In the current issue of Budget Travel, Zora O’Neill gives a good rundown on how to choose a travel guidebook. It’s based on advice from some guidebook writers themselves, which is a nice change from the usual fluffy overview.
One key point in there, which is something I always advocate, is spending some time browsing to figure out which book is the best fit for you. It’s not always going to be from the same publisher. Some Lonely Planet guides are stupendous (India, for instance), but some are surprisingly bad (the last edition of Mexico’s Yucatan guide, for instance). Same goes for the other publishers as well–a lot of it depends on the experience and knowledge of the particular author(s) and the freshness of the material.
Which is the next main point–check the copyright date. One you sort of like that came out last month is probably better than one you’re more used to which came out two years ago. Freshness matters, which is reason enough to even check out Fodor’s if you’re not on a shoestring budget. The Let’s Go ones are updated each year as well, but I use the word “updated” loosely in this case. If you want to take the advice of a college kid who has to cover a whole country in one summer, on a barely-enough-to-eat stipend, go for it. But go elsewhere if you want some depth. (Though they do usually get the bar information right–it’s all about priorities.)
If you’re near a newsstand or you subscribe to Transitions Abroad (as you should), check out the new issue for my “Guidebook Smackdown” article. I put a bunch of guides through their paces for a 3-week trip to Argentina.