Guidebooks can inspire you and help you start experiencing your holiday well before you get on the plane. For the independent traveller they are indispensable for planning where you will go, what you will see, where to stay and how to get around.
Think travel guidebooks and most Aussies will immediately think Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet certainly has the biggest market share in Australia and around the world with their 500-plus titles. The company is based in Melbourne and, despite now being owned by an American after initially being acquired by the BBC, we like to think of them as our own. But there are other good guidebooks out there too. How do you pick the one that’s right for you?
Which one you choose is down to personal taste, but we want to help you make an informed choice with a summary of selected publishers and some suggestions on how to choose the right type of guidebook for your trip.
Let’s start with the big one. Lonely Planet is the largest travel guidebook publisher in the world with a guidebook for almost every country on the planet. Their guidebooks are comprehensive, well researched, reliable, regularly updated and trusted the world over. Go anywhere, but especially through Asia, and you’ll see people carrying the familiar blue-covered travel ‘bible’.
These guidebooks were originally aimed at low-budget British backpackers. Today, with their 350-plus titles, they are formidable challenge to Lonely Planet. Their guidebooks have good cultural information, are usually more opinionated than Lonely Planet (which we think is a good feature) and their maps are easier to use.
DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks ‘show you what the others only tell you’. But unless travelling light is not a concern, we’d suggest you leave these guidebooks at home and use them just for planning your trip…or as a wonderful souvenir for when you get back. The guidebooks are beautifully illustrated, packed with colour photos of key sights and intricate drawings of buildings and landmarks, but they are heavy! They contain limited logistical information (accommodation, eating, transport), but would be ideal if you are on an organized tour where all that is taken care of for you.
If you are travelling to Europe, this is one guidebook we recommend you take with you. Rick Steves is America’s Number One authority on travel to Europe and his guidebooks, drawn on his 30-plus years of travelling in Europe, have been used by millions of Americans and are the biggest selling guidebooks for Europe in the US. Rick writes in an opinionated, friendly, somewhat quirky style, providing incredible detail and the street-smarts of a local to help you get the most out of your European travel experience. Rick gives his personal recommendations for the best places to visit, stay in and eat at – particularly for the budget conscious. He takes you off the beaten track, away from the crowds and big hotels, and helps you experience the real Europe. We find his self-guided walking tours of cities and museums and his accommodation recommendations particularly useful. If we’re going to Europe, you can guarantee a Rick Steves guidebook will be in our carry-on. Unlike other guidebooks, which are only updated every few years, most of Rick’s books are updated annually, so you know the information is as current as possible. The downside is the books only cover cities and sights Rick thinks are worth visiting – but his judgements are usually spot-on.
These guidebooks are well written and the authors know the countries they’re writing about inside-out. Bradt has a reputation for being a pioneer in tackling unusual destinations and for championing the causes of sustainable travel. Their books are as much travelogues as travel guides, infused with the personal voice and accounts of each author. They contain in-depth knowledge and real cultural insight. Bradt are particularly strong on Africa and they would be our recommended guidebook if you are heading anywhere in that continent.
Insight Guides publish beautifully illustrated guidebooks rich on background information (history, culture, people, food, etc.) but lighter on tourist sites as compared with, say, Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. They are also heavy tomes. As with DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks, we’d suggest these make an excellent choice for pre-reading before your trip, but probably not to take with you.
If you would like further help in choosing the right guidebook for your trip, please contact us. Tell us where you are going and what your interests are, and we’ll send you our recommendations.