I’m continually amazed by the basic travel questions I’ll get from people who have grown up in the Internet age. So many times, those questions are answered in black & white in any guidebook you pick up. Many people are so used to surfing the web for info that they assume every answer to every question can be found with a search engine query. They get frustrated when that method fails and start appealing for help by e-mail and on message boards. Perhaps you can find most answers this way eventually, but what is your time worth? Do you really want to spend an hour or even days looking for something you could find in less than 30 seconds in a guidebook—especially knowing the latter has been vetted for accuracy?
Some people probably don’t want to shell out a lot of money for multiple guidebooks, though again I would argue that if you time is worth anything more than minimum wage, they’ll pay for themselves easily. But any good library has shelves and shelves of them as well and your local book superstore isn’t going to kick you out if you sit down and read one for a half hour in a store.
If it’s the bulk that bothers you, there are solutions to that as well. The most obvious one is traditional books in electronic form. The big hype leader in that regard is the Amazon Kindle 2, though there are a lot of things not to like about it: at $349 it’s as expensive as a netbook (which can do a whole lot more), there’s no color (so a lot of guidebooks don’t transfer well), and it’s a proprietary system (files can only be read on that one device). Also like most things Amazon gets involved in, the main goal is to make Amazon more money, not to help anyone else in the publishing industry (the royalty rate is only 35%, the contract terms are heavily slanted, and publishers are responsible for making their book fit into the oddball formatting system). Sony also has Portable Digital e-Reader device with a different proprietary system, but the selection isn’t as wide.
Some publishers put out traditional books in PDF form, which retains the original formatting and allows you to read it on any device, including a regular laptop or a smart phone. You can get The World’s Cheapest Destinations that way for $7.95. Some companies also skip the printed book altogether and put out info in e-book form, from the useful and bargain-priced guides from Travelfish to this useful and more expensive guide to living and investing in Panama from EscapeArtist.com.
You can also get individual chapters or sections from some guidebook companies, like specific Lonely Planet South America chapters. Sure, you’ll pay a premium, but less to carry. Interestingly, LP has also been repurposing some of the sections from their large country books to fill holes where they don’t have a specific dedicated book out. So I’m using the one pictured here, for instance, for Guanajuato and the surrounding areas this summer because there’s not much out there on this region specifically. It’s basically like ripping out a section of one book and leaving the rest behind—in this case the big thick Mexico country book—but with a real cover on the front and back.
Why not just download an app? Well so far, I haven’t found one destination app that has been anywhere near as robust as a guidebook. Fine for surface level info and hotel links ,but not much depth. Do a search here to see what’s out there: