This blog post was updated on October 4, 2018.
I have a friend who cringes when I break the binding on guidebooks. He practically loses it when I pull out the highlighter and pen and start my rampage.
Then, the ultimate sin I could commit to my guidebook, I tear out only the pages I need as I set out for the day. For my friend, I have just mutilated a work of art, something I could use again.
After years of traveling with said friend afraid of guidebook mutation, I have convinced him of my ways, that preserving such a book is not really in the best interest of the traveler.
You need to get to know your guidebook and find out what it is made off. The first step in this process often comes at the bookstore, down at the travel section.
If you find yourself camped out in your bookstore, reading through each guidebook on your selected destination for hours on end, there is a better way. Pack this guide to guidebook shopping on your next trip to the bookstore.
Read The Author Page First— You’ve spent months researching flights to Tampa, but your guidebook only told you to stay a few days because maybe the author has different tastes. Before I buy a guidebook, I always read the “about the author” page. If it sounds like they have just visited the destination they wrote a whole book on, I kindly move on to the next. If you don’t like the author’s story, you probably won’t like their recommendations. If the author seems like your kind of adventurer, you will have better success with the guide.
Look for Organization—If a guidebook appears to have a strange layout on the surface, you will probably be utterly confused when you get it home. Guidebooks are an integral part of the planning process. Those that lack ease and simplicity will not be convenient for travel. You will spend your whole time trying to find that festival you are dying to attend, only to come up short. As you page through your glossy guidebook in the middle of Istanbul, desperately trying to find where you are, a pickpocket has just helped themselves to your wallet. Pay attention to the index. If it looks flimsy, it probably lacks that organization a busy traveler needs.
Figure Out Your Guidebook Needs—You might just look to a guidebook for the best travel deals. On the other hand, you could want a guide to tell you where to stay and eat. Some travelers prefer guides that point out the quirky attractions, the information you might not know. Before you approach that bookstore section, like any great relationship, you should know what you want out of your guidebook. For example, don’t buy a book on the United States South when you might only visit one state that they feature. The information will be limited to accommodate for all of the other destinations in one book. Never settle, again like in any good relationship.
Don’t Always Select The “Big” Brand—You might love to stick with one well-known travel name, but there are other contenders on the market. If those travel tips from big brands are tried and tested, by all means don’t sever ties with them. On the flip side, those who just have their eyes on a familiar name might miss the guidebook that is truly right for their traveling style.
The Best Experiences Don’t Come With a Guide—You can search and search through your guidebook for an off-the-beaten-path experience, but the reality remains, you won’t find it in a guide. By not taking your guidebook too seriously, you won’t invest all of your travel time into doing what it tells you to see. Go into shopping for a guidebook with the mindset that you won’t let it solely dictate your trip, that its words are never the holy gospel. Never be afraid to stray away from those preset, planned itineraries.
What do you look for in a guidebook?