is that it’s a ‘guidebook,’ not a ‘rulebook.’ There are ‘suggested’ itineraries and some options of places to stay with conveniently placed maps to assist with orientation. The brief histories of each country give an insight into how the place you’re visiting became the way it is and of the people you will likely encounter.
By doing your research online you’re still using a travel information resource, but instead of doing it on buses or at airports when there is a lot of time to kill you’re spending your time searching for internet cafés or being unsocial in hostels and wasting time using the free wi-fi when there’s a whole new city on your doorstep. I’d rather stop briefly to consult a book than look like an idiot walking around with my smartphone in the air searching for a signal.
There’s nothing admirable or impressive about travelling without a guidebook, you’re just getting your information from a different source while saving a fraction of weight in your luggage. You can still talk to locals if you’re travelling with a guidebook, you might even have more to talk about because it may throw up a few questions.
I’ve tried both. I know that driving a van around Europe without a guidebook I didn’t realise how close I was to Andorra as I went by, nor did I know that with just a short detour in Italy I could have swung by the Leaning Tower of Piza. Subsequently I missed these places. Without a guidebook in the USA I was too stupid to know that the Anaheim Street Station in downtown Los Angeles was not the same as the city of Anaheim, and subsequently NHL tickets went to waste.
Conversely, travelling with a guidebook in Central and South America I was aware of hidden treasures like San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and the Corn Islands of Nicaragua, places that may have been overlooked as no other travellers I had met ever mentioned them, and I couldn’t speak the language well enough to gather this information from the locals.
Finally, after far too long, I’m off again soon on a trip through Southeast Asia. I’ve considered going with just my wits and curiosity and relying on the support of strangers for directions and information. But instead, I’m going to risk the condescension of any professional holiday-makers I might encounter, and endure the minimal weight of my 2008 Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring, complete with scribbled notes and the wear and tear of previous journeys. I assume a lot of the information will be out of date, but that’s an issue I’ll deal with at the time.