Travel Guide Books - Help or Hindrance?

Travel guide books have become increasingly popular over the past few decades and have helped many travellers on their trips around the globe.

But do they drive everyone to the same hostels, restaurants and locations, and if a hostel or cafe isn't listed in the recommendations does this damage their business.

I've got a small selection on my bookshelf and as I look at it now I can see Lonely Planet guides to East Coast Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand plus Tunisia where I am yet to visit. Alongside those stand Rough Guides to Malaysia and Spain. With various city guide books for Paris and New York these books have given me some valuable tips along the way.

It was whilst browsing through a list of hotels to stay in Bangkok I started to wonder what if the thousands of people that read the book were also picking the same hotel as I did. Was I being a travel sheep and doing as I was told or was I using the experience of people who had been there and actually stayed there before.

I recently asked the following question on a few social media sites:

"Are travel guide books a help or a hindrance when travelling? Do you find them useful or do they just drive everyone to the same accommodation and attractions?"

The reaction was quite mixed but it seems as subject where everyone has their own opinion.

How Travel Guide Books Help Travellers on their Journeys

  • The history chapters give you a good background on the country and the language and food cultures
  • Gives you ideas on where to go, somewhere you may not have thought of before
  • You can plan an itinerary from them on places you like to visit - how to get there and how long to stay
  • Get a good idea of transport links within the country and how to get around a city
  • Colour photographs give you a sense of what to expect
  • Some good practical guides such as time differences and what type of plug you'll have to use
  • Can give a good idea of the different suburbs of a city and what to expect (I find DK Eyewitness Travel Guides really good for this)

Why Travel Guides Books can be Unreliable

  • Guide books tend to focus on the main tourist attractions so if you ever want to get off the beaten track you're on the own though this can be a good thing
  • You are relying on a writer who may have got freebies and therefore felt obliged to write a good review of the hotel
  • You may be missing out on the great food of a restaurant that isn't featured in a book which may be right next door to one that is
  • The information can soon become outdated. With new editions only being published every couple of years you may turn up to a hostel that has closed or changed name.
  • You feel as though you have to visit what is recommended or you may have missed out.
  • Maps may be incorrect and lead you on a wild goose chase trying to find that amazing bar you read about

Where Travel Bloggers can help

Tips from travel bloggers have become more important to me because I trust them more as they are not out to sell thousands of copies of their work.

Bloggers have the ability to update their content in real time which is a major advantage over print. Even if they haven't been back to the place that you've written about, a little research on the place they stayed or ate can give them information on if the business is still going and any price changes.

If you are communicating with travel bloggers via social media you can also get tips from them almost instantly which is even better.

Imaging arriving in a country you've never been too and haven't arranged accommodation. If you ask the question on Twitter or Facebook it could be that someone lives there or has been there before and can tell you the best place to go, almost like an live guide book!

Time to throw the books in the bin?

In the past I've bought many guide books and I will still buy them for big trips to countries I've not been too but most of my research is now done on the internet.

Doing a search on any search engine is likely to throw up some travel blogs so the next time you're looking to travel, have a look as you never know, you may find something that isn't in any guide book.

What's your opinion on travel guide books? Have they helped you in the past? What other methods of travel research have you used?