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Travel Guides: Are They Worth It?


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?

barcelona architecture

A Trip to Barcelona

The old city of Barcelona is nestled along the Mediterranean in northeastern Spain, and it’s a city that is regarded as one of the most vibrant in not only in Europe, but in the entire world. If you are located in the U.K. take a look at these deals for Barcelona and all of Spain from Premier Inn.

Barcelona offers two kinds of experiences: quaint and cultured, and energetic and intoxicating. And you can certainly find the best of both worlds in just a single day in Barcelona!

This article will cover some important things you need to know for the most authentic and lively Catalan experience you can’t find anywhere else.

A brief introduction to Catalonia

We didn’t want to bore you with a history lesson right-off-the-bat. But it’s important to understand a bit about Barcelona’s background so you can get a feel of how its culture and its people came to be.

Barcelona is the capital of Spain and it’s the second most populous city. Barcelona is also the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region within Spain.

Catalonia is a distinct culture with its own right to govern. Catalan is the primary language that has influences from the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages, and is even spoken in southern France and in parts of Italy. Spanish is also widely spoken in the area, but Catalan is the primary language of the locals.

Barcelona is a city with a complicated history that’s been caught in a tug-of-war of control since the Roman Empire. It’s a city that’s been a hotbed for nationalism, dictatorships, monarchs, and separatism, as rulers have come and gone throughout the region’s history.

Gothic architecture in the heart of Barcelona

barcelona architecture

Barcelona’s history still bleeds to this day through the city’s architecture. When you finally arrive in Barcelona, be prepared to absorb the world’s most beautiful gothic architecture.

Ciutat Vella, the Old City or otherwise known as District Number One, is the heart of not only the city but of the Catalan Gothic style of architecture. The most popular portion of beaches are also part of Ciutat Vella.

Here you will find houses, basilicas, cathedrals, and towers of the Catalan Gothic style. This style of architecture resulted from the Corona de Aragón, a monarch reign that not only overlooked control of Barcelona, but also stretched across eastern Spain and into France, Italy, and even Greece, during the 14th and 15th centuries.

In the Barri Gotic, otherwise known as the Gothic Quarter, the medieval section of Ciutat Vella, you can walk under harrowing archways and be surrounded by old brick and grand medieval structures.

But no matter where you are in Barcelona, you will pay witness to its history and will understand how its culture came to be as you bask in the Gothic atmosphere.

Fun daytime stuff to do in Barcelona

No matter where you are in Barcelona, there will always be prime sightseeing. If you’re interested in maximizing your sightseeing experiences in Barcelona, read Lonely Planet’s article on the must-see architecture of the city.

La Rambla, a long stretch of pedestrian road, is the busiest in all of the city. You’ll be surrounded by lush trees and people from all walks of life, with a variety of restaurants and stores to choose from. The prices of shops and restaurants along La Rambla are a bit pricier since this is a street dense in tourists, but it’s a must visit if you are looking for the action.

If you’re interested in visiting museums, The Picasso Museum is a must see for an amazing collection of 20th century artwork made by the famous Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso. It’s about a 15 minute scenic walk from La Rambla, and you can stop and sit in one of the area’s squares and look at the basilicas along the way.

Interested in learning more about the history of Catalonia? Visit Catalonia’s Museum of History. It’s about 10 minutes from the Picasso Museum, and it’s nestled right along a harbour and is a short walk to the beach.

And that brings us to another point… The beach.

A day at the beach is a must when visiting Barcelona. The beaches can get pretty crowded at peak tourist times, but a day in the sun along the Mediterranean is the best for a day of relaxation. Plus, the more popular beaches are in walking distance from the city’s most happening areas.  

For more about what to do in Barcelona, click here.

How to dress and get around in Barcelona

Barcelona is a warm, Mediterranean climate, no doubt. Summers are dry and the winters are humid. Chances are you won’t need a winter coat here, but if you visit in the wintertime, be prepared for some chillier weather.

The busiest time to visit Barcelona, like most European cities, is in August. Peak temperatures scorch the city in August, but the days cool down as autumn rolls around. There will be less tourists on the streets after August, but no matter the time of year, Barcelona is always bustling.

The beach is a huge reason why people travel to Barcelona, so bring your swimsuit. It’s frowned upon to wear your swimsuit in public around the city, but throw a dress or some light clothing over your swimsuit, and stay cool without having to make a pitstop at your hotel.

Riding bicycles, public transportation, and walking are the best ways to get around. The metro in Barcelona is the best way to get around, especially if you’re looking to save some money for your pocket. To learn more about using navigating Barcelona’s public transportation, read up on it here.

Eating in the Catalan capital

Eating out goes late in Barcelona, so whether you’re an early eater or a late night snacker, you can enjoy the Catalan cuisine throughout the day and into the night!

If you’re visiting Spain for the first time, tapas are a must. Tapas are small appetizer dishes that are made both hot and cold. Tapas can take many forms, from seafood, to meat, to vegetables and olives, and they come in a variety of tastes and spices. Kickstart your tapas experience at Barcelona’s Tapas 24.

Catalonia is known for its “surf n’ turf” cuisine, or mar i muntanya. You can enjoy wonderfully crafted dishes composed of both meat and seafood that stays true to Barcelona’s proximity to both the sea and the land.

Want to pair your fish with a tasty red-pepper sauce? Try romesco sauce, a Catalan classic. It’s made from red-peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, AND almonds!

Whether you’re a vegetarian or a true carnivore, the Catalan take on scallions, known as calçots, are a must try in Barcelona. Calçots are grilled scallions and should be paired with romesco sauce for full taste maximization. But in Barcelona, you can find a variety of approaches to the simplicity of calçot, and leave your tastebuds satisfied doing so.

Got a sweet tooth and have never tried a churro? Then you’re pretty lucky to be in Barcelona. This stick-like fried-dough delectable is great dipped in chocolate, or filled with cream, and you can find churros anywhere in Barcelona (and it’s okay if you find yourself stopping for churros everyday).

Barcelona: The nightlife capital of Europe

Year in and year out, Barcelona is the first thing that comes out of people’s mouths when talking about Europe’s best nightlife. It’s a city that doesn’t sleep, and it’s a city that LOVES to party.

If going out and drinking isn’t your idea of a good time, the city is always awake into the late hours, so walking around, people watching, and sitting in one of the city’s gothic squares is a more relaxed and fulfilling option. But if you’re ready to get your drink and dance on, you’re in the best city of all of Europe to do so.

Go out in the center of the city, in the Ciutat Vella and the Sant Marti districts, and dance in some of Europe’s best nightclubs. You can also take advantage of the city’s pub crawls, nightclub packages, and even its karaoke bars! For more about where to party in Barcelona, read here.

Ready to take on the ultimate authentic Catalan experience?

We hope so!

There is so much more to learn about the electric city of Barcelona, Spain, and a trip there is the only true way to live the culture, and come to know the city’s vibrant personality. But having a general understanding of Barcelona before you land in Spain will jumpstart the memorable and cultured adventure you’re about to embark on.