Getting information on a place you’re traveling to is important. It’s important to know about a country’s culture, customs, language, history, cuisine, and where its safe and dangerous pockets are.
Now that we can access countless free travel sites from our smartphones, it’s hard to see why we need the traditional printed travel guide.
The worth of travel guides depends on the kind of experience you’re looking for. If you’re someone who wants to really dig deep on a country’s history and culture, then the travel guide may be the choice for you.
So, travel guides… Are they worth it?
What are travel guides?
Travel guides are basically teachers who knows everything about a location. You can get travel guides in the form of books, tapes, or as actual people showing you around.
They’re a good way to study and prepare before reaching a foreign or unfamiliar destination. Reading a travel guide is a great way to pass the time during a flight or train ride. They get you familiar with the history of the location and they give you a general understanding of the culture and of the people who live there.
Travel guides are written by experts and often by natives. You’ll get an intimate look into the local history from the people who live and breathe it.
Good travel guides will also teach readers must-know words and phrases for getting around, dining out, and asking for help. They provide maps, give recommendations on where to visit, what to see, where and what to eat, and sometimes they even give break-downs of the currency.
What kinds of experiences come with travel guides?
Imagine you’re walking around a European city, and you see a beautiful building that takes your breath away. You ask yourself, “What is this?”, and your curiosity runs rampant. Other people are stopping to look at it too, and they’re snapping photographs of this beautiful and mysterious building.
If you have a travel guide, you pull it out and look around the pages for a photograph. And then you find it, and the travel guide gives you an explanation of what this building is, and it tells you about its history, and what it means to the people living there.
Travel guides are a way to understand your foreign and unfamiliar surroundings in YOUR native language, and they can pry open your mind to new information.
If this is something you want out of your traveling experience, then yes, travel guides are worth it.
Now imagine something else: You’ve traveled a far distance and have been walking aimlessly around Rome with a rumbling stomach. You came all this way to try authentic Italian food, but you don’t know where to find Rome’s most unusual Italian dishes.
You don’t really speak Italian. You’re scared to ask a local. You want to go where most travel experts have gone and raved about. Your stomach is growling, but you don’t want pizza for the umpteenth time.
So you pull out your travel guide, and start reading about Rome’s cuisine, and the savvy local who wrote the travel guide tells you about Carciofi alla Romana, and the sounds of artichokes cooked in olive oil with parsley and minced garlic has your taste buds salivating. The travel guide suggests a restaurant that serves this dish antipasto, and within an hour, you already can’t wait to eat it again.
When is a travel guide NOT worth it?
Let’s say you studied Spanish throughout school, and you gained a pretty decent understanding of the language, the history of the Spanish empire, and the history of Spain itself.
Your trip to Spain is booked, and you know where to go and what to see in Barcelona and Madrid. Why would you still want to read and sift through a travel guide on a place you’re already familiar with?
You probably wouldn’t! If you are already somewhat familiar, and aren’t really interested in learning more facts and concrete information about a place, then a travel guide isn’t for you.
A travel guide isn’t worth it even if you know nothing about a place or its language. If you are looking to plan less and go more with the flow of things, travel guides may not be worth your time, or your money. I could argue that a travel guide can still teach you things you did not know, no matter how familiar you are with a place. Sometimes a travel guide isn’t worth it because some travelers don’t want to use one.
Looking to travel off the beaten path? Do you dislike crowds of tourists snapping photographs and tour groups congesting the sidewalks? Want to spice up your travels getting lost, navigating on your own, and stumble upon the unexpected? Then scrap the travel guide.
Let’s face it: tour groups, tour buses, and even some travel books can be expensive. Plus, history, current affairs, and places are always changing, which means travel guides change every year. So if you think you’re saving money by opting for an edition made a few years ago, you may actually be doing yourself a disservice.
If you’d rather use the money for a travel guide on a restaurant meal instead, or on a bus ticket to a neighbouring city, or for buying a round of drinks with some locals, then so be it!
It’s okay if you’re someone who likes to get off the airplane and take your travels on a whim and go from one moment to the next. Spontaneity is a great ingredient in the recipe of travel, anyways! Sometimes we stumble upon the most beautiful, the most delicious, and the most unbelievable things when we least expect it!
Investing in a travel guide
You need to do a little research to find the most up-to-date and reliable travel guide. Purchase a travel guide through a reputable book company (Fodor’s) or one that is written by a local native or travel expert (Rick Steves).
Getting a travel guide through your smartphone is also an option! In the modern age of the smartphone, where the internet is so conveniently at our fingertips, the traditional travel guide has been replaced by free, accessible online travel sites like Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. Wikitravel and Lonely Planet provide extensive yet easy-to-read articles on just about every location in the world. These great travel sites are written by natives and expert travelers who know what they’re talking about and can give honest recommendations and advice. Plus, they’re free!
You can even watch travel documentaries by experts like Anthony Bourdain to get some insight into where you’ll be traveling to. Travel shows and documentaries can only squeeze in so much information in a 30-60 minute timeframe, but at least you can get yourself warmed-up and a little more excited about your upcoming travels!
So travel guides… are they worth it?
The better question is… what kind of traveler are you?