Have you ever purchased a guidebook only to glance through its pages, put it on the shelf, and then head over to TripAdvisor? Or spend money on guidebooks and never use them? If everything’s on TripAdvisor, what’s the point? This is a great question and worth discussing. Before we say, “we don’t need no stinking guidebooks!”, there are a few questions we need to answer first.
Have you been to the destination before?
Are you meeting friends or family there that are local residents?
Will you be staying in the same location for the entire trip?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then it’s time to log off TripAdvisor and settle down with the guidebook of your choice and a nice cup of tea…or a Red Bull, whichever you prefer. There are many guidebooks to choose from: Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Footprints, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Moon, and others. I’ll review specific guidebooks in later posts. For now, let’s discuss some criteria when selecting the ideal guidebook for you.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
First, you need to know how to get to and from a place, particularly a remote destination, if there are no direct flights to your destination. What about border crossings? Buses? Trains? Prices? Schedules? Guidebooks provide critical information on these issues in dedicated sections. This information is sorely lacking on TripAdvisor and may require extensive research on the Internet and even then, you can’t be certain if that advice is reliable. I’ve always followed the guidebook’s advice on this critical component to travel and they have never let me down.
See the sights!
Do I really need to mention this? Just wanted to put it on your radar so you don’t book a hotel too far away from everything you’re seeing and doing.
Areas of Interest
Although not necessarily relevant for the Corn Islands in Nicaragua, your destination may be divided up into different areas of interest. These areas will all have their strengths and weaknesses. Do you want somewhere quiet and more remote? Would you like to be able to walk everywhere? Do you enjoy easy access to restaurants and nightlife? Perhaps you’re hiking up a volcano in the morning and you would like to stay in a hotel at the bottom of it so you don’t have to drive in from town in the morning.
Guidebooks are great sources of knowledge on this topic. TripAdvisor has a long way to go before it catches up.
Get that weight off your shoulder
There’s a simple rule: the bigger the country, the bigger the book. These books may be extremely heavy. Have you seen Lonely Planet India? That book is massive! Let’s say you’re heading to Goa for a week, it doesn’t make much sense to lug that boulder of a book around with you.
It’s time to get specialized!
My wife and I recently went on an 18-day trip to Thailand and Cambodia. We spent three days in Bangkok, seven in Phuket, six in Siem Reap, and two days in Phnom Penh. We purchased the Lonely Planet Thailand and The Rough Guide to Cambodia (reviews for both of these coming soon). Cambodia’s tourism infrastructure is not as well established as Thailand’s and therefore does not require as large a book. We had no idea where we wanted to go to in Thailand and wanted the full book to help make our decision. Although I had been to Thailand several times before, it was Ashley’s first trip there. Ultimately, we decided to spend some time in Bangkok and then head to Phuket for some easy access beach time.
Now we have multiple planes to catch, changing hotels, and the idea of carrying that large book around was unappealing. We decided to get specialized. We left the large book at home and purchased the Lonely Planet Pocket Bangkok Travel Guide and the Lonely Planet Pocket Phuket Travel Guide (reviews coming soon). It was a great decision and we never regretted it.
My advice on countries such as Thailand and India is to buy the country guide (or research online if you don’t want to spend the extra money), decide where you want to go, and then buy the specialized book. Your body will thank you.
Should I just stick to one brand?
Guidebooks are published by a huge swathe of companies. Let’s say you had a great experience with the Lonely Planet Thailand, so why not stick with Lonely Planet? In my experience, the quality of each book varies by country and by edition. Plus, what’s the fun of sticking with one company? I’ve had great experiences with different companies and guidebooks. A few examples are Frommer’s Vietnam Guide, The Rough Guide to Cambodia, Fodor’s California, Moon Kentucky Guide, and Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring. There are, of course, guides that I’ve had terrible experiences with and I will not mention them. Isn’t there enough negativity on the Internet?
Hotel, Restaurant, and Nightlife Recommendations
OK, here is the one area where TripAdvisor excels far above the competition. I feel the guidebooks leave out great places or include some fairly questionable choices. When we were in Phuket, we went to a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet Pocket Phuket Travel Guide. The restaurant was awful and that’s being generous. When I checked the reviews on TripAdvisor, they agreed with me and the comments said things like, “What was Lonely Planet thinking??”
BUT, and this is important, this section in the guidebooks help you identify areas that you may be interested in visiting or staying in. If the section includes types of restaurants, bars, or hotels that are right up your alley, you should flag that area for further investigation and do additional research on TripAdvisor.
That’s it for The Cube’s Guide to Guidebooks. What do you think? Did I leave anything out? Do you have any recommendations?
Please feel free to email me at email@example.com or leave a comment below.
A small selection of our guidebooks at home. Photo © by Ashley Kauffman for Outside the Cube Travel