I strongly dislike using any travel guidebook. When I first started traveling I couldn’t justify the price and didn’t want to carry it around however after years of exploring, using the internet and talking to local people guide books seem overpriced, factually incorrect, biased, subjective and out of date. It frustrates me when I see people traveling going only to places and only going to what is listed in their guidebooks. Even worse I’ve seen local people suggest things to see and people rejecting it because it isn’t in their guidebook. I don’t think guidebooks are completely without merit…they can provide interesting information on the culture and history of a country. It’s just when people use them as the sole authority on things to see or do and how to act that it becomes frustrating.
A good example of such people is over on the Lonely Planet travel forums. In particular the user bzookaj has little idea of what he talks about but gives advice with full authority. An American who has entered the US on a VWP, yet argues with those who have claiming to know better under the guise of giving advice. Such people are frustrating and anecdotally seem to be a main part of the demographic for guidebooks. I’d guess the remainder are people who just happen to buy them at an airport or bookshop and don’t actually rely on them.
So if you don’t use guidebooks, what can you do? Walking around and just exploring is a very nice fun thing to do and who knows what you may find? What people don’t understand is this is all the authors of guidebooks did; so why limit yourself to their discoveries when you can find your own? I’ve eaten a lot of delicious restaurants and found a lot of fun bars/clubs from doing this and haven’t missed out in the least, despite not relying on a guidebook.
The Internet is also obviously a great source of information. Various travel blogs tend to come up when searching various districts, cities or countries as well as websites like the excellent Wikitravel. Wikitravel is excellent source although much like Wikipedia less popular pages (destinations) don’t tend to be maintained as often as the more popular pages so can be out of date. Hostels and Hotels generally have a lot of good information as well that they are more than happy to share with you, although some business recommendations may have a commission motive. A lot of cities also have tourist information booths in prominent locations which is a good source of unbiased reliable free information.
As I said above guidebooks do have a place I think…not as a travel guide but more as a Cliffs Notes style book on a given destination. At a glance it can be nice to learn some customs and see some basic information, but having a guidebook dictate your trip or even be any type of authority is just stupid. I might have thought that with the current generation of travelers having grown up with the internet that guidebooks would be less popular but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It doesn’t seem to be an issue of people not able to use alternate sources to guidebooks but rather people being unable to think and investigate for themselves and deferring to some authority. I would have thought such a characteristic less likely among well seasoned travelers, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.