To Guidebook or Not To Guidebook?

I, Courtney, am a guidebook junkie.

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At Machu Picchu, guidebook in hand.

I can’t remember the last trip I took without a guidebook in my hand. Or the last time I was more than a couple hundred miles from home without a worn-in, dog-eared copy within arms reach of me.

Recently, I read a post from the wonderful Land of Marvels that calls out guidebooks for what they really are. Outdated, cumbersome and unreliable.

I’m not going to argue with her on it. In fact, she hits the nail on the head… but in all the years that I’ve spent lugging around a 300+ page tome (or two!), I’ve only found them more and more invaluable.

Of course, there was the time in Thailand that we showed up in Chiang Mai without a place to stay. And Lonely Planet helped us find quite possibly my favorite hotel ever, the one we modeled our bedroom after at home…

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Or the countless times that we’ve ended up in a cab that has NO clue what we are trying to say and we resort to pulling out the guidebook and pointing at a photo or a map.

I usually never even crack the binding until we actually arrive at our destination. In fact, I would never ever book a hotel ahead of time without reading the reviews on TripAdvisor or Yelp. And by the time we land, it is pretty rare for me not to have a folder with maps, pre-purchased tickets, our basic itinerary and an additional 12 different options based on delays and weather… more than enough ideas to fill twice the length of our trip. I’m just that kind of person.

But perhaps one of the best reasons to have a guidebook is as a last-ditch backup plan. We love to assume we will be able to find wifi in our travels. Generally speaking, it isn’t an issue, no matter where we have traveled. And soon, we will be switching over to GoogleFi to make sure we always have international data. But until and even then, when you suddenly find yourself without wifi, no cabs, Starbucks, etc, that little guidebook sure comes in handy. When you happen to get through your planned itinerary way too fast, sitting in a park with no wifi, that guidebook will give you an idea for a little temple around the corner which just blows your mind. When you find out the English-speaking tour isn’t till noon and its 9 AM, that guidebook can give you enough information. Its extremely cheap insurance when a plan fails, or you find out the “plan to have no plan” is falling apart by the second.

When I say I always travel with a guidebook, I mean, it. It is basically never out of arm’s reach when I’m traveling. I’m the tourist pouring over it while in line for coffee, or who has it spread out on the table with our maps at the pub while we pick our next destination. As much as I talk about and obsess over my Tom Bihn bag, it is because it has the perfect pocket for a guidebook. Even when we have our itinerary down pat for the day, I carry the book with me and catch up on the history of a building or park as we ride the subway. I can use it to help point out sites that we pass on the train, and I jot down what I had for lunch at that FANTASTIC cafe.

So, maybe I’ve sold you on guidesbooks now, they can come through in a pinch and give you something to pass the time.. but I’m also a guidebook hoarder because they are the perfect ‘lazy man’s scrapbook’.

I always highlight the places we visit, and write a word or two about the experience.

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I staple in entrance tickets, museum passes, and receipts from snacks.

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I always order actual prints of photos and use them to bookmark the places they were taken at.

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Every guidebook comes with 5-10 blank pages in the back for a reason! Fill in the places that weren’t mentioned in the book, or thoughts you have during your travels.

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Paul’s wedding vows in the back of our South Florida guidebook <3

Then when we come home and empty out our pockets, purse, and the dark corners of our backpacks, we just cram everything leftover inside too 🙂

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Which ends up with books twice their normal thickness, but that’s okay. Only trusted friends are allowed to borrow them anyway!

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But a word of advice, the typical waxy receipt paper will fade quickly. Like this receipt from just 2013. Cute receipts that you want to save, should be scanned!

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Then I line them all up on our bookcases and pretend like this is acceptable decor.

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Tips:

  • TIMELINESS – Always, always, always check the publication date before purchase. A guide from 3 years ago is not going to help you in Dubai, the world’s fastest growing city. I won’t buy guides that are older than 2 years.
  • CITY VS COUNTRY – Depends on your destination. I barely touched my France book when we went to Paris because the city guide was far more useful and relevant. However, my Peru guide was perfect for Lima because well, pretty much everyone in Peru goes to Lima and then Machu Picchu.. the book doesn’t have all that much else. I’m still debating whether Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne will warrant individual books or one Australia book….
  • BRAND – I’m partial to Fodor’s, but this really comes down to timeliness. If Lonely Planet has a 2015 and Fodor’s has a 2013, I always go for the newer version. Both brands offer great, reliable content. Frommers is good for US-based destinations, and Lonely Planet excels at city guides and gets more local off-the-beaten path locations, but can be hit or miss with larger all encompassing books where Fodor’s is best.
  • CHECK REVIEWS FOR MOBILE VERSIONS – I never buy the mobile versions, but often Amazon is riddled with complaints about the maps being too small or blurry when it is an e-book. Read the reviews first!
  • AVOID TOP 10 BOOKS – Yes, top 10 or Fodors 25 books are way more convenient for traveling with, but I can’t stand them. This is what the internet is for. I want my guidebooks for history, maps, options, and photos.. these books trim all of that. Yes, I am aware I should visit the Eiffel Tower in France. Thanks! The exception is the Pocket City guides by Lonely Planet. This is a newer series and still includes all the things I love and a pull-out map!

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While this post absolutely reeks of sponsorship, I promise these are all my own thoughts. That said: Fodor’s, please hire me!

Are you a fan of guidebooks? 

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