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May 10, 2013

Discuss: Do We Still Need Travel Guidebooks?

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Even since Tony and Maureen Wheeler crossed Asia and wrote the iconic “Across Asia on the Cheap” (Which can be downloaded as a free ebook on Amazon) in 1972, travel guidebooks have been big business. Over the next forty years, guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, Moon, DK, and Rough Guides, just to name a few, have made travel more accessible for all types of travelers. Whether you were traveling for a week to London or a year in Asia, there are likely several guidebooks that can help you plan your travels.

However, with the advent on the internet, the usefulness of guidebooks is starting to become questioned. After all, why spend money to find information published 2 years ago when you can find information published today for free?

So, that brings us to this week’s discussion question: Do we still need travel guidebooks?

In my opinion, the answer is yes. Throughout my travels I’ve usually traveled with a guidebook, but have gone without one from time to time. I find a physical guidebook is a great companion for travel. If you’re like me and don’t travel with a phone connected to the internet, a guidebook can be an invaluable resource. It provides maps, dining recommendations, and bits of trivia that can help make your travel experiences more interesting.

Sure, guidebooks aren’t the end all be all that they used to be. After all, we have the internet that can provide a nearly endless selection of fantastic places to visit. But to me, there is something special about holding a guidebook in my hand. Before I leave on a vacation, it’s a promise of coming travel. Then, when I return home, I love flipping through my used guidebook, seeing the pages I dog-eared, the sections I highlighted, and the places I visited.

What do you think? Are travel guidebooks quickly going the way of the dinosaur, or do you still think they are a valuable resource for travelers? Let us know in the comments section below.

Quick Product Pitch: If you want a humorous read about a travel writer using Lonely Planet’s “Across Asia on the Cheap” as his only resource 30 years after its publication, read “Tell Them to Get Lost: Travels with Lonely Planet’s First Guide Book” by Brian Thacker


  1. Janelle

    I vote yes, especially when you are camping without electricity or traveling in a more remote area. The electronics are great, but I like to have a back-up source of information that doesn’t have a battery that can die. Also, when spending a day in a city, I like having a little pocket guide with a map as a back-up to the cell phone GPS.

    • That’s definitely a good point. Cell phones and laptops can die, but a book will always be there when you need it.

    • I so agree with you Janelle. There have been so many place I travelled in that even satellite phone didn’t have connections. Notes and paper guides are always a good back-up and to be frank I prefer paper versions. Before the trip I always do a lot of search on-line, other travel blogs etc etc When I travel I have a book and my sense, always manage to go around somehow đŸ™‚

  2. Jennifer

    I like looking at them, to be honest, but rarely buy. I love your line about them being a promise of coming travel. Yes, exactly, that is the best part, in my opinion! Looking forward to my upcoming trips keeps me excited. Before my holidays, I enjoy planning my trips out to a certain degree… however, I usually do not buy a book… I read about places on the internet- on sites such as tripologist!
    For me, buying a travel book is helpful for when I move to a new country for a year or two. Then, I get ideas for weekend and day trips. Weekends become more interesting when there’s a travel guide to help plan things out.

  3. Isabella Mader

    As long as the roaming cost is as. ridiculously expensive as it is now and free or affordable wifi is by far not everywhere guide books will be big.

    Free wifi at a hotel or now and then at a cafe with a stupid stunt to register is still Stone Age – but this is what we have today. To change this phone/internet plans for tourists need to cost the same like at home.

    This would do 2 things: telecom companies would make an extra fortune and most guide book companies would be out of business.

    • That’s definitely a great point. International roaming charges are crazy. While it’s possible to get a local SIM card for many phones, that’s something not everyone is willing or able to do.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Eh, I’ve kind of moved beyond guidebooks. I still use them in some situations. I picked up a hiking guide when I visited a few national parks last weekend. But I took a big Middle East trip last year and downloaded digital guides, strictly for lodging recommendations and historical information. Locals, other travelers and the internet are far better guides for stuff to do and how to get around and such.

  5. As Clapton said, it’s in the way that you use it. Internet can be invaluable at times – in Salzburg in the summer when beds are scarce, or when you are using a site like couchsurfing. When i am out and about i wouldn’t use an electronic doo-dad even if i owned something of the sort. In the lead up and in down times I prefer a book that doesn’t demand i periodically go sit near an outlet for an hour, and can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and then only to get a general idea of the lay of the land and pick up a few helpful hints or historical tidbits. Janelle i agree with you, a little map of the place i’m in is all i want, for knowing where a few key things are (like open air markets) and figuring out how to get back to wherever i left my rucksack. Jennifer, great point, i picked up lonely planet’s behemoth guide to japan before moving there (which i would never have done if i were just going there for a few weeks) and found it handy for my entire ten years there, albeit less and less as i learned the language and such.

    • There are definitely things that printed guidebooks can’t provide, which shows me that a smart mix of online and offline is still the best way to go when planning your travels.

  6. The biggest barriers to dumping to the books are online access abroad and maps. As you and others have noted, wifi can be spotty and/or expensive and the SIM card roulette is a pain. But there’s not a good substitute for maps. Guidebook maps are quite good. The e-maps in nearly all of the guidebook apps are AWFUL! Google maps online is great, but then you’re dealing with problem #1. I don’t see the books going away any time soon.

  7. I feel that guidebooks are a bit outdated in this day and age. As you said before, why choose to buy a guidebook when you can get updated information on the www for free.

    I personally prefer researching about a place on travel websites and forums because there we get opinions of many travelers as compared to guidebooks which provide the opinion of just the author.

  8. I vote yes-ish. For now they are still handy. Physical books are big and bulky and their e-reader version lacks (this is across the board from my experience with all the big guidebook companies). If they don’t make their books more e-friendly I think they will go to the wayside of free apps like wiki-sherpa which proved to be more useful for me than any book, and more direct than a Google search.

    • Great points! I tried the Lonely Planet China on my Kindle and found it really difficult to navigate. Definitely wished I had the paper copy.

      Thanks for the copy.

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