Are Travel Guides Necessary?

When making plans to go travelling, many people will automatically think about buying a guide book with Lonely Planet and Rough Guide being the most popular titles. Does anyone actually stop to consider whether they actually really need one?

Many travellers I meet from the states tell me that they use a guidebook to travel Europe and to travel Italy. Personally I think it’s easy to travel in developed countries without a guidebook. It’s in the less developed countries where they can come in more handy like how to travel to India for example. My girlfriend and I recently set out on a one year backpacking trip around the world. We didn’t have an exact itinerary but we knew that we were going to be visiting a whole host of different countries. We couldn’t possibly take with us a guide book or a travel book for each country – or even each continent – have you seen how thick and heavy those things are?!

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Travelling Without a Guide Book

When we set out on a 12-month backpacking adventure our first destination was India. As good a place as any right? We’d never been there before and we didn’t know how to travel in India or how to travel Asia at all. But we figured if we can handle travel India we can handle anywhere, including our onwards travel in Asia.

We managed to travel in India without a travel guide. And travel in Nepal…and travel in China…and travel in Vietnam – all without a travel guide and we had a great time! And we learned loads about ourselves and about travelling. We went to many places where we didn’t see any other travellers. We didn’t know whether these places were popular tourist spots or not and we didn’t care. We felt like we were adventuring and being lead by our own free will and our spirit of adventure.

We wouldn’t have had it any other way. We didn’t need a guide book as we had self guide travel. The only reason we picked up a guidebook at all was as we were leaving Vietnam because someone had left a latest edition, hardly-used copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Southeast Asia. But even then we found that we hardly used it and ended up swapping up it for a really good fiction book!

Travelling without a Travel Guide

We found that it was possible to travel without a guide book for the countries we were visiting. Occasionally we’d meet people, strike up a friendship and go out to eat with them. Sometimes we’d follow their lead and they’d pull out their travel guide and tell us that such and such a place was recommended. Off we’d go and on arriving we’d find some big banner or poster proclaiming that they were featured in the Lonely Planet.

We’d settle at our tables only to encounter lazy staff who didn’t care; lousy food; lousy ambience; and a manager who just wanted to take your money. This happened more than once. It seemed that once an establishment had made it into the travel books they were rewarded with a steady supply of custom and could therefore cease to make any kind of effort. It happens, but you don’t have to fall in line with everyone else. Seek out your own route; your own favourite little watering hole or dining establishment. Make your own way from A to B. Below are some tools/attributes that will help you on your way.

A Sense of Adventure

Don’t get so bogged down about not knowing how to get from A to B or what happens when you get there. Don’t try to research the menu before you get to the restaurant or stress yourself out by the rumours of muggings when you travel in Lima or of credit card cloning when you travel in Bangkok. Sure, it happens but things like this happen everywhere. Travel with your own experiences. Free your mind of pre-conceived ideas and of all these warnings and rules and rules that others set for you. Nothing has happened to you until you get there. You can deal with anything, believe it. Just connect with that spirit of adventure and let yourself go wherever fate takes you. Seek out your own experiences and not follow the experiences of others and you’ll feel an incredible sense of personal achievement.

Rewarding Travel Experiences

One of the most rewarding experiences when travelling is the social encounters you can have with locals and with other travellers. These can happen anywhere: when travelling on the bus or on the train; in a bar or restaurant; or in your hostel. Ask locals for insider information as to the best beach, the cheapest yet tastiest restaurant or what is the actual rate for a tuk tuk from A to B rather that the tourist price. Make friends with your fellow travellers and ask them where they’re going, where they’ve been and how they do it / are doing it. An easy way to pick up tips and make friends in the process.

Internet Travel Forums

You don’t need the internet but per se, but it can help. Think about all the billions of pages of the internet. There’s bound to be some pages out there that will give you the information you need. Treat the internet as a tool to support you rather than the be all and end all and you’ll get some positive results. Useful sites include Hostel World; Trip Adviser; Lonely Planet Thorntree; this very site; Google; Skyscanner; and a whole host of local and national sites relevant to the country you’re in.

You don’t need a Travel Guide to Travel

As if I haven’t made it clear though the content of my narrative, the answer to the question in the title of this article is no, you don’t need a guidebook in order to travel. It helps, sure. But it’s not everything. And if you take it too literally then prepare for disappointments and prepare to miss out on genuine cultural experiences. My advice? Ditch the travel guides, grow your confidence and follow your instincts. Have fun!

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