At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I am a huge fan of the Lonely Planet and usually carry a copy along on all of my travels until an incident last month. Not being a great planner, I completely overlooked buying a guidebook prior to my 2-month ramble across South America and Asia. And then a surprising thing happened.
Contrary to my worst nightmare, I survived and I had a blast.
This didn’t seem logical. It got me thinking and led me to question whether guidebooks were the be all and end all of travel.
Now, after about 5 minutes of soul searching, I’ve concluded that guidebooks are overrated. Here’s why.
Travel is adventure and traveling is exciting. Most of us are guilty of having a to-do checklist carefully constructed based on what the guidebook says. And the holiday comprises of a mad rush to check each of these activities off. Checking off activities in a guidebook is no different to being part of an organized tour that rushes through all museums and monuments in a city but completely misses the point. Is this adventure?
Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece – Ralph Charell
Form your own opinions of your destination. Why pay for some travel author to tell you what to think? You are perfectly capable of deciding which of the temples at Siam Reap appeals to you the most. You should also be able to deduce that Brazilians are one of the most hospitable people in the world.
Guidebooks are published in the following manner. First a travel writer stakes out a town, gathers all information possible and makes it readable. After much haggling between the editor and author, the book finally gets published. But it doesn’t end there. Bookshops don’t purchase the new version until they’ve gotten rid of the previous version. By the time the book gets to your hands, the owner of the cozy local coffee shop has already shut shop and migrated to the Greek islands. Or worse, you get there and find a bunch of Lonely Planet touting tourists clamoring for the cheesecake, threatening to bring the roof down.
People have traveled for centuries without any information system to fall back on (no internet and no guidebooks). Have you ever stepped into a town without knowing anything about the place, the language or the people? It truly is a strange and wonderful experience. Everything is brand new again and that is the magic of travel. You are out of your comfort zone and this is a vital step in anyone’s personal development – learning to cope when out of your depth. What your guidebook does is handhold you and tell you that everything will be ok. To hell with it…