A Guide To Guide Books: Which to Use and When to Use Them

This was originally posted in my schools newspaper, the Blue and Gray Press! Check it out here as well.

This past weeks #TravelTipTuesday was about guide books and their limitations. I mentioned how they were great stepping stones, but were not material you should live by or base your entire trip off of. What I did fail to mention were all the different types of guide books out there, especially the ones that are focused on specific topics (i.e. culinary, adventure, etc.). Luckily, one of my readers made me aware of this mistake so I’ve decided to create this post. This guide will hopefully help you narrow down which book to get a hold of, and what each brand is known for. I’ll analyze both the good and bad of guide books, and you can make the decision yourself if you think you need one or not.

The Good

For an entirely new destination, guide books are great if you have no idea what to expect. They’ll give you a little background on the new country/city/region so you don’t walk in completely oblivious of cultural norms and regulations. A lot of books will include things like safety tips, public transportation information, exchange rates, and the likes. These tips are invaluable and, if known prior to departure, will typically make your trip that much smoother.

Likewise, although not hard to get, all guide books that I’m aware of come fully stocked with maps of the area. These can be as broad as country maps, but can be as specific as city maps and even smaller if you’re looking for a specific part of town. I don’t know about you all, but when I grab maps from the hostel front desk, by the end of the day, it’ll have been destroyed by so much usage. Having the maps in your book will keep them pristine, and if you’re like me and you like to write on your maps, it’ll become a great keepsake of your travels.

The Bad

There has always been the temptation to live by guide books. To do everything and anything the book suggested, because those who wrote it are professionals, right? Well, yes that may be accurate, but each traveler has his or her own taste. What these professionals may find intriguing or exciting might not be the most interesting thing to you, and vice versa! It’s important that you venture off yourself, outside of the book, and find something that you really enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, if that activity is in the guide book, then all power to you! Just don’t live by it.

The Guides I Use

Rick Steves

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For those of you who like to visit all the tourist destinations in Europe, Rick Steves Guide Books are the ones you’re looking for. He does a fantastic job of outlining the attractions, providing a little bit of history, and showing you how, when, and what to see at each locale. His books go as in depth as a certain city, but as wide ranged as the entire continent as well. Each book serves a different purpose, you just need to know what you’re looking for.

Michelin Guides

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If cost is not an issue and you like great food, Michelin Guides are right up your alley. Although not restaurants typically for budget travelers, Michelin specializes in culinary travel, identifying and locating the best restaurants at each destination. Be weary, some of the restaurants they propose will need reservations far in advance, so if you’re interested, make the call now!

Lonely Planet

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Probably the book that appeals to my own heart, Lonely Planet Guide Books are written for the wanderer; the one who likes to roam around, see obscure things, eat some obscure food, visit obscure land marks, the works! In my humble opinion, I prefer Lonely Planet. Not because I’m some brand-loving snob, but because I think they give you the most bang for your buck. The most information, without spoiling the whole activity for you.

Fodor’s

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A little bit of this, a little bit of that, Fodor’s has got it all! I’d say it’s the best mixture of activities, for the wanderer, for the foodie, for the budgeter, for the affluent, etc etc. Don’t know what you’re interested in? Pick up a Fodor’s! This book is is the epitome of stepping stones, providing the information you need to get you on your way.

Choosing a guide book is all up to personal choice! What you put in is what you get out! I hope this post will keep you from making a foolish mistake and spending $30 on something you’ll never read!

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