29 May 2014

Yes, I Use a Guidebook

I find it bizarre that it seems that people seem to hate using a guidebooks nowadays. I bump into travelers every now and then, and they are these types who think that using a guidebook when you travel is so below you. So, when they go to a new place, instead of reading about the place they are visiting using guidebooks, they just read blogs, magazines, and Internet websites. I never identified with these people; every time I travel, I do preliminary research way ahead of time and do use guidebooks to do research. So I just find sometimes these people pretentious, and yeah, I do enjoy traveling when I already know what I will see, instead of popping in without knowing a single clue what the city is about.

And then I found this page. This is actually an article written by a guidebook writer, and he makes a good point, that when you see travelers holding a guidebook while traveling, this is actually the time when the guidebook is already on its way to retirement. And I tend to agree. I used my guidebook more when I was still at home, preparing for the trip. When I am traveling, I have already read the guidebook, and I find the preliminary preparation more useful when it comes to a guidebook's usefulness.

I love how this article bashes the people who bash guidebooks. It is correct that magazines are not guidebooks; a travel show is not a guidebook, and a website with user-generated content such as TripAdvisor is also not a guidebook. For me, the most useful aspects of guidebooks is when I am reading it beforehand so that I get an idea what can be seen. Two months ago, we were in Tuscany, and we were there for 17 days. Beforehand, we did our research. We looked at what cities can be visited, and based on that, we planned where to stay, and where to go, and where to just do a daytrip.

So why do I advocate using guidebooks? It's because it actually does the work. As the author says, the guidebook will give you more information in less time. The author compares how much information these resources actually give, even though they tell you that they are "beyond the guidebook". I find it funny and interesting that what people think are off-the-beaten-path destinations are actually listed in a guidebook, even though they claim that the best off-the-beaten-path destination is one that is not located in a guidebook.

So what do I make of this? I think people bash guidebooks because they always have this feeling that using a guidebook makes it feel like they are doing a cookie-cutter vacation. That their travel is not unique, because they are following a template that many others have also followed. But so what? There's 7 billion people in the planet, is that not unique enough? Of course all of our experiences are unique, but yes, there is a chance that we have shared experiences with others. I don't see anything wrong with that.

And yes, I will always use guidebooks. I am not a full-time traveler, and I make good use of my time by using guidebooks. I just find it ironic that there are some travelers who would want to claim that they are well-experienced, and yet when they hit a new city, they don't have a guidebook, and they just show up at the middle of the city expecting something to happen, and yet they don't do research. Tsk tsk tsk.


  1. In Nicaragua, many backpackers made fun of me because I was using - gasp! - paper maps from the Lonely Planet. Anyone else was using their Smartphone's GPS. I don't even have a freaking phone when I'm backpacking!

    Just call me "Queen of the stone age" :-D

    1. Zhu,

      I am the same. I prefer the paper version. It's less attractive to pickpockets, after all, compared to the electronic gadgets that most flashpackers carry nowadays. I remember in Armenia, someone borrowed my paper edition of the LP guidebook because her iPad version was harder to navigate, so it seems!