How do you choose the best travel guide books?
I always have one item in my backpack on all my adventures: a travel guide book. It may seem old-fashioned with all the information available on the Internet these days or with the mass spread of tablets, smartphones, and kindles. For me, nothing beats having the good old travel guide book in my hands, ready to look something up when needed.
Travel Guide Publishers
Today you can find many Travel Guide Publishers. Choosing the best travel guide books is not as easy at it seems. Some guides are very similar; others have their own style. How do you choose the best travel guide books?
After some research, I chose a travel guide publisher and stayed with it for all my trips. My goal was to collect the books and that’s why I have two bookshelves full of my best travel guide books. Only rarely did I change my travel guide publisher and that only happened because the other book had really good reviews. The only way to really make a choice is by trying one style and seeing if it works for you. One of the key success factors is feeling comfortable with the travel guide book, knowing where to quickly find what you’re looking for.
The main Travel Guide Publishers you can find in most bookstores are:
- Lonely Planet
- Rough Guides
- DK Eyewitness Travel/American Express
Why I Think Lonely Planet Are The Best Travel Guide Books
My choice for the best travel guide books goes for Lonely Planet. Before traveling around the world, I had tried a few other travel guide publishers, but when I got my first Lonely Planet Travel Guide I knew it was my style. Why?
If you’re looking for travel guide books loaded with images, Lonely Planet is not for you. You should choose DK Eyewitness guides that have plenty of images (but are scarce on information).
The Lonely Planet Travel Guides have very few images and I love that. Why? Not having images doesn’t create expectations. It also doesn’t spoil surprises. Some places you will want to know beforehand if they are worth visiting and images will help. Reading about places and then seeing them works for a bigger wow factor and impact. For example, meals normally look different on a plate than in a picture. For me, discovery is a big part of traveling.
What I expect from a travel guide book is essential information and that’s what Lonely Planet travel guides offer. You can read the information beforehand while preparing a visit, or you can look up a restaurant or hotel recommendation as you go. Sometimes you could be walking in front of a restaurant, look it up in the guide only to find it well recommended. Other times you might enjoy a stay at a hotel or think a bar is really cool only to later find out it was recommended in your guide. Most of the times you will go looking for that suggestion, so it is essential for the travel guide to go straight to the point and be easy to look up.
Destination Historical Background
I love the short historical background that normally comes at the beginning of each book. A bit of history up to current days is a great way to get familiarized with the destination and better appreciate it. I normally read those chapters on the plane, at the airport or on the train and get an idea of the places’ background before I get there.
Essential Local Maps
Another great feature that comes with the Lonely Planet travel guides are the small maps of all the main places in the travel guide book. These basic maps really help you get orientated when looking for a hotel, restaurant, attraction or whatever you’re trying to find. Keep in mind they are basic maps, so for more detailed addresses, you might need to get a bigger and more detailed local map.
Travel Guide Print Style and Organization
I enjoy the two-color scheme of the Lonely Planet Travel Guides, even after they changed the font color to blue instead of the usual black. I feel it just makes it easier to read when you’re on the road for a long time.
The books are really well organized and easy to read. The routine is simple: open travel guide, go to the section you need and look up the information.
The sections flow meeting the traveler’s needs. For example, you check information about the city center, moving on to information around the city center, with repeatable sections of getting there and away, what to eat, where to stay, etc.
Highlights and Itinerary Suggestions
Another of my favorite sections of a Travel Guide Book is the highlights and itinerary suggestions at the beginning of each book. Have a look at them before leaving home as they can really help you plan your trip. I never do them exactly as presented, but I get great ideas and then plan my own itinerary.
Range of Options for Different Budgets
I always had the idea LP was targeted for budget travelers while DK American Express Guides were more for the high-end traveler. The truth is, Lonely Planet Guides offer a range of options for different budgets, which is an important feature as I normally mix things up a bit. For example, I might stay at a budget hostel, but I still want to go out for a nice meal, saving on one end to spend on the other.
General Country Tips
This is another great section at the end of the travel guides. Information about cultural etiquette, easy speaking phrases, and pronunciation, health issues, currency tips and a bunch of related stuff that help you stay out of trouble.
Best Travel Guide Books Format
The best travel guide books come in different formats, from a website to an app on your smartphone, a full book or a pocketbook. A full book is normally also available in PDF format so you can have it on your laptop or tablet.
Although I’m a tech guy, my best travel guide books have to be old school paper books. I love going back and forward through the chapters looking up the information I need. I can also tell you that a paper book can work as a conversation starter. If another traveler sees you with a travel guide book in your hand, you might have something in common to start a conversation, like the time I was on a bus going from Puno in Peru to Copacabana in Bolivia.
The best travel guide books format depends of course on the type of trip you’re taking, as it won’t be practical to take a whole library with you if you’re traveling around the world in one shot. A better option would be to have the travel guides in PDF format.
Saving Money on Your Best Travel Guide Books
When choosing a travel guide book, you have to consider your travel budget. Buying books for every destination is expensive, so here are my tips to decrease the cost and weight of your travel guides:
- If you want to always have the most up-to-date travel information, go with an electronic version or use the Internet;
- While traveling through a region, say South East Asia or South America, take a book;
- If you’re going through several regions, take a book for the first region give it away (or sell it) to another traveler at the end and buy a new one for the next region;
- For a round-the-world trip, I would definitely recommend buying guides in PDF format as you go along. For any preferred region, I would still get the paper book;
- In city style traveling or populated places with good infrastructure, you can rely more on the Internet. For deserts, jungles, hiking or beach style trips with less infrastructure, I would go for the book;
- E-Books are normally cheaper than paper books;
- In e-Book format, you have the option of only buying the chapters you need;
- Check out different types: country guides, multi-country guides, and region guides can impact your budget. Multi-country and region guides may have less information on each country, but give you the most for your money;
If you choose Lonely Planet Travel Guide Books, the “on a shoestring” travel guide series is specifically oriented for budget traveling.
How to Make the Best Travel Guide Books Lighter
For my first trip, I did something that will sound a little bit weird. I bought the Lonely Planet Travel Guide series South America on a shoestring, which is quite a heavy book. The book had every single country in South America but I knew I wasn’t going to visit them all, so I decided to follow a tip I had read from an inspiring traveler: tear out the pages of the countries you’re not going visit. If you think about Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the Guineas, it was a useful weight relief!
When I look at the book today, it does look terrible! Do I regret doing it? Maybe… but when you travel with a top weight of 13 Kg, you have to make decisions and 200 grams makes a difference. When I decide to go to Brazil and the other countries, I will have to buy another book or maybe just buy the pdf chapters.
Best Travel Guide Books I Own
Here is a list of my best travel guide books I own and therefore recommend:
- South America on a shoestring;
- South East Asia on a shoestring;
- New Zealand;
- Northwest and Pacific;
- San Francisco;
- New York;
- Greek Islands;
- The Netherlands;