Choosing the Best Guidebook

Choosing a good guidebook is one of the most important travel decisions you can make. I solve this problem by obtaining at least two, maybe three books. That way I have an excellent source of information from several knowledgeable sources.

I use two guidebooks for better travel insights.

I rip the sections I need out of each book so that I don't have to carry any extra weight. I read each part thoroughly and highlight each location I wish to visit. I add notes to the margins of any extra things I want to do, so that most of the information I need is in one place.

In this way I have a pretty good idea of what to do in a country before I get there. Good information means a good trip.

Then I do something very interesting. I basically forget I have a guide. It sounds crazy, but it works. I don't let a guidebook tell me what to do on my trip. I did my background studies. I know what I'm looking at when I travel. I, yes, I can decide how to plot out my trip, AS my trip unfolds. It's my trip. It's my life. I am in control. If I need to go back and check something, the guide is always there.

The main purpose of a guidebook is to get you started, when you don't know what to do next.

  • If you don't know where to stay for the night, look around, and ask around. If you can't find a place, then check the guide.

  • If you want to reserve a hotel in the next city, and you can't get a recommendation from the place you're staying today, check the guide.

  • If you don't know what restaurant to eat at and can't get a recommendation from a local, check the guide.

    Use a guidebook when you don't know what to do next.

  • If you don't know which museums or tourist sites to go to, check the guide. Be sure to rent an Audio Tour if they have one at the museum. Their great!

  • If you don't want to miss any of the places you wanted to visit, check your notes and your guidebook.

  • Need medical attention, access to the internet, the train station location, get the bus/subway number to the airport or a map to the city - check your guide book. That's what a guidebook is for, to get you started when you don't know what to do next.

  • You get the idea...

Don't let a guidebook ruin your vacation. Don't let it dictate what you should see and what you should do. Use it to get lost in the city of your choice. Find locals to talk to and find out what's really happening. It's a great way to travel.

As you become more experienced, you learn to rely less on guidebooks.

- You also learn to better appreciate the meticulous effort that goes into researching them.
Rolf Potts

Do the tourist things, if that's what you want to do. I do. I hit every museum in London except the Tate museum, and now I wish I had gone there to. But so what! I can always go back.

I used the Harry Potter movie locations as a focal point of my walks through London neighborhoods. Along the way I recognized the spot where the "Leaky Cauldron" was supposed to be.

I also keep my eyes open for places to eat and things to do. I had a great lunch at a fish and chips shop I found. There I met Harry Potter fans from Palermo, Sicily in southern Italy, of all places. We talked world soccer and quidditch.

That's the way to use a good guidebook. Figure out what you want to do. And start doing it. And then look for the interesting, the unusual. It's there. Go, find it!

Here's my pick for great guidebooks, travel magazines, and travel books. Go to your local library's travel section and check which materials work for you:

1. Guidebooks, a sample in order of my usage.

  • Lonely Planet is based in Sydney, Australia. I like it because its focuses on the whole world. Australians make good travelers. Their journeys usually take one to two years, while they go around the world. They are constantly finding new ways to expand their experience and make their money last. Great insights. Great tips. Thoroughly well written guidebook.

  • Rick Steves' Europe is based in Seattle, Washington and deals mostly with Europe. Rick's writing style makes it feel like you're getting great travel advice from your best friend. His book, Europe Through the Back Door, completely concurs with my own travel experiences. I consider it required reading for any European Travel. It pays for itself a thousand times over.

  • Let's Go Guidebook is a Harvard Student based guide. I used their guidebooks religiously in my travels in Europe during the 1970's. Its young, student abroad viewpoint and observations made it easy for me to hitchhike from Portugal to Ireland to Turkey back to my university in Reutlingen, Germany where I was an exchange student. It's like getting the inside story from your roommate at college.

  • Frommer's Guides is a common sense based guide that started the Cheap Travel Craze way back in the 1956. It was the best selling Europe on $5 a Day. Today Arthur Frommer's guidebooks are the world best sellers. Well written and full of fun facts. I consider his magazine, Budget Travel, a must subscribe to.

  • Rough Guides is based in London. It covers the world. I consider the English to be some of the world's best travelers, and these guidebooks show it. The guidebooks are sometime hard to find in the United States.

  • Moon Guides is Berkeley based and covers North and South America. They are well written and timely. I've used them for my trips to Brazil and Chile and had a great time.

  • Fodor's Guides is what I call a perfect guidebook for the Middle Class, family based traveler. It focuses on Europe and is surprisingly thorough. It will show you a good time and keep you comfortable, too.

  • DK Eyewitness Guides - I used these for my trips to London including its museums.

If you're going to read any section of a guidebook, read the pages about cultural and religious norms.

- It's remarkable how just a bit of culturally specific information can help you avoid misunderstandings.
Rolf Potts

Subscribe to a good travel magazine.

2. Best Travel Magazines

  • Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine Subscribe to this awesome travel magazine right now. Each issue is a blessing with timely information including travel tips, road trips, destination pieces, and great budget tour offerings.

  • Transitions Abroad was THE magazine for living abroad. It was a sad day when they discontinued the magazine to concentrate on the website. The Website is a must for long term travel and living in other countries. Great tips. Timely advice. Much need support for us innocents abroad.

  • Wanderlust Magazine. It advertises itself as the world's most exciting travel magazine. I agree. Again, I believe the English to be some of the world's best travelers. Wanderlust magazine showcases great travel like no other. I love it. It has articles on Health, Travel Advice, Columns, Interviews, Lists, Routes, Reviews, Trip planners, Events, Hot Offers.

  • Lonely Planet Magazine. This is a brand new travel magazine brought to you by the same wonderful people who bring you the Lonely Planet guide book series. Lonely Planet Magazine showcases itself as a monthly magazine for people who love to travel and enjoy new experiences. It's easier to subscribe to than Wanderlust Magazine, since it's published here in the US. I think it will be a great source of travel info far into the future.

3. Travel Books, a sample.