The Truth About Travel Guide Books

Travel Safety
After a long day on the road we drove through the snow-capped mountains near gorgeous Lake Tekapo and I started thinking about where to stay. I quickly scanned our Lonely Planet New Zealand guide book for accommodation options. The review on Omahau Downs caught my attention. I quickly called, confirmed they had accommodation available which would be suitable for our party and arranged to visit in ten minutes time to have a look. Omahau Downs subsequently became one of the best places we stayed on our New Zealand trip.

Travel Guide Book

After a long day on the road we drove through the snow-capped mountains near gorgeous Lake Tekapo and I started thinking about where to stay.  I quickly scanned our Lonely Planet New Zealand guide book for accommodation options.  The review on Omahau Downs caught my attention.  I quickly called, confirmed they had accommodation available which would be suitable for our party and arranged to visit in ten minutes time to have a look.  Omahau Downs subsequently became one of the best places we stayed on our New Zealand trip.

Would I travel without a guide book?  Until recently I would have said ‘Always’.  I am a guide book veteran after many trips where I have used them for initial research, making bookings and while travelling.

The modern internet and social media age has seen a reduction in guide books sales as a result of a significant amount of travel information being available online.  On a recent short trip to the USA I used online resources to plan my trip and chose not to purchase either a hardcopy or ebook guide book.  I had a lovely trip and never felt that I lacked information I needed.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of travel guide books compared with online travel information.

Travel Guide Book Advantages

  • The information included in travel guide books has been verified by a travel professional.  One of the reasons that brands like Lonely Planet and Frommers are so successful is that people trust the reputation of their brands to provide good information.
  • Travel guide books provide you with all of the travel information you need in a single book.  You are not reliant on batteries or internet access to access the information.  This means that as long as you have the book you can get the information you need.
  • If you choose an ebook travel guide book option you have a lightweight option which does not add significant weight to your luggage.  You can also search the ebook for keywords so you can find the information you need faster.

Travel Guide Book Disadvantages

  • One of the biggest disadvantages of travel guide books is that by their very nature they define ‘the beaten tourist track’.  If every traveller uses a guide book with similar information then everyone will go to the same places, attractions, accommodation, restaurants etc.
  • If you purchase hardcopy guide books they can add significant weight to your luggage.  Tactics like tearing out only the pages you require and leaving the rest behind can reduce the weight issue.
  • Information in travel guide books is only as recent as when it was last reviewed prior to publication.  Therefore I always expect that there is a chance that guidebook information will be incorrect.  Typically opening hours, costs and performance will change over time.

Online Information Sources

Online travel information can be obtained from many sources including:

  • Government tourist boards and tourist information centres.  The quality and thoroughness of the information can vary depending on the country.
  • Travel company websites.  Their websites are designed to self-promote their product or service so have a strong marketing focus.  Their websites usually have up to date information on opening hours and costs.
  • Travel blogs.  Can be written by either independent unbiased reviewers or could be a sponsored article.  Most good bloggers will disclose if a review has been sponsored.  The information can be very up to date, and it is worthwhile to check the date of publication to ensure currency.
  • Travel forums.  Can be a good source of information, but recommendations are coming from strangers who may actually be promoting a particular travel product or service rather than providing independent advice.
  • Social networking.  Can be a good source of information, but recommendations are coming from strangers who may actually be promoting a particular travel product or service rather than providing independent advice.

Online Information Advantages

  • Online Information is mostly free.
  • Online venue information for attractions, accommodation, transport and events is usually up to date.
  • Online reviews can be useful if considered in context with other information.
  • Travellers can do a lot of their research online before they depart and bookmark specific information for access while travelling.

Online Information Disadvantages

  • Researching the varying online information sources requires time and effort, partly to find the right websites, and then to try to verify the information provided.  One of the greatest challenges with online resources is the fact that the information has not been verified.
  • Access to online resources requires both a device (Smartphone, tablet or other computer) and internet access.  Most accommodation venues offer either paid or free Wifi, and most pre-paid phone plans will also include an affordable data package.  In addition there are many venues which offer free Wifi access to customers.

Travel Guide Books versus Online Travel Information

In my experience guide books have always made me feel more confident to both plan and proceed with my travels.  So if you are visiting a place where you need a confidence boost then a guide book is a good option.   Also, if you are likely to have limited access to power and internet access then a hardcopy travel guide book can be very useful to assist you as you travel.

Understand upfront that guide books will take you to ‘the beaten tourist path’, and make the effort to also look for options which will take you ‘off the beaten path’. Also understand that a natural tendency of travel guide books is provide information on attractions and activities.  As a result we can plan a ‘Tick the Box’ trip where we only focus on those specific attractions and activities, and forget that many of your great travel experiences are unplanned and occur during the in between moments.

After considering both options I have come to the conclusion that both travel guide books and online travel information have their place, but you will probably get the best trip by combining both information resources.

 

Do you have a preference of whether to use travel guide books or online resources?  Please share your experience in the comments below.

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4 Comments

  • I have to say, I do always take a hard copy of a guide book on my travels and I wonder whether my reluctance to change my ways just yet, is mostly due to habit. I do enjoy guidebooks though, and I like to familiarise myself with the content before I go, this usually makes for enjoyable bed time reading in the week before a trip! I find I’m using online resources more and more however, and though I”ll probably use guidebooks in hard copy form less and less as time goes on, I still love a good fold up map!

    • For bigger trips I am the same, I have always taken a guide book and used it a lot! In my trip to the USA I only had two weekends to do my own thing, so for that trip I found the online resources were sufficient.

      I think a combination of both is still a good mix.

  • I must admit I do love reading guidebooks – to me it is travel porn and far better than ‘fifty shades of grey’ could ever be!

    When it comes to research I do use a guidebook, but add in blogs, Tripadvisor, and tourist board websites as well.

    I travel with the whole guidebook if it is going to be worth my while, otherwise I either tear out the pages I need or photocopy them and discard as I go.

    Great post, Anne, really thoughtful and thought provoking. It’s always good to hear other people’s strategies so you can reassess your own!

    • Jo, thanks for your comment. I agree that I also love guidebooks – that is the first sign that I am commencing some serious trip planning for the not too distant future. But a combo approach definitely ensures you have the most up to date information.

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