How to Choose a Guidebook
I am somewhat of a guidebook novice myself, having started using them only in the past couple of years. I hope to expand this section with future trips. I’ll go over how I pick my guidebooks and then I’ll give you some specific recommendations based on destinations. My recommendations below are based solely on my personal experience and I am not getting paid for them.
How to pick a guidebook
- Get a guidebook that gets into enough detail for your desired destination. For example, if you know you want to go to a specific national park, get that guidebook. Getting a guidebook for the state it is in might not be detailed enough since it has to cover the entire state. Also, don’t assume that a guidebook for an entire country is going to be detailed enough for what you want. When I looked into Australia, I decided to get 2 guidebooks – one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast. I read somewhere that a single book is too general to give you the really good details that you want. Australia is a big country so that makes a lot of sense!
- Be ready for some trial and error. A single destination might be covered by different guidebooks, so you may have to try different publishers before you know which style you like best. For example, some people swear by DK Eyewitness travel books, but I don’t like them. I feel like they don’t give you enough of an overview for you to get your bearings. Pro tip: guidebooks may be available at your local library! This is a great way to check out several different ones for the same destination before you decide which one you like.
- Getting the latest edition is not always necessary. Don’t be afraid to use a slightly older guidebook. I used a 2014 edition of Rick Steve’s Italy when I went in late 2015. Just be sure to double check important things like routes, prices, or opening hours since those can vary. You should be double-checking those things anyway, even with the most recent edition!
My go-to guidebook resource for Europe is Rick Steves. His style is very down-to-earth and filled with humor. In his guidebooks, you will find little-known shortcuts like the direct entrance into St. Peter’s from the Sistine Chapel, and you might also get a little discount for dining at some of the restaurants he recommends.
If you are worried about lugging the entire book with you, his books (or any guidebook, really) can be “dissected” so you only take the section you need! You can watch his video on how to do it. I did actually lug the entire Italy guidebook with me, as you can see below. The book wasn’t mine, so I didn’t have the option of sectioning it off – and I am still super happy I had this giant thing with me the whole time.
Another invaluable thing Rick Steves offers (and it’s free) are his audio walking tours. Just download the “Rick Steves Audio Europe” app, search for the European city you are heading to and download the walking tour you’d like – they are available offline so you don’t need a data connection! I’ve used his walking tours in Italy and Germany and I can tell you they are better than being in a tour group, many times over. My favorite memory is listening to his Sistine chapel tour while sitting on the bench off to the side. Despite the troves of tourists around me, I felt like I was getting my own personal tour. In addition to walking tours, the app features interviews with locals and other super interesting info. Just be sure to stay aware of your surroundings at all times while using them.
If you still want more Rick Steves, watch his show on PBS or online.
National Parks/United States
I’ve become partial to Moon guides for travel within the United States, especially national parks. I used a Moon guide to build my most recent 8-day itinerary for Washington, which I will test out in July. I find Moon guides to be organized in a way that’s super easy to follow and they give you plenty of options for everything. To stay in the loop for how the Washington trip turns out, you can follow me here!
Here are the Moon guides I’ve used so far that I am happy with.
Based on a post on TripAdvisor, I decided to go with Lonely Planet for these destinations. I am only in the beginning stages of researching Australia and New Zealand, but so far I like the level of detail. I’ve linked them up from Amazon below but you may want to check the Lonely Planet website – I bought the 2 Australia and 1 New Zealand guidebooks on a Buy 2, Get 1 Free offer that was running on their website back in December. You’ll have to wait till 2019 to see how well these books turned out, but stay tuned.
Do you have your own recommendations for other destinations? Comment below!