Travel guides are a critical part of travel planning and traveling itself. They provide the traveler with basic knowledge of about their destination that allows them to make informed decisions, which is especially helpful if you don’t know the local language. The travel industry is enormous and thus attracts a large number of travel guide publishers, all slightly different, but still presenting the same type of information. A map of Paris, the history of Panama, and helpful Russian expressions will all be the same in every guide, but presented in different formats, styles, and order.
It can seem somewhat daunting if you go to the travel section of your local bookstore and find a wide selection of travel guides, especially if you are going to a well traveled destination such as England, France, or Italy. With the lesser traveled destinations like Pakistan or Tajikistan, you may be relegated to only one option. Over the years I have used several different travel guides, such as Lonely Planet, Fodor's, Rough Guides, and Insight Guides. The question then is, when given a choice which guide do I choose?
I have no financial stake in recommending one guide over another and want to use this post to state why I select the option I do. With the wide range of options available to travelers these days it's important to assess the differences between the available options. One of the first travel guides I ever bought was the Lonely Planet Bangladesh 4th Edition. I bought it because at the time it was the only available option for my upcoming trip to Bangladesh. Over the years I have developed a preference for Lonely Planet travel guides when they are available.
So why Lonely Planet? Firstly, Lonely Planet publishes the most extensive collection of travel guides, more often than not they will have a guide for wherever you are traveling to. If you are somewhat more adventurous and would consider traveling to just about anywhere in Africa or Central Asia, then you will be limited to Lonely Planet. With a dearth of travel guides to some of the destinations I have traveled to I simply became comfortable with the layout of Lonely Planet and thus, when presented with several options decided to go with the travel guide I felt most comfortable using.
Secondly, the writing style and the presentation of the information is important. Identifying which style and presentation works best for you will require you to pick up a few of the available travel guides to get a sense for how the information is presented. For example Lonely Planet often incorporates witty humor into some of its text, while also keeping much of the text succinct and photography limited. Some travelers prefer more detailed text and Rick Steves and Moon would be perfect for them, while for others options with little text and lots of photographs such as Insight Guides or Eyewitness Travel would be ideal. Lonely Planet provides a happy medium with its usage of photos and well as pithy text.
Finally, what type of traveler is the travel guide intended for. Travelers have different budgets and standards. This is critical as the selection of dining and hotel options presented in the travel guide will influence your trip. Travel guides like Time Out, Rough Guides, or Lonely Planet all primarily target travelers that are more cost-conscious and more adventurous, while Frommer's (what I would describe as my parents’ go-to guide) target a travel category that leans more on higher-end options and familiar accommodations. That’s not to say Frommer’s doesn’t have budget options, but overall they cater to those with less cost-conscious travel tastes. It will be apparent when you look at the list of hotels and restaurants and the average cost. Lonely Planet will include dorm room and self-catering options. While I don’t stay in dorm rooms anymore, I do often pursue self-catering as an option for eating, as it allows you to explore the food culture of your destination beyond that of restaurants. Shopping in markets and grocery stores allows for a deeper understanding of the community you are visiting by exploring typical foods that locals consume. Shopping in markets and grocery stores also enables you to make a bigger impact on the local economy.
Ultimately, the right travel guide for you will require you knowing what type of traveler you are. Availability, sometimes can dictate the choice for you. However, should you have options, take some time to review the style and presentation of the guide. The style will be apparent after flipping through the first couple of pages. Also, what type of travel do you intend to take will influence the guide book you purchase. Will you look for higher end or international chain options, where quality and comfort are guaranteed, or will you look for locally owned options where the description will have to be crafty and enticing?
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