How To Choose a Guidebook

As we all are well aware, I’m totally down for saving dollars whenever I can… and I fully trust technology to help me do so. I use GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas stations near me, TripAdvisor and AroundMe to find the best  restaurants in my area, and I love FourSquare for snagging discounts at places I check into. However, technology isn’t always the answer, and this is the case for one classic traveling staple… The Guidebook. Nothing beats buying a ripped up guidebook off the Internet for $2, carrying it around and holding up a map over your face, and when it’s all said and done, stuffing it in the hostel drawer for the next lucky traveler. Adversely, no one wants to put their trust in a guidebook that turns out to not be reader-friendly, outdated, and only directs you to boring places. So, to help you out on your journey through the library, Amazon.com, or the nearest book kiosk at the airport, here are some of my top guidebook picks.

I’m a huge sucker for that cheesy dad-type Rick StevesEven though he sometimes has lame jokes and the hand drawn maps can confusingly be not-t0-scale, one of my favorite perks of these guidebooks is that attractions are nicely organized in a meaningful manner of those you can’t miss and those that can be forgotten when you’ve only got a few days in a new city. These guidebooks also feature easy-to-follow walking directions and descriptions of attractions that stick to the cool parts and don’t expect you to read paragraph after paragraph about one painting. At the same time, these books choose enough detail in that when attending a fairly well-known museum, I can often use the book itself as my own “tour guide.” The book itself reads a lot like a well-traveled friend showing you around a new place.

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When I can’t get a hold of a Rick Steves, I go for Frommer’s, an American classic for travelers. These books read a little more classroom, but they are still jam-packed full of essential information like the easiest public-transportation ways to access your favorite destinations, tips about countries you wouldn’t know otherwise, and top events and festivals in the area. However, I sometimes feel like there is too much information and it needs to be scaled down a bit or organized better so that one can quickly sift through to find the desired text.

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I like Lonely Planet guides – I appreciate their user-friendly and modernistic designs and clever and colorful photos, however, they too, try to pack too much information into too-few pages, missing a lot of stopping points and glazing over some that they do mention. When buying a guidebook, I want to be carrying something that I feel like I would die if I left it at some trattoria, not something I’m constantly wasting time sifting through the pages and wondering if I missed out on a cool sight.

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When purchasing a guidebook before a trip (which I definitely recommend because you’ll have your pick of any brand and you can buy it used and save money, plus you can read it on the plane and get a headstart) make sure you check out the “Look Inside” feature usually available on Amazon.com because all guidebooks are not the same. Obviously, you want it to cover all or most of the destinations you are going to and you want it to have the focus you prefer, either one focused on history, important museums, and educational opportunities or the most well-known attractions, coolest sights, and best restaurants. If you’re buying a used guidebook, know that you will most likely have to purchase a map as well.

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