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Should I… Bring My Guidebook?

Should I... Pack My Guidebook?

Guidebooks are the ultimate way to plan your next adventure, and some travelers treat their words like gospel, even when they may already be two years out of date. I saw a girl in Cambodia neatly crossing out unnecessary information from her guidebook with a pen.

So should you bring your guidebook with you on your trip, or should you do your research in advance and then leave it behind? It takes up precious room in your bag, particularly volumes on entire continents, so is it worth it? In my opinion, guidebooks are like jeans or your blow dryer, which are total judgment calls.

I’ve brought them with me repeatedly but rarely find any information I couldn’t find online. Although it is nice to have options, maps and information with you at all times, and without the need for internet access.

Pros to Bringing Your Guidebook

The advantage of bringing your guidebook is that the information is all in front of you. You don’t have to worry about that slip of paper where you wrote an address or about not having WiFi to use the map of the city. You also have multiple options for places to stay and detailed information on the destination’s attractions. Most also include key phrases in foreign languages to help you better communicate with locals.

Cons to Bringing Your Guidebook

On the other hand, your guidebook takes up valuable space in your bag. You don’t want to have to worry about it getting wet or pieces falling out of it. Parts of it may be useless once you’ve already visited one place. They can also be years out of date by the time they go to stores and could potentially be biased.

My battered Australia guidebook when it was new.
My battered Australia guidebook when it was new.

Alternatives to Traditional Guidebooks

The best way to receive the most up-to-date information on your destination is through the Internet. While not all websites are reliable, I typically get information on attractions through travel blogs. This gives you an idea of how recent the information is and typically has more useful pictures than your guidebook. You can save relevant links and information into a notebook on Evernote, which you can access even when you’re not online.

You can also purchase e-book versions of your favorite guidebooks for your Kindle or smartphone. Most major companies like Lonely Planet and Rick Steves offer web versions, as do smaller companies like UnAnchor that offer short city itineraries for all over the world.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of not bringing a guidebook, you can always bring it and throw out the pages you don’t need once you’re finished. You could make copies of important pages and leave the rest at home. It’s also smart to read your guidebook entirely before leaving home, which will give you an idea of the places you want to visit. Write down the details and leave the hard copy on your shelf.

Do you travel with a guidebook?

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Jean | Holy Smithereens says

    I usually buy a “proper” guidebook (the thick ones) maybe weeks or months prior to travelling, so I can skim it with information that is relevant to my travels and also to get a general information on a place. But I end up not taking them with me when I actually travel as they can be heavy and take up space.

  2. Sammi Wanderlustin' says

    Pocket sized versions help too, and to be honest I don’t think it matters if a guide book is out of date. At the end of the Angkor Wat has been there for centuries- attractions like that don’t change.

    I tend to make notes in my phone, or print out pages I think I’ll need. Better still screen shot google maps directions from the airport/ bus/train stations to your accommodation. Most hostels will have city maps, (all of mine I’ve saved, and all of them have biro across them for routes around the city)

  3. Sarah says

    I always travel with Rick Steves’ guidebooks, if they’re available, and try to find something else if they’re not. I like having lots of historic info and background blurbs and I find Rick Steves’ information very reliable. Yes, they’re heavy and take up a lot of room, but there are a lot of public places where I wouldn’t want to whip out my kindle! And I leave guidebooks behind me as I leave various countries and cities, so it works as a way to build in space for a few souvenirs.

    And the best part is that I’ve made a lot of friends while traveling because someone else has the same book or someone else is trying to figure out the significance of some ruin they’re looking at or find a place to eat and when they ask me I’m able to give them an answer and maybe get a meal with them 🙂

  4. Mariana says

    I like to make my own guidebooks, I just write things down that I saw online/in actual guidebooks, get a free map somewhere, and that way there’s no wasted space, since I’ll be carrying my tiny notebook anyway.
    I’ve always wanted to try the moleskine city books tho, they’re exactly what I do and have the plus of having maps already and those transparent sheets to plan routes. But for the price I think I’ll only buy it when there’s a city I’ll visit over an over so I know I’ll really make use of it.

  5. Caroline says

    @Sarah- Totally agree. Rick Steves guidebooks are the way to go in Europe. The man is a master. One of my favorite restaurants in Florence, Italy was one of his picks. But I’ve started writing things down instead of bringing the whole books.

    @Mariana- I have one of the Moleskine city books for where I live and LOVE it! Highly recommend as a good alternative as they have great maps.

  6. Diana says

    I do like how there are smaller versions of guidebooks though. Rick Steves has the pocket city guides and Lonely Planet offers a smaller print version of some countries. I do also like that Rick Steves has FREE downloadable audio guides that I can get on my iphone.

    • Sarah says

      I used the Rick Steves Florence pocket city guide on my first trip there last year, and it worked like a charm.

  7. Bee says

    For us it really depends on the mode of transport. When we drove from the Netherlands to Italy the Lonely Planet book could either be found on the dashboard of our car, looking things up as we went, or in our tent looking up ideas for thext day.
    This year we’re flying to the US with carry-on only, so I did all of my research before hand and will be ‘writing’ our own mini travelguide of sorts.
    I went to the library and got every US travel guide I could find and then scoured the net. If you are internet savvy and don’t mind putting in the hours, the amount and diversity of info you can find is almost limitless and can make for an even more made to measure trip.

  8. Elizabeth says

    Guidebooks are carefully selected and edited, and I really like having that curated information. I find them particularly useful when I’m ambling around a country / continent as a good guide book will have information about places you see on the signs but haven’t researched ‘shall we stop at Malmo?’ (no) ‘where’s a great beach in Texas?’ (Galveston). They’re also good for sudden or extended trips (1+ months) when you simply can’t research everything thoroughly in advance.

    I switched to ebooks for guidebooks when I got a Kindle. They’re typically the same price as the print version or cheaper, you can search through them, and they don’t take up any space. With a Kindle app, I can use the same guide book on my phone, laptop, Kindle and my partner’s versions of all these. The downside is that the maps are hard to read, and it cuts out flicking through to the prettiest pictures, which is what I always do with the print ones!

  9. Beth says

    Rick Steves is the way to go in Europe and wouldn’t travel with out it:) Gives great insights and time/money saving tips that was worth the weight in bringing it along. I pulled out all the pages with the places we were traveling to and had them spiral bound at a print shop for cheap. I also always put a few blank pages in before I had it bound for my notes/journal for the trip. I love to write the date on the page when I visited the sight and any fun notes. Guidebook and travel journal all in one made into the size I wanted! Win-Win!

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