3 Reasons to Use Guidebooks in the Digital Age
I just finished planning an 8-day national park excursion in Washington state in July. Planning trips is not everyone’s favorite activity, but I love it. I like learning about my destination and figuring out what I want to see and how to organize it. I guess it soothes my type A tendencies. You might be surprised to learn that in this information age, I find guidebooks an amazing resource. But I didn’t start out this way. It wasn’t until a friend lent me his guidebook on Italy back in 2015 that I realized what I’ve been missing. Now I rarely travel somewhere without getting a guidebook first.
So why do I think guidebooks are awesome, even in (or especially in) the digital age? Here goes.
1. Guidebooks are a great place to start your research.
If you begin with Google, you might find that your searches are too broad, return too much information, or return irrelevant information. Because of this, going online to do research can be overwhelming. Google is only as good as your search terms, and sometimes the results can be downright hilarious. Just recently, a fellow travel blogger saw a picture very similar to this and decided to find out what this roof-hopping animal was.
Of course, she turned to Google first. Her search term: white fluffy Canadian animal. The results: lots of pictures of white husky dogs. Needless to say, her search was fruitless. She finally posted the picture to her Instagram story and had her answer within minutes – the animal is a mountain goat.
That’s not to say that you cannot find very useful information online. But I like to turn to online resources only after I’ve gotten my bearings, so to speak, and guidebooks are great for that. They synthesize a ton of info into a curated, well organized format. There usually is a section for each region listing activities, lodging and dining separately. The lodging and dining info is also broken down by price, ($, $$, $$$) so you can easily zero in on what you want. All of this makes initial research so much easier. This is why I like to reference guidebooks first, then go online later to read reviews or get more detailed maps.
2. You can take the guidebook with you. Then, you can access info on the road when cell coverage is scarce or if you’re traveling internationally.
Guidebooks make for great reference while you are traveling. On countless road trips, we read through the guidebook for wherever we were heading to next, or to figure out things if our plans had to change. Laura and I read through our Yellowstone and Grand Teton guidebook while driving from Glacier. Laura had left all the planning up to me so it was a good way for her to refresh her memory on these places and we could decide what sounds good to both of us. It also helped me refresh my memory, as I had planned this trip more than 8 months in advance.
If you’re in a remote area where cell coverage is sparse or if you’re abroad, having a physical reference book becomes even more invaluable. The picture below is from my very first meal in Italy in 2015, at Miscellanea Pub in Rome. I picked the restaurant based on a recommendation in the guidebook and I actually got a discount by displaying the guidebook on the table! Picking a restaurant off of your guidebook is so much easier than having to read through countless Yelp reviews! I picked most of my meals in Italy based on the guidebook, and I was never disappointed.
3. Guidebooks are full of little-known secrets and shortcuts that can save you time and money.
While reading Rick Steve’s Italy guidebook, I learned that there is a tour entrance from the Sistine chapel into St. Peter’s basilica that individuals can sometimes use as well, depending on the inclination of the guard stationed there. I used that entrance to save myself valuable time while in Rome. Had I not known this, I would have had to exit the Vatican Museum the way I came (15 minutes), then wait in the security line for St. Peter’s, which would have taken anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Another super useful thing I’ve learned about from guidebooks is the time-saving and line-skipping museums pass (I’ve used the ones in Rome, Florence and Berlin).
Now if you’re wondering which of the many guidebooks you should pick, don’t sweat – I’ve got you covered. 🙂