Traveling Without a Guide Book
Some time ago, I published a post titled “Do you really need that guidebook?”. The article asked if in these modern times we still need ink printed on paper to help us navigate thru the world’s wonderful sites. I asked this question since we have a cyberspace full of travel resources. Guides books, magazines and other travel related services have a strong presence on the Web and offer an enormous amount of free information (take a look at the article for excellent places to find free travel information). The article’s comments came quite interesting. In short, readers stated that we travelers are not ready to move from the printed world yet(surprising but understandable).
Well, I took my theory (or question) to another level. Last month, for the first time in my travel years, I didn’t buy a guidebook before or during my trip. How it turned out? Wonderful!!!
Below I am highlighting where I found the necessary information to plan an interesting and fulfilling trip.
I visited the Cancun and Riviera Maya area for 7 days.
Exact Itinerary: Cancun-Valladolid-Chichen Itza-Playa del Carmen-Xcaret-Tulum-Cancun
Deciding on the schedule
A lot of times we buy guide books to start planning our itinerary. I started to do this by looking for information about the Yucatan and Quintana Roo states in the Frommer’s and Moon Handbooks sites. These two sites are my top recommendations for quality free travel information on the Web. These two companies have entire guide books reproduced on their webpages.
After reading a bit, I had a pretty good idea of what places I wanted to visit and for how many days. My rough schedule was set. I just had to fill in some details. I also took a look at Trip Advisor to try to find cool sights or adventures in the area. My scheduled was kind of packed so I wasn’t able to add suggestions from this site.
I decided to use the small colonial town of Valladolid as my base for Chichen Itza because of an article I read at the Globetrotter Girls blog (sorry girls, I visited Valladolid!). Lesson? Blogs can give you ideas on how to add lesser known but charming places to your schedule.
In terms of lodging, I focused mainly on getting a private room within a determined price range. I also try to get a place with breakfast include. I don’t really care about certain amenities since I spend most of my travel days outside the hotel room.
I used www.hostels.comto find accommodations. It is really easy to use. You just have to enter the city and country you want to visit. Then, the website presents you the options. I have noticed that some hostels and hotels are offered in this website at a cheaper price than in others.
Hostel.com worked for me but this doesn’t mean it works for you too. Those online guidebooks I mentioned have tons of suggestions for lodging. To be honest, the Internet has tons of places offering hotels for all type of tastes. Plus, you can read what others have said about the property.
However, I would suggest reading carefully what is included for the amount of money you are paying. You don’t want to end up surprised. Also, determine if you will need to spend extra money while staying at a place (taxes, parking).
For Valladolid, I stayed at the Hostel Candelaria because of a review posted in the Globetrotter Girls blog.
The Moon Handbooks website contains detailed maps of certain cities. You can enlarge and print them. Make sure to mark your hotel in the map. It is also a good idea to mark other important places like the bus station or banks.
Let me say that a lot of the maps contained on guide books (printed or online) are somewhat updated. Things can change a lot in one or two years. Once you hit your hotel, ask for a current map. Every time I arrived to a hostel I was given a map and a short orientation talk by the receptionist. If you need to find a place, make sure you ask at your hotel.
My research indicated that the Yucatan Peninsula is very well connected by ground transportation. For this reason, I didn’t worry about doing a lot of scheduling on this aspect. Transportation is frequent, safe and comfortable.
I have some suggestions related to this topic. First, it is important to find out if it is safe to use public transportation (in the Yucatan it is). This will help you to decide what type of transport is ideal for you (public or private). Second, ask your hotel staff what the cheapest way to get to X place is. Seriously, it is not worth paying for a taxi if there is a cheaper and reliable way to get from point A to point B. Also, you need to know from a trustworthy source how much you are expected to pay. In that way, you don’t get fooled when you get to the bus or taxi station.
Frommer’s and Moon have restaurant listings. There are numerous websites offering ratings and suggestions on good places to eat. Make sure to understand where to find unique dishes to the area you are visiting. Hotel staff can also suggest great places to try depending on your tastes (type of food, price, ambience, entertainment, etc). And there are street food vendors everywhere. Just go to the one with the longest line.
Again, I got some tips from the aforementioned sites. However, I didn’t find some of the suggested sites to be that interesting or varied. I ended up buying from local artisans. In this case, I preferred to put my money directly in the hands of locals. Anyway, I think I ended bringing home more quality.
Why I think all this worked for me?
Ok, everything I have exposed here looks really easy. In retrospective, it was EASY. I don’t feel like I messed up my experience because I didn’t buy a guide book.
On the other hand, I have to recognize this approach may have worked in this case because of the following reasons:
– Cancun has an excellent touristic infrastructure.
– A lot of locals depend on tourist dollars (i.e. they know a lot of information)
– The attractions and sites are pretty well known
– Spanish is my first language.
I am not sure if this guide book free approach will work that well in more obscure places where there is a poor to nonexistent infrastructure and where you don’t understand a cinch of the language.
I guess I will have to take my experiment a step further.
Have you traveled without a guidebook? Would you do it again? Where did you get the necessary information? I will love to read your comments and opinions.