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guidebooksI’m currently in the final stages of booking a New England leaf-peeping vacation for October. In my trip-planning pile, alongside a few maps and an ever-expanding packing list, I’ve got a stack of at least five area guidebooks that I’ve checked out from my local library.

Will I lug all those heavy guidebooks with me on my trip? No way; even though I’m driving, not flying, I’m still aiming to pack as lightly as possible. But I’ve relied on this array of guidebooks to help me find hotels and plot out my itinerary, and you can bet that one or two of my favorites will find their way into my suitcase on departure day.

To some travelers, this probably seems perfectly logical. To others, I must sound like a dinosaur.

Last month, London’s Financial Times issued a lengthy report on the declining sales of traditional print guidebooks and the rise of new technology (such as mobile apps and iPad guides) that is emerging to replace them. Why would someone need a guidebook, asks the article, when you can use an “augmented reality app” like Google Goggles on your smartphone to find a wealth of free, up-to-the-second information about your destination?

The media has been prophesying the death of guidebooks for years now. Back in 2006, the Guardian speculated that podcasts would be the newcomer to knock guidebooks off their perch. In the past decade, Web sites offering thousands of traveler-generated hotel and restaurant reviews have tried to drown out the opinions of a few professional travel writers. And of course there have always been detractors who suggest that guidebooks are a crutch standing in the way of getting to know a place in a truly genuine way, by relying solely on one’s own eyes and experiences.

Despite all this, I still feel that guidebooks play an important role — though not the only role — in planning and taking a trip. The combination of maps, recommended itineraries, comprehensive reviews and historical context is something I haven’t found in any other single source, so I’ll continue to use guidebooks as long as they continue to be printed.

What about you — do you still use print guidebooks to help you plan a trip, or have you turned to other resources?

–written by Sarah Schlichter

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26 Responses to “Are Guidebooks Dying Out?”

  1. nan says:

    still prefer to leaf thru travel books to compare information as well as price

  2. Totally agree! There’s just something about flipping through a guidebook that helps at all stages of planning a trip, especially in the beginning when you’re still in the fuzzy, not sure where you’re going, open to ideas stage.

    Websites and social media help with specifics and up-to-the-minute information, but every website is structured differently and takes time to navigate. A guidebook is consistently formatted and clicking through links just isn’t the same as opening a guidebook to a random page and beginning to build the framework of your trip.

  3. Laura V says:

    I always purchase a guide book for whatever destination I am going to. I bring it along and read through if I am on a plane to familiarize myself before I get there. Not only do I use it as a reference, but as a token of where I have been.

  4. ROBIN says:

    I too still enjoy leafing thru a guidebook before I travel…it’s part of the entertainment and anticipation!!! and yes, call me a dinosaur. I totally agree with Vicky!!

  5. LSKahn says:

    I still use traditional guidebooks to plan my trip. Since Kindle has come out with many guidebooks for the Kindle, however, I generally load it with the guidebook I am going to bring with me on the trip to reduce the “schlep” factor. The hard copy guidebook(s) stay(s) at home for future reference. By the way, I buy most of my hard copy guidebooks from discount remaindered book sites such as bookclosesouts.com. So what if the guidebook is a year or two out of date? While the prices may have gone up, the essential information is the same.

    For booking hotels, I generally use both the guidebooks and the internet. I book airfares directly from airline sites after comparing on kayak.com to see who can book my itinerary and what I can expect to pay. I have found that booking directly from airlines is generally cheaper.

    By the way, I no longer bring more than one “throw away” paperback with me on vacations because the Kindle provides me with an entire library as well as my guidebook(s)!

  6. Intrepid Explorer says:

    I always check out a guidebook before I go on a trip … even knowing that the information is usually outdated before it’s printed and that some things change rapidly in other countries. It’s a good jumping point. With tools like Kindle, you can easily bring a guidebook with you in digital form too. But I find that once I hit the road, other travelers provide pretty much all of the information I need to explore the world around me.

    It’s also important to note that tools like cell phones and GPS don’t always function well in developing countries that don’t have the infrastructure to support them. Sometimes there’s no signal; sometimes there’s no internet to be found anywhere; sometimes there’s no electricity. So if you’re planning to hit the way out there trails, you’re better off having some print materials to use.

    Happy trails.

  7. Ginny Bender says:

    I still use a guidebook in the beginning stages of my planning. It’s so much easier to flip back through the book and to mark pages of pertinent information.

  8. Yep, I still use printed guidebooks too – in fact I’m writing one! The key to guidebooks retaining their usefulness is speed of data retrieval. Yeah, anyone can punch up a list of local attractions on their iPhone, but real research actually takes time. Producing a guidebook takes hundreds of hours of research and compilation where the author picks out the most important information so that you don’t have to wade through the fluff.

    I like to fold pages, highlight items and be able to refer back to the guide instantly. Of course, having a guide available electronically is extremely important and LP has done a great job of doing that, even offering single chapters…I like that.

    In addition, a good guidebook author will also provide guidance and a professional opinion that is objective and targeted toward their audience. Not that I don’t frequent online review sites, but you have to read into the reviews and wade through comments that are neither constructive or helpful. With a professional guidebook, those concerns are minimized.

    Guidebooks are still an invaluable resource and I’ll continue to use them and write them because they provide a solid base from which to conduct further individual research.

  9. Cathy says:

    I love reading the physical guidebooks and always have at least three for my desitination of the year. That being said, I also look for an “ebook” version of my favourite for my iPad – and that’s the one I take with me.

  10. RichardNika says:

    I always use guidebooks – fortunately, I live in a city with good sized public libraries, but even if I didn’t, small town libraries can get you what you need through inter library loan. I’ll go through several guidebooks, take notes of what I consider useful information, and then take one library copy with me. (Unfortunately, I lost my “Insight – Argentina” library copy in Argentina, so had to pay the library $24, but I liked that book so much I also ordered a used copy thru Amazon for myself)

    I find guidebooks most useful for logistics, general information, and info about transportation (especially on how to get to and from airports without breaking the bank), sights, neighborhoods, and that sort of thing. I’ve found you can do much better with hotels by going on line, comparing prices or bidding, and reading other peoples’ reviews. As for restaurants, we do very well by simply walking around, looking, reading menus if they are posted outside, and/or asking for recommendatioms from the hotel.

  11. HalB says:

    I think familiar guidebooks provide a trusted source for current information when traveling. I often tear mine into small sections and carry only the ones that are relevant to a particular trip. Also, mobile devices do weigh a little, and require additional expenses while abroad, not to mention being tethered to everyone and every problem back home. I refuse to carry one offshore. I really want more freedom while on vacation so I can focus on enjoying the total experience.

  12. Neenah says:

    Planning a trip to Mongolia in October–I have found two guidebooks to provide a solid framework: Lonely Planet for all the practical day-to-day-information–and ‘Mongolia–Nomad Empire of the Eternal Blue Sky’ by Odyssey Books to access the heart and soul of Mongolia. Although I am definitely searching the ‘internets’ before I leave for as much information as possible–these books will both make the trip to Mongolia with me. Odyssey guides have been a new discovery for me–I highly, highly recommend them.

  13. Joe B says:

    How astounding! Every single reply has supported using guideBOOKS still. Us “dinosaurs” are still here, kiddies!!
    Nothing will ever beat thumbing through a real “book” to find interesting things travel-wise…..and every-other-wise as well!

  14. Mike says:

    Guide books are important tools to do your due diligence before you book anything. Wouldn’t dream of doing everything via the internet. I swear by Lonely Planet personally but Frommers, Rough and Rick Steve’s are good too.

  15. Joan Schmelzl / Host Ciao says:

    Oh yes, I still use guidebooks when I travel. However, I read, I believe on line, that Rick Steves said it is silly to take the whole book; tear it up. That is exactly what I have done. I read the book(s), decide what I might need, and tear that section out. On a day of walking I seldom feel overburdened with a section of book in my very small shoulder bag along with only a digital camera or two, and a chapter from a paperback novel I might be reading. Plus I don’t have a smart phone or mp1 or whatever player. I fear I am indeed a dinosaur!

  16. Carol Telsey says:

    We’re inveterate readers who visit the local public library a couple of times a week (it’s a block away) and still begin with guidebooks. We will probably razor out the pages we want from the AAA books before we leave in a week for a trip to the Grand Canyon/Bryce/Zion (flying Boston-LasVegas and renting a car). We wanted specific motel reservations made in advance in specific places.
    Although we live in a traditional suburban neighbohood, cell reception is spotty. AT&T now works in our home (mostly), Verizon covers one corner of the back porch.
    However, our dd is visiting now from GA, and she’s doing everything on her IPad as she goes, right down to google maps, restaurant listings, etc. It’s been wrong a couple of times (but then our GPS misdirected us today too, which is awful if you’re in an unfamiliar place and it’s dark.)
    In the Grand Canyon area guide books and motel listings all warn about spotty cell reception. What then, if you are relying on an IPad and cell phone?

  17. informed traveler says:

    Read them on the plane, out at sea, in or on the mountains and everywhere in between. If I have it with me poor reception makes no difference

  18. LoToGoTo says:

    I go to my local library, read and make copies, if necessary. Otherwise, I’m all online. So, yes, a guide BOOK is not something I travel with – I just get the info other ways.

  19. Irene says:

    Like many comments above, I prefer to go to the library, browse all available guidebooks, enjoy the pictorial reports … I love to hold books when I read. I have trouble retaining information seen on the screen (but that could have something to do with my age. My kids download the online guides like Lonely Planet) I HOPE paper guidebooks will continue to be available as long as I’m able to travel.

  20. Sharon says:

    I plan a minimum of 2 cross country trips a year (we summer on the coast of WA and winter on the Gulf in Florida). Typically the trips take 2-4 weeks and each trip is unique, so I do a lot of travel planning. I use travel guide books for the original inspiration of planning the route, then contact key cities and states to have them send the official travel brochures, however when it comes to finding actual hotels I rely on the internet to help me find the best hotel for reasonable prices. Most “destination” restaurants also come from traveler recommendations from the internet. I tend to filter out the highs and lows and gather the consensus, but everybody has hot buttons and I really focus on the comments that hit those buttons. I think you really have to spend a lot of time in the planning phase in order to get the most out of your travel time and money. I have a written itinerary, and usually a plan B, but I also carry as much info as possible with me so that I have the tools to change plans if something happens, such as a car breakdown, or bad weather.

  21. Alice says:

    My husband and I went to Italy this summer. He bought guide books. I bought an ereader thinking I would download guidebooks and take them with me in this smaller, lighter format. I discovered that ebooks, like print editions, can only be checked out of the library for 3 weeks. Locating specific information was more time consuming and graphics such as pictures and maps did not show up well on my screen. So much for that idea. My husband carried his book everywhere and it was very helpful.

  22. Nancy M says:

    I definitely prefer guidebooks. Before I leave on vacation I do extensive research on the web, guidebooks, and pamphlets of the area I’m going. I like to know everything before I get to my destination. Some of the guidebooks are small enough to fit into your purse/pocket and come with maps for the destination you’re going to. I find it much easier to carry around these small guidebooks and have it at your disposal during your sightseeing. Also with the guidebooks you can use small sticky notes for places you want to see.

  23. Bob W. says:

    We’ve brought guide books along for stays in London and Paris because the information on museums and other sites, as well as the maps, are essential. Although we review our choices in advance of the trips, our ultimate decisions on planning our day benefit from having a guide handy when we are planning each day on site.

  24. janeen says:

    Just returned from a week’s cruise in the Baltic and then almost another week in London England and the charming /Cotswalds. Guide books were priceless in planning and seeing/doing what was most important to us. I did also check web reviews which helped but would not have been my only source of info. My cell phone didn’t work overseas anyway. p.s. I did find it useful to rip out the pages we were going to use on a specific day so I wasn’t toting around the entire book.

  25. Travel Zim says:

    We still use guidebooks along with the internet. My wife has me carefully cut out the pages that she wishes to take on the trip instead of the entire book. I would say we use both guidebooks and the internet resources about equally. We also use advice of friends who have been there previously. We are independent travelers and do not go on tours but plan our own itineraries to include where, lodging and transportation. We use Karen Brown, Rick Steves, Frommer, Fodor and International Travel News (ITN)for the most part.

  26. Lisa E says:

    I still sort of use them. On my most recent trip, I packed them (Lonely Planet) for two of the countries where I was going to be spending most of my time (Jordan and Syria). For the other countries (Lebanon and Israel), where I was only going to be spending a couple days, I carried printouts of LP’s downloadable chapters, which I bought through their website. I gave away or threw out all of the above once I’d been to the place and no longer needed the info.

    I still sort of like having a book so that I can highlight and sticky note things. But I also like carrying a light bag.

    Perhaps the solution is a smartphone, iPod or some other reader-style device…

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