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Is a Guidebook Essential when Travelling?

Updated on January 1, 2014
Iammattdoran profile image

Matt is an avid traveller and self-confessed 'man of the world'. He is passionate about his home city, Manchester, and about travelling.

Do you need a guidebook

When making plans to go travelling, many people will automatically think about buying a guide book with Lonely Planet and Rough Guide being the most popular titles. Does anyone actually stop to consider whether they actually really need one?

Many travellers I meet from the states tell me that they use a guidebook to travel Europe and to travel Italy. Personally I think it's easy to travel in developed countries without a guidebook. It's in the less developed countries where they can come in more handy like how to travel to India for example. My girlfriend and I recently set out on a one year backpacking trip around the world. We didn’t have an exact itinerary but we knew that we were going to be visiting a whole host of different countries. We couldn't possibly take with us a guide book or a travel book for each country – or even each continent – have you seen how thick and heavy those things are?!

Travel the World!

This is your Essential Reading

Take a good book to read instead
Take a good book to read instead | Source

Starting Out

Our first destination was India. As good a place as any right? We'd never been there before and we didn't know how to travel in India or how to travel Asia at all. But we figured if we can handle travel India we can handle anywhere, including our onwards travel in Asia. We managed to travel in India without a guidebook. And travel in Nepal…and travel in China…and travel in Vietnam - all without a travel guide and we had a great time! And we learned loads about ourselves and about travelling. We went to many places where we didn't see any other travellers. We didn't know whether these places were popular tourist spots or not and we didn't care. We felt like we were adventuring and being lead by our own free will and our spirit of adventure. We wouldn't have had it any other way. We didn't need a guide book as we had self guide travel. The only reason we picked up a guidebook at all was as we were leaving Vietnam because someone had left a latest edition, hardly-used copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Southeast Asia. But even then we found that we hardly used it and ended up swapping up it for a really good fiction book!

Buy this book instead of a guidebook

On the Road
On the Road

Absolute classic. I challenge you to read this book and not have an over-whelming urge to get out on the road and travel!

 

Travelling on the roof of a local bus

Learning about Nepali life whilst travelling in the roof of a bus outside Kathmandu
Learning about Nepali life whilst travelling in the roof of a bus outside Kathmandu | Source

Travelling without a Guidebook

We found that it was possible to travel without a guide book for the countries we were visiting. Occasionally we’d meet people, strike up a friendship and go out to eat with them. Sometimes we’d follow their lead and they’d pull out their guidebook and tell us that such and such a place was recommended. Off we’d go and on arriving we’d find some big banner or poster proclaiming that they were featured in the Lonely Planet. We’d settle at our tables only to encounter lazy staff who didn't care; lousy found; lousy ambience; and a manager who just wanted to take your money. This happened more than once. It seemed that once an establishment had made it into the travel books they were rewarded with a steady supply of custom and could therefore cease to make any kind of effort. It happens, but you don’t have to fall in line with everyone else. Seek out your own route; your own favourite little watering hole or dining establishment. Make your own way from A to B. Below are some tools/attributes that will help you on your way.

Into the Wild - It will make you want to travel!

Into The Wild
Into The Wild

This is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch). Freshly graduated from college with a promising future ahead McCandless instead walked out of his privileged life and into the wild in search of adventure. What happened to him on the way transformed this young wanderer into an enduring symbol for countless people -- a fearless risk-taker who wrestled with the precarious balance between man and nature.

 
Into the Wild 1997 Anchor paperback by Jon Krakauer
Into the Wild 1997 Anchor paperback by Jon Krakauer

The movie is great but I pretty much always enjoy the book more. Read the book and then watch the movie is my advice.

 

A Sense of Adventure

Don’t get so bogged down about not knowing how to get from A to B or what happens when you get there. Don’t try to research the menu before you get to the restaurant or stress yourself out by the rumours of muggings when you travel in Lima or of credit card cloning when you travel in Bangkok. Sure, it happens but things like this happen everywhere. Travel with your own experiences. Free your mind of pre-conceived ideas and of all these warnings and rules and rules that others set for you. Nothing has happened to you until you get there. You can deal with anything, believe it. Just connect with that spirit of adventure and let yourself go wherever fate takes you. Seek out your own experiences and not follow the experiences of others and you’ll feel an incredible sense of personal achievement.

Bela Village, Flores, Indonesia

Amazing traditional village on the Indonesian Island of Flores.  Barely a mention in the Guidebook.  Go explore places like Flores by yourself
Amazing traditional village on the Indonesian Island of Flores. Barely a mention in the Guidebook. Go explore places like Flores by yourself | Source

Essential reading for China travel

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.)
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.)

In the heart of China's Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote town of Fuling. Like many other small cities in this ever-evolving country, Fuling is heading down a new path of change and growth, which came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. Hessler taught English and American literature at the local college, but it was his students who taught him about the complex processes of understanding that take place when one is immersed in a radically different society.

Poignant, thoughtful, funny, and enormously compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.

 

Do you use a guidebook when travelling?

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A Willingness to Learn From Others

One of the most rewarding experiences when travelling is the social encounters you can have with locals and with other travellers. These can happen anywhere: when travelling on the bus or on the train; in a bar or restaurant; or in your hostel. Ask locals for insider information as to the best beach, the cheapest yet tastiest restaurant or what is the actual rate for a tuk tuk from A to B rather that the tourist price. Make friends with your fellow travellers and ask them where they’re going, where they've been and how they do it / are doing it. An easy way to pick up tips and make friends in the process.

Vietnamese Street Food

Following the advice of locals in Hoi An, Vietnam to find the best, cheap street food
Following the advice of locals in Hoi An, Vietnam to find the best, cheap street food | Source

Use the Internet

You don’t need the internet but per se, but it can help. Think about all the billions of pages of the internet. There’s bound to be some pages out there that will give you the information you need. Treat the internet as a tool to support you rather than the be all and end all and you’ll get some positive results. Useful sites include Hostel Bookers and Hostel World; Trip Advisor; Lonely Planet Thorntree; this very site; Google; Skyscanner; and a whole host of local and national sites relevant to the country you’re in.

You don't need a guidebook to travel

As if I haven’t made it clear though the content of my narrative, the answer to the question in the title of this hub is no, you don’t need a guidebook in order to travel. It helps, sure. But it’s not everything. And if you take it too literally then prepare for disappointments and prepare to miss out on genuine cultural experiences. My advice? Ditch the guidebooks, grow your confidence and follow your instincts. Have fun!

Some more good travel reading

Are You Experienced?
Are You Experienced?

A bestseller in England, this hilarious novel is a trans-Atlantic, nineties version of On the Road.

Dave Greenford has heard the old cliche about how when you arrive in India, it's like stepping into an oven. But, somehow, this doesn't prepare him for the realization that when he arrives in India, it is like stepping into an oven.

He is there because his friend Liz--who he hopes will turn out to be more than just a friend--has the summer off. And what better way to spend her time than searching for her tantric center?

For Dave, however, the spiritual side of India is hidden by the daily frustrations of travel itself. A fourteen-hour bumpy bus ride, food-poisoning (and the ever-constant threat of malaria), child beggars, and a bossy and uninterested Liz can turn even the greatest of Asian adventures into the Vacation from Hell. Despite "[the] general belief that a long and unpleasant holiday was of crucial importance to one's development as a human being," Dave wants to go back home to England. How he finally gets there is what makes Are You Experienced? so much fun.

 

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    • centfie profile image

      Sophy C 24 months ago from Kenya

      Awesome tips