It always amazes me how few of us actually do real homework on the places we are about to visit.
The internet has all the information anyone needs scattered through it, and quality guide books abound.
When I began the travels that got me hooked on travel for life, Europe on Five Dollars a Day was the single source used by most people, especially young people seeking adventure.
While edition after edition raised the ante on what it would cost to travel Europe, dozens of competitors introduced books to compete with them.
Books that lead the way.
One of the brands that became the gold standard, because its information seemed to satisfy most traveler needs was the Lonely Planet series. Their television show helped put them at the forefront, even though it could be argued they were more geared to younger, budget conscious travelers
For Europe specifically it was the Michelin guides. This French company, also famous for its tires, used phonetics for the pronunciation of major sites but also showed the signage, as you would see it traveling. Their Green Guide series also cross referenced regions to the specific maps they offer.
But the question I am commonly asked is whether there is any value in buying guide books today, when so much of the information is available online.
Before my last trip to Japan I read as much as I could from the Lonely Planet book. It gave me a real sense of the culture of the people I was about to meet. I came to understand their philosophy of gift giving, and by the time we reached Nagasaki I shared a kinship with the people and their aversion to all things military.
Travel Books Contain Valuable Information.
Travel books cover a broader spectrum that you may not come across as easily in an internet search. Maybe you’re thinking about renting a car for a day or two in Jamaica or Cuba?
The travel books will point out that Jamaican drivers may be amongst the world’s worst, with one of the highest accident ratios per thousand drivers.
It will point out that if you are in an accident in Cuba and fault is not easily determined, you may be prevented from leaving until fault is finally adjudicated.
This is the helpful information you won’t get from friends who have visited these countries and returned without incident. You may get much of the same information on the Internet, but it can be a slow and laborious process.
By the time you print off the sections you want, you will have a stack of paper thicker than any book, and not organized for easy reference.
I Traveled With Arthur Frommer.
When I acquired my most wonderful addiction to travel by hitchhiking around Europe many years ago, as I pointed out, I used the travel bible of the time, Frommer’s ‘Europe on $5 a Day’.
I used it religiously to find the least expensive restaurants, the location of the nearest youth hostel, and even which breweries were giving the largest volume of free beer with a tour.
It was Heineken by the way, and I am still a supporter of the brand as a result.
In 1988 when I went to the Nagano Olympics in Japan, my 900 page volume of travel guide information proved invaluable.
The gift information resulted in exceptional memories of our daily exchange of simple, but meaningful expressions of appreciation to our hosts whose home we were staying in. And they always had something for us when we returned from an evening of Olympic events.
So clearly I still think hard copy books are worth the expenditure. And from those who still want to have hard copy information, I am asked which brands of travel guides are best.
The publishing world has changed, and independent book sellers have been hit the hardest over the last decade. Book stores were shut down at alarming speed all across Canada, as well as the United States, and I presume other countries as well.
Like other books, travel brand sales have also been hurt. Nevertheless travel books appear to have fared somewhat better than those in other categories.
Travel Books! Still a Most Valuable Tool.
While it is true that finding scattered information about a destination is pretty easy, I am still a fan of travel books and guides.
While you can find all you need to know by visiting several sites, the books provide it all to you in one bound package.
On my recent trip to Prague and the Czech Republic, my most valuable reading material on the flight overseas was my guide to the country I would soon be visiting. Even on route, I was able to modify some of what I was hoping most to see, and started thinking of the trip from a broader perspective.
Internet searching can be a very tiring process, and printing copies of what you know you can’t remember will end up being bulky, and could be just as costly as the book you thought you were saving money on.
Which brand is the best?
Depending on what kind of travel experiences you are looking for, they all are the best. Because while general information books are still popular, many are much more targeted by interest and experience than in the past.
Rick Steve’s series of books have grown dramatically in sales and popularity. While he writes about all places, he really does do a fine job on most of his European publications. He will not cover a country as extensively as other publications, but what he does write about is in depth, and worth the read.
For those who like to travel more freely in rental vehicles, my best recommendation, particularly for Europe again, are the Michelin Green Guides.
This series were created to be matched against maps so that as you read about even the smallest village they chose to mention, you can easily pinpoint it on their maps because of the code system they employ.
National Geographic has found a niche of its own. While they also recognize that sales come by appealing to a broad market, they are really worth buying if you are of a more adventurous spirit, and like what may be defined as more exotic experiences.
Frommer’s and the Let’s Go series are best for the budget traveller, particularly for the younger set who, as was my situation many years ago, can only travel if they can make the few paltry dollars saved, stretch as far as possible.
The Blue Guides really have appeal for those who appreciate art, architecture, and history, and look at travel from a more scholarly approach.
The Cadogan guide series are often rated as amongst the best written of the travel options. While not seen to be quite as informative as some of the others, they are wonderful purchases for the armchair traveler who is still putting his or her action plan into place.
There are others as well but perhaps because I have used these most often, I am still a fan of the Lonely Planet series. In many ways they are the gold standard for this sector of the publishing industry.
They offer a wide range of usable travel tips. They have a book for just about every country which are updated more than most others, and they provide options for the mid-range budget traveller, as well as those who may want to find better deals from time to time.
They are easy to read, and tend to be very comprehensive in their coverage relating to the important details of the countries they are covering.
So while you can find all the information somewhere on line available from any of these brands, do you really want to spend that much time searching, and still not be sure you found the most salient information.