Buying a good travel guide


I usually get the question.

“How do you start planning a trip? After the initial destination selection, how do you start to build your itinerary and organize your trip?”

Well, we do live in the information age and for literary every single stone on earth there are tons of information widely available in the internet. Still, how much we can trust this information is quite questionable. Usually this information is greatly biased to either the personal preferences of the writer (e.g. I liked very much the hotels and the food in Jordan) which means that the writer will over-emphasize on certain issues i.e. hotel and food and miss out on other issues e.g. history or to the writer’s personal distastes (e.g. I just don’t like eating anywhere else apart from hotels) which means that people will omit certain facts e.g. local food. In the end of the day they will not describe in a subjective form the destination which means that the reader must be very careful when reading their … reviews, because …one just cannot characterize a trip as a failure because the hotel breakfast did not have eggs and bacon.

So, the potential traveller needs a quite independent, subjective, of pure facts “travel reference” sprinkled with some suggestions to suit all tastes. My opinion is that the only place to find these is in a travel guide… but not any travel guide that exists out there.

Travel guides are books that present to the reader information about a city, a country, a continent. Writing a guide sounds and is easy, but writing a good guide is a piece of art. So what do we really need to look for in a guide and how can we characterise a guide as a good guide?

Let us see some of the things we need to look for in a guide.

  • Date of publication. If you are buying a guide in 2013 and travelling in 2014, a guide that was updated in 2010 will not probably provide you with the most updated data. So, pick a very recently updated-published guide.
  • Proposed itineraries or things to do. As nobody has at least three weeks to ready fully and under a more …structured and scrutinised approach a guide, it is extremely helpful when guides provide a few proposals on where to go and what is the best route to combine those destinations.
  • Facts and practicalities. A guide among other things is not just to tell us how nice and exciting and intriguing visiting Taj Mahal is. When you get to the nitty-gritty details, guides must provide data on practicalities that will make our life as travellers easier e.g. opening/closing times, how to get there, ticket prices etc.
  • Advice and Tips. While a guide needs to provide “facts and figures”, at the same time a guide should have a more personal touch in terms of advice and tips, even if this may sound a bit paternalistic. It is well appreciated when a guide tells you that it is advisable to stay in Aguas Calientes so that you can be closer to Machu Picchu and manage to arrive there and appreciate it before it is flooded with the tourists arriving by train. You want a guide to provide advice on vaccinations required.
  • Photos. Always, always photos are the perfect way to set fire to one’s imagination. They make the guide nicer, more usable (people like to read books with photos), flashier and manage to convey a bit of the air and atmosphere of the destination to the reader.
  • The absence of too many photos. While photos are good to have – and rightly the Chinese say that one photo is a thousand words – too many of them means that the guide focuses more on “making an impression” rather than on the pure facts and advice. In the end of the day no matter how good the photos are, it is the review on the hotel in the guide that you have selected based on which you will judge the guide. A glossy and flashy guide is not necessarily a good guide.
  • Personal touch and style. A guide must have a style and must suite your tastes. In the end of the day a guide is something you live with until the end of the trip and a guide is a book you need to have fun with. Apart from the pure facts you need to enjoy reading it and be happy to use it.

A guide is a book that encompasses all the above .. and many more. A guide is your right hand in a trip, provided, of course, you organize the trip by yourself. A guide is your reference of a trip.

So next time you are looking for a guide do not get one lightly!


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