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Posted by on Jul 24, 2011 | 12 comments

Do you really need to buy that guide book?

There was a time when a good, chunky guide book was a traveler’s best friend.  I am not sure if we can affirm that anymore.

Let’s face it.  The world of the printed word has changed enormously during the last couple of years.  E-books, audio books and all those smart phones applications are affecting the way we consume information.  Even big bookstores like Borders are disappearing. That is why I am asking, are we at a moment where it is possible to travel without a guidebook?

I still use guidebooks to plan my trips and often buy more than one per trip.  The thing is that I don’t feel like I am getting a fair amount of value for my money anymore.  Every day I am relying more and more on the free travel information found on the Internet.  And I am talking about top notch, professional information.

In this post, I aim to share the free of charge travel planning sites I heavily use.  I believe these web pages can help anybody to plan a fantastic trip.  Common, take a look.  Who knows? You may discover an invaluable travel planning tool.  Plus, you may be able to save a couple of bucks.

Guide Books Websites

For me, this is the reason why is getting harder and harder to buy a guidebook.  Some companies in the business of selling traveling information are publishing excellent content on their websites.  You may be thinking the information they have up on their websites is not as complete as in their guidebooks.  Sorry my friend but you are wrong.  Some companies have their entire guide book content online.

After looking thru different guide books websites, I can say that the one offering best content is Frommer’s.  They have complete travel guides (in other words, content identical or very similar to what they have in their guidebooks) for a wide range of worldwide destinations.  They have information on the usual topics such as attractions, accommodations, restaurants, shopping and general planning information.  What I find great about these travel guides are the editorial recommendations, suggested itineraries, step by step walking tours (with maps) and tips on how to know in depth the place you are visiting. Plus, they offer recommendations on organized tours, outdoors activities and active pursuits.  This is one of the first places I check whenever planning a trip.

I have noticed Moon Handbooks (which publish great travel guides) have started to upload their entire travel guides to their Internet site. I almost went nuts when I discovered this since these are my favorite guide books.  These guides usually divide the cities, areas or countries they are featuring into regions.  There is extensive information on what to do and where to stay, eat and shops on those regions.  The guides also offer trip planning ideas which can help you to put together your trip easily.  Additionally, they contain a background section where you can read about the geography, climate, flora fauna, government, economy, culture, etc of the place you are visiting.  Ok, let me tell you a little secret about these guidebooks.  They are really good detailing transportation information (good maps and public transportation details).  A lot of guidebooks fail in telling you how to go from one place to another.  The authors of these guides seem to have all this information figured out and present it clearly.  Drawback: Currently, the only guides available in the web site are for the Americas.

The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides offer decent information at their website. They offer the usual travel information plus information on suggested itineraries.  Drawback:  There is information for about 60 destinations worldwide.

In my opinion, other guide books companies like Fodor’s, Let’s Go, Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Insight Guides do not offer enough information on their websites.  They contain some information but it is pretty general and there is no additional expert advice.

Travel Magazines

What is true for guide books is also true for travel magazines.  A lot of them publish and keep on archive all their printed articles.  So theoretically, you have thousands of free travel articles at your disposition.  Just go to the magazines’ web sites and do a search for the destination you are expecting to visit.  Insider information is at your fingertips.  Take a look at the following sites:

National Geographic Traveler

Budget Travel

Travel and Leisure

Conde Nast Traveler

Islands

Caribbean Travel and Life

Endless Vacation

Shermans Travel

If you know Spanish, the American Airlines Nexos magazine is really good.

Travel Forums and Communities

These are great ways to find personal and insider travel information.  I am not an expert on these sites so I am referring you to links where this information is already compiled.

Best Travel Communities

Best Travel Forums

Travel Blogs

Travel blogs have a lot of advantages.  To name a few, they provide up to date, insider and hard to find information.  There are thousands of blogs out there.  I am not going to start naming them in here.  The point is that if you follow a particular blog, you can browse the archives or ask the blogger for information.  I have seen bloggers going great lengths to help their readers. So, go ahead and ask.

Trip Advisor

When planning a trip, I also like to go to Trip Advisor to see what the most popular activities in the area are.  I have discovered fun activities like cooking classes and river rafting trips in this way.  Just go to the web page and type “things to do in XXX” in the search box.  For example, if you want to look for information about New Orleans, type “things to do in New Orleans”.  Hit enter and a list of the top attractions and tours are going to appear on the screen.  Sometimes the site gives you the option to download a PDF document containing a travel guide for the city you are interested in.  These are compilations of their user’s recommendations.

As you can see there are tons of reliable and free travel information on the web. Now, I will ask you again, do you think a printed travel guide is still needed?  Let me know your opinion in the comments section below.  Also, let me know what sites you use to plan your trips.

To find more useful travel information, visit the Transitions Abroad Best Travel Websites page.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for all of this information. These are great resources and really appreciate the information on travel forums. Honestly, there is a lot of great information and this is an incredible resource for travel planning.

    I think anyone who neglects the availability and various mediums of travel planning online is not doing their homework. I think honest reviews from people who have been there are good. It’s great when travel sites update and provide information online. And even though bookstores like Borders are closing, I LOVE going there, checking out the travel magazines, and flipping through the pages of guidebooks just for fun.

    Gone are the days where travel guidebooks were the only sources of information. Now we have the internet and even our phones, iPods, and other devices for travel information. However, travel guidebooks will always be an essential part of my travels. For one, I love reading them just for fun. I always keep a guidebook at work just to read when I have some free time. And secondly, one of the biggest benefits of travel guidebooks is the history information that they provide while you are on your trip. I love reading that in preparation for the day or the next city.

    Having a book in my hand is something I enjoy. Call me old fashion but it is something I will continue to take with me when I travel despite the great information available online. Going to other resources outside of a travel guidebook is essential these days. However, going without a travel guidebook? We haven’t moved past that yet.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Airlines increase the price of airfares as FAA taxes expireMy Profile

    • Jeremy,
      I also like to go to bookstores to browse around the travel section. I have tons of guidebooks around my house from previous trips. Like you, I like to go thru the pages, read and take a look at the beautiful pictures.

      I am not sure I am ready to travel without a guidebook. The places I have highlighted provide great, free information for travel planning purposes. However, books offer portability, consolidation and reliability (it does not fail like electronic devices). Not sure if phone apps will get at some time at that level.

      It will be interesting to see how all this will develop in the future.
      Ruth recently posted..Airport Shuttles: The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly..My Profile

  2. There’s so much information available in all different forms, that it can sometimes be challenging to figure out how to plan and what material to believe, trust or use.

    For my personal style of travel, I tend to do quite a bit of blog reading, and then just sort of go for it and see what happens. I almost exclusively use information that is available online, as opposed to anything printed.

    Great article, I like your recommendations and how you show the benefits of getting guides and information online. There’s so much available!
    Mark Wiens recently posted..Jua Kali – The Informal Kenyan Sector for “Git Er Done”My Profile

    • Mark,
      You make a good point. There is a lot of information available. But, is more information necessarily better? How much info do we really need to plan a trip? Because, how much experiences can we pack in a trip (assuming we don’t have the option to travel for a long period of time)? Maybe two or three reliable sources are enough.

      Good to see the information available online helps you to plan and enjoy your trips.
      Ruth recently posted..Airport Shuttles: The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly..My Profile

  3. I enjoyed reading this article as it discusses a very current topic. There is tons of information on the internet that can’t be overlooked. I too still like and use guidebooks but use the internet as an adjunct.

    Great information, that you for digging it all up.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..30 Days and counting!My Profile

  4. No mention of Frommer’s? 😉 We have really good forums and community resources on the site!

    I also like Moon and Rough Guides if we’re talking about print editions, but I would never ever purchase a Lonely Planet again (too inaccurate) or Let’s Go (too party focused, written by all college kids).

    I’d say I use Trip Advisor more than any other one resource, though, when planning my own travels.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Six Weeks on the Road: How We Did ItMy Profile

    • Hey,
      I mentioned Frommer’s as the top information site (in my opinion). I guess you refer to Frommer’s forums. You are right, they are great and there is a lot of information there. Frommer’s website is one of the places every traveler should consider when planning a trip.

      High five for liking Trip Advisor!!
      Ruth recently posted..Airport Shuttles: The Good, The Bad and the Downright Ugly..My Profile

  5. I agree, the travel apps, guide book websites and the kindle type options make a guide book less appealing. You really can get excellent information online as you go or before you depart. I’m going to check out some of the guide book sites you recommended. Thanks!
    Lisa recently posted..Out of My Comfort ZoneMy Profile

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