Travel Guides are a Godsend and a tremendous amount of research
has gone into them, but they can be a little patronising at times.
Don’t cling to them religiously, as many travellers do. They are not
the bibles that they are made out to be, and are often out of date before they are
To get the most out of guidebooks, use them sparingly for basic
orientation, then discover the towns and cities on your own.
The information on museums and places of interest are great when all
other signs look foreign.
But when it comes to hotels and restaurants, every one to their own
taste and budget. Believe me, the gems are never in black and white for all to see. If
word gets out, the bargains rise in price with popularity and the ‘recommended’ places are
usually full of foreigners – us, the tourists.
Wandering around on your own, you will be delighted when you discover
reasonably-priced, quality rooms and gourmet restaurants dishing up a local ambience;
without the need for reservations.
Just because it isn’t in the book, doesn’t mean that you are entering
a hell-hole, or a den of thieves. More often than not, you will encounter a haven of
tranquillity that didn’t see you coming.
Don’t be the type who can’t wait to to write to say that ‘it wasn’t
like they said in the book’. Open your eyes, and explore for yourself!
The publication date should be printed on the inside page of the book.
Lonely Planet usually gives the first publication date, the date of
publication of the copy in your hands, and when reprinted with travellers’ updates.
They have an army of followers who freely update their books; often
without credit. The biggest of credits, must go to Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who started
it all with their overland trip through Southeast Asia.
Don’t be fooled by the rogues at Hachette, who took it all a little
Le Guide du Routard, Vietnam (in French), which I bought near the end
of 1996, boldly stated 1997/98 on the cover, and even had �1997 inside.
Ok, we’re not talking Turner Broadcasting repeating yesterday’s news
here, but even new seems old already.
As an example of how quickly things change:
I wanted to praise a particular hotel in Hanoi that offered us a beautifully furnished,
spacious double for $20 a night (a bargain), and a delightful restaurant not far from the
station whose food and service were excellent for the moderate price. Well……..
The Cuu Long hotel changed our room, after two nights, and only told
us about it when we came in at eleven in the evening. (We paid $15 for the smaller room,
and moved on the following morning).
And, after going out of our way to return to the Hanoian Bar +
Restaurant, because of a special dish that was so tasty two days before, the noodles on
the next occasion tasted like pre-packed Pot Noodles, without enough water added to them
before being fried.
So take the guides’ recommendations with a pinch of salt.
This debate is always served up with a large dose of opinion, and
our list does not serve to put one guidebook above the other.
Besides, we have no money for lawsuits.
If you’re travelling on a shoestring, then LP is probably the one for you. My favourite
guides to China, India and Asia, but many people use them for Europe
Lonely Planet guides cover general history and give good detail about
the places to visit. The ‘Getting There and Away’ sections are always good for the border
crossings. Plenty of simple maps to give you an idea of where you are, and of course they
always hunt out the cheapo cafes with the best banana milk-shakes; if you’re prepared to
trust the milk in some of those countries.
Use the prices as a reference point only, as some of the guides are a
few years old, and as I’ve already pointed out, a lot can change overnight. Some Lonely
Planet recommendations might even have closed down.
Let’s Go Europe, by a group of Harvard students, was the pamphlet that started it all.
Let’s Go now claim this to be the best selling international guide. There are a lot of
Americans coming to Europe, granted.
Personally, I prefer them for Let’s
Go: USA. I figure the students can tell us more about their hometown in North America.
The Let’s Go guides attract the young crowd looking for the low-down
on nightlife as well as what to see during the day.
I used the Rough
Guide to West Africa, in lieu of Lonely Planet. Maybe not so good on the map score,
but I found the music section and other cultural snippets more worthwhile than some of the
opinionated comments in Lonely Planet.
American Handbook (updated annually) is the daddy in this series; quite possibly the
‘Mother of All Travel Guides’.
I first used this guide to South America when it was still a ‘Trade and Travel Publications’
title and included Central America and The Caribbean.
The hardback travel guide contained so much information that even the
thin paper and fine print wasn’t enough to save it; as The Caribbean and Central America
sections became guidebooks in their own right.
In the 1990sTrade and Travel also published guides to India, Southeast
Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Moving into 2008, Footprint have now printed 80 travel guides to
hundreds of destinations; introduced city guides to London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Rio de
Janeiro; and even a Surfing
Europe (2nd Edition).
Rick Steves has really come through the backdoor in the travel guide market, especially
with Americans visiting Europe.
‘Europe Through the Back Door’ helped open the way for more travel
guides on the most visited places in Europe:
Italy, Paris, London, Germany,
Austria, Switzerland, Spain,
Portugal, Ireland and Scandinavia.
The Mona Winks Guide is also a great travel companion when visiting The Vatican and other famous
I first travelled in Europe without a guidebook whatsoever, just a collection of Michelin
maps. I still think their maps are the best, and their green
guides are often overlooked by people covering guidebooks.
If you intend to really see a country, and that means by car and not
by train, then you would do well to a have a Michelin or two in your glove compartment.
They also have great pocket guides for many of the major cities in Europe.
Bradt Travel Guides
Bradt publish travel guides to all corners of the world, from Antarctica to Zanzibar, as
well as guides on rail travel, wildlife, backpacking, and hiking.
The first Bradt travel guide was written by Hilary and George Bradt,
in 1974, on a river barge floating down a tributary of the Amazon; in Bolivia.
From their base in Boston, Massachusetts they went on to write and
publish four other backpacking guides to the Americas and one to Africa.
In the 1980s Hilary continued to develop the Bradt list in England,
and also established herself as a travel writer and tour leader. The company’s publishing
emphasis evolved towards broader based guides to new destinations; usually the first to be
published on those countries (such as Mali and Palestine), complemented by hiking, rail
and wildlife guides.
The Cadogan Series aims itself more at the culture vulture. Dana
Facaros is credited with many titles, and really does know Italy.
I have also bought Peter Neville-Hadley’s China: The Silk Routes.
Peter also ran the popular Oriental-List for people travelling to
China, and you didn’t need to buy the book to join.
Eyewitness, from D.K. Publishing, have expanded on their popular Italy Guide series.
Eyewitness Travel Guides are illustrated guidebooks where every
significant landmark, building, museum, and gallery (as well as major shops, hotels, and
restaurants) are illustrated on the page alongside interesting and practical information.
These are great books to look at before and after travel too.
A growing selection of guides here too. My favourite was Fielding’s the ‘World’s
Most Dangerous Places’.
I’ve seen people carrying Fodor’s Guides around Europe and the States, but I’ve never used
I had never used these guides either, but after their Editorial Director (@davitydave) read one of my tweets (@TravelTweet) on Twitter, he very kindly sent me
a couple of guidebooks to try.
The guide to France I looked at is clearly aimed at Americans and
misses out on some sights that Europeans using Michelin Green Guides and maps wouldn’t.
To be fair, Frommer’s do a good job of suggesting itineraries for
those on a limited time schedule (one or two weeks); depending on the region you’re
interested in. With so many train times mentioned, I’m assuming most people using these
guides will be travelling by SNCF (Societe Nationale de Chemins de Fer).
As I told Dave that I do a lot of driving around France and Italy, he
also sent me Frommer’s
25 Great Drives in France; a guide you too should consider if you prefer to see the
French countryside by car and taste the produce at various village markets along the way.
These travel guides, from APA publications, are a little special. The quality of the
photography is excellent; they even used some of mine in their Insight
Guide: Peru, and the articles are written by journalists.
I would even recommend supplementing something like a Lonely Planet or
a Rough Guide with an Insight Guide.
If you don’t have the room for an Insight Guide on your travels, they
really do give an insight into the people and culture and make a good read while you’re
waiting for your day of departure.
Be wise, and get an insight into your destination before you go. There
are even slim-line (Insight
Pocket Guide) versions to major cities around the world.
Explore old towns and friendly villages with cosy cottages, quaint country inns and
ancient castles in Europe and California.
Regardless of your travel budget, you will find delightful
accommodations and sightseeing highlights that the editors have personally experienced.
Pocket sized phrasebooks
to get you out of a muddle.
It’s one thing finding a hotel or restaurant without a guidebook, but
it helps if you know a few words of the local language when you get there.
Berlitz are the world leader in language learning for the traveller, and their phrasebooks slip into
your back-pocket or a hand-bag easily.
Mini travel guides are also available.
That’s already quite a list of travel guides I’ve presented but if
you go into any travel bookshop you’ll see even more travel titles.
Eats & Sleeps, Culture
Marvelous Walking Tours, Knopf,
Geographic Driving Guides, National
Geographic Park Profiles, National
Geographic Traveler, Off
the Beaten Path, Open
Out Travel and Travel-Smart
If you don’t want to go where the crowd goes, then you will use
your chosen travel guide sparingly.
This list is also only a guide to the travel guides, and there are
many more out there covering what might be termed as ‘speciality travel’.
There are guides to
Bed and Breakfast in New Zealand, guides
in the Outback, the Complete
Guide to Walt Disney World, and even guides to airports.
However you like your travel, there will be an author
or two who have penned enough words about it to publish the book:
Then there are the travel tips; the ‘learning from
the experience of others’ type of book, or the travel book with pretty pictures:
& Travelogues, Food
& Lodging, Pictorial,
Destinations & Museums and Travel
I always like to read good ‘travel books’ when I’m on the road;
sitting in a moving train or waiting patiently for a ferry.
Some of the best authors even make the humble travel book read like
The Literary Traveller:
There are travellers who have returned to write a great book, and then there are great
writers who travel. Find out more about travel writing at its best.
Become A Travel Writer:
Travel writers and photographers can gain more exposure for their work (and maybe earn a
little extra money) by getting published on Travel Notes – The Online Guide to Travel.
Bradt Travel Guides:
You don’t get to read the travel guides here but you do get a snippet about the country,
chapter outlines and a little something about the writers.
Online mini-guides to destinations around the world.
Footprint Handbooks Online:
Get a foot in the door by reading snippets from their handbook destinations.
The ‘Frommer’s Outspoken Encyclopaedia of Travel’, as it used to be called, is quite a big
one; with plenty of travel tips in destinations around the world.
Karen Brown’s World of Travel:
Karen’s website has improved tremendously since we first listed it and recommended that
you buy the book rather than visit the website, as there wasn’t much there. Now it seems
that if you visit the website you might not need to buy the book.
Knowhere’s not your average guide to Britain. No postcards and purple prose, but you will
get to know where the youth hang out around the island.
Selling guidebooks is the motto here; especially as their community section doesn’t always
seem to work.
Planet – Thorn Tree:
Sure they want to sell more of their guide books, but the Thorn Tree message board area is
an excellent hangout for budget travellers.
Moon have improved their website tremendously; to now include destination information and
Rick Steves’ Europe:
If you’re a fan of Rick’s, you’ll be able to read up on his latest tips, catch him on the
television or even go on one of his European tours. Maybe we’ll surprise him one day
Rough Guide offer the complete text of their guidebooks online but when you’re stuck in
Timbuktu and your printed copy is all crumpled you may just wish that you had bought the
And of course, we like to sell ourselves too; so just choose your
destination from our sitemap: TravelNotes.org – The Online Guide to
Regional Directory – Search