When I started planning for my first solo trip, I turned my nose up at guidebooks. Why bother paying for information that I can easily get online?
Though I refused to shell out Php 1,000 for a Lonely Planet Thailand, I ended up buying an AAA Spiral Thailand and a Traveler’s Companion Thailand that ended up costing me as much (maybe even more) than the LP guidebook. In the course of preparing for the trip, I came to the conclusion that toting a guidebook means you have information within reach — no need to go online to find out where to eat. It was Lonely Planet’s size (and the tag price) that turned me off from buying it. I wouldn’t want to be toting a heavy book around. That’s how I ended up shelling with the spiral guide; it’s small and light enough that it doesn’t add any significant weight to my bag.
I hardly used it. While the BTS, MRT and river ferry station map inside the book was useful, the rest of the book didn’t help me much.
The next guidebooks I bought were the Lonely Planet Philippines and Jens Peter’s Philippines Travel Guide. I think I used the LP Philippines once on a trip in 2008, and the Philippine Travel Guide as resource material for another trip. Then it promptly got lost in the black hole otherwise known as my room.
In 2009, I tried it again. I bought Southeast Asia on a shoestring, in preparation for my month-long Southeast Asian backpacking trip. It was part of an effort to stop spending too much time online; I figured having something to read offline would help me with both the trip planing and keeping up with the resolution. Though I relied on the book for research, I only brought it up to Singapore — it waited for me in my brother’s flat while I went around Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Malaysia.
While preparing for the trip to Myanmar, I decided to buy a guidebook and bring it with me. I figured with the limited Internet access, it would do to have a guide with me. Considering that I hardly made any research about the country formerly known as Burma, I relied heavily on the guidebook. I stayed in places listed under the sleeping section, ate at the recommended restaurants and wandered around with the map. During the long boat ride from Mandalay to Bagan, I turned to the book to pass the time in between daydreaming and playing Angry Birds.
Can’t get enough of Hong Kong: Hong Kong & Macau guide, Hong Kong Encounters and Lonely Planet Hong Kong for iPod/iPhone
After the long and winding talk about my history with guidebooks, let’s go back to the question: should you buy a guidebook or not?
What I love about guidebooks is that it’s right there. No need for a computer, Internet or electricity. What I dislike about it is the obvious bulk and weight it adds to your bags. When you’re backpacking, the weight of each item you pack matters. Unless of course, you’re a sucker for punishment and relish walking around toting a 20 kilo backpack.
Guidebooks, though thoroughly researched, will always recommend places that have already closed or has changed rates. Months pass from time of research to time of publication, that by the time the book reach the shelves, it’s already out of date.
With the coming of smartphones and tablets, guidebooks are making its way to our gadgets. Lonely Planet offers almost all of their guidebooks in electronic format. Publishing this way is not only more eco-friendly, it can also be deployed much faster than the actual book. You also have the option to just buy certain chapters of the guidebook.
Of course, while having the e-copy of the guidebook in your device saves you a lot of space and added weight, it’s stored in an electronic device. If your device runs out of juice, your guidebook is useless.
On the other hand, not having a guidebook gives you the freedom to wander on your own and make your own discoveries. It also gives you a reason to interact with the locals, which almost always unforgettable encounters.
So what’s the answer to the question? Yes… and no. Guidebooks are just that: guides. They’re not rules that you have to follow to the letter. They’re great resources when you’re planning a trip, and a good thing to have when you suddenly find yourself without anything to do.
Why not give the guidebook a spin and see if you’re meant to be travel buddies? I’m giving away a Southeast Asia on a shoestring guide book along with other must-have travel items. Click here to learn more about the Just Wandering travel essentials giveaway.